I was twelve years old and it was nearing the end of the summer holidays. My mum burst into my bedroom sometime in the morning and turned on the little TV set in the corner. She knelt down in front of it with tears in her eyes.
“Princess Diana is dead.” She kept repeating over and over again.
I told her I was trying to sleep and put the pillow over my head to drown out the sound of the news. She kept mumbling to nobody in particular. I think she just wanted to be around another human being but in a house full of children, there wasn’t much sympathy for some dead TV princess. I went back to sleep and she went back to crying.
Some thirteen years later, on another summer’s day, she rang and woke me up early in the morning. My now ex-wife was sleeping next to me and I knew what the call was about before I answered it.
“Your dad is dead.” She kept repeating over and over again.
I wanted to put the pillow over my head like I did before and go back to sleep but adults don’t do that. My mum, she kept crying and I acted like the sort of human being she wanted me to act like and I told her I’d make the trip back to Chesterfield that afternoon.
It took me maybe five minutes before I decided that I couldn’t just go back to sleep. I looked at my wife lying motionless beside me. I got up and drank a coffee on the balcony.
It was one of those coastal postcard kinds of days, all hot and sunny, the women wearing short skirts and the men bare-chested and ape like. It wasn’t the sort of weather I would have imagined as a backdrop to a parent’s death. People die when it’s grey and wet and cold. There should be no nipples and sweat soaked legs. I walked down by the beach and it felt like I was on holiday. I’d waited until 9am, when the Jobcentre opened. My mobile was out of credit so I found a phone box and called the number on my jobseekers pack.
I got through to a nasally woman on the other end and told her couldn’t make my appointment to sign on that day. Disinterested, she asked me why. I paused for a moment or two and realised that I was about to tell someone my dad was dead for the first time and it needed to sound like my dad was actually dead.
I purposely stumbled on my words and gulped down a pretend lump in my throat. I was reminded of all times I had to call in sick for work (when I worked) and had to make it sound believable.
“Umm…errrr…my dad just passed away this morning and ummm…errrr I need to go home to my mum.” The whole thing sounded more stupid than grief stricken and I waited to see how she’d respond.
“Oh.” She said “I see.”
I could hear the doubt in her three syllable response and thought about all the lazy, drug addicted scum bags that must call in every day spouting the same old dead family member shit. “I’m different!” I wanted to say. “I really want to find a job and I really do have a dead dad.” She hadn’t said anything else for a couple of seconds so I panicked and trembled my lips.
“Yeah…he…he had cancer and, and he, he, he died this morning.” I let out an over the top sigh that crackled down the telephone receiver and I’m pretty sure I could hear her eyes roll.
“So you don’t think you’ll be able to make your appointment today then?” She asked with a kind of subtle venom.
“No. I don’t think so. I mean I could…it’s just I have to go back home you know?” I whimpered back, accompanying my performance with a dry sniff. I started to realise how pathetic I sounded and how I shouldn’t have to be convincing some cunt of a woman behind a desk and a telephone headset that my dad is dead. I started to talk again and found that I was now putting on some kind of childish, half crying baby voice. Some dog walker shot me an inquisitive glance as he drifted by and I straightened my crinkled face momentarily before whining down the phone some more.
“I have to go! My dad is dead. I can’t sign on today. Please understand.”
She cleared her throat complacently. “Ok. You don’t have to sign on today but you need to let us know before your next appointment in two weeks.”
I thanked her a little too jubilantly and slammed the receiver down in victory. A tiny, victorious smile crept across my face. Then it hit me again. My dad was dead. I had no dad. I kept saying these words in my mind. ‘I have no dad. My dad is dead’. Stood there in the dirty little phone booth, the smell of piss settling in my nostrils, I fixated on some prostitute’s sex ad stuck to the wall, her face worn out and faded with time. I wondered how long it had been there. I screwed my face up tight and squeezed my eyelids together, milking them for tears but no tears came.
My mum could cry for Princess Diana. I couldn’t even cry for my dad.