Today's Reading

But I can't smell the lingering sour breath of Charlie's secret last glass. I've been opening the window in the tiny room as soon as I can when I do in here—and helping him hide empties from

Her Majesty. This morning the bedroom is filled with the salty stink of sweat and sex. And they don't. Have sex, I mean. Charlie can't manage it, according to Pauline. But someone can. There's talk in town about Bram, the gardener, who's up here a lot. And does no gardening.

"He's supposed to be buying me a new dress in Brighton today. He promised," Pauline wails. "I've been stuck in this bloody caravan for days."

She's used the C word. She's properly furious.

"I'll get on with the kitchen," I say. She pulls a face and nods.

I should say something straightaway. That I saw Charlie last night. But there'd be questions. Don't get involved, I tell myself. It's none of your business. And you've got enough going on. I fill the bucket with soapy warm water while I try not to think about my own problems: about the rent that needs paying next week, Liam's lack of work. And my family creeping back into my life after all these years. Making me remember.

The bucket overflows and splashes onto my feet. Come on, Dee. It'll all be okay, I tell myself.

And Charlie'll turn up in a minute, won't he?



'Seventeen days earlier'


He could see his daughter through the window. Head cocked so that her hair fell over her face. Listening for the beep of his key locking the car door. She'd know he was there already, would have heard the car pull up, but he didn't rush. He watched as she moved slowly from the window to the door, steadying herself on surfaces, ready to welcome him. Charlie Perry levered himself out of the car and pressed the key fob. His daughter smiled and raised her hand. He went to wave—still an automatic gesture after all these years—and let his hand drop. Instead, he tapped his greeting on her window and marched up the steps.

"Good morning, Mr. Perry," the new woman on the desk cooed at him. He'd asked them all to call him Charlie at the beginning but they'd just smiled. It wasn't that kind of place. The staff at Wadham Manor didn't wear those awful carer tunics—all pink polyester. Here, it was crisp white shirts and smart trousers. And disposable aprons only when the need arose.

There were yellow roses on a central table in reception, replacing last week's fat pink peonies. Charlie breathed in the purified air overlaid with wood polish and allowed himself a smile of satisfaction. It was a façade—he knew that; of course he did. Wadham Manor was still an institution but he'd let five-star reviews—"more like a country house hotel than a residential home"— and fresh flowers sell it to him. And it was what his girl deserved. What he owed her.

"Good morning!" he sang back. He couldn't remember her name but he'd make sure he asked someone. Always important to get names right. "How are you? And how is Birdie today?"

"Good—she did brilliantly with the new physio yesterday. She'll be so happy to see you." 'Except she can't,' Charlie wanted to say. Birdie hadn't seen him for almost twenty years. "I'll go through," he said.

"Of course. And I'll tell Mrs. Lyons you are here. There's a note that she needs to speak to you afterward."

* * *

Birdie hugged him close when she opened the door to her apartment. "Wow! Did you fall in a vat of aftershave, Dad?" She laughed and held her nose.

"What do you mean! Don't you like it? It's very expensive."

"I bet it is. Did Pauline pick it?"

"She said she was sick of my old stuff. I needed updating."

"I liked the old stuff. You smell like an airport duty-free now." "Ha! Shut up and make me a coffee. There's a good girl."

He watched as she organized cups and milk in her kitchen area, tucking her beautiful dark hair behind her ear as she chatted. 'You'd never know she can't see,' he found himself thinking. But he knew.

'I'm lucky to still have her,' he told himself. His mantra. "So how was the new physio yesterday?"


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