Thy Will Be Done
by Maureen Bowden
My daughter, Amy had no shame. When she was a child, and feeling disinclined to do her homework, she told her teachers that I’d torn it up while I was drunk. They thought, no doubt, poor fatherless child, coping with an alcoholic mother.
“It’s wrong to lie, Amy,” I said.
She shrugged. “Daddy spoke to me in my head. He told me that I needn’t waste my time doing things I don’t want to do.”
“And did he say it was all right for you to blame me?”
“He said I should remind you that he knows best, and you mustn’t complain.”
I didn’t expect her self-delusion to last into adulthood, but it grew worse. She blossomed into a beautiful woman who revelled in her power over men, and abused it. Swearing to be faithful, she cheated on them all, wrecked marriages, broke hearts, and walked away laughing.
“You have to stop this,” I said. “Silly teenagers may behave badly, but when women reach their thirties they’ve usually learned to be more compassionate.”
“My father says I should have fun for as long as I can.”
“That doesn’t give you the right to hurt other people while you’re doing it. Don’t you have a conscience?”
“He’s my conscience. He died young, fighting for his country. The idiots who believe my lies wouldn’t be brave enough to do that. I don’t know why you worry about them.”
“I worry about you, Amy. We’re all responsible for our own actions. We don’t hear voices in our head telling us what to do.”
“Joan of Arc did.”
“Yes, and if she were alive today she’d be taking the pills. You’re neither a schizophrenic nor a saint. You’re fooling yourself, but you don’t fool me.”
“You’re a cynic. My father understands me. You don’t.”
I understood all right, but she wouldn’t listen to me. There was only one way to stop her and I didn’t have the courage to do it. Then I had a visitor, and I found the courage.
Amy had gone out to spend the evening with her latest source of amusement. I answered the doorbell to a young woman with untidy hair and shadows beneath her eyes. I recognised the signs of sleepless nights. I saw them in my own mirror.
She said, “Are you Amy’s mother?”
“Yes, but she’s not here right now.”
“I know. She’s with my husband.”
“What’s your name?” I said.
“Katherine. What’s yours?”
“Christine. Come in, Katherine.” She followed me into the living room and sat on the edge of the couch, keeping as far away from me as possible. She glanced at the whiskey bottle on the coffee table. “Would you like a drink?” I said.
“No, thank you, I can’t stay long. My neighbour’s looking after my children and I want to get back to them.” While she spoke she twisted her fingers around the fringe of her scarf, not quite concealing her shaking hands.
“How many children do you have?”
“Two. My daughter’s seven, my son’s five.”
“I don’t know what to say to you. I have no control over Amy. How can I help?”
“Tell me what I need to know. Have I lost him or is she just playing with him?”
“She’s playing with him. It won’t last long. She gets bored easily.”
“So, he’ll come back to me?”
“I don’t know, but if he does don’t be too ready to forgive him.”
“Oh, I won’t. He’ll suffer for what he’s done.”
I saw the glint of anger in her eyes and it cheered me. “Good for you,” I said.
She rose to her feet. “Thank you, Christine. Goodbye.” She offered me her hand. On impulse, I put my arms around her and we stood for a moment in silent understanding.
After she left I knew I had to tell Amy the truth about her father. I poured myself a whiskey. I needed it.
It was after midnight when she returned. She looked at the almost empty bottle, and sneered. “You’re drunk.”
“Not as much as I’d like to be. Sit down, Amy, I need to talk to you.”
“Oh, not a lecture. I’m going to bed.”
For the first time in her life I raised my voice to her. “Sit down.” I saw shock, maybe even fear, in her expression, and she sat.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. “When I was seventeen something bad happened to me. I still have nightmares about it. That’s why I drink. It helps to keep them away.”
She interrupted. “I’m really not int—”
“Shut up. This concerns you. I was walking home late one night. They surrounded me. I’m not sure how many of them there were: at least three. They passed me round between them. Most of it’s a blur, I think my brain’s blotted it out, but I remember how bad it hurt, and I remember their smell: not the faces, but the smell. You were conceived that night.”
The colour drained from her face. She held her head in her hands, rocked backwards and forwards and wailed like a cornered animal. I wondered if I’d wailed like that. “You’re lying,” she screamed. “My father was killed in the Falklands War in 1982, three months before I was born.” She was reciting it like a litany. “He was a hero, buried in the military cemetery at San Carlos. You told me, you told me, you told me.”
“I was trying to protect you. I couldn’t give you a real father so I gave you a fantasy to make you proud, rather than a shameful truth.”
“So why tell me now?”
“Because you have to start behaving like an honourable human being instead of doing what the hell you like, whatever the consequences, and pretending it’s your father’s will.”
“But it is. He speaks to me.”
“Of course he doesn’t. Whoever and wherever he is, he doesn’t even know you exist.”
She jumped up, kicked the coffee table, sending my glass and the whiskey bottle spilling their dregs across the carpet, ran upstairs, and slammed her bedroom door. I sighed, picked up the glass and bottle, and put them back on the table. Then I followed her upstairs.
I knocked on her door. “Come out, Amy. Talk to me. We need to face this together.” I waited. She opened the door. She was still sobbing. Her white face was a mascara-streaked death mask. Her howl of rage echoed in my head. She took a step towards me. I stepped backwards. I was afraid of her. We were at the top of the stairs. She pushed me and I fell, crashing against the banister, rolling, twisting, tumbling.
The last sound I heard as a living, breathing being, was the crack of my own neck. My daughter did me a favour and set me free: no more nightmares. I’m at peace.
She told the paramedics and the police that I was drunk and I fell down the stairs. They believed her, of course. She’s alone now. She has no phantom father to justify her actions. I’ll take his place. She’ll always have me whether she wants me or not. I won’t return the favour she did me, I won’t set her free, and I won’t tell her only what she wants to hear.
◊ ◊ ◊
Maureen Bowden is a Liverpudlian, living with her musician husband in North Wales. She has had eighty-five stories and poems accepted for publication by paying markets, and Silver Pen publishers nominated one of her stories for the 2015 international Pushcart Prize. She also writes song lyrics, mostly comic political satire, set to traditional melodies. Her husband has performed these in Folk clubs throughout England and Wales. She loves her family and friends, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Shakespeare, and cats.