Estrangement by Tomasz Gravil

Photo by Ivy Barn on Unsplash

“That’s close enough,” John said to the taxi driver. “I can walk the rest of the way. Are you sure you can’t wait around any longer? I’ll pay extra.”

“Sorry, bud. I told you, fifteen minutes tops. I’m not really supposed to wait at all. Company policy. Any longer and I’ll have to leave you behind.”

“Okay,” John said. “Fifteen minutes.”

He paid the man, got out of the car, and took off up the driveway. It was a long driveway. More like a dirt track, with various winding twists and turns. He could not see the house; the track was surrounded by large trees and high untrimmed hedges. When the driveway finally opened up, and he did see the house, he was taken aback. John had inspected the place for hours on Google Maps, yet he hardly recognised the building in front of him. The landscape was still the same, but the house itself had seen better days. Roof tiles were absent and the building’s light brown brick had been covered almost entirely by a thick layer of green ivy. There were no horses and cows grazing the fields. The well had been filled in, John saw, as he peered over its now crumbling stone wall.

John took the photograph from his back pocket. It was of a man named Eddie Denholm. John double checked the name and address on the back, and rang the doorbell. The man from the photograph answered, although he looked about thirty years older than his Polaroid counterpart. He created a small gap as he opened the door, through which John could see only his wrinkled forehead and liver-spotted nose. “Yes?” he said. “What do you want?”

“I’m sorry to disturb you, sir,” John said, just as he had rehearsed on the way over. “But I’m afraid my car broke down out on the main road, and my phone ran out of charge not long after. I need to call AA. Do you mind if I come inside and use your telephone?”

“I’m pretty handy with cars. Why don’t I come out and take a look for you?”

“Oh, no, I don’t want to take up too much of your time. I left the car quite a ways down the road, so it would be a bit of a walk. None of your neighbours answered their doors, you see. I’m fully covered and everything, I just need to make the call. Do you mind?”

The man from the photograph considered this for a moment, before gesturing for John to follow him inside. John scraped his boots repeatedly across the welcome mat, before taking them off and stepping through the open door. He held out his hand and said, “John.”

The man from the photograph shook it and said, “Eddie Denholm.”

“Pleasure to meet you.”

“Likewise. Phone’s in the kitchen, straight down the hallway.”

John stopped halfway down the hall to observe a small cabinet, atop which an array of framed pictures were placed. The largest picture, at the back, was a picture of Eddie Denholm looking ten years younger, stood beside a boy no older than sixteen or seventeen. John picked up the photograph, ran his finger over the sharp corner of the frame and showed it to Eddie. “Who’s this?” he said.

“That’s my son,” Eddie said. “Phone’s in the kitchen.”

“He looks like me,” John said.

Eddie paused, and frowned. “I suppose,” he said, and pointed. “Phone’s in the kitchen. That way.”

John went into the kitchen. The phone was on a hook attached to the wall by the door. The old kind, with a rotary dial. But the phone appeared relatively new. It had merely been designed to elicit nostalgia for an era of rotary dials and black and white television.

John dialled the number for AA. For real. Eddie was watching and John needed it to be believable. He held the phone with his right hand and rested his left atop the cradle on the wall. He reached across with his little finger, pressed the hook switch and said, “Yes, hello. Yes. This is uh… My car broke down. I need someone to come and take a look. Yes, yes, I am. I do. Okay.”

The phone sounded its dead tone. He gave it Eddie’s address and hung up. “Fifteen minutes, they said. Do you mind if I wait here?”

“Fifteen minutes? That’s quick,” Eddie said.

“Yes,” John said. “I suppose it is.” He walked back out into the hallway to inspect the photographs again. “What’s your son’s name? How old is he?”

Eddie looked at his watch. “Fifteen minutes,” he said. “My son’s name is Will. He’s twenty-five now. That’s an old picture.”

“Huh. Same age as me. Have you lived here long?”

“Moved here with my wife when Will was born. So about twenty-five years. But, as you can see, it’s just me now.”

The wife Eddie spoke of was in a few of the photos, but none of the more recent ones. John picked up a photograph with all three of them in. Eddie and his wife looked young and Will couldn’t have been older than five or six. “Where are they now?” John said.

“Will’s travelling. Africa. Ruby passed away a long time ago.”

“Africa,” John said. “Wow. He sounds like a great guy. Where are you from, originally?”

Eddie Denholm looked at his watch again. “Scotland,” he said. “Not far from Glasgow.” And then, after a lengthy pause, “But you already knew that, didn’t you?”

John put the picture back on the cabinet. His hand slipped. Eddie, Ruby and little William hit the hardwood floor at his feet and the glass in the frame shattered.

“You think I’m stupid?” Eddie Denholm said. “I know who you are. Saw it the moment I opened the door. I’d have to be blind not to. What do you want with me?”

John’s mouth hung open for a while. Limp. “What do I want with you?” he finally said. “I don’t want anything. I don’t want anything,” he said.

“No? Then why did you come? Do you want money? Is that it? Did you come for money? Because you’ve had a wasted journey, if that’s what you’ve come for. What do you want?”

John took a single step forward. Broken glass tore at the bottom of his sock. “What do I want?” he said, his voice rising. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe a hug. How about a hug, Dad? Is that too much to ask?” He pointed to the smashed picture of Eddie and his second family. “Or maybe you can tell me why you chose them. Why you chose them over us. What did they have that we didn’t? What makes them so special?”

“I can tell she raised you. I can tell you were raised by her. Arrogant. Entitled. You think the whole world owes you something. Well it doesn’t. It doesn’t owe you anything. I don’t owe you anything!”

John snatched the big picture of Eddie and Will from the cabinet, and brought the corner of the frame down hard on his father’s head. He felt it dig into the flesh and scrape against the surface of the old man’s skull. The wound bled only slightly at first, but the flow grew greater with each pump of Eddie Denholm’s heart. His eyes were wide. A stream of blood trickled down his forehead and welled up in the corner of his eye like a tear. Still, he did not blink. He did not even blink when he lowered himself to his knees, groaning, his mouth agape and tongue lolling off to the side like a dog in a hot car.

John placed the bloodied picture frame back on top of the cabinet and knelt to catch his father before he could fall forward. He wrapped his arms around the dying man and held him for a moment. John blinked away his tears and exhaled. “See?” he said. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

He lifted Eddie Denholm’s limp arm and peered at his watch. Quarter to six. Good. The taxi would still be waiting for him.

About The Author

Tomasz Gravil is currently writing from his home in South Yorkshire. He has been studying Creative Writing at Lancaster University for the past two years. He loves short sentences. More of his writing can be found on his website: https://tomaszgravil.com

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