Submission Details

Sunrises And Other Stories
Sunrises And Other Stories
Paul Marriner
Yes - full manuscript is available

Love, grief, hope, sorrow and joy - the consequences of living that help us to learn and confront truths. This is a collection of stories where impressionable boys and lovers, fathers and mothers, priests, con-men and angels come alive; stories of people and moments to care for and recognise. Told with compassion and care, these are tales of living and dying from an author who hopes you will bring them to life by knowing the people within. The collection is linked by characters and events. At their core is ‘Sunrises’, in which Anthony grieves following the death of his daughter and struggles to know where to turn for his own peace and truth. ‘Sunrises’ is supported by stories depicting critical episodes from Anthony’s life and the lives of those around him; how he is shaped by the choices and actions of others and how they influence his present and future. Love, grief, hope, sorrow and joy - bringing truth to a life.

The Park Keeper

The Park Keeper
1967. Our park keeper had only one arm. He wore a grey uniform with a small enamelled badge on the left lapel, showing the council’s oak tree and star emblem. The badge’s enamel was bright; the design was clear and detailed. It looked a badge of authority and one worth wearing. Like other park keepers where we lived, he wore a stiff peaked cap with another oak tree and star as a centrepiece. Unlike other keepers, he had only one arm. The empty left sleeve of his grey tunic was folded with a sharp crease and pinned to the top pocket; from a distance he appeared to reach for a pen that wasn’t there. No-one was brave enough to ask how the arm was lost but the uniform and his military bearing led us to invent tales of German snipers and dive-bombing Stukas. The Enola Gay had razed Hiroshima twenty-two years earlier and though a life-time to us seven year olds, it was no more than a generation past. We saw old soldiers in the streets (from both wars) and our grandparents had tales to tell, but told them rarely - except Pete’s Gran. She lived with him and often repeated the story of the night the bombs hit her brother’s house and left him and his family in pieces - literally, as she found the next morning. The story scared us but we couldn’t help pestering to hear when round Pete’s for tea. His Gran always obliged, standing with her back to the open fire and lifting her floral patterned cotton dress to warm the backs of her legs. She sucked on false teeth as she spoke and rocked from side to side to ease the arthritis in her hip.
The bomb that took Pete’s Granny’s brother was probably intended for the glassworks - the industrial complex at the end of the railway, half a mile from our tiny High Street. Even now the glassworks was a bomb site - a jagged playground of broken bricks, concrete, twisted metal gantries and, of course, broken glass. After the war, any buildings still standing were demolished and the rubble bull-dozed into little pyramids, piled haphazardly around the site. The grown-ups complained about the delay in rebuilding but I was too young and busy to care; a brand new park had been built over the remains of the old town dairy (another stray bomb or perhaps 'Jerry’ didn’t like Friesians). Soon after our new park was finished they built a coffee processing plant close by. The smell of roasting coffee was a novelty at first, but soon commonplace and we relied on visitors to our town to notice.
Every Sunday at 09:00 (before church services) the air raid sirens outside the Town Hall were tested, though perhaps more as a consequence of the Cold War. We never worried they would sound for real and I don’t know what we would have done if they did; I suppose our parents and teachers had some idea but it was never shared.
Our park keeper was not tall but walked with a straight back and if, as we suspected, he had been an officer, he bore his new duties with dignity and no hint of resentment. He sat on a chair just inside his small green hut, leaving it twice an hour to check on those leafy corners of the park hidden from the hut’s view. The job came with a long stick with a metal point at the end for stabbing discarded Sherbet-Dab tubes, Jamboree bags and cigarette packets. The stick doubled as a walking cane when patrolling the grounds, clicking on the pathways in time to the clacking of his highly polished shoes. Whilst I can picture his military stride, pressed trousers and tight jacket, I can’t bring to mind his face or recall any of his features except the thin grey moustache; his eyes were in darkness beneath the cap pulled low over his brow.
With a lack of originality we called him 'One-arm bandit’, which soon shortened to 'Bandit’ (some of the older boys even called to his face). Any irony in the nick-name was lost.
The weather was good and no-one spoke of skin cancer or sun factors. The days passed playing football, testing how high the swings could reach, trying to spin the roundabout off its mount and wondering why Little Stevie’s big brother spent so much time with Dopey Dave’s even bigger sister behind the shed. The shed was the gardener’s domain: Fat Bill. We assumed Bandit held authority over Fat Bill, even though Bandit was the one most often boiling a kettle and brewing tea for them both in his little hut, a precisely coordinated task with only one arm. Fat Bill dug or planted near to Bandit’s hut mid-morning and mid-afternoon, keen not to miss the kettle’s whistle, and they’d sit together for twenty minutes or so, listening to the crackling AM transistor radio. Bandit brought it from home every day and fiddled relentlessly for better reception, making sure to avoid the soon to be extinct Radio Caroline. Their routine was appreciated and planned around; we climbed the out of bounds horse-chestnut at these times.
Fat Bill soon discovered the summer’s first den and reported it to Bandit, who instructed Fat Bill in its demolition. We found other diversions. The fading sign near the swings forbade ball games but made a perfect target for the tatty old leather football Little Stevie brought; in this we recognised the irony, compounded by Bandit’s officious confiscation of the ball and his assertion the park wasn’t 'just for fun.’
Bandit returned the ball next day when Little Stevie stood in the hut’s doorway and pretended to cry, claiming his dad would beat him if he didn’t bring it home, which wasn’t far from the truth. Little Stevie’s tears were so real not only did Bandit return the ball, he gave him a biscuit, a sticky lemon custard cream a class above the dull tack we crunched at home. Little Stevie didn’t enjoy but scoffed anyway. The rest of us looked on, faking expressions of forlorn to mask our envy. We stood in a huddle while Bandit stood tall, to us, and ramrod straight in the dark hut. He put the packet of biscuits on the table, next to a tiny photograph in a heavy frame. A young woman and two small children posed formally in black and white and though they didn’t smile there was peace in their eyes. Bandit studied the photo for a few seconds, pulled his cap down further and fished in a pocket for a small leather purse. He gave Little Stevie a shilling to buy sweets from the newsagent and another shilling for a pack of five Woodbine, quietly emphasising he expected change. We all went, taking less care than we should on the new zebra crossing, so excited to have money to spend I don’t think anybody remembered to say thanks.
