Cash was originally published by The Scottish Book Trust in the Book Week Scotland book, Blether
She listened to her father tossing and turning in the next room. At most he had only a week or so to live. He hadn’t taken the doctor’s news well. Yet he was a brave man.
Only that afternoon, he’d stared vacantly into space, his meal left once again untouched by his side. She’d bitten her tongue too many times. It had been time to talk.
“Are you going to let it steal your last few days too Dad? Don’t let it take what time you’ve left. You’re braver than this. You’re not dead yet.”
Cruel, but then who else would speak so honestly but her? The molly-coddling and smothering was making him worse, and something had to jolt him back. To the days and minutes he had left. Even if every word carved her heart.
She was unaware she was sleeping until a scream tore her awake.
“Morag! Morag! Morag! Oh, my Morag!” he moaned.
She scrambled to her knees. She was meant to keep watch. Please, don’t let it be now. Please, give him more time.
She ran and paused at his bedroom door, choked back tears, and wiped sweat from her brow. What might she see inside? He called out again, and she flinched, but threw open the door.
He dangled a cigarette in his hand, sat upright in bed, the infernal cheeky grin she knew so well plastered accross his face.
“Jist testing your reactions, dear. See how fast you’d wake up. You ken you like your bed.”
“Dad! You’re not funny. Gave me the fright of my life!”
He giggled like a little boy, delighted with himself. She collapsed onto the bed beside him and joined in with his joy. As she lay there, she remembered long-ago lazy Sunday mornings. She and her two sisters listening for mum to go downstairs to the kitchen to prepare his Sunday stew.
They’d throw their blankets off, race through and climb into his bed. Clambering over themselves to get the best spot nearest him, to cuddle and listen. As an adult, the memories were intoxicating yet tinged with sadness. But as a child it’d been heady and exhilarating, that innocent love, that safeness. When they were lucky, they’d all get to dip a bit of bread in his gravy.
While mum prepared breakfast, he would begin. “Once upon a time there was a man walking home drunk from the pub when he suddenly tripped over a ten-pound note and fell down a manhole into a wild jungle with ferocious snakes and venomous lions …”
“But Dad, it’s snakes that are venomous and lions that are ferocious.”
“No in this jungle,” he would warn, blue eyes sparkling. “It’s the snakes that’re ferocious!”
And they would shiver and shout, “What happened next Dad?”
As the years passed, you never quite knew what was true. Had he really been to Africa or swam three hundred miles across the Channel? Not just once but twice?
“What a blether he is,” Mum would say.
However, one thing was true. Wherever you wanted to go, he could tell you travel directions by the nearest pub, then elaborate by informing you of the price of a pint and chaser in each.
His voice interrupted her thoughts. “There’s plenty money for mah funeral. Make sure there’s a free bar, Morag. Tell them all to have a guid drink on me.”
“I will Dad. Sue and the boys will be steaming, ah bet.”
“Ach, I’m going to miss it all Morag. Ah wish I could go and see it. You ken how much I love a party.”
She glanced away so that he wouldn't see the pain cloud her eyes. “Now what story do you want me to tell at your eulogy. Tell me all your words.” She had to be brave. It was the last thing she could do for him.
Later, but not by much, she stood at the shore staring down at his coffin. The red roses strewn across it couldn’t disguise the horror within. She turned and faced the sea.
The salt scent on the air drenched her mind with images of a much younger man, the one that chased her and her squealing sisters through Yellowcraig’s sand. “Catch me Daddy! Catch me!” they screamed in excitement, hoping that they’d be the chosen one caught in his strong tanned arms. Captured, he’d throw them up in the air a few times then laughingly toss them into the freezing sea. Their shrieks of delight would bounce off the waves. So strong was the memory that Morag believed if she looked hard enough through her tears, she would catch a glimpse of those little girls and their Daddy still playing there.
After the funeral, as the family left for his free bar and party, she whispered to the shore.
“It’s been a fairy tale, Dad. A glorious, technicolour fantasy of jungles and superheroes. Magical forests and gigantic humpbacked whales. Princesses fighting with green, silvery dragons and Batman rescuing them all.
My life is less exciting. Less funny without you. The light has dimmed, but I can climb into bed when it gets too dark. Close my eyes and listen to you again. Your tales brought our little family sunshine, and they glow within us. You’ll always be here. Dad, thank you for the wonder. Night night.”
Later, her grandsons snuggled in her bed with their favourite toys. Noah kissed Po. Lyle hushed Batman. And she began.
“Once upon a time …”