I guess most fathers have stood in this position, waiting for their small part in the ceremony, the beautiful bride by his side, the dress that took his breath away. Twice. Once when he saw her standing in it, and again when he saw the price tag. In this case there are the brides twin sisters too looking gorgeous as bridesmaids and James doing his bit. Of course there’s the groom, got to be one of those and my thoughts wander, ‘look I’m not really giving her away my boy, this is a semi permanent loan and if you don’t treat her like the princess she is I’m going to kick seven kinds of shit out of you’. Or something like that. Okay, some of you are only too delighted to be getting rid of a high maintenance ‘asset’ and hoping that the next time you hear ‘Daa-ad’, it’ll only be a request for baby sitting. But that’s just me trying to put a brave face on it. To be honest I’m not really the father, not in a biological sense, as the provider of the sperm, but I am the only one she’s ever known, and she’s always called me Dad. Almost always.
A few minutes later I sit down. Alone, because Katie’s mother isn’t here. Tears run down my face, I’m trying to keep it together, it’s Katie’s day, but Rhiannon should have been here, and a little later I’m going to have to stand up and give a speech. Without her support. It’s going to be bloody difficult being cheerful and getting the jokes right.
After my divorce I carried on much as I always had, programming during the day and gaming in the evening. That was what caused the break up of my marriage, which in retrospect should never have taken place, as it did, for all the wrong reasons. Parting hadn’t been particularly amicable and I consigned the whole thing to history. There were no children and precious little in the way of assets, I kept the lease on the rented flat and she moved in with a friend. We had no further contact and I can’t recall ever hearing from her again.
So as I said, I carried on much as before, working and playing, and designing games myself. And that, eventually was where my big break came. To cut a boring story short, one of my games was bought up by a big company, and they paid me what then seemed to be an inordinate amount of money. In retrospect and in the light of subsequent events it probably wasn’t as generous as I thought, but hindsight is a wonderful thing and I was left extremely comfortably off. The game? If you play computer games you will have played it, I can’t tell you the name because of the contract I signed, and the company has been very litigious with other people. So not a risk I’m prepared to take and it has no relevance here anyway.
Naturally this changed my life. Anyone who says money won’t change them is deluded or lying, and people who tell you it causes problems are either jealous, or deluded. And if it makes you miserable then it’s a better class of misery. So yes, it changed my life, for the better. It didn’t cause me any problems and it made me happy. I bought a small holding on the edge of a village some distance from where I had lived, with a large house, a barn and several other outbuildings and a very reasonable static caravan which the previous owners had used as a holiday let, not something I wanted to do. Fortunately there was a good internet connection because I intended to carry on with my work and my gaming, but keep a few chickens and ducks too. And I got a dog. I’m not sure what Scruffy was, apart from just that, but I picked him out at a rescue centre and we seemed to bond immediately. I know dog owners always say that their dog is the most intelligent that there is, but he did seem to be just that. Oh and he did like going for walks, and there were lots of places we could go.
Now I dare say that after saying that I programmed computers and played games you have a picture in your mind of an overweight pimply nerd with spectacles and a pasty complexion, but not so. I am in fact almost the opposite. I’m told I’m not too bad looking, I ride a bike a lot and I’ve always enjoyed walking, looking at the countryside and listening to the sounds of birds or just the wind in the trees, but I can also enjoy walking around town looking at the buildings and watching the people. So quite fit and not over weight, and I only wear specs when I use the computer.
It was out walking that I first met her, a young mum pushing a buggy. She was very young and everything about her was somewhat down at heel. She was a touch on the cuddly side and I’d say not very pretty, she looked pale and drawn and ... scruffy, but I suspected that was because she wasn’t getting as much sleep as she should with a new baby, although my only experience of that at that time was through a friend of my ex-wife. She did, however, have a lovely smile. On the first few occasions we merely exchanged a friendly greeting and she petted Scruffy who could take any amount of that. I assumed that she lived in the village, but I left it at that since she was really only one of a number of people that I met when I was out with the dog, although most of them were also walking their dogs.
I didn’t get to say more to her until one day a year or so later when I was trying to tidy up my front boundary which was a bit overgrown. That is an understatement, it was badly in need of attention. She was pushing the baby and stopped to chat. I learnt that the baby was Katie and that her name was Rhiannon. I can’t recall the content of our conversation, but when she left she turned and gave me that lovely smile and I think there must have been one on my face too. I could only spare one day a week to work on the umm ... I really can’t call it a hedge, more a group of shrubs and small trees associated only because they were so well entangled, but the next time I was out there Rhiannon stopped with Katie again. This time she was carrying Katie. I enquired as to where the baby buggy was and she told me it had broken. It was then that she burst into tears.
“D’you want to come in for a coffee,” I asked, “I’m about due for one, and you look as though you could do with one.”