We ate the Blackjacks, Fruit Salads and Fireman’s Hose on the way back, apart from Lily who saved hers until the swings and nibbled them selectively. Little Stevie and I interrupted Bandit and Fat Bill’s morning tea to hand over the cigarettes and give the change, greater than Bandit expected, but he said little, being distracted by the radio; news of the decision to pull the army out of Malaysia and Singapore was discouraging - Bandit agreed with the Yanks for once.
The next morning we loitered round the hut and, sure enough, Bandit passed Little Stevie a shilling, this time asking him to buy a newspaper and suggesting he might like to buy sweets again. Again, we all went and even though a ha’penny wasn’t much change, Bandit was appreciative and a routine established. Being careful not to spend it all, we saved a penny or ha’penny to hand back with the newspaper and Bandit always gave a stern, 'Thank you,’ often followed by some small chastisement for standing on the swings, or the rubbish left under the bench, or spinning the roundabout too fast for the little ones. We dropped our heads in mock shame and promised to follow the rules on the tatty piece of paper next to the biscuits and photograph. Once or twice, at first, someone sniggered. Bandit silenced them with a quiet word and asked them to leave the hut and being an outsider was the worst punishment.
The dry summer moved into August. The grass turned brown and Bandit spent tea breaks listening patiently as Fat Bill complained about the scuffed earth where the older boys set up goals for football. We hung around by the swings and witch’s-hat; Little Stevie’s big brother span it so fast our tiny bodies would fly horizontal as we clung tight to the middle bar with no fear. Even when Little Stevie let go and flew yards before landing and bouncing just short of the roundabout, we laughed before checking he was okay, but Bandit was angry. For the first time, we heard him shout as he left his hut, struggling to contain his short, precise stride until it became a trot, unbalanced with one arm. Only his concern for Little Stevie prevented him from shouting further anger. The rest of the morning we played Ting Tang Tommy, organised by Bandit. Little Stevie won, being the last one found.
And then Little Stevie was dead. We were on the new crossing and I think Little Stevie was just behind me, clutching Bandit’s shilling as we ran to the shop. Maybe this time we didn’t look properly, or took the road for granted, or perhaps the Morris Minor that hit him was just going too fast. I don’t know. It could have been any of us but was Little Stevie. I didn’t see the impact. I didn’t see any blood. I can’t picture where he landed or what he looked like, laying there. The one thing I can remember is the pale, shaking face of the driver, standing by her car, screaming.
The first day after the accident we realised Little Stevie wasn’t there but I don’t think we understood he’d never be there again.
No-one wore a watch, but we knew the routine and by mid-morning we were wondering how to ask Bandit for the shilling. They voted me for the task, being the smallest, with a knack for pleading eyes. Bunched together, we edged towards the hut. Bandit stood in the doorway and, now I think of it, I did see his face clearly once - when he was crying and handing me the money.
We crossed the road more carefully going back; I held the change tight. In the park, the others went straight to the witch’s-hat but I needed to return a penny.
The hut’s door was closed. I knocked quietly, then louder. No response. I tip-toed to look through the window. Bandit sat in his chair, head slumped, looking down into the photo that usually stood on the hut’s table. The picture lay in his lap, dark with blood; blood that seeped from the blackness beneath his peaked cap, soaked his legs and dripped to the floor, almost covering the officer’s pistol that lay there.
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Anthony began studying architecture at Birmingham in September 1980. After A Levels he worked on the building sites near home for two years, labouring and digging until being trusted with laying a straight brick wall. He left the sites in the summer and spent two weeks at a caravan park on the Isle of Wight with seven mates. The Isle Of Wight was all the holiday they planned: good friends (only one serious argument), cheap beer from the on-site club, free disco nights, enough sun to encourage towels on the pebble beach (if not much factor thirty), and a group of girls from Hereford with shared vacation aspirations who were more mature (experienced) in ways that mattered (to twenty year old lads). Anthony stored good memories of that holiday but it marked an ending. Although unspoken, there was the feeling they wouldn’t be together again for a long time; four were already in full time work or apprenticeships, two on the dole and one at college. Two of them had taken A Levels and only Anthony was going on to university. He thought his dad was pleased and was sure of his mum, but suspected his dad more proud he could pay his way following two hard years on the sites.
The Police topped the album charts with Zenyatta Mondatta and Margaret Thatcher was just getting into her stride when Anthony started at Birmingham. He was not a political man and suspected his optimism might be considered naĂŻve by those with a more cynical knowledge, but he had seen and been part of the difference rebuilding made to his home town. Though it took thirty or so years to bring it back from the war he liked that physicality. The politicians talked policy and ideas and morals and economic models, little of which was material. But the shopping centre that finally replaced the glassworks and gave people jobs was real; the coffee processing plant might not always smell good but brought work; the new leisure centre that replaced the bombed out bathworks was not beautiful but gave opportunity, even if not all realised it was for them to take. Politics dominated the decisions to fund and build these places but the structures and spaces themselves made the difference - structures and spaces like his childhood park. And there was comforting authority in details like the Park Keeper’s hut; it was more than just a box-shed and it made a difference. Anthony wanted to learn how to make a difference.
In the autumn of 1980 he moved into halls of residence. He liked the university’s (literal) red-brick design and the expansion from the sixties through to today that was tangible. He admired the clock tower, not because it was the tallest in Europe (though it was), but because the proportions were perfect, the materials appropriate and the clock itself an expression of art and science - a constant reminder of that most precious resource: time - a resource he determined to use wisely; he just needed to figure out what could be meant by wise.
