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Stories from within

Her Daddy meant the World to her

Her daddy meant the world to her. He was the strength, the pillar, the support that held her world together, but daddy was gone. He was in Northern Ireland supporting the troops that were trying to keep the peace. She didnít understand the politics of it all, she just knew that her daddy was away and in a place where he might get hurt. She didnít want to think about other possibilities. That kind of thing happened to other people. It wouldnít happen to her daddy.

When the evening news came on, they had to be quiet. She knew that her mother was watching for anything that involved Ďthe troubles.í Mummy would sit at the edge of the armchair, elbows resting on her knees with her face pushed towards the telly as though by doing this she could absorb any last drop of information from the flickering screen. Night after night, they would sit this way in total silence until the programme ended. The two sisters would watch their mother with worried eyes. They were too young to appreciate the reasons why, they just knew it was very, very important and so they stayed still and they stayed quiet.

Sometimes she caught her mother crying. She would hear her behind the closed bedroom door. She didnít know what it meant when her mother cried like this but it wasnít good and it made her feel sick. She wished her daddy would come home then mummy wouldnít cry anymore she would be happy again. They could all be happy again.

At night, she would lie in bed and try to remember what he looked like. They had a large photograph in the lounge; daddy in his military uniform, but the picture didnít move, didnít laugh, didnít talk. The longer he was away, the harder she found it to recall his features or even the sound of his voice. She wanted to tell him about her homework. She felt enormously proud to have homework; it was the thing that made her feel so grown up at last, only students in year two and above got to do it and in his absence she had moved up into her second grade at school. She wanted him to see her at the dining table after the evening meal was over, doing her set work in her neatest writing. Would she look different to him if he saw her doing this? Would he see how she was growing up now? She imagined him coming home from work to find her there, he would smile and ruffle her hair and tell her how well she was doing. She liked that daydream.

One late afternoon, there was a knock at the door. She was playing with her sister in their shared bedroom upstairs, but she heard the sound of her mother open the front door and seconds later, the sound of a deep timbered voice. Then she heard a noise that would stay with her until her last breath; her motherís unimaginably anguished cry. They stopped their game, rooted to the spot by an instinct as old as time. Like young in the wild, they remained motionless, hardly daring to breathe. Something terrible had happened.

At last they stirred, alarmed by the sound of their motherís broken sobs interweaved with the voices of the strange men at the door. She took hold of her younger sisterís hand and led her down the stairs to the front hall where they watched the scene play out before young, confused eyes.

The men were tall, in uniform; they spotted the girls and gently pushed the sobbing woman back into the house. There were two of them, faces grim, yet somehow uncomfortable at the same time. One of them closed the door behind him as the other guided mother into the lounge. The girls followed.

She sat in the big armchair with the puffy cushions, it was her chair, no one sat there but mother, it was one of the unwritten rules in the house, like how she always got the end cut of the roast beef, the part with all the flavour. The chair seemed to swamp her bowed figure; she looked smaller. The girls watched as she sniffed, face hidden behind a large white handkerchief. It was too big to be mothers; one of the soldiers must have given it to her.

The taller of the two men, the one with the kind smile, ushered the girls out of the room and into the kitchen. He organised tall glasses of orange squash for them and found mummyís hidden stash of chocolate biscuits. Despite the strangeness of the situation, they felt calmed by his gentle presence and appeased by the chocolate biscuits. They were normally only allowed chocolate biscuits at the weekend, they werenít going to tell him that though. He lifted them onto the kitchen counter to sit whilst they ate, this was unheard of and they giggled in the secret knowledge that he had committed a terrible crime by putting them there.

The doorbell rang again. He left them alone to answer it. Moments later, mummyís friend from next door stood in the kitchen with them, obviously bemused but eager to understand. The man spoke in hushed tones to her. He was telling her something important, the same something that had made mummy cry. Why wouldnít he tell us? Mummyís friend patted our knees quickly and then left with a smile that was supposed to make us feel better, to join mummy and the other man in the lounge.

The crying stopped. All they could hear now was an occasional voice; not clear enough to hear what they were saying, but loud enough to know by the tone, that the initial shock was over. She put her arm around her sister and hugged her close. It made her feel better. She wished she hadnít eaten the chocolate biscuit now, it felt as though it was wrong to enjoy something like that, when her mother was so obviously upset.

It was her daddy; she knew it had to be something to do with her daddy. Why else would these men be here? Why would they come to their home and make her mummy cry? She wanted to ask someone to explain things to her but she felt overwhelmed by the strangeness of it all. Instead, she held her sister tight; it brought a small measure of comfort to them both.

Finally, the men left. They took the strength out of the house as they departed. All that remained was the shattered figure of their mother and the consoling presence of her friend. The girls went to bed early that night. They didnít watch the news, in fact the television remained quiet, emphasising the empty stillness of the house and the traumatic event of the late afternoon.

That night she didnít lay daydreaming of her father watching her do her homework, as a substitute she replayed the events of the afternoon over and over in her head. Finally, sleep took hold and gave her the escape she needed from the disturbing recollection.

When morning came, so did the news. They sat at the breakfast table whilst their mother poured orange juice from a carton, speaking as she busied herself around the kitchen.

ďDaddy has had a little accident,Ē she began then stopped, hands gripping the edge of the sink, she took a deep breath and continued, ďHe is in hospital and will be there for some time, but he is ok. He is ok.Ē She said the last as though to reassure herself more than the girls.

ďWhat happened,Ē asked the younger of the two girls.

