“What did he do to you?!” I demanded to know.
“Nothing!” she said.
“What did he fucking do to you!”
“Don’t shout, the baby’s crying!”
“Danni I want to know! If he’s laid a single finger on you I’ll kill him!”
“He hasn’t!” she screamed, and broke down in tears, head in hands on the settee.
I didn’t want to go and sit with her, I couldn’t, I couldn’t touch her right now, I guess for fear he had touched her I’d be touching him. That sounds weird but how else can I describe how I felt? Angry? Betrayed? Scared, definitely that. I was scared of losing her.
“I’ll tell you what happened,” she sobbed, so I sat at the table, six feet away, shaking like the bottles of baby milk in front of me, waiting for her to tell me it was over, she was in love with someone else. “Are you in love with him?”
“No,” she said, “I’m not in love with him. It was nothing at first, he was just a bloke whose father I cleaned for, who kept coming to check for cobwebs, check I was doing my job properly, I told you. And then with the band thing, again it was just an interest and yes I got to kind of like it.”
“And what about him?”
“Yes I got to quite like him too. Not in that way.”
“In what way?”
“In that way. He was just someone I saw as a friend, till the day when…”
“When what? Please Danni I want to know, I deserve to know.”
“… I looked at him and thought he was actually quite attractive.”
“And one night…”
“What? One night what?”
“He said he wanted to kiss me.”
“Outside our house?”
“No. At the bandstand.”
There was a long pause that felt like an hour, and I’m still shaking, probably gone bloodless, feeling cold and dreading what was to follow.
“And did you?”
“You didn’t kiss him?”
“No I swear I didn’t!”
“But you were tempted?”
“I don’t know.”
“Don’t shout, the baby needs us!”
“I don’t care! Tell me were you tempted!”
“Yes! But I didn’t, I swear!”
I couldn’t go on with that line of enquiry, so sick was I in the stomach. I just went to the bedroom and scooped the baby up, cuddling her, crying into her blanket. When I finally got her back down I found Danni making us a cup of tea, her back to me, and saying “I won’t be going there again. To band practice. I’ll tell him.”
“No,” I said, “I will.”
And that was it. We didn’t mention it again. When I thought about it I still felt sick, but tried not to show it, let it get to me. But these things fester I guess, and it was hard. I was still unemployed and she’d be going out four days a week, cleaning, but not at Mr Wilson’s, and I was there with Phoebe, and when it wasn’t busy, when she was sleeping and I finally got to put my feet up in front of shit TV, exhausted, it kept coming back to me. I didn’t know how to control it at times. Sometimes I’d kick the wall in anger and frustration, hurt and shame. Yes shame, because what man can neglect his wife so much she gets her head turned? What kind of man was I, sitting there in front of shit TV, mixing Cow & Gate? The man who hadn’t done anything wrong, just doing his best for his wife and kid, who through no fault of his own had nothing else to do. Except drink.
Though Danni got home from work knackered, as much as possible I’d find a way of getting out to the pub, which at first she said I deserved after a busy day with the little one. But gradually the odd night out with the lads became three or four times a week, then more than that, then most nights then every night. Danni knew that deep down I was punishing her for what she had or hadn’t done, I sensed it. She didn’t say it but it was in the air, hanging there behind every conversation, every minor disagreement, everything that caused a voice to rise. If there was any room at all in that cramped little flat I sensed she’d grown to hate, there would be an elephant, and that man was it.
Though Danni didn’t say much about my drinking, I know she told Millie about her concerns because Millie had a quiet word, telling me she’d no idea what was going on but something wasn’t right, and drinking wouldn’t help. But I didn’t listen, so every night when Danni came home I’d be out to the pub, sometimes even before she’d got chance to tell me about her day. That was how it was, how it had become, and how it would be for the next four years when Phoebe was ready for school.
So I hadn’t learned. And by the time Danni walked out on me and took my beautiful daughter Phoebe I was one fucked-up man. Unhappiest man in the world. She’d found herself someone new, from England some place and called George of all things. At first she was fair you know with access, I got to see Phoebe on the weekend, take her to the park, to the pictures, McDonald’s, all the things starving dads do. Then one day some time later Danni phoned to say would I mind missing one weekend because she and George were taking Phoebe to Disney Land Paris? Well I was rocked. Disney Land, a place I always wanted to take her, now she was being taken by somebody else. My instinct was to say no, you can’t do that, take my kid out of the country without my permission, but she said it was already booked so don’t kick off. “You went to France and left me alone with the kid,” she said with an exaggerated Gallic shrug, “Well now it’s our turn.” Those were the words that cut me, that would haunt me. But then, when I calmed down, I thought what man could deny his little kid the chance of a lifetime, what man could do that? And anyway Danni said to make up for it I could have her for a whole week when they came back. So I agreed, and booked that week off work accordingly, because by then I’d managed to find something, not much but something. But that didn’t happen, I never got Phoebe for the whole week, because they never came back.