He felt comfortable and at home in the main campus buildings but not in halls. He was older than most other freshers, having worked two years after A Levels, but those two years could have been twenty, such was the gap he felt. The building sites had been an education of their own with a different curriculum and a very real set of unwritten rules; they had to be learnt quickly and with no formal help. University life set a different challenge; his peers here were a different species.
Fresher’s Week passed okay. The halls were full of nervous excitement and he enjoyed the energy and optimism and sense of liberation, even while waiting for it to abate as lectures and libraries took hold. They did, but didn’t bring any kindred spirits and he felt the outsider. To begin with he thought he imagined the difference and perhaps it was not the two years on the sites but his perception. So he took part in as many events as possible and blagged as many party invites as was polite. But connections weren’t made and he found himself drifting to the edges until bumping (literally) into Trudy and sending her vodka and tonic crashing to the floor of the Students’ Union bar, four weeks into the first term. Trudy: tall, loud, laughing, sometimes angry, often drunk, quick to judge, quicker to forgive, smart, grounded and, so it turned out, enthusiastic and passionate. Although two years younger, she was never shy in the bedroom, rarely the same twice and not afraid to be herself. Anthony was no beginner but either Trudy had led a more liberated life or read much pornography in sixth form. She teased he was her experiment and a case study for her psychology degree and he laughed though he wasn’t sure she joked.
Trudy was a distraction from study but Anthony soon learnt to separate work-time from Trudy-time; she was a counter-balance and he was never guilty and laughed a lot. Over the following weeks Trudy’s laughter eased to more gentle chuckles which Anthony took to be a good sign, a sign they were relaxing into the next phase of the relationship. Sadly, he didn’t know Trudy, as she told him afterwards. Trudy chuckling gently was Trudy bored and Trudy bored was Trudy gone. But before she went she offered two pieces of advice:
1) Sex is a conversation, not a debate.
2) Join the rowing club.
Both were valid and given warmly, with no criticism, and they parted as friends. Anthony thought about her words and took the second to heart straight away. Two years on building sites had added muscle to his tall frame and he thought rowing might suit him.
The first piece of advice needed a different opportunity but one not to be rushed.
He still often met Trudy around the campus and there was never animosity; everyone, he concluded, both men and women, should have a Trudy in their lives at some stage.
The rowing club proved an inspired suggestion; a place where his height, strength and obsessive nature were well placed and valued. Although an absolute novice with dubious technique, they welcomed him. And he met Leslie there. Leslie was very different from Trudy. Anthony enjoyed learning about her and appreciating her compassion. They talked long and easily, shared comfortable silences and soon realised they were soul mates of a sibling, rather than lustful kind (though they did sleep together a couple of times). They helped each other through the months and years that came.
It was also at the rowing club that Otto burst into his life and taught him how to be an oarsman, team-mate and occasional house-mate.
Trudy still dipped in and out, usually when in need of a loan or a hot meal or a friend at which to rage. Anthony didn’t mind. He welcomed her intrusions; the melodrama and emotional crisis were often an amusing distraction or even a lesson and he was glad to help when able. He owed her after the kindness (and lust) she had shown in those early days, though Leslie was not so convinced of Trudy’s motives or needs.
Anthony’s university days progressed and he found himself half way through his third year, living in a bed-sit a short bus ride from the main campus. He was on the final stretch and desperate to pull for the finishing line when one of his house-mates knocked on his bedroom door and shouted his mum had rung the communal phone the previous night. He hadn’t spoken to his mother for weeks, not because of any rift, simply laziness, so he rang her that evening to be told his grandmother was dead.
Anthony hadn’t seen Granny Harkson since Christmas and couldn’t claim a close relationship. It was sad but had been expected ever since the cancer diagnosis a year earlier. She had been a widow since 1942 when his grandfather arrived in Singapore just two months before the surrender and never came home. A trip to Singapore had long been her ambition and Anthony even offered to take her, perhaps knowing it unlikely to happen. At the funeral he wondered if she was disappointed with him for not fulfilling the promise, but afterwards, back at the house and over cheese sandwiches and sherry, his mother gave him an envelope containing five hundred pounds, saying, 'Gran didn’t have much but wanted to leave you a little and said you should use it to finish university.’
Back in Birmingham, Anthony turned the wad of ten pound notes over and over in his hand until deciding what he needed most, at that moment, was a good meal. Not more beans on toast, Pot-Noodles or an Indian take-away; he wanted a decent cut of meat from a proper restaurant with a nice glass of red.
Friday night; smart end of town - a small row of shops including two wine bars, a Chinese restaurant, ice cream parlour and Angelo’s Steak House. Anthony invited Otto to join him, but Otto was still giving rowing his all and wouldn’t miss a session, though he was tempted by the promise of steak paid for by another.
Anthony waited alone at the door and the maĂ®tre d’ showed him to a table in the corner, leaving him a menu. He studied the choices more than necessary and was grateful when the waitress came over a few minutes later to take his order, grateful not just because he was less conspicuous ordering but because the waitress was Christine. She wore a plain white, well-pressed blouse, plain black skirt (just above the knee) and plain black shoes with little heel. Her long brunette hair was tied plainly back in a ponytail, but plain she was not. She smiled naturally, had dark brown eyes, almost too much eye shadow and clear skin. She took his order, suggested a vegetable choice and tried to sell an extra side dish but didn’t press when it was refused, even though the manager would nag her later. The steak was tender (despite being ordered well done) and he ate slowly while surreptitiously watching Christine work her tables. He looked forward to her taking his order for pudding but she didn’t. A different waiter brought the dessert trolley, disappointing Anthony until he saw her take up position in a far corner, sitting on a stool and pulling a guitar from its stand. Anthony made two cups of coffee last the next forty minutes as he watched her play and listened to the mix of classical guitar and flamenco music he didn’t understand. She concentrated hard, with enthusiasm in her movement and flashes of deep satisfaction after certain passages, as if having played them as well as she ever had; occasionally there were honest smiles, perhaps of relief at completing difficult pieces.
