o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
“Not all men are fathers. But, without any
doubt, all fathers are men.”
o o o o o o o o o o o o o o o
“Malcolm?” Maddy’s voice is quiet, a whisper against the backdrop of music
blaring up from downstairs.
I roll over in bed, can just about make out her silhouette in the light from the bathroom.
“What?” I mumble back. I’m not capable of speech just yet.
She takes a few steps closer to the bed. “Why’s Mummy crying?”
That wakes me up completely, and I sit up in bed, switching the light partway on at the same
time. Maddy’s wearing her dressing gown, she’s got her teddy under one arm, and I think she’s been crying.
“What do you mean?” I ask as gently as I can.
Maddy shakes her head, rooted firmly on the spot just inside my bedroom door, and clutches
the bear tighter against her chest.
“Come on, Maddy,” I encourage, “what do you mean?”
She looks up at me - oh yes, she has definitely been crying. There are tear tracks all the
way down her face, and her eyes are red now that I can see them clearly. “Mummy just ran out of the house,” she
tells me in a whisper. “She was crying really badly.”
I leap out of bed, and pull my own dressing gown on from where it's been crumpled at the
foot of the bed. Race downstairs, nearly tripping down the stairs because it's still dark. Back garden, first. I switch the
outdoors lamp on before I go out onto the cold, wet grass. Mum’s not there. Back through the ground floor, she has to
have gone out of the front door.
When I get back to the bottom of the stairs Maddy’s there, waiting on the third step
from the bottom, still with the teddy. I motion for her to go back upstairs - she doesn’t move. I motion for her to
stay where she is, then, and she nods quietly, and sits on the fourth step from the bottom, she and the bear now watching
me with two sets of big blue eyes. One last time I make sure she’s doing what I’ve told her before opening the
front door and going outside.
It’s late, so it's dark at the moment. But at this time of the year, it doesn’t
get dark until past bedtime, so it really is late at the moment. I wish I’ve got my watch on, but I think it’s
sitting on the small table next to my bed, all the way back upstairs. And I can’t go back up there now.
Mum’s car is still where she left it from picking up me and Maddy from school, so she’s
got to be somewhere nearby. I look both ways up and down the street. At one end, where our road turns into another, there’s
a lamppost. It’s not very bright, but I can still see Mum standing underneath it. It has to be her, because I can’t
think of anybody else who’ll be up this late.
Carefully, because I’ve got nothing on my feet and I don’t know what could be
on the pavement, I walk over to the lamppost. The nearer I get, Mum looks up and sees me.
She takes a step closer to me. “Malcolm? What are you doing out of the house?”
I hold out my hand to her. “It's not safe out here, Mum.”
Mum laughs, and I can see the tear-tracks on her face as well. “Your dad teach you
that one, did he?”
Silently I nod, but I don't move my hand. I keep staring up at her. “Please Mum, Maddy’s
Mum stops for a second, and then she starts crying. “Oh no... what have I done?”
she asks quietly. Then she takes my hand and we walk back to the house. Our house is only five down from the lamppost, so
we’re back inside the front door quickly. Mum closes the front door behind us, and when I turn to look around, Maddy’s
still sitting near the bottom of the stairs, still with the teddy and staying just where I told her to. Maddy doesn’t
say anything; she just stares at Mum with big round eyes. Mum tries to smile, and moves to pick Maddy up. She hugs Maddy and
takes her back upstairs, me following right behind them, turning off the lights and everything else as I go.
We go into Maddy’s room first. It takes Mum a few minutes to calm Maddy down to the
point where she’ll lie down in bed and let herself be tucked in, although she fusses when Mum moves to shut the door,
so I leave it open enough for some of the bathroom light to get in. Maddy’s still scared of the dark.
Mum takes me back to my room, and we sit down on my bed. I don’t get underneath the
covers, but I sit on top of them. My watch is on the small table next to my bed, and it says eleven thirty-four. Really,
For a few seconds Mum doesn’t say anything. She doesn’t look at me, or anything
above the floor. Then she says something. “I’m sorry, Malcolm.”
“Why?” I ask. I want to lean it a bit closer to her, but I don't think she wants
that right now. I don’t know if I do, either.
Mum turns to look at me. “I shouldn’t have left you and Maddy like that,”
she says quietly, starting to cry again.
I don't think she understood. “Why were you crying?” I ask. I’ve never
seen her cry like that before.
Instead of saying something back to me, Mum nods, and sits a bit further back on the bed.
