The next thing I knew, a voice was saying softly, musically, “Anais, love, wake up; I’ve a roast chicken, with all the trimmings,” and for a moment, before I catapaulted into full awakeness, I smiled up at Da’s familiar, but older than I remembered, face.
As a child, I’d had the same, jewel-toned, brilliant green eyes as him (though mine were larger, and shaped like a cat’s). When had his eyes faded, I wondered, to the gentle, slightly grey green of the ocean on a calm winter’s day? And when had his bold, square-jawed face taken on a hint of softness, a little extra weight under the chin? He was still as slightly-built as ever, jockey-slim though too tall for that profession, and he was still lighter on his feet than most men half his age... and he’d been silver for years, that was no shock, he’d started greying before he’d married my mother... but when had my da started to look, well, old?
“Da,” I said softly, and then, with a start, I sat up in bed. “Amaryllis, where is she?”
“Shh, darlin’, sure and she’s right there in your arms, and fit as a fiddle unless you drop her in your haste to make sure she’s alright,” said Da, a hint of amusement in his voice. “Why don’t I take her now, I can change a nappy as well as you can, and you go and have a shower? I’ll set the table as well, and we’ll eat at about half past?”
Half past 12. That gave me about 40 minutes to shower, change, and feed the baby, before sitting down at Da’s table, and faking an enthusiasm for food I just didn’t have. I knew what he’d say if I didn’t eat, though, and sure enough, I was right; nearly an hour later, after giving Amaryllis another snack, and depositing her in a little wobbly reclined thing, apparently called a bouncy chair, and then gingerly lowering myself onto a cushion-topped chair at the table, I started to pick at my food; and Da told me that, just like a mare with a new foal, I had to eat to keep my strength and the fat content of my milk up.
I rolled my eyes. “I don’t think my milk’s about to dry up, Da, just because I can’t eat an entire plateful of chicken, mashed potato, gravy, and 5 different vegetables, 2 days after giving birth. “
“Sure and I never said it would, love, but you’ve always been a skinny thing, built like a Murphy you are, and nothing wrong with that, but if you could just eat another 3 bites of that lovely moist chicken, and another of those peas because you’ll be wanting to keep your iron up, there you go, now, I know you’re a grown woman and you’re a fine and sensible one as well, but if you’ll just humour your old Da, that’s right, it would help to set my own mind at ease.”
Naturally, as he talked, I ate. Like a more obedient version of the child I had been, I had at least another 2 bites of everything on the plate (including spinach, garden peas, and broccoli, to help keep my iron levels high) because honestly, the moment at which you realize your da is actually a middle-aged, maybe even an old, man, is something that throws you, and makes you want to do things to please him. In case he’s actually at death’s door, or similar. I think that was my reasoning, anyway, and I kept eating, until he beamed at me and called me a good, sensible woman, and then, he offered to clear away the plates, mostly so he didn’t have to watch me feeding Amaryllis again.
As he went into the kitchen, I wondered at his repeated use of the word ‘sensible’. Did he really think so? Was he trying to tell me something; for example, that he'd changed his mind?
I remembered our talk, 7 months earlier, when I’d travelled out to Dublin, and had shared a very tense conversation and some cups of coffee with him, in one of the cafes near the local racetrack (my gran won a racehorse there, when she was a young woman, and the track’s had sentimental value as well as occasional lucrative value to we Murphy’s ever since, but that’s another story). Anyway. The worst point in the entire day, and probably my entire adult life, barring the obvious exception, was when my da asked me who the father was.
“I don’t know, Da,” I’d admitted, perilously close to blushing for the first time in memory. My da’s face went purple with mortification; but I couldn’t say anything else. If I told him, he’d want too many details, he might want to press charges against my rapist, and then what if I had to explain how I’d come to be raped—how on earth would I explain that to my da, he’d want me to have counselling or something—and what if he held the whole thing against the baby, when it came...
I started to make excuses, to say that I was sorry, and my mild-mannered, everyone’s-buddy of a father, looked me straight in the eye and said, in a tone of ice, “We’ll not speak of it again. What’s done is done, and at the end of all this, we’ll have a brand-new baby in the family, which is a gift from God—but you will not share any of the sordid details of the child’s conception with me, and you will protect that child from your inexcusable, sluttish behaviour up to now.”
Sluttish? Sluttish? In all my teenage years of sneaking out late, and coming home at dawn, and having a different boyfriend every few weeks, and just generally being a hellraiser, I had never heard my da use a word like that to describe me. Stung, I opened my mouth to protest, because he didn’t actually know what had happened, did he; but again, what could I say? And anyway, Da was still on a roll.
“There’s no shame in bearing a child from love,” he added, “Whether you’re married or not, but to say to me that you don’t even know....” pressing his lips together, he shook his head sharply, and continued, “As I say, we’ll not speak of it again, and you were right not to come to the house with this. How would I explain this to your stepmother?” which was, presumably, a reference to the fact that she’s a somewhat devout Muslim, not that I give a shit. After a few long moments, Da looked at me, and said carefully, “I’m pleased you’ve chosen to keep the baby, and I’ll handle your stepmother, somehow, and I promise you, the next time you come out to Glas Geadán, you’ll have no trouble from her and no judgment from me; but for now, it’s best if you stay in your grandmother’s old house, here in the city, and wait for me to let you know when you can visit us again.
I’d gone back to England 2 days later, after a dozen fits of tears and temper, without hearing from my da. It had been several weeks before he rang me, to explain that although my stepmother couldn’t make it, he would be coming to visit me as soon as it was convenient for me, and would I like to meet him in Ireland or England or somewhere else? He was happy to put me up for a few nights, if I needed a little break, God Himself knows it’s a tiring thing, to be carrying a baby, and room service and a change of scenery and a nice heated pool to swim in would do me good; I thanked him for his offer, and declined, citing morning sickness and general exhaustion as my reasons. The palpable relief in his voice let me know it was the most comfortable decision for everyone involved; and so, for the rest of my pregnancy, I got weekly, well, nearly weekly, calls from Da, as well as the occasional flower arrangement and of course a giant stuffed bear, through the post, and although I didn’t see my da again until, well, Amaryllis was born, we’d long since made up, in our own way, and I didn’t hold it against him. He was raised Catholic, after all. Plus, no matter how much like a ‘da’ he is, he’s my father. Fathers are supposed to shout at their daughters, when they get pregnant and don’t even know who the sperm donor is.
And as for his white lie about me being a good, sensible woman? Well. I don’t need those kinds of lies, to make me feel good about myself, and I know they’re not true anyway; but you can’t be as charming and likable as Da is, without telling your fair share of them. I didn’t hold that against him, either, anymore than I had growing up. Some people need to lie, that’s all, and if they’re doing it to try and help other people, you can’t be angry with them for that, can you?
Back in that cafe in Dublin, when I saw Da’s face go purple, a part of me even wished I’d learned the habit myself; a little white lie, like, the father and I are split up now, I haven’t told him, or I love him, but he’s married, and I won’t ruin his wife’s life, or I’m sorry, Da, it was just a fling and meant nothing to me, but he’s a decent man and I’m sure he’d help if he knew what had happened; any of those would have been more comfortable for my da, I’m sure.
But lying. I don’t know. Unless I can see a really good reason to tell a lie, doing so makes my skin crawl—and since I don’t care what most people think of me anyway, I can almost never see a good reason for it. I guess I’m just not practiced enough, at knowing when dishonesty’s the better option.
Like I say, some people just need to lie. Other people—like myself—just choose not to.