Happy Father Day:
Evelyn was waiting for me at 7 o’clock. Her door was ajar. “Look at this, Kate,” she called, proudly showing me Sammy’s new collar. She’d bought it on her recent holiday, a present to say sorry for leaving him behind. Although we had tried to reassure her that Sammy would be fine at the kennels she wasn’t convinced.
“It’ll be like a holiday for him too, Evelyn,” I had said cheerily.
“He’ll think I’ve abandoned him,” Evelyn replied sourly. “Are you sure you can’t take him – just for 5 days.”
I shook my head, refusing to allow the small flicker of guilt to ignite the flame that would consume me. Working full time and with 2 dogs already, it was out of the question. Besides, Sammy was incontinent and had cost us a lounge carpet the last time.
Now I smiled at her obvious pleasure in the collar. “Beautiful,” I said and Sammy wagged his tail in agreement.
Evelyn gave Sammy his usual instruction to guard the house. The spaniel looked dolefully at her – his head cocked to one side as though wondering how long she would be gone this time. “Won’t be long, Sammy,” she informed him before locking the front door.
In the car, Evelyn became very quiet. We were on our way to the cemetery. It had been a chance remark she had made the other day about it being Father’s Day on Sunday and how she missed her Dad, and the good times they had shared. “What happened?” I asked and waited expectantly for the sad tale. Instead she looked at me as though I was totally lacking any understanding. She simply said, “He died.”
That was it. Those two words were more explosive than a thousand. Her sorrow hung in the air between us. I couldn’t bear to break the sombre silence. Eventually Evelyn did. “I used to get him a card, but I can’t now.”
“Yes, you can,” I said. “Go buy him a card today and on Sunday I’ll take you to the cemetery and you can give it to him.”
“Would you do that, Kate?” she asked, the tears still filling her eyes.
“Of course,” I said, relieved that I could do something, anything to help. I’m like that, especially with Evelyn. It’s like there’s something in me that can’t bear to see any sadness in her. Evelyn isn’t made for sadness, but for laughter. It’s in the way she brightens up a room just by entering it. “Hello,” she bellows. “I’m here!” and then her absolute delight in meeting someone she knows. It could be someone she met yesterday, but is given the same delighted greeting as life-long friends. Evelyn and joy are rarely separated, and the world is a very uncomfortable place the few times that has happened.
So there we were. Father’s Day and I was spinning the car out the Main Road and into the cemetery. Evelyn showed me the grave. It was her brother’s. Her father’s ashes had been scattered over it, and then a few years later, her mother’s. She held the card in place with a few white pebbles and used some more to weigh down a posy of silk flowers.
“I’ll leave you alone for a minute,” I said. She looked at me quizzically.
“So you can tell him Happy Father’s Day and thank him for being your Dad.” I explained.
I tried not to listen as I walked away, but it was difficult. Evelyn’s voice seemed to carry over the wind.
“I miss you Dad…”
It wasn’t that I was being kind to Evelyn out of any pious sense of duty. My reasons were more selfish, and simpler. Evelyn’s sadness did something to me; it wrenched my insides in some inexplicable way that I couldn’t stand. I HAD to do something to alleviate her pain.
Maybe it was chance, maybe just to put some distance between myself and Evelyn, I’m not sure, but I found myself heading towards another grave. My own father’s. I had been twelve when he died. A child, with a child’s understanding of life and death and fearful of the vast unprotected unknown that stretched out before me. Now, almost 40 years later, I stood by the grave of a man I never got the chance to know, and I wondered if I too should have brought a Father’s Day card. An image filled my mind of another Father’s Day, excitedly counting out my paper-round money to buy a card and a Commando book. In my neatest handwriting, written with love, and wrapped in joy. So long ago. The last Father’s Day. There have been none since. Maybe there should have been.
“Whose grave is that?” Evelyn had appeared beside me.
“That’s my Dad,” I whispered, then added, “Happy Father’s Day.”
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