She opens her arms to me, and I know what that means.
I crawl onto her lap for a hug. Mum wraps her arms tightly around me, and I snuggle in as
far as I can get. When she speaks again, her voice is distorted, like she’s speaking through a pillow.
“Malcolm, do you remember what happened to you last week?”
I shake my head. “Only what the nurses told me, and what you said,” I tell her.
“In my head it’s black.”
I feel Mum nod into my head. “Well...” she says before stopping again. “You're
a big boy now, aren’t you, Mal?”
I don’t know what to say about this. It might depend on what Mum means by ‘big’.
I’m not nine until September, and that’s still over two months away. Even Maddy’s only five, although she’s
not a boy, so I don't think that counts with Mum’s question.
“And you know your dad’s still in the hospital at the moment?” Mum adds.
I can nod to that one, and I do.
“That's to do with last week as well. You remember our boat, the Victory...
we were on that last Sunday. You and Maddy, and your dad and I. We were out sailing round Beachy Head.”
I shake my head. I don’t remember going out on the boat last week... the last time
we went out on the boat was for Maddy’s birthday, which was in February.
“It was Father’s Day,” Mum says, “and we were all out in the boat.
You and Maddy were enjoying yourselves looking for fish in the sea.” Her grip on me gets tighter. “You fell overboard.”
“Into the Channel?”
“Into the sea,” Mum replies, with another nod I can feel. “You were too
scared to swim. Maddy started screaming when you disappeared under the surface, and I had to hold her still. Dad jumped in
after you to get you out of there. By the time he got you back to the side of the ship, all Maddy and I could hear was that
you’d stopped breathing. Your dad told me to let go of Maddy, to try and pull you out back into the boat, but Maddy
was too scared to let me let go of her, so I couldn’t help. So your dad tried on his own. He had to try on his own,
and eventually he managed to push you over the side and back into the boat. But your dad didn't follow you out.”
I don't know if I want to hear the rest of the story, although I nod anyway. “What
happened to him?” I ask quietly. Dad’s not been at home for a week, and Mum just looked so sad whenever I asked
where he was.
“Eventually...” Mum stops again, and I can hear the crying as she keeps on with
what she’s saying. “Eventually Maddy calmed down enough and I could let go of her. She stayed sitting next to
you and I managed to pull your dad back into the boat, right after he’d saved you.”
“What happened to him?”
Mum shakes her head. “You’re still too young for that part, honey,” she
tells me firmly, still hugging me tightly. “But your dad’s still in the hospital, even though they let you come
home the next day.”
She takes a few more breaths. She’s still crying, I can tell. “Malcolm, I spoke
to the doctors today.”
“What did they say?” I ask, burying myself deeper in her arms.
“They... they don’t know if he’s going to wake up.”
o o o o o
I wake up in bed, sitting upright. It’s really warm in here, and when I put a hand
to my face, it comes away dripping with sweat. I shudder. I don’t remember having that dream before, but even so I don’t
think it was a dream.
I think it’s a memory.
I get up and cross over to the window, opening it. Cool breeze hits my face, and for a few
moments at least, I feel normal again. Leaning out over the windowsill I close my eyes and take several deep breaths. In the
darkness behind my eyelids I can see the eight-year-old version of me toppling over the side of the small sailing boat my
family used to own, and Stuart diving into save me.
To this day I still don't know if that’s the repressed memory that’s come back
to the surface since the time following the accident, or whether or not I’ve simply got a feverish imagination inspired
by the doctor and wing nurses at the hospital. Maybe I’ll never know.
After a couple of minutes, it gets too cold to have my top half stuck out of an open window
in the middle of the night, so I withdraw back inside the bedroom and close the window nearly all the way before heading through
the bungalow to the kitchen. I’m sorely tempted by the beers I know will be in the fridge, but common sense, as is so
usually the case, wins out and I find a glass and pour some milk into it. I switch the main light on, sit down at the kitchen
table and stare into my drink. I’m tired. Bone shattered; there is absolutely no doubt whatsoever about that. But I've
got to be up at six tomorrow morning and find myself a shuttle heading back to San Francisco. I’ve got another seven
hours here, although I’ve only been here for four already. It’s a short visit, but I can’t help that.
A creaking noise behind me interrupts the mental scheduling, and I turn around. I’m
half tempted to dredge up a smile from somewhere, but I still have no idea if the gesture would be appreciated at the moment
“So what are you doing here?” my visitor asks, creaking all the way over
to the kitchen table and the empty space opposite me.
