One last naked game

I take Dad to the beach, to the place we flew kites and helped that hermit crab swap its coke can for a real shell. In the distance is a man throwing a ball for a dog so I tell Dad we’ll have to wait a while and he’s okay with that.

This was always our place, away from that house we shared with Uncle Bill and with Granny, away from its quilted yellow paper walls and the sofa in cathedral brown under its squeaking cover of spill plastic.

I left as soon as I could.

The man and his dog are gone. The beach is for me and Dad only. I ease the lid from his tub and tip Dad out onto the grit. He sits there doing a fine impression of a pile of grit. I use the tub lid to spread him out a bit, and then sprinkle a few handfuls of the gritty sand over the top so he blends in a little.

Then it’s done, and it’s goodbye Daddy, and it’s back to that same house with its look of leprosy where the gutter bolts have rusted and dripped brown streaks down the render.

I charge up both sets of stairs to the attic. This was my room. It still has my homework desk tucked in the eaves beneath the window, and my old bed sits in the middle, pink duvet soft and inviting.

So many games in this room. So little joy.

I sit on the bed, a little girl once more as Uncle Bill’s canes begin their tap tapping on the wooden stair risers either side of the carpet. He would always wait until Dad and Granny had gone out for the day, waiting a good hour for any forgotten items to have brought them back.

Uncle Bill is an old man now, decrepit and paunchy. It seems to take him hours to reach the top of the stairs and then pause at the top, panting and wheezing. He shuffles down the landing and enters the attic. This old man who I prayed would last just that little bit longer than my old man.

I tell him it’s done, and he smiles at me, my doting uncle.

They say old habits die hard, and his take him past me, over to the window where he stares down into the garden.

I stand, then slip from my clothes in silence. I say his name, and he looks at me. He looks me up and down slowly and then turns back to the window.

I ask him why he doesn’t want to play our game. Is it because I’m grown?

Of course there’s no answer.

I have planned nothing, except the knife. I fetch it from under the pillow and then go to play one last naked game with my Uncle Bill.