If you’re a visitor to this blog who hasn’t started reading Breaking Faith, perhaps looking at the reviews on the 'My Books' may persuade you to give it a try.
To those continuing the journey, I say, ‘Enjoy the ride.’
I posted Chapter 1 way back on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have appeared here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search by chapter number.
If you missed the start, you’ll find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite your friends to join us.
Thursday 3rd June
I couldn’t hide my shock at his appearance. Greyish yellow skin was drawn like parchment over his facial bones to make him gaunt. His hair was patched grey with baldness between.
He smiled in spite of my open horror and beckoned me to him.
‘I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to …’
‘It’s okay, Faith. Leigh explained. It’s refreshing to have an honest opinion. I’m only sorry I frightened you.’
I knew at once I could love this man. Generosity shone out of him and he meant what he’d said to me.
‘Not frightened. Appalled by your suffering.’
His smile broadened. ‘No prizes for diplomacy. Top marks for directness. Faith, I’m heartily pleased to meet you.’
He patted the bed and I sat close enough to him that I could smell the pain in his sweat, see the open welcome in his eyes. ‘I can’t call you Mr Lengdon, and David seems all wrong to me. May I call you Dad? Father is the term I used for Heacham and I can’t fit it to you at all.’
‘It’s what I am, apparently. Dad sounds every bit as wonderful as it is unexpected.’
‘Mum wanted to come, but she and Leigh said I should come on my own the first time.’
‘Matilda. Oh, would that she had told me. How different it would have been. How infinitely better would’ve been my life, and perhaps yours.’
That this man might have raised me, in tandem with my Mum, instead of Heacham was too much to contemplate. I had to ignore that unlived life for the moment. ‘She thought your career would suffer if you knew she was…’
He started to laugh and the dry croaky sound quickly changed to a hacking cough that shook his body and had him gasping for breath. The dog stood and looked at him with alarm. I found myself unable to do anything to stop his suffering and felt so frustrated by my helplessness. Eric came and held him, rubbing his back and slowly calming the fit. He glared at me accusingly.
Once he was back in control, he waved a dismissive hand at Eric and nodded his recovery. Eric left us, but Dad remained silent for a long time. The dog sat again. I put out my hand to stroke him. He raised his head and looked at me with those big brown eyes before sticking his nose into my outstretched hand. I stroked his head gently and he relaxed and lay down. When I turned to face Dad, he was ready to talk again.
‘Sorry I alarmed you. Laughter’s great medicine for the living but poison for me. It was your reference to my career, Faith. You see, I abandoned it within weeks of reaching the States. I’d had a burning fascination for literature all my life but the professors in the university I attended, were pseudo intellectuals who made an easy living from shallow analysis of creative works. They reduced the art and mastery of writing to a set of predetermined categories, and woe betide any work that defied their definition or refused to be confined within the limits imposed by their narrow minds. Sorry, I’m waffling. I discovered I wanted no part of the modern literary scene across the pond and I was particularly anxious not to spread the infection to this side of the water.
‘When I returned, I worked out my contract at the college and left education. Eric provided me with work and later with a partnership in his business. I found building walls more satisfying than stringing words together for fools.’
‘Disappointing. Mum says you were talented, and I think your poetry is evocative and relevant. She expected you to become a great writer. I think it’s very sad that you abandoned a promising career as a writer who might breach barriers to understanding just to become an anonymous builder of boundaries.’
He looked at me with such pain in his eyes that I knew I’d touched something raw in the very centre of him and had opened my mouth too literally again. I leant forward and hugged him as best I could whilst he lay against his pillow. ‘I’m so sorry, Daddy.’ My tears of sadness, pity, love and utter confusion trickled onto his cheek and his shoulder and I felt his arms embrace me, his hands stroke my back with such tenderness I sobbed uncontrollably.
Soft words reached my ears and I knew I was forgiven and he was chastened and somehow made more whole for my accusation. I came to stillness and wiped my eyes dry, blew my nose and made a rueful smile. He shook his head at me but there was generosity and forgiveness where Heacham would have punished me with pain and cruelty.
‘Truth is a weapon that can kill, a lance that can drain the poison from falsity, a light that can illuminate the darkest cave of self-deception. But truth is rarely comfortable and certainly never kind if unrestrained by compassion. That’s what you’ll learn, Faith, as you experience your life. Leigh gave me some clues about your forthright nature and the reason for it. But you are, of course, right. It was a sort of cowardice against a force I felt was too enormous to battle alone. Perhaps if I’d had Matilda…. As for the walls I’ve built, sometimes it’s necessary to fence one thing from another, for practical reasons of animal husbandry as well as the more philosophical demands of warring neighbours. I hope my walls have been positive rather than divisive.’
I wanted to know this remarkable man. I wanted to gather as much information about him as I could. ‘How old are you, Dad?’
