A hard man to love
It was done. The caterers were paid, the guests were all gone and Lisa and her mum were alone in the old house for the first time since Lisa could remember.
It still reverberated with him though, an echo that would never quite die out, Lisa thought, as she traced her finger along the smooth wood of the bannister. He was there in the smell of pipe tobacco in the heavy curtains, the anticipation of whisky glasses, queuing beside the decanter.
His bluster and old-school determination chimed hollow in the glasses and his badly concealed disappointment at his house full of soft, bookish women fluttered like moths in the soft furnishings.
Lisa slowly climbed the stairs. Mum was covering canapes with cling film in the kitchen, as if either of them would fancy a mushroom vol-au-vent for breakfast. She let her feet carry her, almost of their own accord, up and up, all the way to the doorway of his study.
He had been a hard man for Lisa to love. Life was for sports, the outdoors, stiff upper lip, death to small furry animals and boys will be boys. His disappointment in his daughter had been palpable. He never even pretended he wouldn’t have preferred a son.
But he had never stopped trying, much to Lisa’s distress. She remembered the hours shivering outside in the cold, forcing her limbs to run, curling her frozen fingers around the rugby ball or the shotgun trigger or the bridle; whenever he had found her curled up with a book in some warm, hidden corner he had found a way to drag her outside.
And his study was his man space. Leather-bound books lined the walls, a soft armchair beside the unlit fire, his old imperial map of the world stretched out on the wall, highlighting the glories of the Empire; a time when men were men and Britain ruled the world.
Lisa let the door shut softly behind her and breathed in his smell of tobacco and dust and leathery cologne.
Slowly, slowly, she lowered herself into the forbidden arms of his ancient chair, a thrill of disobedience jangling, as though he might walk in any minute and catch her and give her the hiding of her life. Not anymore.
And as she sat there and drank him in, trying desperately to miss him, to feel something now that he was gone, she heard a strange sound from beneath his desk. She sat up, straining to hear. A rustling noise, unmistakable. Something was scurrying around in the footwell of his rolltop.
Lisa stood and moved hesitantly towards it.
It was coming from the bottom drawer, which had been left slightly open. Peering inside, Lisa saw a small parcel wrapped in silver paper with her name on it, a card and a metal cage. Inside were two tiny furry creatures gazing up at her from their sawdust beds.
Lisa could not have been more astonished. Her birthday gifts were invariably activity related - a new cricket bat or sessions to improve her rugby game, whatever she asked for. She opened the card.
Thought I'd try something different this time, nothing like the thought of impending death to change your outlook. Hopefully I’ll still be here when you get to meet them!
He was a hard man for Lisa to love, but he had never stopped trying.