Anthony couldn’t say if she was good or not, but could say there was hypnotic attraction in her slight frame swaying in time to the music and cradling the guitar gently but with purpose. The music was loud enough to fill the restaurant but not to overpower conversation and Anthony wanted to shout at diners who ignored her. He hoped she might also sing, but she didn’t and then he was glad as it added an air of mystery (though he couldn’t say why). He noticed she wore no rings, wondered about her age (he thought no more than twenty), where she came from and why she played here and not in a concert hall with a crowd of thousands - at which point he conceded he might be smitten - to use an old fashioned term which his Gran would have recognised.
He paid the bill as she finished playing, left a larger tip than usual and, outside, said thank you out loud to Granny Harkson.
Three days later he went back to Angelo’s Steak House. It interrupted his studies but Granny Harkson’s legacy left plenty of cash for more steaks and, surely, good sustenance would keep him fit for the examination trials to come; surely.
She served him again and, he thought, gave a glimpse of recognition as he repeated his sirloin order, this time with the extra side dish. This evening she didn’t play the guitar and he was initially disappointed, wanting the excuse to watch her, but saw the chance for conversation by asking why she wasn’t performing. It was easy chatting and, with no conscious effort, he found out she was eighteen, worked part-time in the restaurant because her father knew the owner (whose name wasn’t Angelo, by the way), hoped the guitar would be her escape route and her name was Christine.
A week later, on a performance night, Anthony went back for another sirloin. Afterwards he hung around to tell her how good he thought she was, without fawning, and to find out which nights she was free: Thursdays.
They spent the next few weeks getting to know each other (mainly on Thursdays) and occasionally sharing a late night meal (on other nights) after the restaurant closed and the owner invited him; Anthony suspected he was being vetted. He made sure (on Thursdays) Christine was home by eleven and they only made love in his digs when his house-mates were out and the sheets clean (all the motivation he needed to visit the launderette). Christine’s family welcomed him cautiously. Christine revealed her father’s concern he was five years older, but her mother countered with his maturity and near degree status. She had two older sisters: Natalie (by three years) and Sarah (by a little over one), and Anthony made a conscious decision not to seek favour with either; it could be misinterpreted too easily.
Spring was passing and Anthony had to make determined efforts not to let his excitement at the blossoming relationship with Christine detract from study. He introduced her to Leslie, who approved, and Trudy, who offered to give her bedroom lessons, which Anthony refused; they were learning just fine together, sometimes with touching innocence, sometimes outright naivety but always with open passion, lust and humour. Christine continued working and performing at the restaurant and even tried self-penned songs, though not convinced by Anthony’s praise, and to be honest her singing never matched her guitar playing.
Anthony sat and held Christine’s hand. The hospital bed was tall and Anthony had to reach over and up, making it uncomfortable, but he didn’t complain. Christine’s eyes were ringed dark and her cheeks flushed, though the rest of her pale. The hospital gown fit badly, hanging from her slender frame, and the bed sheets were dishevelled. They sat in silence, sometimes looking to each other and finding comfort not in any shared wisdom but in shared confusion and fear. It was Sunday afternoon and the ward busy with nurses taking observations and visitors struggling for conversation pieces. Christine had been taken into A and E just after dawn, nine or ten hours ago; Anthony had been there just less than two. Though they could go home they were reluctant to leave the warmth and safety (if not comfort) of the ward. The Sister was finishing the discharge papers and the doctor sympathetic and calm, making sure Christine understood she needn’t stay longer and she should make an appointment to see her GP in the next few days to arrange a follow up appointment. Anthony nodded as the doctor spoke, pretending to understand, and he did understand the words and the facts but not how he - how they - had come to this.
Christine spoke. 'You shouldn’t be here. You should be at the flat. Studying. I didn’t mean for Leslie to call you. Sorry. I just wanted
. I needed
. to get here. Mum and dad are away, and I didn’t want anyone else to know. I’m sorry. You should go.’ Christine looked at the door to the ward where Leslie stood, shoulders hunched in concern.
'Stop saying sorry,’ Anthony said.
'I asked Leslie not to tell you. I did ask her.’
'It’s good she did. I should have known. How didn’t I?’ Anthony asked himself, not Christine.
He hadn’t seen her in four or five weeks, since they’d argued.
Sunday mornings were Anthony’s favourite: sitting in bed, surrounded by books, flicking and leafing through, making preparations for his finals, just weeks away. Christine came over, missing Mass and bringing newspapers and cold toast from home - a two bus journey. They made love without hesitation and sat in comfortable near-silence, Anthony studying and Christine practising quietly on her guitar - until Trudy started shouting for Anthony. A house-mate must have let her in and now she banged bedroom doors to find him. Christine pulled one of Anthony’s shirts around her shoulders and tugged on a pair of knickers as Anthony pulled on a pair of jogging pants and shrugged his shoulders in apology. He opened the door and Trudy burst through. Christine put the guitar in its case and hugged it to her chest for protection, such was Trudy’s anxious energy. Christine had met Trudy a couple of times before and was wary and a little scared of her.
Trudy threw herself at Anthony and pushed her head hard into his shoulder. Christine sat on the bed and backed up to the headboard, trying to work out if the noise coming from Trudy was sobbing or a form of laughing bark. It was sobbing. Christine put on jeans and a sweatshirt over Anthony’s shirt and left them to make tea, braving the kitchen. By the time the tea had brewed in the pot Anthony was down to help. Christine’s first concern was for her guitar, left alone in Anthony’s room with Trudy but Anthony said she was calming down though she had asked him not to tell Christine the cause of her upset. Christine nodded and shrugged with exaggerated lack of concern, confident of finding out later. Anthony led her back upstairs where Trudy was resetting her make-up and they drank with little conversation but with Anthony checking his watch more often than necessary. They finished the tea and he nodded to Trudy then spoke to Christine. 'We’re popping out for a couple of hours. Do you want to wait here?’
