Frankie and Dad
are leaning on the railings facing the river,
the sun’s going down over Dunston Staithes.
Frankie’s staring hard at the water
not looking up, waiting for Dad
to say something,
but Dad says nowt.
A young couple walk past smiling
at their toddler chasing seagulls.
Then Dad says:
Yer’ll never have a bairn.
Who says? Frankie laughs.
They get up and as they walk
slowly towards the West End
Dad punches Frankie’s arm.
his eyes are wet:
I’m not proud of me Dad
but I loved him:
his smell, washed after work,
his jokes, how he tickled me.
I remember later
feeling angry with him
me mam keening.
I cannot remember me dad’s face.
He.. he never said good-bye.
Everyone is silent as Dad sobs
into his big scarred hands:
I divvent remember when I understood the truth
but I was afraid…
afraid of upsetting your Nan
of bother with neighbours
with the church, the polis,
bringing shame on our family.
Afraid for you boys -
that you’d -
he chokes, the words wrench out -
be like him.
Then Mam says:
Micky, it’s not a crime ter be gay.
Frankie’s still your son.
to Dolly, who’s upset by what
she imagines they had to go through,
says she was too young to really remember.
She says C’mon, this has got to be sorted out.
That night after work, with another bottle
of whiskey to help loosen tongues,
they sit round the kitchen table
and Frankie shows the cutting once again.
Mam smokes a tab, looks scared
at Dad, who stares at it for quite a while:
I think I did hear something,
he sits leaning with his head in his hand.
Paddy is shocked: Was he, like,
yer kna, interferin wi bairns?
Frankie is firm: No. He wasn’t.
All eyes are on him as he repeats
what Bob Armstrong said,
Dad lets out a quiet moan,
Dolly says: Aye – it’s painful.
But it’s nee good burying the memory.
We’ve had too many secrets in this family.
at the Library: Local Studies
where old men read newspapers
look at books about Pits and Shipyards
remembering the old days.
Bob greets him with a handshake,
they sit on easy chairs;
he has a briefcase,
pulls out an old newspaper cutting
hands it to Frank who reads the headline:
Man Arrested for Indecency in Leazes Park Convenience.
Frank looks up, Bob says:
You asked what happened to your Grandad.
There’s your explanation.
It caused quite a stir;
the Police were criticised for Incitement
but that made no difference
to your Nan. To her it was wrong.
Full stop. So Patrick left the North East
and never came back.
Frank reddens up the neck:
Was he…a pervert, a ..paedophile?
No, just unlucky. A homosexual
in a marriage, torn in two
because neither could be reconciled.
It wasn’t uncommon then
I don’t think it’s all that rare now.
What was Grandad like?
A funny man – good company
he loved his kids, but never could
be happy with your Nan.
Frankie hesitates, then asks:
Did he ever write to you?
Bob shakes his head and sighs:
We were very close friends at one time,
but he cut all ties when he left England.
You can keep that article;
I’m glad you telephoned. Good luck.
He shakes Frankie’s hand
walks off without looking back.
for something to wear, he pulls out the jacket
worn once for Nan’s funeral.
He tries it on and turns
in front of the mirror, shoving his hands
into the pockets. He finds
a piece of paper, screws it up
tosses it into the bin -
he pauses, bends, takes it out again
smoothes the crumpled edges,
there’s something written on it:
a telephone number.
He sits and dials.
It rings for a long time,
Frank’s about to cut off
when a voice replies:
Hello, Bob Armstrong.
He stays at Aunty Dolly’s, works
at the Singing Hinny, goes swimming
He says, as they lap the pool:
Why did Grandad
go so far away, make it all so final?
Turning over all the words
in the letter, he tries to see
the bigger picture.
And I cannot ask Paul round, after what happened.
Aye, but at least yer Mam and Dad
both know. Even if they say nowt.
When Frank moves back, nothing’s mentioned -
the recent events, the letter.
meet his eye, keeps his counsel.
Frankie decides there’s nothing to be done
but accept the situation for the moment.
Well, ye’ve all seen it now.
I’ve got ter get things done.
He wipes his eyes
with the back of his hand
then points at Frank:
I’ll speak to you later,
and turns away.
Frankie watches his Dad’s back
as he locks the cupboard,
Dolly walks out
the letter in her bag.
