It had been so long since I last enjoyed my father’s company. I only wish it could have been under happier circumstances. It was good to see his leathery old face. The ravages of age and the elements were beginning to show on those tired bones and I couldn’t decide if they were more obvious because of the absence or my increasingly morbid outlook.
We sat side by side on the icy, carved-granite bench. Neither of us uttered a word. The gentle hush of falling rain was all that broke the churchyard’s oppressive silence.
I hung my head, couldn’t bring myself to meet his vacant, clouded eyes; eyes which used to hold such kindness. He’d meant the world to me back then, back before he’d given up. I wondered if he even realised.
I felt his hand on my shoulder; a gentle squeeze.
He was the first to break the silence: ‘It’s not your fault, Rhys. No-one blames you for what happened.’
‘I could have protected them, should have protected them,’ I said, barely louder than a whisper. ‘I was stupid, should never have gone back. Who knows? Maybe I should never have stopped in the first place. At least I might’ve seen it coming.’
‘You can’t think like that; it’ll eat you up, if you let it,’ he took my hand in his. His skin was like paper, rough and brittle. His palms heavily calloused. They were the same hands I remember from when I was a kid. ‘You wanted a better life for them and you gave them one.’
‘I was complacent, not careful enough. Now, they’re paying for it.’
‘You didn’t kill them, Rhys. He did,’ he spat the last words. ‘There’s nothing you could have done to stop him. He’d have done it even if you’d stayed neutral. That’s just his nature; no lose ends.’
I felt my body tense. Electricity danced across my skin, tingling under the flesh. He felt it too.
My free hand curled into a fist.
‘I want him to suffer. I want him to die.’
He nodded, once.
‘I know you do, but you know that it’s impossible. Something as evil as that doesn’t just die. It would take the wrath of heaven to destroy it.’
‘I was worried you’d say that,’ I said with a humourless smile. ‘Angel’s aren’t exactly known for sharing their toys.’
I shrugged off his hands and rose from the bench. The rain had soaked through my jeans and jacket and I was starting to feel the bite of the cold air. I paced around a little, coaxing heat back into my extremities. If the temperature bothered my father, he didn’t let on.
He just watched me, pensively.
‘I know that look,’ he said, eventually. ‘Whatever you’re thinking, I want you to forget it. These are demons you’re dealing with and he’s as bad as they come. You don’t get to be the personification of death and destruction by collecting coupons.’
‘I know exactly who he is. I know every name he’s ever had–’
‘Then you know how foolish this is,’ he sighed. ‘You’re angry and you’re hurt but you have to stop thinking like a cornered animal. Start thinking with your head and ignore what your instincts are telling you. He is more powerful than you can ever imagine and Harlequin, or not, you’re only human.’
Harlequin. I’d almost forgotten. I was the Harlequin, the trickster.
I had run from it for too long, run to protect my family. Now they were gone and I wasn’t running anymore.
‘Thanks, Dad,’ I turned to face his skeletal frame and offered him my hand. He took it and, with a little effort, pulled himself to his feet. ‘Come on. I’ll walk you home.’
We strolled along the narrow path. The gravel crunched and shifted under my boots. He walked beside me with an unsteady gait. I could feel his eyes scanning my ridged expression for any clue of my thoughts.
‘What are you going to do?’ he asked as we stopped beside a freshly dug grave. His furrowed brow betrayed his worry. He had no reason for it; just because I seem reckless, doesn’t mean I really am.
‘What you told me to do. I’m going to use my head, bide my time.’
He stared at me for a few moments, then a smile began to spread across his face. He understood. Sharp as a tack, my old man.
‘Take care of yourself, Rhys.’
‘You too, Dad.’
He sat down on the grass and swung his legs over the edge of the hole. I watched him shakily climb down into the dark pit that was his grave. Only once did I steal a glance across the marker’s epitaph. MR PATRICK LOMOND & MRS FRANCINE LOMOND it read in neat, roman capitals.
‘Say hello to mum for me.’
Together in life, forever in death. My parents had always wished for that and, these days, I understood why.
‘I miss you both.’
He didn’t reply as the pine lid closed.