Christine looked round the small room, realised there might be a look of mild disdain on her face and forced her best open smile. 'No, it’s okay. I’ll make my way home. You two go on. I’ll give you a ring later. If anyone ever bothers answering the phone here.’ She picked up her guitar and pecked Anthony on the cheek, not wanting to be too expressive in front of Trudy.
'Thanks.’ Trudy touched Christine’s arm lightly and Christine wondered why the thanks as Trudy continued, 'You’ve a good one here. He will go a long way, and deserves to. Don’t get in his way, will you?’ With just a touch of pleading in her voice she touched Christine’s arm again, leaving the younger girl to wonder more.
The next day, being Monday, Christine should have worked, cleaning the kitchens, but not this Monday. This Monday she rang in sick and took the buses to Anthony’s. Although she had rung him the night before, Trudy had still been with him and it was clear he didn’t want to, or couldn’t, talk, so she was none the wiser. She knocked on the front door (he hadn’t given her a key yet) and waited before knocking longer and more loudly until heard. Up in his room she waited again, without asking, and watched him fidget until he could no longer contain himself and explained Trudy wouldn’t want him telling this, but told her anyway, concisely.
Trudy had fallen pregnant and didn’t want the baby. It wasn’t in her plans. It wasn’t in the father’s plans, or wouldn’t be, if he knew. She had the money to pay for an abortion but didn’t want to go alone. That’s where they went yesterday. End of story.
Christine had many questions but didn’t know which were most relevant. Trudy’s pregnancy wasn’t a surprise but to say so would be considered judgmental and her Catholic upbringing made impartiality almost impossible - hypocritical considering her own recent transgressions with Anthony, a personal guilt she had yet to confess. She wanted to know why Trudy asked Anthony to go with her to the clinic but that might culminate in the question of fatherhood. Anthony? Perhaps better not to know? Perhaps better to just acknowledge Anthony as a good guy and Trudy needed a good guy for support, or should she read more into Trudy’s comments the previous evening? They had preyed on her mind all night - a sleepless night. Christine remained silent rather than ask the wrong question.
'And Trudy spent the night here,’ Anthony answered another of Christine’s unspoken questions. 'I slept in the armchair. My back’s killing me.’ He forced a laugh, so did Christine.
More silence.
'Trudy was in a bad way afterwards. Not that I could help much.’
'Puts me right off getting pregnant.’ He tried a joke. 'I better wear two condoms in future.’ He tried another and immediately regretted such bad taste.
Christine nodded with half a smile but still said nothing.
Anthony was compelled to continue. 'Being preg-nant might have ruined Trudy’s relationship and I guess she wanted this one to go somewhere.’
'Would it ruin ours?’ asked Christine.
Silence. Only for a second but a second too long before. 'No, of course not. We’re different.’
More silence. Broken by Christine. 'What did Trudy mean last night? When she said something about not getting in the way? Your way?’
'I’ve no idea. She’s been
. odd
. lately.’
Anthony regretted a few weeks ago mentioning to Trudy he was considering applying for an internship with a company in Boston when his finals were over; he had hoped Trudy might offer some advice as he didn’t know how Christine might take the idea. He wanted to ask Christine now but couldn’t with Trudy’s comments so fresh.
Christine filled the silence. 'Anyway, it’s not too late. I can still make work. Monday’s can be busy, those kitchens won’t clean themselves. I’ll call you tomorrow evening.’ She pecked him on the cheek and left him nodding as if he understood.
At the bus stop Christine tried to slow her breathing and thought of what she had said but more of what she hadn’t; her period was late. They were using protection, which meant she already carried guilt on two counts, but whatever, she was over a week late - make that guilty on three counts. It was hard to be a teenage Catholic girl.
She didn’t ring Anthony on Tuesday or Wednesday. When he knocked at her door on Thursday her oldest sister, Natalie, explained she felt poorly and would see him on the Friday. She didn’t. They had spoken on the phone once or twice since but it had been stilted and she wanted to tell him why and he wanted to ask, but neither did and she ended every conversation with instructions he should go back to his books and focus on his finals. It was convenient for him to believe that was the truth.
Until a Sunday four weeks later when Leslie knocked on his door and swore at him for not having a phone extension to his room, before telling him Christine’s news. The surprise at the mention of pregnancy was swamped by the shock of the word that followed. Miscarriage.
Christine’s Catholic teaching meant she should be guilty for so many things and needed to be seeking forgiveness, but the truth was, more than guilty she was sad - desperately, painfully sad and didn’t want to be forgiven for that, and there was anger that it might be punishment for her sins with Anthony. Anthony. Who knew so little of her Catholic pain. But it wouldn’t help either of them for him to understand. He didn’t need to understand more to suffer the loss more. He felt enough. She saw it in his face as he sat next to her hospital bed.
Anthony squeezed her hand. Christine forced the briefest of smiles before muttering, 'We would have kept Sam, wouldn’t we? He was ours.’
'Sam. For boy or girl. Sam.’
'Yes. Of course. We would have kept Sam. Sam was ours.’
'And I would have been a good mum. Wouldn’t I?’
'The best. And you will be. One day.’
. a good name.’
Anthony repeated, 'Sam. Yes. A good name,’ and stood up to lean over and hug her, 'let’s go home and make a place for Sam.’
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Sunrises - Chapter 1

Chapter 1
Some rare mornings, if I’m lucky, my mind is not cloaked by that despair. Sometimes my mind is free, allowing random thoughts to wander in and out - some about the past, some about the future, some about ridiculous trivia and some about nothing to do with me at all, as if I’ve somehow another person’s mind for a moment. It is a guilty pleasure. Refreshing. On even rarer occasions, I understand the drifting and consciously enjoy it; sometimes the wandering takes me effortlessly to an easy, happy place. That morning, putting on my shoes, the smell of polish eased me back - the same polish I rubbed on Abigail’s ice skates before rushing her not to be late for lessons. I was always the more worried for their shine. I wanted her skating teacher to know she was committed enough to keep her skates clean, or at least committed enough to let me polish them. Abigail would leave it until the last minute, knowing I couldn’t resist. I smiled at her knowing. It was an easy memory and it was sad when interrupted.