Corinne and Frank follow,
behind them they hear
Dad: Right, back the car over the pit.
Frankie can’t believe what’s just happened.
Dolly goes to stand at the double doors
to light a tab.
Eventually she sighs:
So you knew. All this time.
Yer knew about him gannin away. All this time.
But yer never said anything ter me?
He was weak, leaving me mam to cope.
She never spoke about him, so I didn’t.
I was ashamed. And you never asked.
Dolly takes a drag, staring out into the back lane:
Did he never write again?
Nah. That was the last we heard;
Nan threw it away, but I saw
her do it, so I kept it.
Frankie stares at Dad:
Why did you?
There’s a pile of faded papers
and an envelope on top -
Dad takes it out, gives it to Dolly.
The envelope is yellowing
and furry at the corners
the stamp is a man’s head
with a pointed nose, wearing a fez,
the address has flourishes,
the handwriting curls across the paper
as if it wants to fly away.
Dolly stares at it in her hand:
Why did yer never tell us?
The franking ink is purple
Frankie makes out the word Maroc,
reminding him of labels on tangerines.
So Grandad went to Morocco? he whispers.
Inside is one sheet of flimsy airmail
in faded airforce blue.
Dolly looks at it, then with a tight voice says
to Frankie, Here.
I know you will never forgive or forget -
your God was never going to let you.
He was never going to let me either.
I loved you and the bairns in my own way, truly
and will never stop. But back home
I could never live with you the way a husband should.
Here, there is no shame in what I am.
I’ve changed my name, I’ll never contact you again.
I think it’s best this way.
all those years ago
about his Dad’s locked cupboard
at the garage. Dolly’s not sure:
Could be anything – bills
old love letters from yer mam..
her voice trails off, Frankie says
But what if it was something about Grandad?
Well. Why don’t we go an look?
Frankie, Corinne and Dolly
all arrive at the garage. Dad and Paddy
are leaning over the open bonnet
of a Fiat. Dad looks up, suspicious,
his eyes darken as he sees Frankie.
I’m busy. What ye want?
Dolly looks at Dad, she hesitates:
I divvent want te talk aboot Frankie. It can wait.
No. says Dolly, It’s not about Frank.
Dad starts, his face white: It’s not Marie?
Is she all right?
She’s ok. It’s something else..
Dad’s irritated now, he leans forward
over the car again, talks to the engine:
Well it better be important if ye have to come doon here.
I’ve got a man waiting on this Fiat, I’m trying ter fix a gear box
before this afternoon. I cannot drop everything for a cup of tea an a chat…
Dolly takes a breath:
Frankie says ye’ve got
some papers or something
locked in a cupboard.
I want ter see.
All goes still and quiet, Frankie chews his lip, Dolly stands firm,
Corinne watches Paddy who looks at Dad; there’s a faraway rumble
of traffic, and a trickle of radio 1 from Dad’s cubbyhole office.
Slowly, Dad stands up,
then he says, a low menace in his voice:
What the hell are you gannin on aboot?
I’ve got nowt here of interest ter yee –
cars, machinery, tools – my work, ok?
He turns back to the car. Dolly insists:
Frankie thinks it might be something ter dee
with Grandad. I just want ter see.
If you’ve been keeping secrets from me, Micky Donnelly
I’ll… I’m yer sister – he was my Dad too!
Frankie looks from Dad to Dolly.
Dad’s neck is red, he folds his arms:
The past is dead and buried.
That’s how Mam wanted it.
I respect her wishes.
Dolly explodes: Fer chrissakes Micky!
It’s the living that need
ter be respected now!
Our kids deserve to know
about their Grandad. I deserve to know.
Dad is angry too:
Some things are better left alone.
Divvent gan raking up
all that shite – ye’ll regret it.
I’ll regret it if I don’t, Dolly takes a step,
Is this the cupboard Frankie?
Frank nods nervously, eyeing Dad.
Dolly holds out her hand:
Give me the key. I’m not afraid to look.
Dad shakes his head, pulls
the oily rag from his pocket
takes his time wiping his hands
as if considering what he’ll do next.
Stiffly, he goes to the locker at the back of the garage
a small grey safe in the wall
dusty and hidden behind old cans of oil
jars of swarfega. He clears the cans
so he won’t knock them over, finds a key
on a big bunch in his pocket
fits it in the lock,
then the metal door swings opens.