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Authors: James Heneghan

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Flood (5 page)

BOOK: Flood
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Vincent Flynn sprang from the arm of the chair and made as if to throw his arms about Andy, but then stopped and gripped his hand affectionately instead, as if unsure of how long-lost fathers greeted long-lost sons.

“Andy!” he cried enthusiastically. “These old eyes are delighted to see you!” He perched himself opposite on the arm of the chair again, hands on his knees, nicotine-stained fingers drumming, eyes dancing with excitement. “All grown up! How old are you now? Ten is it?”

“Eleven.”

“Of course, eleven. And the fine young man you are. I wouldn't have known you. Pinch me and tell me you're really here, that it's really yourself I'm looking at.” He bounced up again and grasped both Andy's hands and crushed them in his own.

Andy felt overwhelmed. “It's me all right,” he said weakly.

“You're tired. Why don't you take off your things and lie on the sofa. I'll bring a blanket.”

Andy was relieved to slip out of his jacket, kick off his wet sneakers, and stretch out on something soft.

His father pulled off his damp socks, threw a blanket
over him, and switched off the light. “I'm dreadful sorry about your mother. It's a terrible thing. We'll have a good chin-wag in the morning,” he said. “Will I close the window? Is it too cold?”

“It's okay.” At least his father had said something about his mother, that he was sorry she was gone, a terrible thing he'd called it, which was a lot more than Aunt Mona had said.

“Sleep tight. If the Sheehogue come creeping through the open window and bother you, just give me a shout and I'll send them on their way.”

The Sheehogue. The Faeries. Andy smiled.

And fell fast asleep.

“‘Gallop apace, you fiery-footed steeds.'“

“You cheated!” they said, giggling.

“No I didn't.” The Young One laughed and turned her back on her accusers.

“Yes you did. We saw you sprinkle St. Patrick's wort on your beast's antennae as we all raced together, we saw you, we saw you, we saw — ”

“I did no such thing! It was only a dab of shamrock powder for the smell.”

“I slipped off at the start,” said another. “Or I would have won, I'm sure, St. Patrick's wort or not.”

“Roaches give off very little smell. Unlike horses.”

“The roach is much faster than the horse, pound for pound.”

“But not as reliable.”

“Nonsense! I traveled the length of the Grand Canal from Dublin to Tullamore one moonless night in a roach and coach, and there's no better beast in all…”

“I'd rather ride a rat than a roach,” said a Young One who had contributed very little to the discussion so far.

“Are you out of your mind entirely…?”

They squabbled noisily.

“Enough,” said the Old One, hiding a smile.

6

“DID AUNT MONA come looking for me last night?” asked Andy the next morning as soon as his father appeared, emerging sleepily from his bedroom in blue polka-dot boxer shorts. “I thought I heard you talking to her out in the hallway.”

“Don't worry; I didn't let her in.”

“She wants to take me away”

“Yes.”

“You won't let her, will you?”

“Of course not. You're safe with me, my boy. She might as well try rob the Bank of Canada as steal you away from your own loving father, and that's the truth.”

He searched his father's eyes and saw that it was indeed the truth.

“Where's the bathroom?”

“Across the hall. It's shared.” He scratched his skinny bare chest.

The bathroom door was locked. Andy was about to turn away when he heard the toilet flush and the bolt rattle. He
stood back as the door opened. An old man with a walking cane limped out slowly and hobbled past him without a word. Andy watched him climb the stairs that led up to the third floor, hanging on to the banister for support.

Andy went in and switched on the light. There were no windows. The place smelled bad. There was a dead cockroach lying on its back in the tub. The toilet seat was dirty. There was no way Andy was going to sit in that tub. Or wash in that filthy basin. He didn't need to wash, he decided.

When he got back, his father, now in the same clothes he had worn the day before, was making tea. “An old guy from upstairs left a mess in the bathroom,” said Andy.

“Carried a cane? Bald as an egg?”

“That's him.”

“Old Peter. He's supposed to use the toilet on his own floor, but if there's someone using it he can't wait; the poor man has his problems, right enough. Do you want some tea?”

“Tea's fine.”

There was nothing for breakfast. “All I have mornings,” his father explained, “is a cup of tea.” Daylight, uncombed hair, and ginger stubble gave his thin face the look of an old man's. He shuffled back and forth between the kitchen and the table. “Tell me about your poor mother,” he said, sitting at the table with two mugs of tea, pushing one toward Andy.

Andy sat. “The flood took the house away. We were in bed. And Mom…” He stopped.

“Judith was a fine woman. May she rest in peace.”

“What does 'rest in peace' mean? Is she in heaven?”

His eyes shone with tears. “Poor Judith,” he said, shaking his head.

Andy waited. Then he said, “Clay is resting, too. In peace. He was my stepfather.”

“God save him.”

“Do you think Mom is in heaven?” Andy asked again.

His father couldn't answer. His eyes were full. After a while he said, “God save them both,” and sat, shaking his head over his tea, talking about the random cruelty of nature and a whole bunch of stuff Andy couldn't understand. Andy drank his tea and stared at the man opposite him, wishing he would talk about the place where his mother was, whether she was happy there, whether she could see them sitting and drinking tea together, whether she was really dead when Andy felt she was still very much alive, and what did she think of Andy living in Halifax with this odd, untidy man who was once her husband?

