My father’s soft hands were cuddly like a giant teddy bear. When I can’t sleep, I still remember his fingers guiding mine as he showed me how to walk. They were slippery, he wheezed, but I knew he would always be tugging me along. I pull my uniform straight and wonder what he’d think if he could see me now. It’s wintery outside. I tug the collar tight and face into the night.
“Jump,” he said. I was only three and barely walking. I jumped, or what I thought was a jump. I jerked, my feet left the floor, my bum hit it hard. “You see,” he said, laughing. “Nothing can hold you down.” I was only a kid, but I remember everything he said.
When I was about six I had measles and missed school. Bad luck, because the first day back the teacher told us about the maths exam. My father took pity. He said it wasn’t my fault I hadn’t time to study. He showed me a super-thin pen, and how to write on the inside of my fingers, and how to look at them as if I were thinking of picking my nose. It wasn’t cheating he said. Just a little extra help because I had been sick. Not my fault.
It wasn’t my fault either that I was starving hungry in the supermarket. “Here,” he said, pushing a bag of crisps into my hands. “Don’t worry. I’ll pay on the way out.” I ate them quickly, threw the bag behind the cereal packages. He never paid. I’m sure. I was hungry, it was only correct. Not his fault. He taught me to steal the gin bottles off my Mum as well. I didn’t always obey him though. I hated see my Mum lose her smile. She was so much more fun with that poison by her side.
Dad showed me the moves. That big boy from the next class kept thumping me on the back of the head. “You got to fight back,” Dad said. “Or they’ll keep hitting you all your life.” He showed me how, how it wasn’t against the rules to defend yourself. I swiped that big boy right behind the ears. He bled through the nose. I’ve been hitting back all my life: I get better and better. Thanks Dad. You left your mark. I remember his words, the stuttered orders, the attempts to keep the world at bay, forge a life from an existence that was out of control. He ended up in prison because of a fight, or something worse. He never explained. I waited until he got out. Mum didn’t.
It wasn’t a crime to kill either, I learned. He called it Cancer. “A stroke of bad luck,” he said. “Don’t blame yourself girl. Nobody’s fault. People get killed all the time.”
My Dad taught me everything I needed to know about breaking laws. I try hard to be a good daughter, but obedience was never my strong point. I pull my hat low, the peak shielding my eyes from the rain. Every drunk, every fist fight, every smashed shop window, every time I pick someone up and slip on the handcuffs, I find myself staring into their beaten faces. As I read their rights, I know I’m looking for my father’s eyes, and praying I don’t find them.
E. F. S. Byrne works in education and writes when his teenage kids allow it. He blogs a regular micro flash story. Links to this and over fifty published pieces can be found at efsbyrne.wordpress.com or follow him on Twitter @efsbyrne