ďOh well, you know,Ē she prevaricated, her voice a little more shrill than it should be, ďjust a little accident, nothing to worry about.Ē They knew immediately that this wasnít true. Something awful had taken place but they were too young to be told.

ďCan we go and see him?Ē the younger of the two girls asked quietly.

ďNo darling, I am sorry you wonít be able to do that. I will be going today; I can give him your love.Ē

She told them to go to school as usual and that when they came home they should go to the neighbourís house for tea. She would be home as soon as she could but it would be late. They knew better than to argue or make a fuss. Even to their inexperienced eyes, the veneer of calm was thin enough to shatter at the slightest provocation. Dutifully they ate breakfast and left to catch the school bus without argument. She hugged them both distractedly before they left and waved in a preoccupied fashion as they turned the corner.

Many days passed. Mother became less fragile, she even laughed once or twice at something on the telly. They had not been to see their daddy yet. He was, apparently too poorly to have too many visitors but he sent his love and a big hug through mummy.

The weather started to change and the evenings became shorter. Halloween passed and daddy still didnít come home, Bonfire night passed and still daddy didnít come home. Soon it would be Christmas. She couldnít bear the thought of not seeing him any longer. She had waited and waited and waited, so patiently. She even began to wonder if he was dead but nobody would tell them. Her mother always spoke in evasive but soothing sentences if they asked questions. The anger built slowly, she felt annoyed that no one realised how grown up she was, angry that they didnít respect her new maturity enough to confide the details with her. She found herself doing things that surprised everyone, including herself. The frustration took form vocally, usually quite loudly. Banging doors was always good too. It sounded so big and so bad, much more forceful than anything her voice could achieve. She felt herself changing and she didnít know how to deal with it. She needed her daddy here, so that she could draw on his strength to make her world feel safe again.

She decided to do something she hadnít done for several years. She decided to write a letter to Santa. Christmas was about magic after all. Perhaps if she wished and prayed and behaved as well as she could, then something magical might happen. Daddy might come home. She wrote in her neatest writing at the dining table whilst her mother and sister sat in the next room.

Dear Santa,

I havenít written to you for some time now. I am sorry about that. It isnít really that I donít believe in you, it is just that I am getting older now and none of my friends write to you so I just sort of stopped too. I have a really big thing I would like to ask you for this year. It isnít just for me. It is for my sister and my mum too.

Please can I have my daddy back home? I havenít seen him for such a long time and he hasnít seen how tall I am now, or my new haircut, or my teeth without the braces on. I know you are really busy but I promise to be good all next year and forever if you grant me this wish.

Thank you for your time,

With lots of love and kisses.

She signed it with her name and folded it repeatedly until it wouldnít fold any more. She kissed it for luck and then tucked it under her pillow, in the age-old family tradition, before falling asleep.

In the morning, the letter was gone. She searched high and low but there was no sign of it. At breakfast, she didnít say anything to anyone about the letter but watched her mother closely for signs that she had found it. Would she laugh at her for being so childish? Neither mentioned it. Soon she put the letter to the back of her mind. Life took over.

End of term arrived with a flurry of snow. It signalled to her that Christmas had really arrived. She wondered whether Santa would grant her wish. Her mother still went to visit him in hospital but the girls were too young to attend. ďDaddy is still too poorly.Ē It seemed as though he would never come home and it had been months now.

She sat at the dining table, behind her, the curtains closed against the cold of the winter evening. Spread out before her on the table lay her homework, the book she was studying at school, her pens and her English exercise book. The doorbell rang; she paid scant attention, she had so much to do and it would probably be mummyís friend from next door, coming round for a glass of wine again. She was only vaguely aware of the disruption as she tried to stay focussed on her work. The frosty blast of cold air sent a shiver through her; she wished they would close the front door quickly against the wintry weather.

So deep was her concentration, that she didnít notice him at first. She didnít see as he watched her from the other room, taking in the changes. Her new hair cut, her steady hand as she wrote confidently on the paper in front of her and finally, when she turned, the missing braces as her face changed from astonishment to absolute delight and split into a grin wide enough to light up any heart.

She flew then, from the chair into her fatherís arms and held him so tight he thought she would never let go. The cold from his jacket burned into her warm cheek. It was wonderful, it felt so real, so unyielding. She loosened her grip a little and leaned back to look into his face. He had changed. He looked older, as though life had taken something from him, but he was still her daddy and he was alive. He gently disentangled her and limped over to the sofa where the girls threw themselves on either side of him and snuggled in close. Mother stood in the doorway, leaning against the frame, her face happy and relaxed for the first time in months. She watched as he ruffled the tops of their heads and laughed along as the girls giggled in delight.

She felt the warmth of his body as his side pressed against hers, smelt the soapy, sharp, clean smell that was her dadís. This was real, this wasnít a day dream. She scanned his face, soaking in the details and listened to his voice as he answered her sisterís barrage of questions. She didnít want to say anything. Not yet. She just wanted to make a memory; one that she could call on whenever she wanted to.

She closed her eyes tight, just for a moment. Whether it was the magic of Christmas or some other power, she needed to say thank you. She did so silently, sending her thoughts into the great unknown. Her wish had been granted.

Daddy was home.

Bev Morrant

FootNote: This is loosely based on my own experience as an army child during the seventies, when my father was sent on a tour of duty in Northern Ireland.

Story Background info: I have written the story throught the eyes of a child on the verge of change; from child to teenager. A traumatic time which is increased in intensity by her father's absence. She watches her mother's anguish, uncertain how to help, still too young to participate and yet old enough to sense the undercurrents around her.