“Hold it tight.”
“For Christ’s sake, give it here. You’re doing my head in.”
“Are you sure this is safe? I mean…”
“Don’t start. I know what I’m doing.”
“I just don’t think you should be messing with…”
“What would you know? Shut up and hold this.”
“Give over, it’s not sharp. Not just bloody useless, you’re a wimp as well.”
“It’s bleeding. I need a plaster.”
“You need a kick up the backside, that’s what you need.”
“I’ll be back in a minute.”
“Don’t bother coming back, you useless wimp.” Were the last words my father ever said to me.
The explosion tore through the house. In the bathroom, the medicine cabinet flew off the wall, spraying shards of mirrored glass everywhere.
“How did you cut your hand, Mr. Graham?”
Avoiding DI Gibson’s cold eyes, I pick at the edges of the plaster that covers most of my thumb.
“Slicing vegetables. The knife slipped and nicked my skin, a superficial wound but lots of blood. I couldn’t carry on without putting a plaster on it.”
“So, you were in the kitchen when the explosion occurred.”
“No, I was in the bathroom, getting a plaster.”
“And your father was where?”
“Where you found him, us, in the living room, the lounge diner, at the back of the bungalow.”
“And you’d been helping him, before you went to chop the vegetables.”
“You were overheard by a neighbour telling your father that you would help him after he’d finished mowing the lawn.”
“I did say that,” I’m struggling to get the sequence of events straight in my mind, “but Dad said he’d get on quicker by himself. He didn’t rate my DIY skills.”
I look at him and attempt a self-deprecating shrug. The way his upper lip curls has me wondering if I’ve misjudged it.
“When did you last see or speak to your father, Mr. Graham?”
Dad was dead before the paramedics arrived. I’d dragged myself out from under the bathroom door and climbed over the smashed furniture, splintered picture frames and rubble, to where he lay. I was kneeling down beside him when I heard Stan from over the road shouting our names as he started to scramble over the debris. I yelled back to him to keep away, it’s not safe, call an ambulance.
It seemed like an eternity before two paramedics cautiously picked their way through to the living room where I was cradling Dad’s head and moaning, “Dad, Dad, wake up, don’t die, you’ll be OK. Don’t die, Dad. Please don’t die.”
They had to prise my hands away from clutching at Dad’s torn and bloodied shirt. One of them helped me to stagger across to what was left of the front door where Stan was waiting, his face white with shock. He led me out to the garden and stayed with me, sitting on the lawn that Dad had mown less than two hours before.
“Lunchtime,” I tell DI Gibson. “I’d made him a bacon sandwich and said I’d wash up if he wanted to get on.”
“What was it that your father was getting on with, Mr. Graham?”
“I don’t know. I told you, I’m no good with my hands, useless at DIY. Dad had long since given up trying to make me into a useful human being. Said he was better off on his own.”
“So what was it you told him you’d help him with that day?”
“Er…laundry, a bit of cleaning,” I tell him. “Mum used to do all the housework, Dad never lifted a finger. Since she died, last winter, I’ve been popping round to keep on top of things for him.”
“So, you can’t tell us what he was planning to do?”
“Not really. He did start to tell me but, as I said, my ignorance annoyed him.”
“The thing is, Mr. Graham, the Fire Inspection Team aren’t at all happy. From their preliminary findings, it seems your father had disconnected the fire from the mains gas and was in the process of hooking it up to an LPG cylinder.”
“You must have seen the cylinder, it was a big one. Perhaps you helped him into the house with it?”
“No, I didn’t. I don’t live there, I just pop in.”
“It was in the living room, the lounge diner, you can’t have missed it.”
“I…I was busy elsewhere. I didn’t go into the living room, I was cooking and cleaning, vacuuming…” my voice trails away, leaving only the sound of DI Gibson’s pen clicking on and off, on and off, in the silence.
DI Gibson tosses his pen onto the table and stretches his arms above his head.
“Is there anything else, Mr. Graham, anything at all, that you can tell us about that day?” he asks as he brings his hands down to link together behind his head. He looks set in for the long haul. What can I tell him? What will satisfy him?
“Look,” I begin, my shoulders sagging, “he was always messing about with machines, engines, circuits and stuff. He was self-taught, like a million other DIY enthusiasts. It was a tragic accident. Just a tragic accident.”
In the silence, Dad’s final words echo in my mind.
“Don’t bother coming back, you useless wimp.”
But he was wrong, is wrong. I’m not a wimp and I’m not useless. I’m doing really well, dealing with the mountain of paperwork, the police interviews, the insurance company, everything. I’m being brave, everybody says so. They tell me it takes a brave man to cycle past the shattered house every day on his way to work at the University Library. Books are my thing, mine and Mum’s; they weren’t Dad’s thing. Every day I think of Mum and how house-proud she was and wish there was another route I could take to work. What’s left of the windows are boarded up. The front door has been replaced by a makeshift wooden panel secured by a hasp and padlock. I’m surprised the local lowlife haven’t broken in and made it into a crack den or something. Maybe if I told DI Gibson about Mum, about the bungalow, how Dad was always trying to make improvements, it might help?
