Grace kept trying to talk to David, but her old home remained barricaded, impenetrable, and he did not take her calls. Some nights, after dark, she stood outside the house, staring at the exposed window, trying to get the merest glimpse inside. Johnny was always there to hold her when she got back into the car, kiss away her tears, and tell her things would soon be better.
Her isolation deepened her dependency on Johnny. They spoke a great deal about family, the making and loss thereof. They had shared the experience of losing parents early in life, but also knew the power of being taken in and nurtured by people who didn’t have to do it.
“I believe in created families,” Johnny mused.
“What do you mean? All families are created. When a man and woman get together, have children – that is creating a family.”
“That’s not what I mean. I mean we choose people. Choose family. Create family in ways that have nothing to do with blood. Scrape it together. Like, even the riff-raff, people you’d look at in the street and want nothing to do with. Even people like that. If you’ve both been thrown away, you can become a family to each other. I feel like you and me, that’s what we are, Grace. We’ve seen the ugly side of life. That makes us family. Not a wedding ring or a baby that looks like both of us. You’re my family now.”
This made sense to Grace. “That’s really sweet, Johnny. Yes, we’ve been each other’s family for years.”
They lay together in companionable silence.
“I’d give anything to see my parents just one more time,” said Johnny.
Grace knew what was coming but, mellowed by liquor, she let him have his say.
“Have you thought about it, Grace? Going to see the old man?”
How funny that Johnny referred to him as the old man when, for Grace, Patrick lived forever as that robust thirty- something year old who had thrown her across the room with one hand.
In the intimate space of a late night conversation, had with wine in bed, it was difficult to be angry with Johnny. Grace listened without attacking.
“Why does it matter to you so much, Johnny? Why do you want me to see him?”
“For the reason I just gave you. I would do anything to see my father again, just for an hour. But I can’t. He’s gone. And once Patrick goes, he’ll be lost to you for ever.”
“Well, your father didn’t murder your mother. Maybe one reason why you wouldn’t want to see him again?”
“I know, Grace. I know. I don’t know how that must feel. I’ll never know that. But you know – he’s your father. And once he’s gone, he’s gone. You won’t have the opportunity again. You’ll never know why he did it, or what he’s suffered with it.”
“Wait, wait, Johnny. You know an awful lot about him. What’s going on?”
Johnny didn’t reply, but his look gave her pause. “What? What is it? What are you not telling me?”
“It’s no use, Grace, I can’t keep secrets from you. He made me promise that I wouldn’t say anything.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Aah, Grace! I can’t lie anymore. He’s sick. Patrick is sick. He’s dying. He didn’t want me to tell you because he didn’t want you to feel obligation. He wants to see you, but wanted you to come of your own free will, not because he is sick.”
Grace had no words. She just stared at Johnny in disbelief. “He asked me to find you. That day on the train. It wasn’t the first time I saw you. A few months before, I saw the place where you worked. I told him. He asked me to give you a letter but I just couldn’t go up to you like that, after all the years. I said no. So he asked me to follow you home. I got your address. He posted a letter. Didn’t you get it?”
Again, Grace couldn’t answer. He had seen her before? That day on the train she knew fate had brought them back together again. God had answered her prayers and brought Johnny back to her. But here he was now, saying he had seen her before, even followed her to her workplace and to her home. He’d known where she worked and lived for months. If she hadn’t opened her eyes and found him in front of her, would he ever have come back to her?
Johnny, not comprehending her silence, kept on talking. “He’s dying, Grace. Doesn’t have much time left. He really wants to see you. Before it’s too late.”
“Wait.” Grace held up her hand. “You lied to me, Johnny. You said you were always thinking about me, that you’d always loved me. If you loved me and missed me so much, why didn’t you come to me the first time you saw me again?”
“What? I’m telling you your father is dying. Listen! We can talk about your romantic illusions later.”
Grace jumped out of the bed, ready for a fight.
“My romantic illusions? You said you were always thinking of me! Always wanting to see me. Now I find out you lied. For months you knew where I was, could have come to me. Why did you wait?”
“I was scared, Grace.”
“Scared?” Her voice rose in disbelief. “You followed me home! That is what’s scary! You made me believe this fantasy of it being our destiny to meet on that train. You see Patrick all the time. You keep secrets from me. I left my fucking family for you. But you were scared? Scared of me?”
“Yes, Grace, I was scared. Scared you wouldn’t recognise me. Scared you would recognise me but not want to know me. Look at you. Educated. Beautiful. A clever woman. What would someone like you want with me? I never even finished high school.”
Grace melted. Yes, of course. She hadn’t thought about it that way. Of course he would have been scared to approach her. She got back into bed. Johnny refilled her wine glass. She kissed the beloved curls on his head, stroked his cheek with the back of her hand. She couldn’t stay angry with him. They had finished their bottle of wine before a subdued Grace asked: “What’s wrong with him?”
“Cancer. Liver cancer.”
“Is it curable?”
“The last I heard there was nothing they could do for him anymore. He was okay when last I saw him. He can still move around and stuff, but he’s not going to survive this.”
Grace lay in silence, digesting the news. Sharing the news seemed to distress Johnny – the two must be much closer than she had realised.
“And he’s not lying. Some of the neighbours saw him at the hospital,” Johnny added.
Grace felt nothing – not sympathy, not revulsion. A hundred more questions raced through her brain. Where was her father living? Who was taking care of him? Was he alone? He had loomed so large in her mind all her days as a killer, a taker of life, that she had never given one moment’s thought to his mortality. He was vulnerable, sick, no longer all powerful. Finally. But the thought of his suffering gave her no joy.
Tell us: What do you think of the story?