'S’okay, mum’s probably awake.’
'It’s me you’re disturbing.’
'I’ve been calling for, like, ages.’
'Sure.’ I responded as sarcastically as I knew how, which was not a challenge to Mark.
'Sure.’ He copied me, then asked, 'Tea?’
'Yep. And make a flask. We’ll have it there. And give your shoes a quick polish.’
'White Nikes dad.’ Mark went to the kitchen, leav-ing me sitting on the bottom stair.
I tied my laces, passed a few seconds winding up my favourite clock (twelve inch English Dial) hanging in the hall and crept back upstairs in case Christine wasn’t awake. I hoped she wasn’t. Not because I wanted to avoid saying goodbye, but I didn’t want to ask again if she would come with us. I knew the answer would be no. But I’d have to ask again to show I was convinced there was good reason; even though I didn’t want her to join us, I wanted her blessing.
'Christine?’ I whispered and didn’t touch her.
'What time is it?’ she asked but I think she already knew.
'Fourish. Mark and I are going in ten or fifteen minutes. We want to leave plenty of time. Do you want to come?’ I spoke to her back.
'Drive safely. Ring when you’re starting home.’
'Get some sleep.’ I leant forward and just about pecked her cheek.
The roads were empty as expected. We shared the motorway with a few lumbering articulated loads and, nearer our destination, the A roads with occasional early starters and late finishers. The night was damp; if there was any moon the clouds kept it hidden. I pointed the car at the gap between the white line to my left and cats-eyes to my right and hoped to relax, enjoy the drive and let my mind wander further. But the drifting was no longer without effort. I wanted to ask Mark how he felt, but that wasn’t fair. Instead, I pressed a couple of buttons on the dash until Stevie Wonder started to sing 'For Once In My Life’. A few minutes later another favourite track started, 'My Girl’ by the Temptations.
'New disc?’ Mark asked.
'No. I made a mix. What d’you think so far?’
'I think there are copyright laws that are, like, meant to protect us from over sentimental, personal mixes.’
'What’s the point in a mix if it’s not personal?’
'Exactly.’ Mark closed the discussion with a teenager’s confidence of expression that was a dare. Though my eyes were on the road ahead and I didn’t turn, I knew he would have nodded slowly, as he does when offering his indisputable truisms. Perhaps I could have asked him what I should feel after all. I turned up the volume for 'My Girl’ and smiled, hoping he would see, despite the dark.
'My Girl’ had been my 'go to’ song to try and calm Abigail when she was a baby and toddler. It didn’t always work, probably due to my bad singing. I’d even whispered it on those nights when she was a little older and, in the early morning, woke me by stepping on the creaky floorboard outside our bedroom door. I’d lie still as she crept to my bedside and slip beside me. I found it difficult to whisper the song with her hair in my face but knew I was privileged and didn’t move her. She fell asleep and I took pride she felt so secure. I fed off her tranquillity and sometimes, for a few blissful minutes, I was also five years old and safe.
'What?’ Mark brought me back to now, second time this morning.
'Shouldn’t we have turned there?’
'Back there. Cross-roads. Left.’ He gestured non-chalantly behind us.
'Shouldn’t you have told me before the turning? We’ll be late.’
'No we won’t. Just take next left or right and go back, Jack.’
And he was right, of course. Half-hour later we pulled into the car park. There was still time. It was still dark. I parked near a ticket machine and fiddled for change from the coin holder.
'Dad. What are you doing? It’s not five-thirty yet.’
I pointed to the sign: 'Parking fees payable 24 hours’.
'Come on, twenty-four hours does not mean five-thirty in the morning.’ He shook his head, exaggerating his disbelief. 'No-one’s going to give a ticket at this time in an empty car park.’
'No, it’s okay. I’ve the right money.’
'Dad. What would Abigail have said? C’mon. Like, take a chance, Lance.’
I hesitated before dropping the coins back into the holder, feeling daring. 'Okay. But if there’s a ticket, you’re paying.’
I took the blanket and flask and Mark used the torch to light the way from the car park, up a rough track to the hill overlooking the bay.
We walked the steep path and my heart beat harder and faster, though from tension or effort I couldn’t tell. I hadn’t planned what to do once here but now the time was close I was nervous and annoyed for being so. The rising track was hedged high on both sides until the gradient flattened and opened out to a small plateau, overlooking the bay below us to the south. The grass was damp with morning dew but the blanket was thick and I sat waiting, not knowing what to expect. Mark stood until I patted the blanket beside me. I asked first if he was warm enough and second if he was all right, as if I was. He nodded stiffly and shone the torch into the bay but it was a long way down to the beach and surf and the torchlight was weak.
