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Location: Heanor, Derbyshire, United Kingdom

I am 56, married for 32 years, have two children and NO mortgage. Check out short stories on

Saturday, 17 May 2008

Bitter Sweet

As she stepped down from the National Express coach Liz’s feelings of apprehension reached a new peak. One more journey by local bus and she would be at her destination after a trip of three hundred miles from her home in the north east. It was a fair distance to travel on nothing more than a whim, but the feeling had been growing stronger since her mum died almost a year ago. She had always assumed that her father was dead and her mother Joan had done and said nothing to persuade her otherwise. In the final weeks of her futile struggle against the cancer which was consuming her however, Liz’s mum had let slip one or two things which had stirred her daughter’s interest in their family history. Going through a box of old photographs one day, Liz came across one of her mother in her mid to late thirties at the seaside and in the arms of a man of around forty years of age. She turned it over and read out the writing ‘Margate – July 1975’.

“What’s this, mum?” she asked.

“Give it here, love” Joan replied, and smiled as she took in the faded image. It was one of those calm, wistful expressions which always comes with pleasant memories half forgotten.


“Oh, sorry love I was somewhere else for a moment just then.”

“Well, who is it?”

Joan coloured up, and for a terminally ill cancer sufferer the change in her complexion made her look almost well. She looked down again at the photograph and began humming a tune to herself. Liz recognised it as ‘Leaving on a Jet Plane’ – a favourite of her mother’s down the years, the source of which she had always refused to divulge but now that her time was coming she released the memory.

“It’s your dad. We met on holiday in Margate. He was there with his brother and family and I’d gone with my mum and dad and your aunty Pat. We had a wonderful time for a fortnight and I’m afraid he swept me off my feet. The song was popular at the time and we adopted it as ours.”

She went on after some encouragement to elaborate the story. They exchanged the usual addresses at the end of the two weeks, and Joan half expected that to be an end to it. She got a pleasant surprise shortly after returning home to North Shields when a letter arrived bearing a Bristol postmark – it was from Tom, the man in Margate, and he wanted to see her again. To cut a long story short, they met up again and picked up where they had left off in Kent. A whirlwind romance ended abruptly when he found out that she had cheated on him whilst he had gone back to the south west for a few days. It had been a stupid thing to do but there had been no way of repairing the damage. He left on the morning after she told him about it and she never saw him again. Nine months later Liz was born and Joan was sure that she was Tom’s daughter even though, in those days, there was no way to prove it conclusively. She was christened Elizabeth Jane after her grandmother, but no attempt was made to inform Tom of the event. Joan ended up marrying Paul Williams, the man she had the brief relationship with, but they were never in love and their association only lasted eighteen months.

Joan died a few weeks later leaving Liz as her only surviving family member and sole beneficiary in her will. Apart from the house, she had few possessions of any great value and her savings, though sufficient for her own needs, amounted to little more than modest sums. Liz moved into the two bedroom semi for a while, but the memories of her mother became too strong and after a quick sale she moved into a new city centre apartment purchased with the proceeds. This kept her in touch with friends and work colleagues but she was becoming aware of a growing sense of curiosity about her father and she felt that an attempt should be made to trace him and get in touch.

Joan had told her that his name was Tom Parsons, he was forty when they met, and this would now make him sixty-four. She also knew from her mother that he had been employed as a draughtsman with a Bristol firm, so Liz decided to take some leave from work and make the trip down to the West Country to see what she could discover - in any case one of her college friends lived in the city and it would give her an excuse to get in touch again. That was a month ago, and as her bus pulled into Bristol city centre she felt like a small child arriving at the seaside for the very first time. She knew the name of the firm where Parsons worked and clung to the slim hope that he was still there, albeit nearing retirement. The lateness of the hour gave her time only to find accommodation for the night together with somewhere to eat. This being a Monday, tomorrow would see her at the doors of Barton and Wallis, Architects at the start of business for the day.

Enquiries at reception revealed that a Tom Parsons did, in fact, work for the firm as Project Director, but Liz’s excitement was tempered by the fact that he was tied up in meetings all morning and would not be free until 2.30pm. She was advised to leave her name and an address, and call back in the afternoon. Her morning trip around the city delayed the return to the offices, and by the time she arrived at three o’clock he had left for an appointment with a client and would not be back until the following day. Disappointed, Liz returned to her hotel where she showered and changed in preparation for dinner in the Brasserie restaurant. When she later returned to reception for her room key, it was to discover that a visitor had made enquiries after her. A change of shift had meant that no-one knew she was still in the hotel, and the man had departed half an hour earlier. He was described as being in his sixties and said his name was Parsons – she had been within yards of him and now he was gone who knows where.

Frustrating as it was, there was nothing left but to return as planned to the architects offices in the morning and hope that he would have time to see her then. She spent a restless night tossing and turning as sleep evaded her, and she rose early the following day with her mind still buzzing in anticipation. Breakfast was a non-starter and after a quickly consumed coffee she set off again for Barton and Wallis. Arriving at 8am, she was admitted into the building by a security guard who sat and chatted with her until the receptionist arrived half an hour later, but she couldn’t for the life of her remember anything of their conversation. The receptionist recognised her from the previous day and said that Tom Parsons was due in at nine o’clock. She checked his diary and confirmed that apart from normal work commitments his morning appeared to be clear. Liz breathed a sigh of relief and resumed her seat, picking up a magazine which she knew she would be unable to read.