‘You don’t know how good it is to hear that, to know that I’ve given something more to the world than dry stone walls and a thin folio of second rate verse. I have a daughter to leave behind when I’m ash blowing in the winds, a beautiful daughter of whom I can be proud. I’m fifty-nine. Matilda will be forty next January. She was still a teenager when I seduced her, but Matilda was a woman well before I knew her. I was not her first, though she was mine, and I was not her last, though she was mine in that also.’
‘But you were the only one she ever loved; still loves, in fact. And I doubt you did the seducing. I’ve watched her with men. She’s very beautiful, you know. Netta takes after her in looks but her father gave her her colouring. Hope, of course, is pretty enough but you can’t really compare her in all fairness.’
‘What happened to Charity?’
‘Oh. Netta’s first name is Charity. She uses Netta because she prefers it; it’s short for Bernadette, her second name.’
‘So, Matilda married a pious man. Was he the only one she could persuade to marry her in her condition?’
‘A hypocrite of the worst sort. And a fool; though I’ve only come to realize that very recently. Matilda got him to believe I was his child even though she was already two months pregnant when she first had sex with him. Hope’s the only child he actually fathered and she has the mind of a baby in the body of a woman. I nursed her all my life whilst I lived at the cottage with Heacham. Netta doesn’t know who her father is; Mum won’t tell her. But she told me about you and gave me enough information to start a search for you. I’m glad I did.’
‘So am I. Have you abandoned your disabled sister?’
‘He was raping her whilst I was out at work. They’ve put her into residential care now. He’s in the police cells again. He beat Netta when he was out on bail. They’ll keep him locked up until he comes to trial for raping Hope.’
‘Unlikely, the judiciary and police are not noted for their protection of women against such men. He’ll be back on the streets soon enough. Make sure you’re not in any danger from him.’
‘I’ve had my last beating. Leigh threatened to castrate Heacham with a blunt saw if he touched me again and I imagine the B believed him. Leigh can be terrifying when he’s angry. In any case, I don’t wander the fells wearing almost nothing or pose naked for Leigh’s camera, so he’s no real cause.’
‘Did he ever have real cause to beat you, Faith?’
I hadn’t thought about that recently; too many other things had been happening around and to me. ‘No. Now I look back at my life, he never had good cause. Never.’
‘And this is the man who reared you?’
‘He kept me from school once Mum left, when I was six. That’s when he realized Netta wasn’t his and threw them out. I looked after him and Hope until I was old enough to work and then I looked after them both and worked. Leigh may be a wicked, shallow, philandering pornographer, but he’s given me a home, a job, security, self-respect and education. And he’s never once tried to do anything improper. Not that he needs that sort of thing from me; he’s no shortage of female admirers ready to give him all the sex he wants and to pose for his photographs.’
‘Is Leigh a pornographer? He struck me as too much of a lover to work in such a field.’
‘He takes pictures of women without their clothes, sometimes in underwear, sometimes completely naked. That’s mostly pornography, isn’t it?’
‘Simple nudity and certain types of partial clothing doesn’t, on its own, render a woman the object of the pornographer’s errant desires. Sometimes it simply makes the depiction of the woman an example of erotic art. But, who knows? One man’s’ pornography is another’s eroticism.’
‘You sound like Leigh, but a bit more cultured. I suppose, for all men, pictures of naked women are just echoes of their desires for sex. They don’t understand how they make women into objects most of the time. Just another example of the way society’s skewed in men’s favour.’
Dad and Eric exchanged glances and I realized I’d said too much again. I had to change the subject and get him talking about himself again. ‘How did you meet Eric?’
Eric nodded at me. ‘David’s weary, lass. He needs a rest for a while. Come into the kitchen for a cuppa and I’ll tell you what you want to know.’
I looked and saw the tiredness on Dad’s face. I bent and kissed his forehead. ‘Have a sleep, Dad. I’ll talk with you again before I go.’
He made no protest, simply smiling his assent.
Eric pottered in the small, homely kitchen as he prepared a pot of tea for us. ‘You’re a modern lass, Faith, even if you’re not a woman of the world. You’ll hear it soon enough from other folk, so let me tell you myself that I’m not like your Leigh or your dad. I’m the sort of man who can’t love a woman. A homo, bumboy, queer, fag or any other name you can shout from fear and prejudice. ‘Cept I don’t practice my perversion. I am, and always have been, celibate.
‘But I love your dad. He doesn’t love me that way, of course, but he’s fond of me and values my friendship. I’m telling you this because you’ve little enough time to get to know David and I want no misunderstandings between you. I can see you’re a fair minded lass, even if you are brutally honest, and I trust you’ll not judge me too harshly for my deviant nature.’
‘I don’t judge. One of the few things of value I learned from Heacham was that judgement requires wisdom. Since I don’t have that, I don’t judge. I don’t understand your deviation, Eric; it seems to me to have no biological or evolutionary function. But I don’t condemn you for what you are. When I think of the way Heacham behaved with Hope and the way Mervyn was with Netta, I have to conclude that your way of loving is more wholesome and less destructive than some so-called normal relationships.’
