The day of my dad’s release came in sunny, the sky clear, a blue so pale it almost faded to white at the horizon. I’d reached the prison early, parked on the opposite side of the road, leaning on the bonnet as I waited, listening to the click of cooling metal.
A pair of magpies hopped along the prison roofline, the spikes and railings, between one turret and the next. As they went they picked at the gutter, turning clumps of moss and grass onto the pavement in their search for food.
I’d often wondered what was it like to live in one of those whitewashed cells, gazing out at that thin band of sky, at the black and white flick of feathers. What was it like to watch a creature live its free life while someone watches you eat, work, read, as you inhale your own stink, the stink of another man’s body?
Metal squeaked. At the gates was a figure – thin, spine bowed, as if the body was curling in on itself. I looked behind him for my dad’s broad shoulders, the wide boy swagger. Then I saw the thin man’s grey quiff, how he dragged his left leg, a motorbike injury from before I was born.
The dad of memory was tall and wide enough to block the light, hair black and slick as a vinyl record, knotted fists blue with tattoos. As this little man crossed the road towards me, the backs of his hands flashed the same ink, now bloated and bleeding into the skin, fingers uncurled.
The old suit hung loose, the trouser legs dragging on the ground, a small boy let free in the dressing up box.
As he neared I read his expression – uncertainty, fear, hope – and I remembered …
The door banging as he came in from the pub, the first crash of glass … A dark shadow on the doorstep, the glint of a policeman’s badge … At school after the trial, the whispers, the looks, the turned backs …
There was a crack, a thud, an explosion of pain across my knuckles as bone hit bone … And he was on his back on the road.
‘For Mum,’ I said and climbed into the car.
As I pulled away I saw trembling wings, black and white as they flapped into the pale sky.