Sins of the Father(5)

By: Hannah Howe

Chapter Three

After sorting through my emails – like letterbox mail, most of it went into the bin – I typed a report for a client. My report centred on a cheating wife, a middle-aged woman embroiled in an affair. As I typed the report, I reflected that it’s sad how marriages fall apart. I would never cheat on Alan, because of my love for him and because of respect. As Faye pointed out, one of the greatest gifts one person could offer another is the gift of respect.

I was concentrating on the report when a silhouette appeared on the frosted glass of the office door, a male silhouette. The man knocked on the door and I said, “Enter.”

To my astonishment and mild delight, my father walked into the office.

Of medium build and around five foot ten tall, my father had short, dark hair, hair blessed with a natural wave; his hair was considerably darker than his sideboards, which were grey and wide. His eyes were blue and friendly, while his face contained a number of light scars. Also, his cheeks were heavily pock-marked, possibly the result of a childhood illness. Gawain Morgan was my father, yet I hardly knew him. For thirty-three years, he’d been a stranger to me and although we’d met on a regular basis over the past year, he remained a mystery.

I eased myself away from my desk then stood to greet him. “Hello...what are you doing here?”

Gawain shuffled his feet, somewhat nervously, grimaced then ran a finger under his shirt collar. Despite the warm weather, he wore a dark blue suit, light blue shirt and navy tie. Normally, he wore casual clothing and to judge from his general demeanour I sensed that he’d dressed for the occasion, for this meeting in my office.

Gawain stood beside my client’s chair and said, “I waited until your colleague went out. I didn’t want to embarrass you. She didn’t see me, honest.”

“You don’t embarrass me,” I said, irritated by his comment.

I waved a hand towards my client’s chair and Gawain sat down. Meanwhile, I perched on the edge of my desk.

Although he was my father, I found it difficult to regard him as ‘Dad’. He was Gawain to me, which suggested a void, an emotional distance between us.

“I want to wish you good luck for the wedding,” he said somewhat sheepishly.

“Thank you,” I smiled.

Gawain nodded. He glanced around my office and we lapsed into an awkward silence.

Eventually, I said, “I wasn’t sure whether to invite you, or not. I mean, only Alan knows about you, that you’re my father.”

“Best keep it that way,” Gawain said. “I don’t want to embarrass you.”

“You don’t embarrass me.” I stood and paced the length of my office, several times. I was becoming angry, with what, I didn’t know; maybe with the years of neglect, with the years of wondering about my father and his identity, whether he was dead or alive. He was alive, I told myself, and I should be grateful for that fact. It was time to move on, to leave the past behind. I made an instant decision. “Okay,” I said, “you are invited. I’ll tell everyone that you are my father. It’s ridiculous that we have to keep our relationship a secret.”

“Are you sure?” Gawain asked, his tone edged with concern. “I don’t want to upset you, or your business.”

“I’m sure,” I said.

He grinned, offered me a genuine, warm smile. Then he sat back in my client’s chair and appeared to relax for the first time.

After I’d smoothed the back of my skirt and plonked my posterior on my chair, he said, “I’m not only here about the wedding. I’m here on business as well; I want to hire you.”

“You can’t hire me,” I said, the smile on my face morphing into a frown. “I mean, I can’t take money from you.”

“Hear me out, please.” Gawain leaned forward and loosened his tie. He undid a shirt button to reveal an angry rash on his neck, possibly eczema. He felt an urge to scratch that rash. However, he resisted. Instead, he rubbed the inflammation gently with the back of his hand. “You know all about my past,” he said, “about my misdeeds, my criminal record, my chequered career.”

“You were into robberies, at the sharp end and organizing them, I know that. You went inside when I was born, I know that too. But you haven’t done anything I’d be deeply ashamed of, have you?”