I’ve had dinner with a friend and we are wandering past the Royal Festival Hall in the evening sun when Dad rings. He sounds distressed and tells me that he’s been struggling to get hold of anyone. The problem is that the TV has broken, Josh has been round to try and fix it but failed, he has had a row with Bodgana and she has gone out in a huff. ‘I’ve been trying to, what’s the word, collate everyone’s numbers,’ he says, ‘it’s taken me ages, I can’t seem to find them.’ Then he pauses and says, ‘Tell me Chloe, just help me out a little bit here, who is the father of Josh?’
‘You are,’ I say, and he laughs apologetically.
‘Oh, yes.’ He pauses. ‘The kids don’t seem to want to… fraternise with me.’
The next morning I try calling Dad on his mobile and on the landline but there’s no answer. It’s unusual for Dad not to return my call straight away and I start to worry. I call the landline one last time and Bodgana answers with her impatient ‘Yes, hello?’
‘Bodgana, it’s Chloe,’ I say, ‘Dad phoned me in a state last night saying that the TV was broken -’
‘Chloe.’ She interrupts me. ‘Do you have any idea what he is going through?’
‘Of course I do -’ I say, baffled, but she talks over me.
‘The TV is the least of his worries, the TV is nothing, he is very unwell. Do you think I am incapable?’
‘Of course not!’ I say.
‘I suggest that you try to get hold of him directly,’ she continues, putting the phone down as I am explaining that this is what I have been doing all morning.
I look at my phone, trembling with anger. Without thinking about it I decide to drive round to the house. Fifteen minutes later I walk up the steps and see Bodgana through the kitchen window, filing her nails on the sofa. I knock on the door. She opens it, draped again in her long black dress patterned with red flowers. She looks at me, expressionless.
‘Is Dad there?’
‘Are you going to tell me where he is?’
‘Yes, come inside.’ She holds the door open for me. ‘He has gone to Hackney Town Hall to renew the parking permit,’ she says, closing it. ‘I was too afraid to get in the car with him, the state he was in. You have no idea what is going on, how unwell he is. You don’t know what we are living with. I don’t need to be harrassed about something so trivial as this TV business, the TV is not broken. Listen, I would not try and come between you and Daniel, but there are these constant interventions, you hear there is something wrong with the TV, you come round like a knight in shining armour saying you want to fix it, but there is a lot more wrong than this TV, he is not going to get any better…’
She carries on and on, her voice raised. I stand by the door to the sitting room and find myself stretching my arm across the doorway, as if widening my body will help me withstand her attack. She asks me again and again if I know what Dad is going through. I stare at her, repeating, ‘Of course I do,’ but she talks over me and every time I try to interject, telling her that I just wanted to help, she talks more loudly. She tells me that last night they had an argument about the remote control and which channel to watch and that he had got upset. All of a sudden she abruptly changes tack.
‘Look, I have calmed down. I will give you some tea.’
Dazed, I sit at the kitchen table and ask for a glass of water. Bodgana talks on, about how hard things are every day, bringing up her visit to the doctor to report Dad for hitting Olly last summer, justifying her actions. ‘Olly was severely attacked, I am telling you,’ she says, then mentions that there were no bruises, cuts or any other sign of an attack, and that no one witnessed it.
‘Listen, Brian uses these little things, this TV thing, to create havoc, he rings you up just to create havoc, that is what he is trying to do. Every day he asks us where he is. We cannot win, if we tell him he is at home he doesn’t believe us, he becomes aggressive, verbally aggressive, if we try to avoid the question he becomes aggressive anyway. Every day, every other day, he packs his bag and says he going to his ‘real’ home, we just let him go, we have become used to it. He questions our relationship, he asks me who is the father of Beata and Olly, in front of the children, they are part of it, I cannot keep them out of it.’
She tells me that she is making efforts to get him seen and diagnosed.
‘But I am not trying to hurry them up. There is very little that can be done; it is atrophy of the brain. A doctor came on a home visit but Brian was very suspicious. Unfortunately he answered all of their questions about memory very well. I have to do many things for him. I have to go to the cashpoint with him because he cannot use it. We keep him in a routine, that is the best thing, that is what helps him. We cannot leave him by himself.’
We hear the front door close and Dad’s footsteps on the stairs to the kitchen.
‘Ah, Chloe!’ he says coming into the room, surprised but smiling, then, ‘wow, look at that!’ as he gestures to my bump. He is in a good mood. He has managed to renew the parking permit despite the idiocy of the Hackney council employee who asked him for the same details over and over again. Dressed in a smart new jumper, he holds the permit in his hand and shows us the expiry date on it, grinning proudly and almost boyishly. Through some strange unspoken agreement, Bodgana and I pretend that I was just passing and have only been there for five minutes. I want to get out of the house and I tell Dad my car is on the meter. He walks me up to the front door, suddenly looking worried.
‘Was Bodgana OK?’ he whispers anxiously, standing close to me with his hand on the door. ‘How did she react when you came round?’
‘Oh fine, fine,’ I say.