by Tim Love
“Hope you’ve finished breakfast Dave, because I’m coming out at half eight.”
“Who is this?”
“Who d’you fuckin think? Know anyone else inside?”
“How did you get my number, dad?”
“Never you mind son, never you mind. See you at the front gate in an hour.”
I slam the phone down. If I don’t go, he’ll only find me later. Maybe I could scare him off with a hug, telling him how much I missed him, or wear a discreet dog-collar.
I’m still without a plan when I join the huddle of people outside the prison, across the road as if onlookers won’t guess why we’re here – young and old, the women dressed up, the men disheveled, eyes down. I realise I must look as bad as them. Perhaps we have more in common than I think. I used to ask mum where dad was if we hadn’t seen him for a while. She’d say he was on a business trip. Each time he returned home he’d shut himself in the back room. When I asked what he did there, mum said he was smoking. I came to see smoking as his obsessive hobby, like other fathers collected football programmes. I’ve inherited his solitude. When I rebelled I didn’t join a commune or squat. I found a bedsit and a job in a library, vowing never to see him again and never to smoke. But now mum’s gone he’s all I’ve got and he knows it. I watch the prisoners emerge into the light one by one, our little group shrinking. Then he appears. He’s lost weight. He pulls a cigarette from a pack, pats his jacket pockets, looks around. I don’t know whether to welcome him or run off before it’s too late. The woman beside me crosses the road and offers him a light. I hadn’t noticed how pretty she was. They kiss and cross back. “Loser,” my father says as they walk by.
Tim Love lives in Cambridge.