PART ONE: The Burger Bar
He’d not seen his daughter for a while. She pushed the brown framed glazed door open, it was stiff and heavy. The door jammed on a flat fries box. It was almost half open. She squeezed through the gap. She pulled herself through and skipped towards her Dad, dodging a group of road workers on their way out. She nudged one fella, the biggest. His burger fell to the floor and rested at her feet. She stopped with a worried look on her face. She looked round his head and stared for a moment, her eyes widened. She saw the faded tattoos through his untidy number two haircut. He’d been working away and not clipped it to skin for a while.
He coughed with a whisky soaked growl and tried a smile. She startled, said sorry and bent down to pick up the road worker’s burger. He followed her down and in a gruff voice said ‘Not a problem lass, you’re ok’, then both standing up with the burger back in their hands, she let go and he briefly explained the five second rule. Her anxiety fluttered away. The girl smiled at him and his mate called him to hurry on out. He winked at her and strolled on.
She walked a little more carefully now and only ran to him a few safe paces away. He held her tight in his arms ‘I can’t breathe Dad’ she said with a chuckle. ‘I’ve missed you sweetheart’ he said in her ear trying to ignore the gaze of the curious onlookers. He let go of his hold on her but she hung on tight dangling there. He stooped down under her weight. ‘Aaargh, let go. Ya just like a bloody monkey’. She dropped down, landed and with a ticking finger said ‘um, dad you said bloody’. ‘Yeh, I did didn’t I, sorry love’. At least it wasn’t something worse.
Over the last few months he had been vocalising his thoughts more and using shit language more liberally. But now in these two hours he found his old self again. They sat down and chatted about what they wanted to eat. ‘Well it’s alright, Mum said shit in the car a lot, coming here… don’t worry Dad you just slipped up’.
He knew his ex’s feelings of hate towards him and that these two hours put her out of her ideal new life. He smiled and let it go. Her next few spoken words made him feel uneasy almost bringing on a fitting, cold and flushed hot, shaking anxiety attack.
‘Mum kept saying normal kids go to clubs on a Saturday afternoon and that I should find something to go to. Like dance or swimming or play with my friends and even cheerleading with those big balls of tinsel… I’ve got Dad club’, she said while trying to bite a nail from her little finger and grinned. ‘And I like my Dad club’ the nail came off and she brushed it away, it fell to the floor. She folded her arms and said ‘so there’.
Her tone, acceptance and love for him with the added ‘so there’ damped down the onset of burning anxiety. He hid his anger at his ex’s throw away statement and hoped it was a “throw away” and not a statement that will play on his paranoia, fighting itself reality. That would finish him totally. Dad club sounded fun to his daughter but he wanted to be much more than a Saturday club. Dad club!
A man’s voice knocked him back to the bustle of the burger bar. ‘Excuse me mate. You want this table it’s just you’re standing there and we’ve finished. You’re arriving and we’re leaving like’ he looked down at where the voice came from and noticed a young couple with a baby and a four year old lad. ‘That’s great mate, cheers’ he said. They moved out of the way so that the new family could move out of the fixed table and chairs. They seemed solid and still in some point of love.
The swap was done and the two of them sat down to discuss what they wanted. After making their minds up he got up, queued, ordered and in a short time returned to the table where his daughter sat patiently. She leaned over the food, turned and grimaced. She raised her hands over the food in a crooked comedy evil manner, ‘what have we to eat here my dear, ha ha ha, yum yum’ she said with a giggle. ‘You’re still in drama club I see’. ‘yep I sure am… hang on…’ she bent double to hide what she was doing, sat up and replied with a mouthful of chips set like a witches teeth. She gaped and drew the chips into her mouth with her tongue and finished them off with a draw on the straw of her milk shake to wash them down and continued what she wanted to say to her dad. ‘I’ve got something for you’ she said in a gruff voice.
She sneaked a little rectangle of paper out of her pocket and waved it in front of his face crossing into his personal space only a daughter, a loved one, had the right to do. She stopped and placed it into his hand. She asked the teacher for an extra ticket for the night that her mum and her new fella weren’t going to be there to watch.
She held her hand out and he took it in his. ‘That’s great love, thank you…’ he then asked ‘when is it?’ Pointing to it with a little finger, she replied ‘it’s on there; we made them in ICT class’. The whole of year six had been given the task of ticket design and manufacture. He held it in his hand. It was a little creased and sure enough there was the date, time and a number in the corner. He tried to iron the creases out between thumb and index finger. The moisture between his fingers started to fluff up the paper, beginning to distort the text. He stopped. The edge was cut with those zig zag crimped craft scissors. She’d sat at her green plastic class chair with red legs and green plastic studs in the end, making them on a mini production line with three others on her table.