I knew from previous visits the small bay was enclosed on three sides by steep hills which stretched further out to sea on the west side, to our right, and the sun was starting to rise as the outline of the hills could just be seen. I checked my watch. According to the diary, sunrise would be eleven minutes. I had memorised the time. Slowly, more detail became visible around us and I was again aware of my heart beating. I smiled at Mark, though I don’t know why, and he smiled back, just. Down in the tiny bay the growing light picked out tiny flashes of white water on the waves. The clouds lightened and it was just possible to mark the horizon, where two shades of grey met. But the sun remained behind cloud; there was no ball of fire to mark the dawn, though gradually the beach came to life. The shadow cast by the eastern hills receded to the left across the bay as the sun grew higher. My nervousness gave way to some small pride I had kept a promise but it quickly faded. The more I looked to the east for a glimpse of the sun the heavier the clouds hung and the heavier the weight pressed on my chest. The morning had started with optimism and hope but was turning one-eighty, again. Instead of lifting, the grey sky descended and I recognised the despair that began in the pit of my being and crept through my soul. I was tired - weary of these waves of despair; despair that clawed at my soul and swamped all other emotion; despair that blinded all thought to everything but darkness and then filled it with pain; despair that crushed my ribs and knotted my stomach; despair that destroyed hope. Resentment grew that I was here; because of Abigail. She had deserted me. She shouldn’t have left us as she did. Left me. Me. She had stolen a future as much mine as hers. I loved her so much; her betrayal was sickening, physically, and I stood up from the blanket to step away and turn a gag into a cough for the sake of Mark. The sunrise was complete but there was no sun. Abigail hadn’t brought me a sunrise. I hated her. She must have hated me to leave me this way. And I hated the fawning sympathy of others. How easy it was to assume smugness in their platitudes and how hard it was to believe Father Graham and I supposed I must be a believer because I hated the God that took her away and I wanted to be a believer because it meant she would be in another place but how can I believe in a God that takes children. He had damned me. She had damned me. I damned her. My stomach churned. And why hadn’t Christine done something. She should have noticed something earlier, or not at all. Maybe it would have gone away. Why hadn’t she found another doctor? Christine had failed me. And Abigail. Where was the sun? I gagged again and my breathing quickened and became shallow as I realised sunrise had come and nothing was different. I had made a promise. I had kept my side. Where was the sign? Where was the serenity I thought the sunrise would bring? Where was the peace? Where was Abigail’s calm? Why was nothing different? Betrayal, fuelling fury.
'Dad. You okay? You’ve been sick. Please
. don’t,’ Mark’s eyes were rimmed red, 'don’t. Abi wouldn’t want it.’
'She, she shouldn’t have left me Mark.’ I was shaking.
'Us dad. She left us all. She wouldn’t want
. this
. sadness. And
. and I’m scared.’
'Don’t be scared.’ I was horrified at the thought he was afraid of me. 'I’ll be okay.’ I forced slow deep breaths, 'Don’t be scared of me.’
'Not you dad. I’m scared of what took Abigail. What about me? Sometimes I’m scared.’
I held my breath instantly. Blackness filled my sight until I gasped and gagged again. How stupid was I? How pathetic was I? How selfish was I?
Mark stood and took a couple of paces away, standing with his back to me, staring into the bay.
'Oh Mark. I’m sorry, I didn’t think. I didn’t know. I thought you were okay with what the doctors told you. I thought
Mark interrupted, 'I was okay. I am okay. It’s just sometimes
. sometimes I’m not and those odds, what were they? Like, more than a thousand to one? Well, today, those odds don’t look too long. They weren’t long enough for Abi, were they?’
He didn’t look back at me. There was catch in his voice. My self-absorbed, self-indulgent rage was offensive, disgusting. I tried to kill it.
I put my arm around his shoulders and squeezed; he didn’t know what to do, somewhere along the way I stopped hugging him. I can’t remember when. He didn’t hug back, but turned slightly and lowered his face onto my shoulder for a couple of seconds. I wanted to tell him everything would be okay and I could take care of him, but he had heard me say that to Abigail and knew it to be a lie.
'I can’t make it all right Mark. I can’t stop it hurting for any of us. And I don’t know what to do.’
'I know dad. But we don’t expect you to do anything. You do what you can. You did what you could. So did mum.’
We stood silently. My rage quietened and I looked to the east. I still didn’t see the sun but the clouds were a shade lighter.
I had nothing profound to say. All I could offer was, 'She’d love those,’ and point to the bay where movement caught my eye. Down on the beach was a group of four horses, two of them with riders, two being led. They were cantering in the surf. 'She loved to ride.’
'Loved? Dad, she had a couple of lessons before preferring ice skating.’
'Yep, but only because we couldn’t do it all. She did ask if she could have a horse for her birthday once.’
'Every girl in the world asks for a horse for their birthday at least once. Besides, I asked if I could have a python. You said no.’
'Where would you keep a python?’
'Where would Abigail keep a horse?’
'You can’t ride a python,’ I offered by way of justification and gently cuffed the back of his head. Down on the sand the horses reached the end of the bay and turned to follow the curve of the surf back. We heard the padding of their hooves on the wet sand, heavy but faint at the same time. 'They are beautiful though. Abigail would have liked to see them.’
Mark nodded and I tried to think what to tell Christine when home.
There was no ticket on the car but Mark resisted the temptation to say 'I told you so’. I let him know he was right by allowing him to choose the music for the journey home. The clouds were thinning and, finally, the sun was warming through as we left the car park.
A couple of miles past the nearest village the traffic slowed to a crawl through roadworks. As we joined the queue I saw a jaded sign for a garden nursery and donkey sanctuary; the poster showed a cartoon donkey chewing on a bunch of tatty flowers. On a whim, I dropped out of the queuing traffic and turned into a small gravel car park.
'What’s the matter?’ Mark looked up from the pack of discs he was sifting.
'Nothing. Just fancied a fresh cup of tea. Thought this place might have a cafĂ©,’ I lied.
'There’s still hot in the flask.’
'Yeah, but fresh would be nice. And maybe breakfast.’
'I’m meeting the guys for rugby early. We’re away today. And my kit’s not ready, or will you clean my boots today?’
'Of course
. not. We’ll be back in plenty of time.’
'Like we’ll find anything here anyway.’
Mark was right. It wasn’t so much a nursery as a large Victorian house whose owner hoped the large garden might pay for itself. Trays of seedlings lay haphazardly on the turf and a collection of shrubs in tubs bordered the path to the door. At the end, steps led to a large, half glass front door with a heavy brass knob in the centre rail. The door was guarded by gnomes on each side; gnomes who would have been jolly and welcoming if not for faded and chipped paintwork where rosy cheeks should have bulged. Before we could climb the stairs the door opened and a young girl with stern features and dark eyes peeked out from a faded hooded sweatshirt. Mark looked down. I tried to see beyond her into the hallway of the old house; it was an old habit, it might have an old clock or two worth a look.
