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?