M y__(R u i n e d)__F a t h e r

I have seen the old photos. My father had a fine face (façade) once, a good (bone) structure, captivating pair of big eyes (windows), and a strong dignified looking mouth (shopfront).

Like every son I thought he would go on forever. But it’s not just about maintenance is it? If we look closely at what maintenance really consists of in even a wealthy face (façade) over a few decades then we probably see that every atom has been replaced in the end: that what we think of as repair is really just complete piecemeal replacement. So in many cases, like my father’s, it is decay that sets in and wins the day in the end.

Firstly his hair (roof) went, and not having the money for some grand remedy, we merely furnished him with a hat. It did the job in a way, but still the rain crept in, and drop by drop began eroding the integrity of everything behind his face (façade).

Then a vein (downpipe) collapsed, closely followed by a few more, and blood (rainwater) began to spread unchecked across his cheeks (walls). Of course his eyes (windows) had also been gradually accumulating dust and deteriorating generally over the years. It was only a matter of time before an accident (vandals) befell him. A stone from the street put out one of his eyes (windows), leaving unsightly shards until we covered it with a patch (hoarding).

Somehow we imagined the structure would remain safe, but life and decay are merciless. The constant weathering, increasingly unchecked, weakened some of the muscle (structure) until sags and cracks and partial collapses began to appear all over his face (façade).

His mouth (shopfronts) had long since fallen largely out of use and after the stroke (break-in) they had to be abandoned and boarded-up altogether. During the stroke (break-in), a fire was lit in the upper floor and much of the contents (memories) and B-listed interiors (thoughts) of my father’s mind (house) were destroyed.

It was strange, and sadly haunting to unlock the steel door at the foot of the stairs, with all it warnings of collapse and danger, and climb with my brothers with our hard-hats on, up into the ruins of the stair-well and walk through the blackened shells of all the parlours and salons where we, his sons, had been brought up. Looking upward through all the charred bones of exposed floor joists, we could see the pale blue sky with its grey spindrift clouds trailing southwards like rain-heavy bombers.

We remembered my father’s stories of his wartime service in the navy, felt the enormity of the great thoughts that had once filled these rooms like music, and stalked these corridors like diligent housemaids. We felt the youth and strength of our own bodies, and with a leap of imagination: knew that our father had once felt this way also, that these rooms had been bright and new, polished floorboards and gleaming crockery, echoing with laughter and talk of plans and futures.

We stood there with our overalls and torches among the soiled oil paintings and eviscerated sofas floating in rainwater: and as I looked up at the distant aeroplanes passing overhead; somehow one of them peeled off and spiralled down towards us like an ailing mechanical bee. A spitfire in its original markings came crashing through the remnants of the roof and sliced angrily through several dozen floor joists until it came to a precarious rest: nose down, tail up, held within the mind (house) like an impaled butterfly from some archaic natural-history collection. We were shaken, but happily unscathed, and once the fuselage fire subsided, even the pilot got out and walked off laughing. Then below us we saw ghostly throngs of people in period costume come swimming in out of the street, moving this way and that, conversing feverishly, buying newspapers and groceries before hurrying off suddenly at the sound of air-raid sirens.

All that unsettled us more than a little, and after making the mind (house) as secure as its ruinous state could permit, we exited with the resolve not to return unless strictly necessary, lest a repeat of these uncanny events should occur.

But the City Council just can’t leave things alone, can they? Last week they slapped an order on us and took custody of our father from us, -the affrontery of it! Teams of men with truckloads of steel and concrete mixers arrived and began working, cordoning off the whole block, closing the street to traffic.

Today I see they have demolished everything behind my father’s face (façade) and left it propped up with a steel skeleton. Everything they found inside his mind (house) they have skipped or sold to the scrapyard or antique shops. They tell us his noble old face (façade) will just hang there until they find some young healthy (wealthy) candidate to build a new mind (house) behind it and look out through his eyes (windows).

I have my doubts about such a grotesque proposal. Already there are trees and grasses and mosses taking root in the bare ground behind his façade (face) and I suspect and hope that mother (nature) will take her natural course and dismantle and consume my father, long before any young whippersnapper arrives with half the gumption necessary to fill the old man’s shoes. His stones (bones) were part of her cliffs and mountains once after all, and we should all do well to remember that everything is borrowed in this life, until its owner returns to put us straight about it.

(First published in Random Acts Of Writing No.6, January 2007).

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