I shrug my shoulders. “Captain Archer all but ordered us to take a few days out before
we ‘ship out to the Delphic Expanse,” I explain.
“A few days?... And yet here you are, and you’ve got to be back on that ship
in twelve hours.”
I shrug again. “Things needed to be done...” Okay, the look on my visitor’s
face is demanding an explanation, so I clarify. “A friend of mine lost his sister in the attack.”
“So why bother coming out all the way here to see us?”
I blink and shake my head, suddenly feeling very foolish. There’s not really anything
I can say here that wouldn’t sound pathetic under scrutiny. But I try regardless. “Just wanted to make sure you
were still alive,” I manage. Disgusted with myself, I down the glass of milk and get up to go to the sink, but before
I can move more than a few inches, the creaking starts up again and before I know it there’s a very tight grip on my
hand, and Stuart is staring up at me, stubbornness and defiance just oozing out of him. He yanks on my wrist, and I sit back
down again, so I’m at his level. He doesn’t let go of me.
“We’re both supposed to be dead by now,” he says, and suddenly my dad’s
changed from the imposing ex-Navy officer I’ve seen most of my life and turned into someone I don’t recognise:
a pale old man who looks all too capable of experiencing true fear.
I shake my head, and try to smile. “According to my doctor, I’ve turned cheating
death into an art form,” I try to joke, although even I can’t see any humour in my words.
“As long as you don’t make it too regular an occurrence,” Stuart retorts
instantly and it's all I can do not to laugh out loud, although I do shake my head in agreement. Then he softens again. “Why
didn’t you tell us you were on the Enterprise?”
I shake my head. “I thought you were disappointed in me,” I mumble under my breath,
but I always did underestimate the Reed sense of hearing - it’s excellent.
The death-grip on my wrist again. “Look at me,” Stuart says. “Malcolm -
look at me!”
I do as I’m told, and I take in every little detail of him. He looks so healthy from
the waist up, you’d never guess if you saw him during a conversation on a computer screen. He looks so healthy now,
you’d never guess simply from looking at him that the wheelchair was an absolute necessity.
The sailing accident when I was eight... when I fell overboard and my dad dived in to save
me. He didn’t make it out again because his legs had been caught in the motor on the underside of the boat. When Mum
pulled him back into the boat, there was half a leg missing, and blood everywhere.
So I’m told.
He was a in a coma for more than two weeks, and by the time he woke up, the neural damage
had already been done. Even if they’d been able to save the leg - which they had done in the end, aesthetically, at
least - there was still the simple matter of there being absolutely no motor-neural connection between his brain and leg.
And there was nothing they could do for that. Except give my dad a wheelchair and watch him slowly learn to cope with a whole
new burden in life. Meanwhile, I escaped the accident with nothing more than a tendency to head colds at the slightest provocation
as a result of prolonged water inhalation, and acute aquaphobia.
Fear of drowning.
“Look at me,” Stuart repeats, indicating himself and the wheelchair in one scope.
“This happened because I saved your life... Malcolm, there is nothing in this universe you could do that would cause
me to lose pride in you. Nothing. I know I always hoped you would join the Navy one day, but it never amounted to much.”
He pauses for a moment, suddenly uncertain and vulnerable all over again. “As long as you were happy in what you were
doing, I never cared what you did. And I’m sorry if you never realised that before.”
I stare at him for a few minutes, well aware that there’s a growing prickling sensation
in my eyes, and before I can do anything to try and stop it, the first few tears begin to fall. A few long, shuddering breaths
are all it takes and Stuart puts his hands on my shoulders, hesitantly at first, then more firmly, gripping onto me with a
physical strength he doesn’t often use any more. He then lets go of me, and with a not-so-surprising accuracy, manoeuvres
himself right into my personal space, so that our knees are touching, and I can feel him breathing.
Then my dad pulls me into a hug, for the first time in almost as long as I can remember.
We both kept our distance from each other after the sailing accident, more out of stubbornness than anything else, I think,
and he was never the most physically affectionate of fathers to begin with. But that had never bothered me before. But right
now I hug him back, and for a moment it’s almost like the old days, when we’d spend Father’s Day together
without Mum and Madeleine, either going on day trips or just spending several hours in each other’s company, the way
it had been before that particular Father’s Day.
And right here and right now, and hopefully without the clichés, it hurts me to think that
because of the damn Xindi attack this could be the last time I ever see my dad.
Without saying anything, I tighten the hug.
And Dad keeps hugging me back.