Their time together soon came to an end. Arriving off the roundabout the ex-wife drove into the burger bar car park. This was the place that he was allowed to meet his daughter at their legally allocated time together. Papers signed, two hours on a Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t ever personal, private family time, even though the fast food restaurant prided their mission statement on being an ideal family meeting place. It was bland and clinical. Grease and salt stuck to the punters hands as they rested them on the squirt and wipe table surfaces. This one, theirs got missed. The staff hadn’t noticed the families swap.
She hits on the car horn, reversed up to the pavement parking space in front of the sheet glass frontage of the burger bar. She reversed up it so she didn’t need to glance in or make eye contact with him. But the condensation was thick and if she looked, she could have seen coloured silhouettes of people moving and eating. She wouldn’t have been able to decipher his tall body. They still had ten minutes on the clock.
‘Well, she is early again, I’ll see you next time’ said dad, down trodden. ‘I’ll try and talk to mum and see if I can see you more or come to your house’ his daughter said back to him naively, as she got up and slid out of the low cut booth, bouncing along. Almost falling off as she reached the end.
She understood and tried to please him. The horn sounded again, longer and more inpatient. Heads turned to see where it was coming from. They hadn’t finished their food for talking. Grabbing every moment together. Both desperately trying to make the best from an obscenity of English law.
Dad rose and gripping the sides of the table, slid out of the seating that fits all, almost mirroring his daughter’s imbalance as he came to the end. He stood wiping the table detritus from his hands and stretched upright. His shirt rode up exposing his not too bad belly and felt a poke of a small sharp finger and a chuckle.
‘Cheeky monkey, you are love’ he comically frowned down at her smiling face. She dived for him, stretched upon her toes and hugged him. He caught her with a wheezing exhale. She kissed his cheek and hung from his neck again as she had always loved doing. ‘You need a shave dad’ she said looking up squinting, ‘you’ve got white bits too’.
There was a mess of voices approaching. Suddenly a small large kid pushed past the two of them and his family followed. They side stepped to the right to let them in although there seemed to be no stopping them. ‘You weren’t sitting here were you?’ said a gruff voiced women. Looking at the tray and their mess on the table, he said ‘no’ it was all theirs. ‘Scruffy bastards didn’t throw away their rubbish’ she said catching his eye.
He blew out his cheeks and shook his head in fake solidarity. ‘Right’ the lady said in a matter of fact way and stood back up with some trouble and cleared the table. In silent cheek, grinning to each other the two moved away from the table. They had intended to tidy up but the family got there first.
Stealing some last words, he asked, ‘what will you be in the play?’ ‘Well, if Katie Jobby face isn’t there, ill or something I’m going to be a prince’. ‘That’s great, so what if…’ he got cut off by the final warning hit of the car horn. She didn’t hear his question. ‘Girls can be boys in pantomimes you know Dad, I like dressing up. It’s fun and silly’. She let go of what little hold she had left on him. He felt frail as the touch left him.
‘I’ve got to go dad, I love you’. ‘I love you too’ he said as he grabbed her back for a quick hug. He kissed her forehead. They parted. She turned and walked solemnly to the door and squeezed back out into the drizzling rain. He followed her juddering body as she walked around past the massive glass windows now covered with hand smears, names and faces drawn in the condensation. Her movements shimmered as she moved to open the back door of the black car with a put out Mum in the driving seat. He knew his daughter would be in for a mouthful of infinite put downs that challenged his integrity. The car pulled away, front wheels skidding on the wet tarmac.
Before he left he went for a piss, washed his hands, checked his hair and left the burger bar. He pulled out a cigarette, unlocked his car door with one hand and opened the wet handle with the other, paused, cupped his hands and lit his cigarette hiding the lighter from the wind and rain. He got in, sat down and shut the door. Turning the keys in the ignition he opened the window. The rain gently invited itself in and lightly splashed onto the right side of his face. He took a long draw and sat there thinking of when he would see her again.
Many long hours would pass him by until the next time he saw her. The water on his face became heavy and gave into gravity. The drop gathered speed as it absorbed the droplets in its wake. It came to rest just above his collar bone. The cold wetness broke his forward stare and his numbing thoughts. He remembered the ticket in his pocket and smiled. Wiping the water from his face with his sleeve he shut the window and put the car in gear and drove off.