“Did you touch your father’s body, Mr. Graham?”
“No, I mean, yes, of course I did. I had to see if he was OK, you know, alive or…”
“And was he?”
“Alive, Mr. Graham.”
“No.” I bow my head, clasping my hands tight together in my lap.
“The thing is, Mr. Graham, the autopsy report has thrown up one or two puzzling points.”
I don’t move, don’t speak. I don’t want to be here. I don’t want to hear.
I have to look up, “I don’t understand. The explosion, the debris falling around, he didn’t stand a chance.”
“On the face of it, yes…”
He leaves his sentence unfinished, waiting for a response, a reaction, from me. I hold his gaze.
“Did you try to revive your father, Mr. Graham?”
“No, I mean, yes. I thought, I mean, I don’t know.”
“You don’t know. Why don’t you tell us what happened, Mr. Graham.”
“Well, I…I brushed the dust and dirt away from his face and leaned closer to see if he was breathing.”
“You’d already tried his pulse?” Had I? I don’t know. Is that what I told them before?
“I, yes, I did. Well, I tried, but I’m no expert so I thought I’d see if he…”
“Was breathing, yes. And was he?”
“I…no…maybe…I put my mouth to his and started CPR…”
“Where did you learn to do that, Mr. Graham?”
“Where? I don’t know. Nowhere. I must have picked it up, you know, television, movies…”
“The thing is, Mr. Graham, your father sustained a head wound.”
“Of course he did, stands to reason, something must have fallen on him, it was like a bomb site. Jesus! What’s wrong with you people?”
“Try to keep calm, we’re just trying to get a few things clear. We’ll have a short break. Coffee?”
DI Gibson leaves the room, pausing to whisper something to the uniformed officer on the door, just like they do in the films. I ignore them both, the room, the hard uncomfortable chair, the buzzing of the fan, and think about the funeral. I can’t make the arrangements yet, it’s not my fault, they won’t tell me when his body will be released, but I’ve started working on my speech, the eulogy.
I’ve got a couple of anecdotes. There’s the one about the time Dad fitted an engine to my pushbike and I tore off down the road with him cheering me on. They don’t need to know that I was terrified by the speed, the deafening roar of the home-made engine, the choking stench of the exhaust fumes. Or about the searing heat when my trousers caught fire; the pain of the skin grafts, the enduring humiliation of the scars, and of Dad’s contempt. Then there’s the story of when he took me hiking in the Derbyshire Dales. I’ll paint the heartwarming picture of me and Dad sitting on the top of a hill - a mountain to my nine-year-old eyes - eating crisps and drinking Fanta. We watched the sun go down; our tents erected, our sleeping bags ready. I won’t relive my panic when I unzipped my tent the next morning to find a space, the grass flattened, where Dad’s tent had been. Nor what seemed like hours of wandering, hungry, thirsty and afraid, trying to find my way home without a map, directions, anything to guide me. Nor the utter bewilderment and intense anger when I finally reached a road and there he was, in the car, reading his paper and eating a bacon sandwich. I’ll say something about my parents’ long marriage filled with love and laughter but I can’t make notes about that, I’ll have to make it up as I go along.
DI Gibson comes back, carrying two cups of their foul coffee.
“Did you get on with your father, Mr. Graham?”
“Get on? Of course, he was my father.”
“But you annoyed him. Did he annoy you?”
“Sometimes, that’s families isn’t it?”
“Did you love your father, Mr. Graham?”
“What sort of question is that? What’s all this about?”
“The autopsy report, Mr. Graham, the discrepancies I referred to. Seems your father suffered a blow to the head…” He opens the file on the table in front of him.
“You saw the place, he must’ve been struck by a beam.”
“…beg pardon, a number of blows,” he reads from the topmost document.
“There was stuff flying about in all directions!”
“But the boffins say the angles are all wrong,” he says as closes the file and looks up to stare into my face.
“Was your father alive when you reached him?”
“What? No! I mean, I don’t know, it was a nightmare, I was shocked, confused. What are you bastards implying?”
“Anthony George Graham, I am arresting you on suspicion of…”
Things aren’t looking good, Dad. I’ve messed up; no surprise to you.
Pity you hadn’t the strength to talk as you lay there, trapped under the oak bookcase. You could’ve told me I was about to do it all wrong. You watched me drag that jagged table leg out from under the pile of books and broken ornaments. As I raised it above my head, you sneered in that supercilious way of yours. And then I brought it down to smash into your skull. It took three swipes to wipe that look off your face.
You’d have known all about angles and the momentum needed to stove a man’s head in, wouldn’t you? You knew everything, didn’t you? Yes, you were right all along. I am bloody useless.
© Kate Twitchin