“I’m sorry. It’s okay, I don’t want to be a bother.”
“No bother, come on.”
We went into the kitchen which was nicely warmed by the Aga. I sat her down at the table and made coffee.
“I’ve got some orange juice, would Katie like that?”
“Yes please. Oh! This is lovely. Is this real coffee?”
“Is there any other kind?”
“Oh we only have Nescaff at home, and a cheap one at that.”
And she burst in to tears again. I gave her some kitchen paper, I don’t keep tissues in the kitchen, and took Katie from her. I tried her with the juice which seemed acceptable.
“Do you want to talk about it?”
“I thought everyone in the village knew.”
“Not me, gossip seems to have passed me by.”
“You know I’m a single mum.”
“I didn’t. But I suppose I might have guessed if I thought about it.”
“I live with my mum, and she’s single too, and alcoholic, and we’re being evicted because she hasn’t paid the rent. Now she’s got a boyfriend and she’s moving in with him and there’s no where for me.”
“The council, they must be able to help.”
“They say I should live with mum. I don’t know what to do, even if they had room I’m fed up with the abuse from her. And this boy friend is even worse than the last one.”
I decide not to enquire further on that line.
Katie, who must have been about a year old, had been looking around, now snuggled in to me. Heaven knows why, I have no experience with children whatsoever.
“I’m sorry, I should go.”
“Hang on a minute, I’ve had an idea.” Yes, I know, and you’re only supposed to blow the bloody doors off. “Come on, let’s go outside.
Rhiannon put her coat on and took Katie from me and put her coat on. We went out and I turned towards the barn.
“Where are we going?”
I turned and did a sort of Groucho Marx impression, well I wiggled my eyebrows.
“Behind the barn.”
She gave me a bit of an old fashioned look.
Before I could answer we rounded the corner and she spotted the static caravan.
“Oh! I didn’t know this was here!”
“Almost no one does. It is well screened from the road, I think the previous owners used that as part of the appeal for holiday visitors. I didn’t want to do that so it has just been sitting here. I keep the heating at its lowest setting so that the damp doesn’t get in.”
I opened the door, took Katie from her and she went in to explore. She came back to me in the sitting room where I had set Katie on her feet.
“It’s lovely, its warm too. And its got a proper kitchen and bathroom. But the rent will be much too high. I’m sorry.” and she burst into tears again. Katie went to her and she picked her up.
“I haven’t told you what the rent is yet.”
“I haven’t any money and there’s only one other way I could pay. Men are all the same and I haven’t sunk that low yet.”
“And neither have I. You may think men are all the same but I can assure you that they aren’t. I’m not anyway. What I was going to suggest was that you could do housekeeping for me and look after the place when I have to go away. That isn’t often but sometimes my clients like to see me and I’ve found that a bit difficult being here on my own.”
This was said in a pretty forceful way because I was somewhat upset by the accusation or rather suggestion, that I would let the place to her in return for sex. As I said, she really wasn’t very appealing, but it was what was left out of that statement that would come back to bite me.
“I’m sorry. It’s already been suggested as to how I could ‘pay my way’”
“Well not here, this is a genuine offer; I’d already thought that I would have to do this so you coming along was the answer to ... well the answer anyway. Let’s go back inside.”
“The answer to the maiden’s prayer. Well, I’m hardly that, but it is the answer to my prayers, a job and accommodation. When can I start? When can I move in? You do realise that people are going to talk?”
“You can move in as soon as you like, and whilst they are talking about me they’ll give someone else a rest. But let’s go in and discuss what I want you to do before you leap straight in.”
We returned to the kitchen and I outlined what I wanted, which was more or less as I said earlier, but I also wanted a few minutes to get more of a measure of her. There was no doubt that I needed someone to clean, and doing the washing would be great, perhaps cooking the odd meal, and of course looking after the chooks and dooks as I termed my small amount of livestock. Katie was toddling about the kitchen as we talked and curiously Scruffy seemed to be looking after her and certainly stood between her and the Aga when she headed in that direction. We agreed that she would work a nominal sixteen hour week at £10 per hour, although the actual hours worked might vary, but that would probably allow her to access some benefits. Together with the accommodation she thought that was very generous. This took us to lunch time.
“Do you want some lunch, soup and a roll?”
“Thank you. Can I help?”
I told her where things were and shortly we were sitting at the table, Rhiannon had Katie on her knee and was feeding her from her bowl.
During our chat I learnt quite a lot about her. She had been one of those kids who get through school without really being noticed. She was an adequate student, neither good enough or bad enough to excite attention. The same applied to sport and other activities. She wasn’t part of the ‘in’ crowd but not entirely an outcast. Boys never paid her any attention, but she wasn’t particularly interested anyway, which raised a question in my mind which I didn’t ask. She did read a lot, in fact was surprisingly widely read, she did use a computer but it was more as something that was useful, a tool to get information, or provide help with things like accounting, or writing, but had no particular interest in games. She did have an interest in cooking and was quite looking forward to that part of her job although she was somewhat apprehensive due to her lack of experience. Phew!