Turns out this George was some wine merchant and he’d bought a cottage in Bordeaux, and this whole Disney thing was a ruse. Oh they did go there, but what they didn’t tell me was that from Paris it was on to the south where he’d be doing the business.
It’s not easy to describe how I felt. Sick? Gutted? Betrayed? Broken-hearted? Angry? Suicidal? No, while I felt all of them, none of them can cut it, not one of those words can convey how a man feels when having his whole life smashed into pieces. Earlier, I used the words fucked-up and I guess that just about does it. The week I took off work turned into two and three and four and so on, till in the end the doctor signed me off for a whole three months ongoing.
The other thing that’s not easy to describe or even justify is what I did about it. I mean some say I should’ve fought tooth and nail to keep my beautiful little daughter in the country, found a lawyer, contested, what kind of man could not? And I have to admit I set about doing all these things, once I’d dried my eyes, stopped kicking walls and demanding justice, but never quite followed them through; not because I didn’t want to, more because I didn’t have the energy so broken was my body. Sure I was able to speak with Phoebe on the phone – Danni would call and put her on. Hearing her voice went some way to alleviate the pain, yet at the same time pushed the dagger further into my heart. I was even invited over to see them, and once even bought the tickets, but that week I got laid off and my world completely caved in a second time. Danni accused me of letting Phoebe down. Me? Let my beautiful Phoebe down? I’d never do that, I said, I was ill, I couldn’t make the trip, it’s breaking my heart not to see her. It was the first sign of Danni, the woman I once loved, being a changed person and I didn’t like it, it was another dagger and another one-way street towards the bottle. What I was too mad and too stupid to know was that I was getting sicker and sicker.
Then, after a bloated sixteen weeks on the booze and not much else I don’t know how it happened but I guess a light came on, when I woke up crying having dreamed of my little girl in France. I felt wretched, angry, hurt, a bile in my gut, yes all of those words, but something else was gnawing away at me – and it was seeing Phoebe laughing amid the vines, playing with her mummy, playing with other kids, going to school and picking up French. And then I thought what kind of man could deny the little girl a dream of her own? Wasn’t that a better life Danni could give her there? Wasn’t that better than growing up in Glasgow, living with a daddy who was just a welder and never quite getting it together to even take her to Euro-Disney? With a father who had a drink problem? That was the light bulb that went on in my head, that made me see things including myself more clearly.
At that time the calls were still coming, but as Phoebe got older they became gradually less and less and more and more painful. Yet paradoxically in conjunction my life was on the up. I quit the booze, got clean, found a new job, got a new girlfriend called Alice who had work and rented an apartment in Shawlands. Alice was good for me and for once I was good to myself. I enjoyed my job, again it wasn’t much, just some welding for a smallish garage belonging to an old pal called Ian, a small and ruddy man with a face of constant woes, as if he was always thinking he might’ve left a cigarette burning on the arm of his chair, but it was something and yes I liked it. With Alice’s wage (she was a bank cashier) we could afford to live OK. Not rich by any stretch, just OK. She and I were good to me, I’d found a vital lifeline and was able to actually live. We got new friends, ate well, I even started jogging for Christ’s sake. And again some men, especially the kind of men who climb pylons and buildings in protest at not seeing their kids, would knock me for this, but I admit as time wore on the pain of not seeing Phoebe got less and less. The resentment and images that once were so raw were less so. Of course I still got to speak to her, and via Alice’s computer I also got to Skype, but the thought of never seeing her again in the flesh, not being able to touch her skin, put my arm around her and squeeze her, was less and less hurtful, less and less hard as I got on with my life. That’s what some men would criticise me for, but that’s how it was. I make that confession and I am able to make it with equanimity.
So it was only via Skype that I saw her features change as time wore on, and it was only via Skype that she saw mine change too – much older and greyer than I should’ve been for my age, the hard times etched on my face, but still the sparkle in my eyes or so she said. And I got to watch her grow up like that, and learn how she was doing at school, how she was now fluent in French. Bonjour papa, she’d say, comment vas-tu? J’espere que vous allez bien? And I’d do my best to respond in French and struggle and she’d laugh at me and I didn’t care. Because I coped, I just about coped, with everything, for the next ten years – hearing how she was, how she was enjoying her life, hearing about her first job, hearing she’d got a boyfriend called Jean… And then, one day, hearing she was expecting a baby of her own.
Part Three the final part to follow…