At around nine people began arriving and Liz looked anxiously amongst them for a man matching the description given to her by hotel staff the night before. She had begun to think she may have missed him once more when a silver haired man in a dark blue suit entered, signed in at reception, chatted pleasantly with the girl behind the desk and headed for the staircase. He was called back by the receptionist.

“Oh, Mr Parsons I’m sorry I nearly forgot, there’s a lady to see you over in the corner.”

He turned to face Liz, smiled politely and offered his hand in greeting. She took it nervously and introduced herself. They made their way up to his office on the first floor where he asked for tea and coffee to be served as he waved his arm in the direction of two armchairs over by the window.

“Now then Miss Williams, what it is that I can do for you? It seems that we were destined not to meet yesterday.”

“I hardly know where to begin, it’s a rather personal matter really. My mother died some months ago and amongst her possessions was a number of photographs – this is one of them.”

She passed over to him the snap taken in Margate in July 1975 and watched as he studied it. The smile on his face vanished instantaneously as he turned it over to read the writing on the reverse side. He pulled out his wallet and removed an old photograph of his own.

“We had two printed you see, and kept one each. The hand writing is mine, and the woman in the picture is Joan Taylor. You say she was your mother, so your name is Williams because………………”

“Because the man mum married walked out leaving her to bring me up alone. I wasn’t two at the time and never knew him. I had no idea until just before she died that you even existed. Mum told me that you are my father.”

Tom Parsons sat back in his chair and sipped at his coffee absently whilst he thought. Joan had written to him after he left her but he had never replied to any of her letters. Looking back it was probably not the kindest thing to do, but how was he to know that she was pregnant when there had been no mention of it? Had he been aware of the facts things might have turned out differently. Too late now, except for the fact that before him sat an attractive young woman who claimed to be his daughter. He and Joan certainly had a passionate relationship and no-one thought too seriously about contraception in those days – you were just unlucky if you got caught. There had been a number of women in his life down the years, but he had never married and the thought of having children had never crossed his mind. He looked across at Liz and could see the resemblance to Joan in the 1975 photograph – his heart started to melt. Pulling himself together he spoke again.

“Well Miss Williams, I really don’t know what to say. This has all come as a surprise to me as you will appreciate and whilst I am sure that you believe the story your mother told you, I think proof of our relationship is required before we go any further. I can schedule blood tests with my doctor at short notice if you wish. DNA profiles are the best way of resolving such matters”

Liz had no option but to agree. If nothing else it would ease the increasingly fond feelings which she was experiencing for this man. The appointment was made for early in the evening at a private surgery across the city and the day seemed to drag interminably until they met up again at five thirty that afternoon. The procedure was quick and relatively painless and a quiet word in the right place ensured that some urgency was attached to the results. They would know by the end of the week whether or not they were, in fact, father and daughter. There seemed to be no point in taking up any more of Tom Parsons’ time than she already had for the moment, so Liz made her excuses and headed off back to her hotel. She decided to call Sheila, the friend from her college days at Warwick, and catch up on old times. They met up for a meal at the hotel and spent the rest of the evening reliving past glories and disasters. As the time wore on and the wine flowed, Liz related the story of Tom Parsons to her old friend and Sheila was intrigued by the whole matter. Liz was glad of some supporting opinion in her ‘quest’ and by the time Sheila left her spirits had brightened considerably. They made arrangements to meet during the rest of the week until the deadline for the DNA results arrived.

That day was surprisingly quick in coming, and when she got a telephone call from Tom Parsons it caught her slightly off guard. She was to meet him at his offices and they would travel to the private surgery together. Arriving just after four o’clock they were shown into a private consulting room immediately where Tom was greeted by John Grant, his GP. After explaining the unusual situation of Liz being present Grant agreed to discuss the case with both of them present. The results proved conclusively that they were, in fact, father and daughter and Liz could hardly conceal her delight at no longer being alone. She threw herself into Tom’s arms and called him ‘daddy’ – a word she had never had the opportunity of using before. He responded to her embrace awkwardly at first, but as she looked up at him with tears of joy in her eyes he opened up and clasped her firmly to him. As they thanked John Grant and turned to leave, he called Tom back for a moment to discuss another matter. Liz left the room to wait outside.

“Tom, we’ve now got the full results from your earlier tests and there’s no easy way of telling you, but the outlook is not promising.”

Parsons was stunned. In one instance his world had been built up and then instantly demolished. Grant explained that the condition was fairly well advanced and would inevitably lead to a rapid deterioration of his health – he was going to die. How was he now going to explain all this to Liz?

One year later a young woman is pushing a wheelchair occupied by an ancient man in his mid sixties along the seafront of a small Devon resort. Liz and Tom had sold up and moved there to spend whatever remained of his now severely curtailed life. They had crammed an enormous amount into the brief time since their first meeting and the bond between them was now complete. He was resigned to his fate, and she was his rock as he slid slowly but inexorably downhill towards his destiny. She had made him very happy in the months since the meeting with John Grant with stories about her mother and their twenty years together, and he had developed a kind of serenity as he accepted his situation. Liz parked the chair at the side of a bench close to the railings near the sea wall and sat down. She looked at her father and smiled, noticing that he had dropped off to sleep. Leaning across, she stroked his thinning hair and planted a kiss on his cheek. As she looked out across the sea to the horizon a tear made its way slowly down her cheek.

“He’s coming home to you mum, he’s coming home.”

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