On a humid, warm, Friday afternoon she met Piers for lunch and they were walking slowly window shopping, chatting leisurely as Piers did not have to return to the office. There was a holiday air, of leisure and time-wasting, as people prepared to go on vacation, or that businesses had lowered their activity to a level where things were being postponed because senior people were on their vacations. Angela and Piers went from shop to shop, Angela reviewing the goods on display, inviting comment, but Piers could not really feign interest after the third shop and muttered back basic replies to keep her satisfied. She kept his hand in hers, loose, fingers wiped and stroked against the other, but a constant touch as she led him along the pavement, and mollified him that it would be over soon, to appease him; while Piers took in the street, the other shops and the pedestrians: lone shoppers, business people, groups of children, either boys or girls self-involved, walking on the road, obstructing others, and laughing at each other’s comments as they gobbled ice creams, drank from cans of soft drink while some smoked cigarettes. Eating and smoking in the street disgusted Piers. He was aware that Angela had said something but he was elsewhere, mentally removed from another shop window, a taxi and its diesel engine had driven past, drowned her completely, she pulled him to her and like rag doll he was pulled from his inertia to her body, when she imposed a kiss on his lips before he could react, not that he did not want her kiss him, but there was a time and place – as he said – which she rejected as too small minded, and public kissing like eating and smoking was unacceptable. At the margin of his eye he spied three girls on a corner, and then it came into focus instantly, the girl, one of them, one of the girls was Jane: Jane, his daughter.
She, Jane, the daughter, stared hard and lost, as if looking at a doppelganger and questioning her eyes for seeing what she was seeing, whether it was real and actual or an effect, a mysterious double that popularly was said to inhabit the world, but her stare was unwavering and the longer she prised open the image the anger rose of betrayal of what her mother would say, though she had no excuse for being in that street when she was, as she was apparently at college and deceiving her parents and wasting their money for sending her there. But that did not matter because she realised this man with a woman was her father. Piers extricated himself from Angela’s embrace; she felt his arms abruptly tear her from him, she frowned curiously and almost said, “What are you doing, what’s going on?”; but she stopped as she saw him look at the girl, Jane, whose reaction showed she knew the man, at the corner, she followed his gaze and seemed to know intuitively that this girl was his daughter.
Piers broke from Angela and at first he jogged then ran the hundred or so yards to Jane at the corner; she stuck transfixed with her friends as the threatening figure of the man came to them. He stopped and leant over to her height, face to face, held her shoulders and shaking them, “What are you doing here? Why aren’t you at college?” His vehemence, his animal fury was a terrible force of will. She said nothing: her friends backed away slyly, he saw them move and still fixed on his daughter he waited, cooler now, but enraged mindful of how he appeared in the street. He saw a church behind her, in the middle of the road, eighteenth century, with columns and well-proportioned, built when the area was hardly laid out as it was today; and the idea crossed his mind that it was better place to discuss things with his daughter, better to talk to her there than in the street in full view. Jane was still silent, and he said to her, “See the church, go there and wait. I’ll be two minutes.” She turned and did as he commanded; Piers turned to go back to Angela who had followed him cautiously, mindful not to intrude, and she was watching the clash between father and daughter. When he faced her (her eyes read his face, his worried expression) and he said, “That was Jane: I don’t know what she saw, or what she thinks of it all. She ought to be at school – her maths. Damn her! I have to go now.” He kissed Angela’s cheek, uptight, an obligatory parting kiss. Angela stroked his arm, and said nothing, she could nothing now, she was unnecessary now, just leave him to his own life and wait for his call later, days, perhaps weeks, she did not know; it was not her life her business, the duties, the burden of raising children.
He walked away from Angela, his sharp footsteps on the concrete and she followed him into the church. The gnawing feeling rose in her, she closed her eyes to ignore it and walked back in the opposite direction.
The church was empty, quiet, no one, except for a frightened and alarmed girl, who had never seen her father so angry sitting in a pew, her legs clapped together, her hands in her lap. His footsteps came to her and she turned, looked up to him. He said, “I am sorry for what happened outside, it was the shock.” He paused, he sat beside her, looking at her in the face, eye to eye, “What are you doing here? Isn’t it a college day, or am I mistaken?” She collected her thoughts, “It is, I came up with my friends, Lizzie and Dominica just for the afternoon, we’d been to classes in the morning.” He said nothing. They sat in silence. Then he said, “Alright I see, you had a free afternoon.” Jane nodded; it was partially true but he seemed to be allowing her to avoid a punishment, at least now for wagging college. And another pause because he knew he had to say something about the woman, who had held him, kissed him, but he didn’t know what Jane had seen, or what she construed from the scene. “I suppose you are wondering about that lady, the one in the road, I mean the pavement, the one I was with?” Jane said nothing; she kept a poker face. “She’s a friend, she’s an artist. Her name is Angela White. And well, she had a show of her pictures, a very good one, and we were talking and she had need of investment advice and I offered, you see, and we were out, and well artists are very spontaneous people, emotional and go with their wishes, very tactile…” He ended there, unconvincing. Jane did not react. He looked at her. “You know what tactile means don’t you?” And she nodded. He went on, “And that can be embarrassing for normal people, that is, not artists, like me.” Jane looked at her father and she was not certain if it was true, but she made a calculation that he had forgiven her for skipping college and whether she believed the story about the woman or not, she would accept it nonetheless to keep the peace. “It was really nothing”, Piers said to underline the lack of any real basis to any scandalous idea Jane may have. “Are we straight on that? Are we together on the facts?” Jane said yes. “Well, let’s be getting you home, and to your books; you must have a lot on and much to study.” She stood up and he embraced her, “No need to mention this to Mummy”, he said. He broke from the embrace, Piers looked at Jane seriously and he said, “A second hand story about what looks like…best leave it, just to keep us all on an even keel.” Jane said, “OK, and about college, too?” He nodded, “Absolutely. Anyway what’s one afternoon at your age? I’d be disappointed if you weren’t skipping some classes, even a little bit. Now come on with you and I’ll buy you an ice if you like.” He pulled her closer to him; she liked the pressing feeling of his arm and hand on her shoulder.
And they left the church, into the street, his hand on her shoulder and Piers took Jane to an Italian café in Soho and bought her a three scoop gelato with pistachios and chocolate syrup. He had an espresso and afterwards they walked to a tube station where Piers gave her some extra money and told her to go home while he had to return to his office. She kissed her father and disappeared down the stairs to the station.
©Copyright Guy Cranswick 2015. All Rights Reserved.