Judith remembers the fan of spider legs which creased from the corners of her father’s eyes when he smiled. She remembers the musky tang of spice which bloomed like a warm breath from the collar of his shirts whenever he leant in close to her. And more than these things she remembers how safe he made her feel by just being near; whether curled up next to him on the sofa with her legs painfully bent, not caring about the inevitable pins ‘n’ needles, or when she sat beside or opposite him at the family meal table.
Judith has never forgotten the last time she was with her father. He came into her room when it was dark and he’d knelt down on the rag-rug which she knew he and her mother had worked on together when she was a new-born. The rug spelled out her name in different coloured pieces of fabric and had a quarter of a sun pulled through in yellow gingham at the top right hand corner; her childhood curtains had been made from the same fabric. The rug had always been on the floor in her bedroom next to her bed, and whenever she looked at it or walked on it it’d convince her how much her mum and dad must have loved one another. Once.
Ernest Meacham’s knees had cracked slightly as he’d crouched down to his daughter’s level and he’d forced back hot tears at the sight of his girl’s beautiful sleeping face; her pale skin, the dusting of freckles across her snub six-year old nose and the skeins of muddy blonde hair which fanned across her pillow. He’d watched the gentle rise and fall of her bedcovers as she’d slept and, not knowing how or even if he’d be able to leave should she wake, he’d simply whispered how much he loved her, would always love her and that although he knew she might hate him for what he was about to do, that he didn’t mind, he expected her to, he was sorry but one day he would see her again – once things were sorted and the time was right. And unbeknown to Ernest, Judith had heard every word.
But thirty eight years ago she’d never truly known or understood why suddenly her father had stopped appearing in his usual places, nor why her mother had insisted his name was never to be mentioned in their house again. And once Mr Peters had moved in and brought his five year old daughter Gillian to live with them, she’d found her whole world changed so dramatically that the solidity of smells and smiles and safeness her daddy had once delivered her, gradually began to fade until sometimes she thought she may even have imagined this man in her life. And then, when mummy became Mrs Peters and she’d had to change her own last name, and then Nicholas had appeared from out of nowhere and become her and Gillian’s baby brother, Judith decided that her life up to the age of six had probably been nothing more than a lovely dream she’d once had.
Now she listens to an old man’s throaty laugh as it travels through the telephone lines and the tone floods her ear making the dream more real again. The timbre of his voice brings with it the remembrance of calming words he used when he read stories to help her sleep and the rhythm of his speech – the way he is saying: “I never stopped loving you, my darling Jude; I never stopped hoping we’d see each other again,” is wrapping comforting arms around Judith’s shaking body and pressing long-forgotten memories safely back into the spaces they belong. He is telling Judith he never meant their separation to be so long, so unforgiving, and that he hadn’t known of her mother’s intentions to leave the country and move to the other side of the world, refusing contact and cutting all means of communication. But that now she’s died she can’t come between them and he will do everything in his power to try and make it up to her.
And Judith holds the telephone receiver so close to her face that for a little while afterwards she is still able to see the impression of the mouthpiece just below her lip, and her ear remains hot from both the pressure and from the loving voice she has always hoped she would once again hear, and she remembers the fan of spider legs which creased from the corners of her father’s eyes when he smiled.
Written in response to the Creative Writing Ink photo prompt 27th OCtober 2016