There was a time when you weren’t sick.
You did Dad things: fishing and football and DIY and karate and shooting and swimming and driving and heavy lifting and gardening
and teaching us kids how to ride a bike, how to fix a car, how to dive, how to get out of trouble, how not to get caught in the first place, how to cook, how to grow vegetables, how to gut a rabbit, how to draw, how to move objects with our minds, how to roll a cigarette, how to play backgammon, how to paint with acrylics-oils-watercolours-no paint at all, how to charm your way out of a parking ticket, how to spot a constellation in the night sky, how to apologise sincerely, how to apologise when you’re not sorry at all, how to write poems, how to pitch a tent, how to play the guitar, how to bake, how to mend clothes, how to break hearts, how to put hearts back together again, how to judge the tides, how to be honest, how to tie a balloon, how to be kind.
I remember you mowing the lawn. We had a big garden back then, in the house we lived in until you got sick and we lost it. You’d mow the lawn and the cat would hide upstairs.
Mowing the lawn was your job but we always wanted to help you so you gave us our own special jobs. Brother, who was around 4, had the task of holding open the bin bag so that you could tip the raked-up grass cuttings into it neatly. He’d then run around the garden and pick up any stray clumps of grass that you’d missed and put them in the big bag of cuttings. Myself, about 6 years old, had 2 separate jobs: one, putting the kettle on and making you a cup of tea, and two, cleaning the shredded worms and slugs splattered on your glasses.
I had to be careful of the boiling water and be careful not to break your glasses because they were fragile and expensive. I remember dragging a chair over to the kitchen counter as soon as I heard you turn the lawnmower off. Kettle on, teabag in mug, 4 spoons of sugar. Then I’d run outside with a damp cloth and you’d give me your glasses. The blades in the lawnmower would chop up any slimy insect hidden in the grass and often the blood and guts would fly up and land on your lenses. I remember it being disgusting although with hindsight it was probably nothing, but I felt proud that I’d been trusted with this important task and keen to prove to you that I was a big girl and wasn’t squeamish. Then, glasses wiped and returned, I’d run indoors, climb up to the counter and finish your cuppa.
I was always worried about making it wrong: too much milk, too weak, too strong, too sweet. I hated getting it wrong, you saying “Never mind, it’ll have to do. Less milk next time though, yeah darling?” I do make a blinding cuppa now though, don’t I Dad? You’d drink your tea and smoke a joint and survey your work. But you’d always say that Brother and I were your greatest achievements. Then you’d make us strawberry milkshakes, sit on the freshly mown lawn and read The Hobbit to us, that worn old paperback with the dragon on the front cover. We were happy. We were lucky. Then you went to a doctor’s appointment and everything changed.