“Look,” he said. “Is there anywhere we could go and sit down?”

In the end I did have that beer.

We sat at a table near the bar overlooking the pre-parade ring while the man in the cream linen suit told me who I was.

I wasn’t sure what to believe. I couldn’t understand why my grandparents would have lied to me, but, equally, why would this stranger suddenly appear and lie to me now? It made no sense.

“Your mother and I were in a road accident,” he told me. He looked down. “And then she died.” He paused for a long time as if wondering whether to carry on.

I sat there in silence, looking at him. I didn’t feel any real emotion, just confusion.

“Why?” I asked.

“Why what?” he said.

“Why have you come here today to tell me this?” I began to feel angry that he had chosen to disrupt my life in this way. “Why didn’t you stay away?” I raised my voice at him. “Why didn’t you stay away as you have done for the past thirty-seven years?”

“Because I wanted to see you,” he said. “You are my son.”

“No, I’m not,” I shouted at him.

There were a few others enjoying a quick drink before making their way home, and they were looking in our direction.

“You are,” he said quietly, “whether you like it or not.”

“But how can you be so sure?” I was clutching at imaginary straws.

“Edward, don’t be stupid,” he said, picking at his fingers.

It was the first time he had used my name, and it sounded odd. I had been christened Edward, but I’d been known as Ned all my life. Not even my grandfather had called me Edward, except, that is, when he was cross with me or I had done something naughty as a child.

“What’s your name?” I asked him.

“Peter,” he said. “Peter James Talbot.”

My father’s name was indeed Peter James Talbot. It said so in green ink on both my birth certificate and his. I knew by heart every element of those documents. Over the years the handwritten details on them had somehow been the only tangible link to my parents, that and the small creased-and-fading photograph that I still carried with me everywhere.

I removed my wallet from my pocket and passed the photo over to him.

“Blackpool,” he said with confidence, studying the image. “This was taken in Blackpool. We were there for the illuminations in November. Tricia, your mother, was about three months pregnant. With you.”

I took the photo back and looked again closely at the young man standing next to a dark green Ford Cortina, as I had done hundreds of times before. I glanced up at the man in front of me and then back down at the picture. I couldn’t say for sure that they were the same person, but, equally, I couldn’t say they weren’t.

“It is me, I assure you,” he said. “That was my first car. I was nineteen when that picture was taken.”

“How old was my mother?” I asked.

“Seventeen, I think,” he said. “Yes, she must have been just seventeen. I tried to teach her to drive on that trip.”

“You started young.”

“Yes… well.” He seemed embarrassed. “You weren’t actually planned, as such. More of a surprise.”

“Oh thanks,” I replied somewhat sarcastically. “Were you married?” I asked.

“Not when that picture was taken, no.”

“How about when I was born?” I wasn’t sure that I wanted to know.

“Oh yes,” he said with certainty. “We were by then.”

Strangely, I was relieved that I was legitimate and not a bastard. But did it really matter? Yes, I decided, it did. It meant that there had been commitment between my parents, maybe even love. They cared, or, at least, they had then.

“Why did you leave?” I asked him. It was the big question.

He didn’t answer immediately but sat quiet, still looking at me.

“Shame, I suppose,” he said eventually. “After your mother died, I couldn’t cope with having a baby and no wife. So I ran away.”

“Where to?” I asked.

“Australia,” he said. “Eventually. First I signed onto a Liberian-registered cargo ship in the Liverpool docks. I went all over the world for a while. I got off one day in Melbourne and just stayed there.”

“So why come back now?”

“It seemed like a good idea,” he said.

It wasn’t.

“What did you expect?” I asked. “Did you think I would just welcome you with open arms after all this time? I thought you were dead.” I looked at him. “I think it might be better for me if you were.”

He looked back at me with doleful eyes. Perhaps I had been a bit hard.

“Well,” I said, “it would definitely have been better if you hadn’t come back.”

“But I wanted to see you,” he said.

“Why?” I demanded loudly. “You haven’t wanted to for the last thirty-seven years.”

“Thirty-six,” he said.

I threw my hands up in frustration. “That’s even worse,” I said. “It means you deserted me when I was a year old. How could a father do that?” I was getting angry again. So far my own life had not been blessed with children, but it was not from a lack of longing.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

I wasn’t sure it was enough.

“So what made you want to see me now?” I said. “You can’t just have decided suddenly after all this time.” He sat there in front of me in silence. “You didn’t even know that your own father was dead. And what about your mother? You haven’t asked me about her.”

“It was only you I wanted to see,” he said.

“But why now?” I asked him again.

“I’ve been thinking about it for some time,” he said.

“Don’t try and tell me you had a fit of conscience after all these years,” I scoffed at him with an ironic laugh.

“Edward,” he said somewhat sternly, “it doesn’t befit you to be so caustic.”

The laughter died in my throat. “You have no right to tell me how to behave,” I replied with equal sternness. “You forfeited that right when you walked away.” He looked down like a scalded cat. “So what do you want?” I asked him. “I’ve got no money.”

His head came up again quickly. “I don’t want your money,” he said.

“What, then?” I asked. “Don’t expect me to give you any love.”

“Are you happy?” he asked suddenly.

“Deliriously,” I lied. “I leap out of bed each morning with joy in my heart, delighting at the miracle of a new day.”

“Are you married?” he asked.

“Yes,” I said, giving no more details. “Are you?”

“No,” he replied. “Not anymore. But I have been. Twice-three times, if you count your mother.”

I thought I probably would count my mother.

“Widowed twice and divorced once,” he said with a wry smile. “In that order.”

“Children?” I asked. “Other than me.”

“Two,” he said. “Both girls.”

I had sisters. Half sisters anyway

“How old are they?”

“Both in their twenties now, late twenties, I suppose. I haven’t seen them for, oh, fifteen years.”

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