Contemporary short fiction, poetry and more

Keeping Track

This is last week’s entry for write-invite.  It came in the top 10.  I fight on.


‘Have you seen my medals, Polly?’

‘No, Dad. I haven’t.’

‘Jonathan, have you seen them?’

‘No, Grandpa, I haven’t seen them, either.’

‘Mm. I wonder where they have got to. Now, where did I have them last?’

‘Perhaps just after you had come back from Mesopotamia.’

That was rude of Jonathan. It was Malaya, not Mesopotamia. I know he’s my son, but I am ashamed of his behaviour sometimes. He is at that age now when he thinks being rude to people is clever and grown-up. My father is always looking for something or other, nowadays. This evening it is his medals. Last week it was some old diaries. Before that, photographs, an old pair of brogues, a bow tie and dinner jacket (what on earth he would have wanted a dinner jacket for, I don’t know). The one thing (if that isn’t too-not-nice a way of putting it) that he never asks the whereabouts of is my mother. Her name is never mentioned in this house anymore.   Well, not by anybody except my dad. 

‘Have you looked in the loft?’ asks Jonathan, and he exclaims when I flick him with the tea towel. He is being deliberately obnoxious. He knows that his grandpa can be goaded into climbing the step-ladder into the loft and he also knows quite well that he would probably break his neck and both his hips if he did.

My father faffs around in drawers and cupboards and the over-stuffed writing desk. He scatters six bills on the floor, picks up five of them and tries unsuccessfully to get the roll-top lid closed.

He goes out to look in the garage, out in the freezing cold. My husband will go mad if dad upsets a tin of paint and it lands on the bonnet of the car, like last time. I can hear him clanging about and moving things. The noise sets my teeth on edge.

He comes back in with a glistening drip hanging from each nostril, and a bayonet.

‘Look. I’ve found it.’ This was not what he was looking for, but it soothes him for five minutes to have some object in his hand to prove that he was in the army and is not quite the buffoon that Jonathan makes him out to be. It seems unnatural sometimes that Jonathan is no longer proud of my father’s military service, as he was when he was little and not old enough to know the dates of wars or the fact that a lance corporal was not a very high rank.

‘I like to keep track of things,’ he explains, even though no-one is listening. ‘Important things. Some things in life are important. You need to keep track.’  He pauses, looks reflective, and I have a nasty sinking feeling that I know what is coming next.

‘I’d have liked to be able to show this to Margaret, but of course, I can’t, since she’s passed away.’ He dabs the corner of his eye with a grubby handkerchief, conspicuously not using it to attend to the awful state that his nose has got into.

I can’t take this anymore. I don’t know why, but I just can’t. I don’t know if it is the snot, or the gas bill lying on the carpet behind the writing desk, or the anxiety of having to go into the garage to see if he has knocked anything over. I try to stop myself, but something inside me realises that, however inappropriately, I have to tell him the truth.

‘Mum isn’t dead, Dad: she left you.’ He looks at me, and for a moment, I have never seen my father look so child-like, so lost and pathetic. I can see it in his eyes. The one question he has been trying to avoid all this time. ‘Yes, but why?’


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