All Architects Are Called Zach (Part 3, words, 1,376)
By Mark Burrow
3. The Father Thing
Drink and food were dad’s priorities. His appetites governed the flat. Freddy watched his dad in the kitchen, pouring beer into a thin glass and then checking the oven to see what was for dinner.
“Here comes trouble,” his dad said.
Freddy nodded, trying to work out how drunk his dad seemed. Five pints, maybe six? Not crazy drunk – and not shorts – but a decent platform to build on if he was to continue through the evening.
“Your mother sent you to spy on me, did she?” he said.
Freddy shook his head. “No, I’ve come to visit.”
His dad raised the glass and drank a long draught. He then topped up the glass with what remained in the can. He squeezed the can and crushed it in half with his hand before putting it in the flip-top bin in the cupboard under the sink. His hands and arms were filthy with ink from working on the printing machines. The bath would be black after he finished and his mum would have to scrub the scum clean before morning. “This country,” he said to Freddy, “is going to the dogs. We’ll be made redundant… That fucker Murdoch won’t back down… Whenever people in power talk about either modernisation or morality, you know the poor are going to be fucked over. I knew what his game was the second I laid eyes on him.”
Another can was opened. It made Freddy anxious. His dad was the kind of drunk who was fine one minute, even funny and interesting – strangely well-read given Freddy never saw him with a book –and then his mood switched. When that happened, you didn’t want to be around him. “We’re going to be replaced by machines,” he said. “They’re cheaper and faster, don’t take holidays, talk back, fall sick and definitely won’t go on strike when they’re being spun lies. I tell you son, the rich love nothing better than getting one over the working class. At least I’ll get a decent pay-out. Maybe I’ll move to the countryside and buy us a fancy house, detached. Become a farmer.”
Freddy watched the beer disappear down his dad’s throat. He realised he talked like his dad. He thought the same as the old bastard when it came to the haves and the have nots. The testy old fucker had to be right about something.
“Was I a disappointment to you dad? Is that why you treated me like you did?”
His dad was untying the laces of his hob-nail boots, with chipped, blackened fingernails. “Go and run a bath for me,” his dad said.
“I’m asking you a question,” Freddy replied.
“I need a soak before dinner. It’s been a hard day.”
Freddy went upstairs to the bathroom, putting the plug in the hole and swivelling the hot tap on full and the cold tap halfway. He opened the doors of the other three bedrooms to check who was home. He’d forgotten how small the bedrooms were, especially the one he shared with Terry. Only his sister was home and she was asleep in her cot in his parents’ room. His brothers were out, probably up to no good. He heard raised voices downstairs.
The energy of their anger permeated the flat. Freddy wanted it to stop. The voices became louder. He had no idea what the arguing was about. He wasn’t sure they did themselves. He couldn’t stand the sound. It’s what made him go and live on the streets. The fighting went to a whole new level when his dad was made redundant. There were moments when he honestly thought his parents might kill one another.
He had heard every imaginable insult:
“I made the biggest mistake of my life when I married you.”
“Go on rent-a-mouth, keep on going why don’t you.”
“I shouldn’t have had one fucking kid, let alone four of the bastards.”
“My mum was right about you and your whole family. You’re a bunch of fucking pikies, the lot of you.”
“When I kill myself, I’ll make sure everyone knows whose fault it is.”
The splashing sound of the running water was a distraction from the screaming. The mirror filled with steam. He wanted an apology. Some acknowledgement of what they put him through, as well as his brothers and his sister. The Counsellor he’d seen when inside had told him not to pine for some sort of neat, Hollywood resolution with them, but that was bullshit.
With a finger, he wrote a question on the mirror: R U Sorry?
He went downstairs and stood in the hallway. His dad was hungry and wanted to know when he could eat.
His mum told his old man where to go. She wanted to watch her programme in peace.
Freddy thought about making a scene. He remembered the years of his childhood spent by himself, listening to his parents carrying on, their almost limitless capacity to yell and shout and hate. The times when he begged them, pleaded with them to stop and they had kept on fighting, telling him to mind his own business. It’s why he never had kids. He never wanted to take the risk of inflicting on his children what he had suffered as a boy. It was probably the only smart and selfless decision he had taken as an adult.
His dad came into the hallway. He was over six-foot tall, barrel chested with strong, muscular arms. Built like the proverbial brick shithouse. Not a bloke to be messed around with. “The point is,” his dad said to him directly, “you needed to get on with your own life, didn’t you? Take responsibility for what you did rather than keep harking back to the past about what went on here when you were growing up… Playing the blame-game.”
“I’m not playing the blame-game,” replied Freddy. “Stop always belittling me.”
“You’re overthinking it. My parents fought like cats and dogs. My dad was half out of his tree after World War 2 and his dad before him in World War 1, but we got on with things.”
“Your dad was a selfish bastard – a compulsive gambler and an alcoholic, as was his father before him,” said Freddy. “You may not have been a gambler, but you’re 100 percent a selfish bastard and total alcoholic.”
His dad lit an Embassy cigarette. “Drinking is in your blood,” he said, blowing out the smoke. “But liking a drink doesn’t mean you don’t get married and have a family. You have to roll your sleeves up and get on with life – start looking forward as opposed to keep looking back and dwelling on what might have been.”
“The only time mum was happy was after you died.”
“True,” he said, lowering his head and rubbing his dimpled chin, like he did when properly mulling something over. “Here’s the thing,” he went on, “have you ever thought that I did the best that I was able to do? You might have wanted more from me, but think about it – how was that going to happen given who I am? I did the best I could. It may not have been what you wanted. It may have fallen well short of what was required, but I couldn’t give any of you kids, or your mother, any more than I did.”
“You believe that?”
“I do. Now let me have my bath and you can hurry to the shop to fetch your mother’s bits. She needs to get a move on with dishing up dinner. I’m starving.”
Freddy let his dad pass. People were priceless. They kept on justifying themselves long after the funeral’s over. He pulled a plastic bag from the cupboard under the sink in the kitchen, next to the bin, and then questioned why he was going to the shops. They could fuck off… The pair of them… I’m not buying a cabbage or a lettuce or whatever the fuck it was they wanted.
He opened the fridge and pulled the ring pull on one of his dad’s cans of beer. He raised the can and swigged. The gag reflex kicked in and he started coughing and spitting. The beer was salty and sludgy. He realised, with total certainty, that he was drinking the tears of the dead.