“I’ll have to get stuff for the caravan, bedding and stuff in the kitchen.” she mused.
“No. It’s all here, it was left behind, they didn’t want it and I thought it might come in handy. Bedding is in the airing cupboard and there is a basic kit in the kitchen out there, pots and pans and china, knives and forks, so all you need is your personal stuff. Do you need a hand to move?”
“No, I’ll start tomorrow and clean and make beds and things. Now, I’d better get started and move stuff in, we don’t have very much so it won’t be a problem.”
Now, of course, I had time to reflect, in particular had I done the right thing, or was I going to regret this. Making instant decisions wasn’t out of character for me, although sometimes I didn’t get it right, but then that applies to people who take ages to come to a decision and still get it wrong. More likely I think. It was completely in character for me to take the easy option and avoid having to meet and interview strangers. And that’s an odd thing.
Quite recently I watched a documentary by a comic called Rhod Gilbert – you’ll find it on BBC iplayer – about shy people. What he was describing fitted me like a good suit, but I would never have called it shyness. Lack of self confidence is more like it in my opinion. Although Rhod can stand on stage in front of hundreds of people and entertain them, he has difficulty in, say, going into a cafe and drinking a cup of coffee all by himself. With someone yes, and if people approach him, he can talk to them, but approach a stranger, no. Well sometimes you just have to screw everything tight and go talk to someone, but it ain’t easy.
So taking the easy way out and hoping you’re right is a fair option.
I think she must have worked like a umm ... non-European because she had everything in the caravan cleaned and set up for herself and Katie by the end of the next day and reported for work the day after, and all of this with a two year old in tow. To my great relief things worked extremely well, and although I sometimes minded Katie for her I didn’t mind because in a way it gave me a break and she loved the birds, and collecting eggs, the surplus of which I sold at the gate which meant that the birds were self financing. Not that it mattered but it was just a little victory if you see what I mean.
We only had one problem and that was her mother. She turned up one day demanding that either her daughter came away with her or that I pay her ‘reparations’. The threat was that she would report us to the ‘social’ and they’d take Katie away. I’d like to say that I bravely dealt with it but in fact it was Rhiannon who dragged her mother out of my earshot and after she said something to her, her mother left at high speed. Rhiannon came back past me grinning and went back to work. It wasn’t until much later that I worked out what she said to her.
One of the first things Rhiannon purchased was another buggy. She found it on the local swap shop on facebook and I took her to collect it. Once she had that she was able to take the bus to the local big town some 25 miles away where they had several shops selling women’s clothing at reasonable prices. She now began to look much more presentable. She had lost a few pounds and her face was no longer drawn. With her hair styled by a salon in the local town she was now looking quite lovely and seemed to move with a sort of feline grace. Her cooking had improved too, from a slightly rocky beginning, and all together I was delighted with her work and proud to take her shopping on a weekly trip to the big town for food and general household requirements.
Now I should point out one small thing: there was a twenty year difference in our ages. Katie was born when she was several months short of her seventeenth birthday, and was now coming up for three, which made Rhiannon almost twenty. I was thirty-nine. So I had no illusions regarding romance, I was quite old enough to be her dad. Nevertheless, despite that I had fallen for her big time, I just determined that I wouldn’t let it show and embarrass her.
Life continued with not much more than the changing of the seasons, Rhiannon learnt to drive and to celebrate her pass I bought her a car. Nothing special, just a little run about so that she could do her own shopping, although she preferred that I take her for ‘big’ shopping and on our occasional forays to a much bigger town about 40 miles away where there was a much wider range of shops. I wasn’t, in any case, going to let her out in my Landcruiser, the cost of adding her to the insurance made my eye’s water. Curiously, had we been married it would have been much more affordable.
As part of her cooking she was developing an interest in making cakes, and she was getting very good at it, sponges to die for, amazing rocky roads and even brandy snaps. She obviously didn’t eat a lot of these herself because she had developed a wonderfully lithe figure, and Katie certainly ate a balanced diet and looked very fit and healthy. I had to avoid too many myself, I have a ‘sweet tooth’ and sitting in front of a computer a lot of the time it wouldn’t be a good idea to indulge it. What was happening I discovered was that they were going to the play group, and some of the mums were buying them from her. When I asked her about this she assured me that she paid for the ingredients herself and since the Aga was on permanently there was no problem there. Not that I was concerned but she insisted that she showed me the accounts on the computer that I had set up for her. Okay, it didn’t amount to a big business, not much more than a ‘self financing hobby’, but I was impressed and suggested that she could expand this by selling at markets. She thought that might be going a bit too far, but there was something in her look that told me she was considering the idea.
