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‘I’m afraid there’s been another incident with your father.’ David remains motionless, hoping the information, like a wasp at a picnic, will bother someone else. Following the previous complaint, he and Marg were summoned by the Care Home manager, who bemoaned a mounting problem with STIs, and used exaggerated inverted commas to describe romantic liaisons. David didn’t know what to say, disconcerted that dad’s libido seemed the reverse of his own.
‘Forgive me,’ said Marg bluntly, ‘if they’re all at it what’s the problem?’
‘Remembering the act itself, or specific partners, can be a problem,’ the manager said, avoiding eye contact. ‘We’re unsure whether your father does recall these meetings or if he’s feigning ignorance due to embarrassment.’ Sheer bloody-mindedness was more likely, thought David.The Manager mentioned unexpected vigour and Marg winced. ‘You talk to him,’ she said on the way to the room. ‘It’s a boy thing.’
David praised dad’s socialising and the desire to remain active, then probed him delicately about lady friends. Could he recall any inappropriate behaviour? Dad glared out of the window, tight-lipped. Marg touched David’s arm and impatiently moved him out of the way. Their parents had never talked to them about sex. David’s attempts with the boys had been laughed at. No-one calls it the birds and bees dad!
‘David and I are struggling to understand. What’s wrong with you? Why are you bed-hopping with the residents?’
‘What kind of question is that?’ he snapped.
‘We assumed that…’
‘…assumed what?!’ he spat, turning, eyebrows twitching like bushy antennae. Marg left for London and dad clammed up again.
‘Mr Smedley? Did you hear me?’
‘Sorry. I’m clearing my father’s garage today, phone reception’s a bit dodgy. Is the complainant one of the same residents as before?’
‘Coffee shop on the High Street this time. Manager says your father’s harassing one of his young baristas every day.’ He agrees to visit the coffee shop.
The garage is a museum. Cupboards overflow with nineteen-seventies’ business accounts. Boxes bulge with grotesque relics; crystalware and unwanted wedding vases from 1956. Hundreds of eggboxes and cracked terracotta plant pots line dusty shelves. He opens a disconnected fridge wondering if it might be salvageable. Inside is a small suitcase, a shoebox, and some videos.
He plunges his hand into the shoebox, through what at first glance appear to be hundreds of wrapped sweets. Realisation dawns as his hand emerges with a small bottle of sex lubricant. He’s fingering his way through a lucky dip of ribbed condoms. They’re in date. Lurid blues, pinks and greens cascade from his hand. Bewildered, he picks up two of the videos, squinting closely at faded pictures. Sperm Busters; Perverted Cocktail. A label on the zip of the suitcase reads sexy knickers/toys etc in his mother’s handwriting. He screws his eyes tight shut fighting images of his newly salacious parents then slams the fridge door. This voyeuristic portal makes no sense. Mum and Dad wore tweed jackets, bought each other slippers every Christmas, ate fish on a Friday, attended church, spent hours at their allotment. He rings Marg. To share. To dilute.
‘What the hell have you told me that for?’ she shouts. ‘Bin the bloody lot.’ He goes to the waste disposal centre on the way to the coffee shop.
From the queue, David spots dad at the counter where drinks are delivered, surrounded by waiting customers. He has dragged a stool from a table and is chatting animatedly to a petite Asian barista who is handling multiple orders and the gigantic coffee machine with octopus-like efficiency. She looks barely twenty years old. Tight fitting trousers, blouse, waistcoat. Hair in a tidy bun, minimal makeup. The manager thanks David for coming. ‘Probably harmless, but every afternoon for the last two weeks.’Dad’s twinkling eyes glaze over as David sidles up to him. They sit by the window.
‘What’s going on dad? What is all this? We don’t want to keep being called by the manager.’
‘Are you stupid?’ He looks sternly over his glasses, reducing David to a quivering six-year-old. He denies harassing the barista. ‘Hyun’s from Busan.’ David shrugs, confused. ‘Korea! Where I was stationed in fifty-three and four! Beautiful country. Very friendly women.’ Dad has never mentioned Korea.
‘The barista doesn’t want your attention, she’s just being kind.’ Dad has stopped listening, jewelled eyes fixed on Hyun’s hands as they pump a steam nozzle vigorously with a cloth. A few years ago, meeting the boys’ university girlfriends with their exposed midriffs and tight leggings would illicit a similar reaction in David. ‘It’s just unexpected dad. So soon after mum dying, I mean.’
‘Turns out there’s no-one quite like your mother,’ Dad says, more to himself than to David. ‘By the way, there’s a couple of things I need from the garage.’