Johnathan waited for the computer to power up, swinging the chair gently from side to side. It was a new chair, black and functional. He remembered an old one with a cracked leather seat and wooden armrests. He remembered swinging on that chair when he was how old – six or seven? Kneeling on the seat and gripping tight to the old, dark wood, shutting his eyes and pretending he was in a fairground. It had been falling apart even then, brown leather criss-crossed with tape, the wheels loose. Where was it now – in a landfill, or recycled into sawdust? Dad had let him swing on it for a treat, for being good. He’d said; “Hold on tight now, or you’ll fall off.” Normally swinging on Dad’s chair was strictly forbidden, like bouncing on the bed or drawing faces on the wallpaper.
The computer was showing wallpaper of a family snap. Taken at least twenty years ago it showed them all at the end of a pier on a fine summer day. Mum and Dad were grinning, arms around each other’s waists, windblown and sunburned. James smiled into the camera with the smug arrogance of the brave and the beautiful. Johnathan himself stood apart as if he was trying to sidle out of shot, looking very young and awkward. The last time they’d all gone away as a family maybe, before James had gone off to college.
He found he didn’t want to look at the photo any more. The hard, icy lump that had been lodged for the past week in the pit of his stomach rose up into his throat. He stared to click indiscriminately through the desktop, opening the My Documents file. There was nothing much, only evidence of a neat and organized mind. There were invoices, letters, picture files and copies of household accounts. One page of Internet links interested him briefly but the sites they led to were mainly to do with Dad’s hobbies; an online ornithology club that logged him in automatically, a music fansite and a couple of review forums for film and theatre. One of the sites tried to open up a personal message. It was never going to be answered. What could he write? ‘Sorry, my Dad’s dead, please terminate his membership.’
The screen blurred as he closed that site, and he rubbed at his eyes, let out a sigh. He dug a bit deeper, thinking about the letter. Nothing he’d seen so far betrayed any sign of madness or obsession, unless it was an obsession with cataloguing income and outgoings. But if a person were delusional there’d be signs surely. Mum was an open book – he’d know if she thought anything was wrong. And she would know, living with Dad day after day, she would know.
There was a file in My Documents labelled TAX. Johnathan opened it expecting a list of percentages and receipts but there was only one thing; a Word document. He opened it and stared. A poem?
Teach me to step on Fairhill Lee,
Where the monarchs gather three,
Call me to turn to face the Leap,
Where the child lies sound asleep,
Over river, underway
Fast in stone I hide away.