When his father finally stopped talking, Andy said, “So you're my real father.”

“I'm your father, right enough, though you'd never know it, looking at the pair of us. You're a fine boy. You're like the Costellos, the dark chocolate eyes and hair the color of soot.” He smiled. “Your mother's family. They came out from Ireland. Your Aunt Mona was only twelve. That was a year before your mother was born.”

The mention of Aunt Mona prompted Andy to ask, “What if Aunt Mona sends the police for me?”

“I'm your father, Andy. You're safe here with me. Don't worry.”

“You won't let them take me?”

“Never, as long as I draw breath into this miserable body.”

“I hate her.”

He leaned forward and placed a hand over Andy's on the table. “It's sometimes terrible hard to love everyone, son, the way it tells us in the good book, but not hating comes a little easier. Hate will twist your soul if you let it, Andy. Hate no man or woman, you hear me?”

He nodded.

His father started a rambling talk again, this time about Judith's family, how they left Ireland for Canada many years ago, and the troubles they'd had, but Andy hardly listened, letting his gaze explore the room. If he didn't count the tiny kitchen, not much bigger than a closet, it was really just two rooms: this small living room, almost bare, with plain, dirty walls in need of fresh paint, and a door leading off into his father's bedroom. The only furniture was the torn brown sofa and the faded green chair, probably rescued from a garbage dump by the looks of them, and the small wooden table at which they sat near the window. There was a saucer in the center of the table containing a few raisins. Their two chairs were scarred and cracked. A
Playboy
centerfold was taped to the wall near the kitchen. There was nothing else. No rug or carpet on the torn linoleum floor, no other pictures on the walls, no TV, no radio, and no telephone that Andy could see. The room
had only one window; its ragged, smoke-stained curtains hung uncertainly on a few remaining hooks. The place had the sour, musty smell of stale food and smoke. A yellow nylon rope stretched across one corner of the room with a pair of tartan boxer shorts and a pair of grayed white socks hanging from it.

“I can see that you don't think much of the place.”

Andy shrugged.

“It's enough for me. I'm not in it much.” Vincent Flynn looked around and, seeing the centerfold as if for the first time, got up quickly and tore it down.

Andy pretended not to notice. “How come you're not working today?”

He laughed. “I'm not working because I've no job, that's why. There's no work to be had, and brutal unemployment all over the province.”

“You were selling cigarettes in that restaurant last night.”

“I was, indeed. These uncertain times force a man to turn his hand to low employment.”

“Why do you sell them so cheap?”

“Because they're cheap cigs. I buy them from the wholesalers, old stock, stale and out of date. I get them for next to nothing.” He sighed. “It's a way of surviving.”

Andy remembered what his miserable old aunt had said about Vincent Flynn being a thief. Nasty old cow. His father worked hard selling those stale cigarettes.

“I thought to myself, when I saw you in the restaurant, Andy, that there was something about you, and I'll swear I
felt a thump right here.” His hands went to his thin chest. “I should've known it was my own flesh and blood I was looking at, my own dear boy. I'm so astonished to see you, Andy. How on earth did you find me?”

Andy told him about Aunt Mona coming for him and how he had run away.

His father laughed with delight at his daring and urged him to tell more.

“I slept downstairs in the broom closet.”

“You're the brave one; a young lion, so you are. Take after your father, you do. Mona went to fetch you from Vancouver, is that right?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I never.” He shook his head in disbelief. “She told me nothing. I hadn't seen the woman in years. Which reminds me. What day is this?”

“Saturday.”

“D'you like hockey?”

“You bet!”

“The Mooseheads are at Metro Centre this afternoon.”

“You mean real live hockey? Not the TV?”

“It's the only kind.”

Andy was delighted. Clay, much too busy with his business, had never had the time to take him anywhere. Clay didn't like kids anyway. Andy had overheard him admit as much to one of his friends over the telephone when he thought nobody else was listening. And his mother had no interest in hockey — besides, she'd always been busy with her Robson Street shopping and her friends and her
tennis and her aerobics classes, not to mention her personal trainer who took her running most days.

His father rinsed the mugs under the tap, then dropped a piece of soap into his mug and began mixing lather with a shaving brush. Andy watched him pulling faces into a small cracked mirror over the sink as he scraped his chin with a safety razor, rinsing the lather off every few seconds under the tap. “I usually wash here in the kitchen,” his father explained when he'd finished. “Saves walking down the hall.” He handed Andy a towel that looked much used. Andy stared at it. “I need to buy a few things,” his father admitted, embarrassed.

Andy said nothing. There was a piece of soap on the lip of the sink but no toothpaste or extra toothbrush. His father said, “You're welcome to use my toothbrush. And look, I use baking soda, see?” He handed Andy a package. “Better than toothpaste.”

“No thanks.”

“I've got an old one you could have if you like. It's clean, nothing but baking soda was ever on it.”

“Thanks anyway.”

He cleaned his teeth with his fingers. Then he leaned over the kitchen sink and threw some water on his face and dried it off. The sink was small, cracked, and yellowed. To the side of it there was a dirty hot plate and an old iron frying pan; a small fridge sat on a counter opposite.

BOOK: Flood
9.42Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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