'We’re not open yet. Too early,’ said the girl, overly matter-of-fact.
'Oh, I was after some information on the donkey sanctuary.’
Mark’s attention shifted abruptly from studying his trainers. He half-formed a question but the girl spoke first, 'Still too early.’ She was not one for sales patter.
'I’m sorry. We didn’t plan to be here. But I saw your sign on the roadside, about adopting a donkey.’
'Dad?’ Mark whispered, unsure, 'What are .

The girl interrupted, 'Donkey adoption? Serious matter. Needs to be thought about. Big commitment.’
'Why? Would I have to look after it?’ I asked.
'Not unless you wanted to.’
'What would I have to do?’ I smiled as I caught sight of Mark’s reflection in the door’s glass.
'Dad. What will .
’ he still had the half-formed question.
'It’s okay,’ I interrupted, 'you can choose the donkey. It’ll be for Abigail.’
'It’s not that straightforward.’ The girl looked at Mark and back at me. 'You can’t just choose a donkey. It has to be the right one. They have to like you.’ She seemed to have decided people like us who hadn’t 'planned to be here’ were not best suited to adopting donkeys.
'How can you tell?’ Mark was quick with the right question.
'I can tell.’ She closed the argument with the same gravitas as Mark could with his practised 'Exactly’.
I turned to Mark. 'Exactly. The young lady can tell.’ I nodded at him and asked the young lady, 'But what exactly does adoption entail?’
'Well first you have to be committed. No doubts.’ She stared at Mark; his doubts at my actions in the last couple of minutes were obvious. The girl continued, 'Then you have to find a donkey that will trust you and let you adopt it. And when you find one you can’t let it down. It has to know you are there for it. Totally.’ The girl crossed her arms. There was a pause.
'And then?’ I asked.
'You pay fifteen pounds a month and we’ll send a certificate and photograph.’
'I see. We won’t have to come and clean it or take it for a ride or send it food parcels or anything.’
'Take it for a ride? It’s a rescue donkey, not a race horse. But you could come and clean it and feed it. If you wanted to. Some do. Those who are .... committed.’ She let the word hang for a couple of seconds. 'Most people start keen but soon change their mind when the winter comes. Still, as long as they keep sending the money, it’s a form of commitment. I suppose.’
I looked at Mark for a second, hoping for a positive sign. It didn’t come. I turned back to the girl. 'Can we look at the donkeys?’
'Go round the back.’ She gestured to the side of the house and went back in through the front door.
Mark and I wandered round and found her stroking a dark brown donkey and whispering into its twitching ear. It eyed us suspiciously. The donkey was in a small pad-dock, fenced with a slack rope. The girl stopped whisper-ing when she saw us.
'Well Mark. What do you think? Would Abigail have liked this one? What’s its name?’
'This is Rambo. But he’s not for adoption. They are.’ She pointed to a group of seven animals, at the far end of the paddock.
'They look beautiful. I think I’d like a female, and perhaps more grey than brown. Mark, what do you think Abigail would have liked?’
'I didn’t know Abigail liked donkeys.’ He wasn’t helping. His concentration was on avoiding mud on his Nikes.
'How about the one at the end, on its own? Is that a female?’
'That’s not a donkey.’
'It’s not?’
'No. It’s a mule.’
'Oh. I see.’ I didn’t and waited for an explanation but none came. 'Well that might be better,’ I said though I had no idea why. 'Is he or she up for adoption?’
'Maybe. If she likes you.’
'Dad. Are you sure? What will mum say? And would we be doing this if Abigail were with us?’ Mark found a firm patch of ground on which to stand but was still looking down as if to protect his pristine trainers.
'Wouldn’t we?’ I knew the answer.
'Probably not. And it’s too late for Abigail’s birthday.’
I was conscious of the girl listening to us and lowered my voice, 'Do you think Abigail wouldn’t want a donkey?’
'It’s a nice idea dad but .
no way, Ray.’
He might have been right of course. But what if Abigail would have thought it a good idea for her birthday? Though I knew we would rarely, if ever, visit this mule.
I asked the girl, 'Do you think he’d like us?’ I was looking for something positive.
'It’s a she. And she’s very fussy.’
'Perhaps we should leave it then.’ I was a little ashamed at letting myself back away.
'Perhaps,’ he agreed with the girl.
'Perhaps. Another time. I don’t suppose you have a cafĂ©?’
'Dad. We still have a flask.’
'Oh yeah. Right, we’d better head back. Rugby. Thanks for your help.’
We left her mumbling to Rambo and I felt I’d let Abigail down. I insisted on my compilation disc for the rest of the journey home.
Although Christine was watching for us from a window she didn’t ask how the morning had been and I resisted the temptation to lie, falling back on a muttered, 'Hi. Kettle on?’ as I walked in. Mark went straight upstairs to his room to his waiting computer and I switched on the kettle, though I didn’t want a drink. We stood at opposite ends of the kitchen and I wished she would hug me or brush my arm or something. I knew I should ask her if she needed a cuddle but didn’t. Pathetically, I went to her and settled on picking a loose hair from her shoulder and offering a cup of tea.
'Do we need to go out for anything this afternoon?’ I asked.
'Not especially, and I need to pop into the office for an hour.’
I put tea-bags into cups while waiting for the kettle to boil and asked, 'Are you sure you’re up to it? I thought you were going to carry on part-time for a few more months? And why a Saturday?’
'We’ve an auditor coming in next week and Tom wants to tidy some stuff. It’s just an hour or so. Ironic really, when you think of it, an audit office being audited.’
'Oh. Does Tom need help? I thought we could do something together. Maybe go and watch rugby with Mark this afternoon?’ Christine’s irony didn’t interest me.
'I don’t think Mark wants his mother watching him in front of his friends. Besides, I promised Tom and when I get back from the office I was going to carry on transferring those old videos to DVD. You could help if you like
. or go to rugby. But ask him first.’
So I asked him and although he was reluctant I promised not to shout from the sideline.
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