My duvet sprawls across the bed, a profusion of pink hearts and swirls of silver. Marmalade is at my feet, kneading and purring, his eyes closed in kitty ecstasy. It could be any day of the week but it’s not. It’s Christmas Day and a very special one.
Dad walks into the room and flicks on the Christmas tree lights. His hair is mussed into spikes of grey and fudge and his jaw stubbled. “Merry Christmas, Muffin.” He wraps his arms gently round my shoulders. “It’s so good to have you home.”
I know he means it but there’s a well of sadness behind his words.
“Are you ready for your gift?” I nod as he drops a screen against the wall and begins to set up a projector. My thoughts drift for a moment. Dad has always been a techno-man. He works in computers and has all the latest electronics that go with them. Mom used to call him Inspector Gadget. Mom’s been in my thoughts a lot recently. I know it won’t be long before I see her again. Maybe a few days or a week. I’ve missed her terribly over the last three years and Dad has too.
“Here we are, Muffin.” Dad flicks a switch and my life starts to play across the screen; a collection of photos starting from my early days. He sits down beside me and together we laugh and reminisce. “You were such a beautiful baby.” he tells me. “Look at those gorgeous curls and chubby cheeks.” I fall silent for a moment, thinking of the contrast to the present; the soft knitted cap that covers my hairless head and emaciated limbs that lie limp beneath hearts and swirls.
Concern creases Dad’s face. “Are you alright, Muffin? Do you need more pain-killers?” He checks the fluids draining into my left arm.
“I’m fine, Dad. Let’s watch some more.” My face appears on the screen as a toddler, lightly freckled and curved into a grin as I blow out the candles on my second birthday cake. Dad has captured my life in pictures; the day I started school, the loss of my front teeth, the year I won my first swimming trophy. We both smile as I appear with Marmalade as a kitten. He used to climb the leg of my pants and I would scream in terror.
“You were petrified of him.” Dad laughed. “At one stage we considered finding him a new home but you got used to his mischievous ways.” The slides keep flashing past until they reach the year Mom died. I had just turned thirteen when she lost control of her van and plunged into a flooded river. There’s muted pain in those pictures, a grief that overshadows my smile as I pose for the camera.
Dad and I stumbled our way through my early teen years. He was thrust into an adolescent world of bras, fashion clothing and braces. I look across at him and my heart fills with fresh love. I can’t understand why I got sick but know he’s done his best to ease me through it.
“Daddy.” He hits the pause button. “I love you.” His eyes fill with tears and mine do too. “This is the best gift you could’ve given me. I wanted to be home for Christmas but you’ve helped me live my whole life again.”
We settle into a companionable silence, the slide show looping in the background and Dad in a comfortable armchair next to me. The trip from hospital sapped my meagre reserves of strength and I drift in and out of sleep. Each time I awake, Dad is holding my hand, his lips moving in prayer.
“I’m sorry things turned out like this.”
“Me too, Sweetheart.”
The pressure begins a moment later; an elephant crushing the last vestiges of life.
“I’m here, Muffin.”
His hand is firmly about mine, reassuring, comforting as the room recedes and dims. The pain intensifies and then I feel a grip on my other hand; see the dazzling outline of another Dad. For the briefest of moments, I’m suspended between two worlds, linked by the hands of two fathers.
Daddy sees it too and wonder suffuses his face. As energy surges back into my body, he lifts my hand to his stubbly wet cheek. “I love you, Muffin.” His voice catches. “And your wish has come true. You’re going home for Christmas.”
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