The first Christmas after she came to work for me was very low key, we cooked lunch and had a few presents, but the second, with Katie now four was different. She was now attending the local nursery school and was really excited, so I had to have decorations and a Christmas tree. Rhiannon had some decorations in the caravan but nothing compared with what she insisted I have. We’ll be spending Christmas day in here,’ was how she rationalised it. She even put up some mistletoe although I wasn’t sure why, but it seemed to be in the spirit of the season.
Everything had been going along nicely, no problem that we couldn’t cope with and then, with just one week to go the caravan boiler gave up big time. It wasn’t really surprising because it must have been ten years old and the cheaper boilers aren’t designed to last longer than that. The timing couldn’t have been better if some asshole had decided to do it deliberately, because there was no way it was going to be replaced until the new year.
“You’ll have to move into the house.”
“How are we going to do that? You’ve four bedrooms and only one of them has a bed. Yours.”
“Well, it’s never been necessary before. Evans down in town sell beds as well as carpets don’t they? We can use the linens from the caravan. We’d better get moving if we want them to deliver today.”
We got all sorted by the time Katie went to bed. She seemed very happy with her new bedroom, she had her own in the caravan, but apparently at some time in the night she ended up with her mother. Having got beds we now needed wardrobes and the rest of the bedroom furniture, so it was off to the big town the next day.
Christmas day went as these things usually do, presents, stocking for Katie, big lunch, after lunch walk along the beach, relax with tea and cake and watch the box. Katie decided that she wanted to sit with me and watch whatever fairy tale was on, I wasn’t taking much notice.
“Martin? Are you my daddy now?”
“I wanted to know if you are my daddy now.”
I look across at Rhiannon who had a smirk on her face, but didn’t look at me.
“The other girls at nursery have mummies and daddies who live in the same house, and you and mummy are living in the same house now.”
I looked across at her mother but still received no assistance. It was then that I made a basic error concerning children’s logic.
“Well, it’s not quite that simple. Mummies and daddies are usually married.”
“Are you going to marry my mummy?”
I was now beginning to feel I was being set up.
“It’s a fair question.” A statement from mummy adding petrol to the flames. “But he told me I wasn’t pretty enough.”
“What? I never did.”
“You said you hadn’t sunk low enough to want me. That’s the same thing. And you said you weren’t like other men so that means...”
“I didn’t mean you weren’t pretty enough, as I recall I was saying I hadn’t sunk so low as to take advantage of a girl in distress, heaven knows I can’t think of a more beautiful woman, and I am certainly not batting for the home team.”
That last euphemism was mindful of the cloth eared trollop sitting on my lap.
“So what are the reasons for not marrying me? Am I not good enough?”
“Of course you are, too good, but umm ... there’s lots of reasons...”
“There’s the age gap, I’m old enough to be your father. You need a nice young man.”
“Age is irrelevant, you’re not my father, and there aren’t any nice young men. Not around here anyway. Next.”
“People will talk.”
“They don’t bother much now. They used to, but now we’re just accepted.”
“You mean people think we...”
“They see you with Katie at play group, they see us together when you taking me shopping, what on earth did you think? Did you see the way Tomos at Evans looked when you said we needed a bed because the caravan boiler wasn’t working? He lives up in the village and he thought we were an item, so why did we need a new bed in a hurry, and the only men who hit on me are the chancers who think I might be interested in being a ‘bit on the side’.”
“Oh! Does that happen often?”
“No, because I’m an ugly old slapper who dresses like a bag lady!”
And with that she flounced out to the kitchen, from where I could hear a sob.
Shit! She obviously felt the same way I did and I was too thick, too stupid, too blind to notice. What now?
It was Katie who solved the problem. She got down off my lap and caught hold of my hand.
“Come on, mummy needs a hug.”
She pulled me out to the kitchen where Rhiannon was standing looking out of the window. I put my hand on her shoulder and she turned and flowed into my arms, burying her face in my shoulder. After a minute or two she turned her face up to look at me. I bent and kissed her, a kiss that seemed to go on and deepen until finally we had to come up for air.
“I love you,” I said.
“And I love you, you big idiot.” she grinned. “And that was my first kiss. And it was wonderful, I want more,” she reached up and kissed me, grinning like a cheshire cat, “but not now, we have an audience and I don’t think she’s old enough to see the next part.” She giggled.
We returned to the lounge and sat together on the sofa, Katie back on my lap and Rhiannon cuddled tightly into my right side. We watched another forgettable fairy tale cartoon and then it was time for Katie to go to bed. We spent the rest of the evening talking, we enjoyed a late super of left overs and salad and a bottle of red wine.
“When I said that was my first kiss, I didn’t just mean the one I’ve been waiting for from you for the last two years. It really was my first kiss. Ever.”
“Was the result of rape.”