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Time (and love) waits for no one...

He leaned his back against the shuttered little structure and lit a cigarette, waiting. He had smoked two cigarettes and was lighting a third before a car came to a stop in the road beside the hut. The car door banged to and then the heavy crunching tread of a dark shape of a man came towards him. For a moment, Charlie thought the man was aiming a gun at him, then he realised it was a hand. He took the hand warily and shook it. They walked along the pebbled shore while the waves made audible little flirtatious sallies and withdrawals at their feet. She was all right, your mum. A firebrand.

Fuck it! It was hard to tell whether the comment was a reproof or merely an observation. For more years than he could bear to calculate, he had longed for some token from his father. The news that this had been denied him, deliberately withheld, prompted a general defensiveness. In a moment of unspoken agreement, they had stopped and were looking out over the sea. The slate surface shimmered provocatively under the beam of the lamps on the long posts and the diffused lights of the windows of the bungalows, way up on Fulborough Heights.

There was an undertow of something in his voice Charlie recognised. He had been raised in the sure and certain knowledge that he had an absconding father. And yet there was that pleading animal tone. Charlie dug his hands in his pockets against the wind, conscious as he did so that he was adopting a pose he had absorbed from films. The gesture was a feeble understudy for the words needed to voice what he was feeling. It seemed bizarre to make someone glad to learn that they had not done what you ardently wished they had done. He had mourned his absent father, fiercely, inconsolably, endlessly, desperately.

It was, he suddenly recognised, to seek his father that he had made his way to London, for the only way to bear the loss had been to conjure that impossibly glamorous figure, whose flight it was possible to condone on grounds of innate superiority. He could never have envisaged this hesitant man with the unsettling squeak and tremor in his voice.

Sharply, fervently, he wished this newly recovered parent to the bottom of the sea. No work for us fisher folk these days, what with the EEC. The note of whimsy was terrible. An unemployed, down-at-heel, shabby fisherman was no substitute for an insouciant profligate high-hearted deserter. Charlie, acute to personal danger, braced himself for further unwanted revelation.

Aphrodite's Hat : Salley Vickers :

She sees me right. Works up at the local pub and helps out with the B and B there. I do odd jobs for them too.

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We get by. What do you do? I heard it straight away. I had a voice once. Someone put me in a film. Said I was a natural. Offered to take me to Hollywood.

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They had reached the beach hut again and he stopped and took out a packet of cigarettes. Got the habit on the boats. Red lobster hands. A strand of tobacco had stuck to his lip. He felt nothing.

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Not even contempt. It was a poor sort of an offering from a prodigal father. I should have asked you before. Through the darkness Charlie could just make out that he was grinning. Walking through the hospital corridors, which smelled of nothing normal, Charlie looked at his father for the first time. Broad shoulders, middle height, hair once dark, now mostly grey, a face which might have been handsome once but had settled into hangdog, jeans, donkey jacket, with a sprinkling of dandruff about the shoulders, visible white vest, plaid wool shirt, brown suede shoes, wrong shade for the rest of what he was wearing.

A model of unexceptional ordinariness. Except that he was the father he had never had — and at the same time he was not. He was quite another father. A stranger. Too late for Christmas, but she used to like Roses. Mind you, she liked hard centres best, Jen, but I thought in the circumstances soft centres might go down better. Charlie did not say that his mother was past eating anything, even soft centres.

Nor did he consciously form the thought, but in the region of his mind, which as yet had formed no words, he became aware that he was in charge of these two beings, his parents.

He was not at all sure how his mother would take this. He had guessed at once whom the card had come from. Across the face, once pretty, now bleached by years of discontent and disappointment, and further diminished by drugs and pain, flashed a sudden enlivening angry interest. But she knew. And Charlie knew that she knew.

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And in that instant he knew that he had done something remarkable. Unquestionably, unmistakably, his mother was pleased. Relief rushed in on him, warming him like a double Scotch on an empty stomach.

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Wrote to me. Charlie, who had had strict instructions from his stepfather to keep this news from his mother, felt a further rush of absolving relief. He walked down the corridor, where he met the duty sister. She had a point, Charlie granted, staring at the hospital Christmas tree. It was still decked, though it was twelfth night, still bearing brightly wrapped faux presents.

Aphrodite’s Hat by Salley Vickers

Or was it the last day they could safely be up before the bad fairies dropped out of the greenery to work their harm? What was it happened today? His gran would surely have told him. He went outside for a smoke and looked at the saucepan in the night sky. We Three Kings of Orientar, he remembered suddenly. On their camels following the star. She looked peaceful.