It’s early morning in La Jolla, Southern California. A large shingled single storey house stands amid sub tropical plants. Clouds of spray from spurting sprinklers make rainbows in the sun while in the background there’s the perpetual whoosh of the Pacific Ocean. The front door opens. Mike yawns and walks, dodging the spray, across the wet grass to the mailbox. There’s a single letter, with the franked postmark: Hull – Great Britain. Postage Paid.
In a flash he’s back to his childhood in West Dock Street. His bedroom is so cold that by the morning the warm breath of his sleep has condensed on the surface of the woollen blanket covering him, creating an indoor frost.
Back in the La Jolla house, in the photographic archive that houses his life’s work that’s made him both rich and famous, he sits at his desk reading his mother’s pleading letter. He still hears his father’s endless criticism and sniping. You’re nothing. A failure. A waste of space. Fucking useless. I can get you on a trawler with a click of me fingers. That’ll make a man of you, you little shit.
On Hessle Road, in Hull, Mike shivers in a cold wind blowing in from the Humber. He’s nervous as he walks down West Dock Street and visibly shaking as he knocks on the door of number 67. A frail woman in her late seventies opens the door.
Mum, is that you? Mike asks. You look so …
Old and worn out? Yes, it’s me, Mike. Thanks for coming.
After your letter did I have a choice?
Why didn’t you come back to see me all these years?
You know why. I sent money, Mum, so you could get out.
You don’t escape a man like Sid.
You’re almost too late.
Where is he?
Walking up the stairs, Mike’s past is as heavy as his step. Outside the door to his bedroom he smells the stench of his childhood’s urine-soaked bed. Involuntarily, his hand goes to his bottom; he winces, remembering his father’s belt remorselessly leathering his naked arse raw for being bad and a disgrace.
In his parents’ bedroom he stares at Sid, who’s propped up on pillows, gasping for air.
Why do you want to see me? Mike asks.
Come nearer, Sid whispers. Sit on the bed.
As Mike sits, Sid grabs Mike’s hand. In horror Mike stares at what he sees as a claw; it’s as much as he can do not to scream at his father’s grip.
What do you want? Mike asks, pulling his hand free as his mother joins them.
The terrifying monster of Mike’s childhood, now a wretched wreck of a man, whispers, Forgive me, before I die.
Mike’s mother says, Please, Mike. Tell him.
Mike stares at his father. Forgive you? Never. You beat the shit out of her and did the same to me. Forgive you? No. Die and rot in hell.
You little shit, Sid wheezes.
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© Phil Cosker 2021
Phil Cosker has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs & Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work. All rights reserved; no part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted by any mean, electronic, mechanical, photocopying or otherwise without the prior permission of the author.