Walking back from Rilla’s christening, I thought about asking Da why he always seemed to be somewhere else, when I was a child. In the end, I decided against it—I knew what the answer would be, anyway (“Anais, love, I was always there. Not as much as your mother, of course, God rest her soul, but then, she was your mother. I’d a living to be making, for the two of you as much as myself, and once your Nan got a bit older I had more to do ‘round hers, so I’d some travelling to do now and again, but I was home a lot more than most men are, after they’ve married and started a family, why, your mother used to complain that I was underfoot…”) and so on and so forth, ad nauseum, ad infinitum.
Since I didn’t intend on talking about it until I threw up/the end of infinity, it made more sense to think of something else. Rich’s mum—who’d nipped home in her plastic-looking, blocky little smart car, her pride and joy after Richard himself—opened the door for us as we were coming up the path, and ushered us all in whilst chattering animatedly about how lovely the service had been, and did we want tea or should she just open some wine, or was it a bit early, really?
It was Richard who insisted on opening the wine straight away. “I never thought I’d be anyone’s godfather; I feel like celebrating,” he’d said, giving me a meaningful look, and he was pouring champagne before his mum could even suggest tea again. I was touched when Mummy Ashbrooke came over with a glass of rosé for me—“You don’t care for champagne, do you, dear?”—and before long, I’d had nearly 3 glasses of the same, with little more than a jam-and-cream drenched scone to line my stomach. It was in this moment that I, if you’ll pardon the expression, got my Irish up; and in that frame of mind, went to find, well, my Irish.
“Would you mind if I had a look for my da?” I asked Richard’s mum, who took an already half-asleep Rilla from my arms, and headed towards the Moses basket we’d set up in one of the smaller, out-of-the-way reception rooms. “I’ll stay with her until you come back, dear, don’t worry,” she said, fairly beaming, and I headed expectantly for the back garden.
I was right. Before I even reached the roses that Richard’s mum tended so carefully, I began picking up the gentle sound of Da’s voice. The sound, which normally soothed or amused me, was, in my current state, downright infuriating.
“Da!” I barked, with none of the softness that had so lately been a part of my demeanour. With a quick glance in my direction, he hurriedly ended the call; I was close enough to hear a hasty, but genuine, “Love you too, darlin’,” as he hung up, and that sent me into paroxysms of rage. Without thinking about what I was saying, I launched into the first of my accusations.
“How is it that you always find time to call her?” I demanded. “I don’t remember you calling us every night you were away, when I was growing up.”
To his credit, Da’s tone only became softer, as he said calmly, “Anais, love, I rang your mother every night I was out on business. You were sometimes in bed by the time I had a chance, that’s true enough, and you didn’t always come to the phone when you were awake—but your mother got her nightly phonecall, don’t you worry.”
“What about when she was sick?” I insisted. “I was always in the house, then. I was always awake. You didn’t call her every night. I’d remember.” As I heard myself, the petulant child-ness of my voice, I tried to reign myself in; but by that time, my da had started to heat up, as well.
“I most certainly did,” he said, just a hint of steel coming into his voice. “And you were not in the house every time I called, young lady, because I asked to speak to you more than once, and got told you were down at the stables.” And, again to his credit, he didn’t say it; I’d been less hanging around the horses, more hanging around the stable boys, from the time I was about 13; but just because he didn’t say it, didn’t mean he wasn’t aware, and I was sure I could feel the censure coming off him in waves. Right at that moment, I’d had enough censure from my (apparently) absent father.
I want to make an excuse for myself, for what I said next. I want to, but I can’t see what excuse there is. Even as I said it, I knew how uncalled for it was; I knew it wasn’t true, I knew I was saying it just to hurt him, I even knew I was really just a little too tipsy and emotional and was lashing out; and yet, I said it anyway.
“Don’t you dare accuse me of abandoning Mum to chase after boys!” I shrieked—which he’d in no way done. “Just because you feel guilty for gallivanting all over Europe while your wife was dying, you can’t blame me for not looking after her! I was a child!” And, like every hysterical drunk before me, I began weeping. Loudly. And did I mention, hysterically.
In the coldest tone I have ever heard my father use, he said quietly, “Anais, you’re the worse for drink. We’ll not talk about this now. Go inside, and calm yourself down.” And with that, he turned on his heel, and marched away from me. As he reached the patio doors, he said, not warmly, but less frostily, “I’ll look after Rilla until you’ve settled.”
And then he walked inside, and left me wailing in the garden.