Tommo watched the old man achily raise his fork to his mouth. The tremble in Alf’s hand sent peas bouncing across the plate, across the table.
The peas gleefully rolled away, escaping from the old man. Tommo envied them.
It wasn’t that he particularly disliked his father. It was just…
It should’ve been him. Tommo hated himself for having such thoughts. He still had them, though.
Alf, defeated by the Christmas dinner, carefully set down his cutlery. “Nearly ten years,” he grunted, without looking at his son.
“Ten years,” Tommo mumbled in reply. And it should’ve been you, he thought.
Alf fixed his deep brown eyes on the rim of his dinner plate. There was a long silence.
Finally, the old man muttered, “Any plans for New Year’s?”
This was a lie. Tommo hadn’t celebrated New Year’s Eve in over a decade, not since… Instead, he spent the night in his flat, with a glass of wine, some old rock’n’roll records, and his memories.
Ten years ago, on Christmas Day, his mother had been taken ill. She was gone within a week.
Before that, she was a vibrant, intelligent, kind and fun-loving woman. Their family Christmases were wild occasions where the wine flowed free, conversation flowed likewise, and music played all through the night.
He never had that bond with his father. Tommo often wondered what his sainted mother had ever seen in such a dried-up, stilted old prude.
“You doing anything for it,” Tommo asked, more as a courtesy and way of escaping his thoughts than out of genuine interest.
A pause followed, in which Tommo imagined his fusty old father in his slippers, reading a book as fireworks crackled and bells chimed beyond the drawn curtains.
Alf blinked heavily. He cupped his throat with a bony hand as he formulated his words.
“Same thing I do every year. Listen to her records with a glass of wine and pretend she’s here with me.”
Tommo bit back his surprise. His father had never spoken to him so candidly, especially not about his… not about her.
Alf continued, still staring fixedly at the cusp of his plate; “I’ll tell her how much I miss her, discuss my plans for next year with her. She’ll tell me off for being so boring, and we’ll share a good chuckle at my expense. God, son, I thought it would get easier, but it doesn’t.”
Tommo’s head reeled with the realisation that his father, too, mourned for her. “I know, dad. Nothing is the same. Everything is worse.”
“Little Richard,” Alf smiled.
“That was her jam. We first met on a dance floor as Rip It Up played. That was our first dance.”
“I love that song,” Tommo said, his eyes widening.
“You wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for that. As the clock strikes twelve, that is what I put on. I dance around the sitting room and it’s as if she’s still here, dancing with me. God, that woman could move.”
“I didn’t know that.”
There was another pause. This time, Tommo broke it.
“Dad,” he said, carefully placing his words, “Would you like to come to mine this New Year’s Eve? We can put on some Little Richard, maybe some Eddie Cochran, and drink as much wine as we can handle and then some more.”
“Eddie Cochran,” Alf exclaimed, “He was my favourite. Your mum found him a bit maudlin at times, but as soon as Pink Pegged Slacks came on she would be jiving with the best of them!”
Alf turned from his recollections. “Son,” he said, looking Tommo straight in the eye, “I would love that. She would love that.”