My father left when I was 10.
Good bye, my lovely, off on a job, he whispered into my ear, brushing my cheek with the swiftest kiss, the faint smell of his breath, smoky, sweet and warm. Adding, might be some time.
But I took no notice. Because it was Thursday.
And on Thursdays, the Corona Man came. Not to us in the terrace of old agricultural cottages, but to the big, new houses opposite. Houses with garages and gardens and children who wore blazers with braid and went to schools where you had to pay.
We lived on the other side. The sad side as mean people called it. Fiona Povey and Elaine Walters in those braided blazers and velour hats in particular. Such small houses! – they said when I was playing hopscotch on the narrow pavement outside our front door – Can’t imagine how there’s room to breathe in them!
But I loved to watch him, the Corona man. With his deliveries of jewel coloured bottles that clinked like chime bells as he carried them to pristine doorsteps. A promise of another world.
Besides, my dad was always going. I was used to him disappearing in his old battered Ford, usually after a night of argument with my mum. Used to him coming back too, days, sometimes weeks later.
So the visit from the Corona Man that Thursday was more important. I sat on the front wall, waiting for the first sight of those glittering bottles – lime green, shocking pink, bronzed orange, bruised purple, and missed my father leaving. Bye Bye, my lovely, might be some time.
He came back for my mother’s funeral.
42 years later, a stranger followed me from the crematorium, caught my arm, vice-like.
An elderly man, stricken, tears falling copiously down an emaciated face.
Hallo, my lovely, he said.
And all I could think was how I had blamed him, all those years.
Not my prodigal father, but the Corona Man for coming between us, mesmerising me with that false promise of another world.
So that I failed to stop him, my father.
Let him leave like any casual caller.