Sunday 11 March 2018

No. 7704

by Kim Martins 

no-alcohol beer

It was as though fifteen years had melted away and Janet was standing before me again. My daughter. Tall and slender like her mother.

She was clutching a white piece of paper and trying not to look nervous. I realised it was the letter I had written to her on the day I found out. The prison doctor had uttered the words "terminal cancer", as though he was ordering a bagel for lunch. No emotion. Just the facts.

"Cara, you came. You look so much like your mother."

This was not how I had imagined our reunion. I've had fifteen years to think about that night and how Jack Daniels came between me and my family. Another two years with good behavior and I had planned to get a decent job and get to know my daughter. I hadn't planned for her to see me in a crumpled prison shirt, displaying the number that now defines me.

I wondered if she remembered the tattoo on my forearm - a red heart with the words "Janet and John Forever" snaking through it. Courtesy of a drunken night with the lads, a few smashed bottles and the smoky interior of a tattoo parlour.

"Don't you dare mention my mother. You have no right." Cara stood rigid before me. Her voice carried the same sanctimonious tone her mother used when I would come home late at night, stumbling through the front door.

I struggled for breath. The doctor said it wouldn’t be long. I have no excuses for that night but I need her to know what happened. If there's a God at least I'll be able to front up and tell him that I've reached out to Cara. That I have no regrets. "I wanted to see you again. Before the cancer takes me."

I wanted to retract those words. I knew how selfish they sounded. I had not been in her life to protect her or tuck her into warm blankets at night, while singing lullabies as she drifted off to asleep. The siren song of alcohol had always been too strong. She told me once that school kids used to call her the murderer's daughter. "Please Cara. Just sit down so we can talk."

I could see the conflict pulsating within her. She had already glanced towards the door. I guess I would want to run too rather than face a father I had never known. It took guts for her to come today, I'll give her that.

She sat down opposite me. The visitor’s room was a sterile beige. Her eyes roamed over the red heart tattoo as I placed my arms on the wooden table. "It was the alcohol. I was convinced your mother was having an affair." I looked at my calloused hands and the memory of Janet dressed up in her best party dress flooded my mind. "I'd been on a bender that night. Picked a fight with her, as she was cooking dinner. Picked up a knife and..."

It was only later when I was in the hands of the police that I remembered it was our wedding anniversary and she was preparing a special dinner.

Cara met my gaze. "You were only four. I don't expect you to understand,” I said.

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