‘Leigh warned us you was outspoken. Knew I was right to confide in you, though. Thanks, lass. Your dad and me met when I was demonstrating of dry stone walling at Kilnsey Fair. He had a go and I could see he had talent. He was strong and tanned at the time and he was out of work so I took him on as my apprentice, in spite of his years. He’s quick, David. Just a few weeks and he was skilled enough to work on his own. By the end of the year, he’d enough knowledge and experience to do even the difficult work and I offered him a partnership. Course, I’d not have done that if I hadn’t fallen in love with him by then. He moved in with me and we worked as a team with a couple of young lads as labourers. When David fell ill and it was clear he wasn’t going to recover, we sold the business to the lads and I devoted myself to caring for him. That was just over a year ago.
‘I love your dad, lass. Never had no children and he’s like a son to me. If he hadn’t fallen ill, everything I own would’ve become his on my death. I’m an old man and it’s only David has kept me going these last few years. I’m weary, to tell the truth. When your dad goes I’ll not be far behind.’
It was pointless to argue with him. Everything he said and did illustrated his point. I knew I should make some sort of protest, encourage him to be more positive, but I also knew he neither wanted nor expected such false comfort.
‘Thank you for your honesty and trust, Eric. I appreciate it.’
He buttered thick slices of uncut brown bread and put a slab of cheese on the table with a jar of pickled onions and some tomato chutney. ‘Help yourself, lass. Your dad’ll have a bit of soup when he wakes.’
‘Does he sleep a lot?’
‘In the day. There’s times he can get up and walk about for a couple of hours; even go out onto the fells, weather permitting. But most of the time, he’s in his bed. Nights are worst. It’s like the blackness seeps into his soul and he gets right depressed. I’m hoping you’ll relieve that a bit. Give him something positive to think on.’
‘Eric, I have to ask you this, knowing how you feel about him, and I don’t want to hurt you. Mum wants to see him again. Can you bear to have her visit?’
‘You’re a sensitive soul, Faith. You mean; can I bear him to be with the woman who has that part of him I can’t have? Can I sit and watch him with her, let her touch his skin and kiss him? Knowin’ what I’ve gathered of Matilda, maybe even have sex with him?’ He became silent and I waited, the slice of buttered bread slowly drooping in my fingers.
‘Yes. I can bear it. For him. You see, lass, I love him. And that means I want what he’d want for himself, I want for him to be happy. Matilda’ll make him happy. I saw how he was with you and I know he’ll talk about you endlessly when you’ve gone. He’ll gain that pleasure from your company; from having you as a daughter and knowin’ there’s someone who’ll still be part of him when he’s gone.
‘Matilda, though, he’ll not mention to me when she’s been. He’ll not torture me with tales of tenderness and longing, passion and lust. He’ll not make me suffer by describing things I can never share with him. So, Matilda’ll give him the physical love I can’t, you’ll give him a sense of family and the devotion of a good daughter. I’ll give him chaste and spiritual love that serves and sacrifices and cares without expectation of reward. In our ways, we’ll all gain a bit of happiness along the way. It’s more than I expected of his last days and much more than I could’ve dreamed possible.’
We stayed in the kitchen for a couple of hours until Eric told me Dad was awake again. I’ve no idea how he knew. We returned to the front room and I spent the last part of the afternoon with him, learning more about his love of reading and his joy in things natural. When Leigh eventually arrived to collect me, I had no idea he was late.
‘Has this young angel told you she’ll be twenty one in August?’
Dad shook his head.
Leigh glanced at me. ‘She’s no idea, you know. Anyway, there’ll be a party at Longhouse for her. Are you up to attending?’
‘He’s not up to gadding about…’
‘I think David’s capable of answering for himself, Eric.’
Eric was seething and would have said more but Dad raised his hand in supplication.
‘If I’m still around and if I’m still mobile, I wouldn’t miss it for the world.’
‘Good. That’s settled then. It’s a date. And the pair of you can stay overnight so you don’t have to make the journey both ways in one day.’
I kissed Leigh for his generosity and Dad watched me with interest, speculation rife on his face.
‘Don’t know what you’re so pleased about, Faith. Your Dad’ll be having your bed so you’ll probably have to kip on the sofa.’
‘Tell you what, since it’s my birthday, Netta can have the sofa, I’ll have the spare room Mum normally uses and she can sleep with you.’
Their faces told me I’d said the wrong thing. It took a little while to sink in and then I blushed to my hair roots. They all grinned then, at my discomfort, but I knew I’d made a serious mistake.
‘Home, wench, before you commit any more faux pas.’
‘You’ll bring her again, soon, Leigh?’
‘If he doesn’t, I’ll walk.’
My dad hugged me.
‘You think she’s joking. She would walk, all thirty miles, over the fells, if she had to. But I’ll bring her. Sunday?’
‘If she wants to come Saturday, she can stay the night.’
I thanked Eric for his offer and Leigh nodded his agreement. ‘I’ll bring Matilda, stay for a couple of hours, then take her back and leave Faith with you. How’s that?’
‘Sounds like heaven to me.’
‘Grand.’ Eric gave his assent willingly, matching his earlier words with his actions.
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