Frank O’Dwyer sat in front of the television in Mrs. Dodds’ front room, drinking a cup of Mrs. Dodds’ overmilky tea. The picture on the screen was of an aeroplane taxi-ing along the tarmac at RAF Brize Norton. It was a bitterly cold day and the gaggle of soldiers and politicians huddled at the end of the runway looked cold and crestfallen. The door of the plane swung open and two men emerged. The first, (according to the commentator, a diplomat) was dapper in suit and overcoat and placed a protective hand on the arm of the other. The second man was quite bulky and had a face that was pale and drawn, despite his incipient double chin. He was wearing a baseball cap, cheap windcheater and jeans. He looked lost, disorientated.
Frank shifted his position, forgetting the cup of tea on his knee. Some of it slopped into the saucer, and he had to make a grab for it to stop it, saucer and all, pitching to the floor. Mrs. Dodds came in at that moment, wearing the flour-stained green sailcloth apron that she reserved for baking.
“That him, is it?” she asked. Frank nodded. “He looks too old to be your son. More like your brother.”
Frank managed a temporary smirk. It was true that Connell was a chip off – right down to the indefinite waistline and distinct lack of bone structure. It was the receding hairline that made him look so much older than he was – that and his present dreadful pallor.
“He’s likely to look old, poor sod, after what he’s been through.”
The two men walked slowly across the tarmac. The second man, the one whom Frank had claimed as his son, had a limp and could not move fast. Eventually they reached the waiting reception committee. A well-known politician stepped forward to shake each of them by the hand. Then he gestured to a man and a woman standing on the fringes of the group. The second man pushed his way through to them and hugged them in turn. The camera showed a close-up of the woman’s face, wet with tears.
“ ….Connell Davy, reunited with his family …” came the even voice of the commentator. Frank seized the remote abruptly and turned the television off.
“Seen enough, have you?” said Mrs. Dodds. “I don’t know why you didn’t leave it on a bit longer. They might have interviewed him. He might have said something interesting about what he’s been put through.”
“I doubt it,” said Frank in a taut voice. “They probably won’t let him say anything – they’ll want to ‘debrief’ him, or some such rubbish.” He pronounced the word with a sneer. “But I’ll tell you one thing: this whole episode has been mismanaged by the authorities from start to finish and I’m not going to let them get away with it. I’m going to expose the bumbling mess that they’ve made. If it had been handled better, there would have been five men walking down that gangway today, not just Connell.”
“Still,” said Mrs. Dodds, “Connell’s the one that matters, isn’t he, as far as you’re concerned?”
Frank, still working on his fury, did not reply.
“By the way,” she added, as if the thought had just struck her, “who were that man and woman who came to meet him? It said they were his step-parents; but you’re his Dad. How come they were the ones who were asked to meet him? Is the woman your ex-wife?”
“No,” Frank said shortly, “she isn’t. My ex is dead. I’m going to make some phone calls.”
Footnote: I am away at a conference (day-job!) for five days from Saturday April 6th. I am continuing with the blog-posts, however. Regular readers of the blog may remember that one of the early posts was about how I trained for In the Family by writing a series of short stories, at Chris Hamilton-Emery’s suggestion. There are ten stories altogether, belonging to the theme of ‘The Village’. I’ve been revising them recently and may try to publish them. For each of these five days, I am posting on the blog the opening paragraphs of the first five. If you’d like to make any comments, they’d be extremely welcome; I’ll respond to them on my return.