You always made a big deal out of my birthday. There would always be a party, and you would always bake a cake and dance with the neighbours, swinging the women round in your strong arms, twirling little girls and drinking beer with the men. As I got older, you would always phone early and wake me up.
That’s how I knew that something was up, before Mum called me and told me. It was my birthday, and you hadn’t phoned at 6am. Mum phoned at midday.
“He’s dead, isn’t he?”
She’d found you on the sofa that morning. Cold cup of tea balanced on the arm, cigarette burnt down to the butt in the ashtray in front of you. You’d been dead for hours. Almost twelve by the time I found out. She hadn’t wanted to tell me, hadn’t wanted to ruin my birthday and make it the day you died. But it was always going to be that day, no matter how long she tried to put it off for.
The funeral passed in a blur. Crematorium. Pub. Club. You’d always been the one who would encourage everyone to remember the good times. Jake tried to do that for you, to step up to be you but your shoes were too big. Mum had pulled out one of your old suits for him, quickly taken it up and in. I couldn’t believe my son was almost as big as you. It didn’t seem right.
Afterwards, I drank your best Merlot and went through your things. Mum was asleep so it was just me, on my own with your memories. I heaved boxes down from the loft, knowing Mum would struggle on her own and really thinking I was helping. I thought that I would finally get to know a bit more about you. About the family you never spoke of, of your past before you met Mum and had me.
The box, when I found it, just looked like any old box. It didn’t have any taped warning, no signs, “no do not open”. So I opened it. And nothing, at first, old photos of you when you were a child – oh, you looked like Jake! Your mother was an austere looking woman, all drawn face and high necked dress. And you had a brother. I never knew this. A letter you’d written home when you were in the army, postcards from far away places. Nestled in between all these things, a single, faded newspaper cutting.
‘Local man charged with murder’ and a photo. Of you. ’Gerald Rafferty, 21, of Heddon Street, was today found guilty –‘
I woke Mum up.
“Did you know?” I asked. She shook her head.
“He was 43 when I met him, he seemed so wordly. I was just 19. I didn’t think to ask what he’d been doing, and by the time I did, it just didn’t seem right.”
I sat on your bed and sobbed quietly.
“Oh, Pandora,” she said.