The First Time I Saw Dad After He Died
It was two hours after the funeral and everyone was downstairs in the Pub.
I walked down the hall and pushed the door and went into the smoke and all the voices went quiet like I was the ghost.
Carla the Barmaid was wearing her hoop earrings and her tired eyes. She was pouring a pint and she smiled at me and she was going to say something but the beer spilt over the top.
Uncle Alan who is Dads brother was there wearing his suit that was tight with his neck pouring over like the beer over the glass. His big hands still had the black on them from mending cars at the Garage. They were over Mums hands and Mums head was low like it was sad and Uncle Alans head kept going down and he lifted Mums head up with his eyes. He kept talking to Mum and he looked at me for a second and he saw me but he didnt say anything. He just looked back at Mum and kept pouring his words that made her forget about Dad.
Nan was sitting on her own with her silver sticks on the seat next to her and she was drinking red juice like blood in her glass.
Her eyes went in a squint and made her face more wrinkly and she saw me. Her skeleton hand said Come here come here so I went and sat with her and she just stared at me and didnt say anything at first. She just looked round at everyone and went Sssss because of her pains like she had a puncture.
After a bit she said Ee now come on pet dinny you fret. It will be all right son.
Nan lives in Sunderland and she speaks Sunderlanguage. Mum used to live in Sunderland but she hates it and says it is a Ghost Town and she doesnt talk Sunderlanguage only a bit when she talks to Nan but most of the time she talks normal.
Nan said Youre not a little bairn now son. Youre the man of the place.
I am 11 so I am not a little bairn and I am not a man but I didnt say anything I just nodded my head a bit and Carla came and gave me a glass of Pepsi.
Carla said in her croaky frog voice Theres a glass of Pepsi duck.
She put it on the table and smiled at me with her thin lips and she itched the dryness on her arm and then smiled at Nan and she went back to the bar.
Nan kept on saying things and I just drank my Pepsi and looked round at the people. I think most of them were happy that the Pub was open and they were talking louder than at the funeral because funerals make voices quiet and beer makes voices loud so now they were speaking about normal.
The Regulars were there like Big Vic and Les who were at the bar and smoking Hamlet cigars and speaking to Carla.
Carla always talked to men since her Divorce and since she stopped falling over and getting the bruises. Mum used to tell Dad she thought Carla was an Old Tart but she liked her really. I dont know if Carla is older than Mum because she has twins in my Year at school but she looks older than Mum.
Les didnt look happy but Les never looked happy and that is why Dad always called him Les Miserable. And when I was looking at them Big Vic looked at me and normally when he looked at me he smiled or said something funny like Oi Philip its your round. But that day he looked away as soon as his eyes touched my eyes as if looking at my eyes could be dangerous or make him ill or as if my eyes had lasers in them that cut him in half.
I moved my eyes and watched Mum and Uncle Alan and I wanted Uncle Alans hands to stop holding Mums hands and they did stop when Renuka went and talked to Mum. Renuka is Mums best friend who goes to Step class with her on Mondays and Thursdays where they Step on boxes for an hour to make their bums smaller. Renuka had been with Mum lots this week and she had made 700 cups of tea and Uncle Alan looked cross now because when Renuka talks no one can fit words in because she doesnt have any spaces.
I kept looking round the bar and Nan kept talking to me and that is when I saw him. That is when I saw Dads Ghost.
King Of The CASTLE
You are meant to be frightened when you see a ghost but I was not frightened because it felt completely normal which is weird because I had never seen a ghost before. He was just standing there behind the smoke of Big Vics cigar and he was looking at me and not scared of my eyes like everyone else was.
Carla was next to him serving drinks but she didnt notice him and I looked round and no one noticed him apart from me. After she had served the drinks Carla walked through Dads Ghost to go and see herself in the mirror which says Castle and Falcon because that is the name of our Pub.
Dads Ghost was wearing the same clothes Dad was wearing the last time I saw him which was at breakfast on the day he died when I made him cross because I wanted the PlayStation. He was wearing his T shirt which said King of the Castle with the word CASTLE written in red capital letters like on the sign outside the Pub. But now all the colours were more faded because Dad was pale and see through like the ghosts at the Haunted Mansion in Disney World and he had blood running down from his hair.
Nan asked me Whats the matter pet?
She turned to see where I was looking but she couldnt see anything and Dads Ghost was now telling me to follow him with his hand.
I said to Nan I need the toilet.
I went passed the bar and down the hall and into the back office where Dads Ghost walked through the door.
I checked to see if anyone was looking and they werent so I opened the door because I couldnt walk through it and Dads Ghost was standing in the corner by the desk and the computer was on which was weird.
He nodded to the door and so I shut it and then he said Dont be scared.
I said Im not.
His voice sounded the same but different like he was standing far away but I could hear him more clearly than ever. That doesnt make sense but that is how he sounded.
And the second thing he said was Im sorry.
I said For what?
He said For everything.
And when he said it I thought he was talking about the past when he was alive but now I am not sure.
I went across the room and I went to touch him and my hand went right through and couldnt feel anything except a bit warmer but I might have just been thinking that.
I dont think Dads Ghost liked me doing it but he didnt say anything but I didnt do it again.
I said Are you a ghost?
It was a stupid question but I didnt know what to say.
He said Yes.
I said Where have you been?
He said I am not here all the time. I go on and off.
And I said Like a light bulb?
And he smiled but in a sad way and he said Yes like a light bulb. It is hard to control where I go but I am getting better.
And I said Have you been to the Pub before?
He nodded his head and said You were asleep.
Then I asked him if he sees other ghosts and he said There are lots of ghosts in Newark and they take some getting used to because they are all from different ages. And I said It must be weird seeing all the ghosts.
He said It is but you get used to it.
Then he was quiet for a second and then he said Philip.
So I said What?
But really I didnt want to know because I could tell from his voice that he was going to say something bad like when Grandad died.
He said I have to tell you something.
And then he stopped for a minute and looked at the door and I wondered why he was looking at the door but then Uncle Alan walked in and he never walks in the office and Uncle Alan looked at the computer and he said Your Mum sent me to look for you.
And he was smiling and his big hands were holding his glass of whisky on his big stomach. And he went over and touched my shoulder and he said Are you all right Philip?
And I said Yes.
And he said Its been a tough day for all of us.
I said Yes.
I just wanted him to stop touching my shoulder.
I could see Dads Ghost looking at him and he was looking at him in a way I had never seen him look at anyone before especially not his brother and I knew he didnt like him being in the office. So I said Ill go out in a minute Im just looking for something.
And Uncle Alan sighed and made the air smell of whisky and he was going to say something but he wasnt my Dad and so he went out again and shut the door.
Then I looked at Dads Ghost who was flickering and screaming but with the volume down and then he came back and he said I might not have long.
Then he faded out for about five seconds and came back.
He tried to speak and all I could hear was It wasnt And then he tried again and again.
It wasnt an axe
He disappeared and I said Dad Dad Dad Come back! Come back!
But he didnt.
Then I heard a voice say Oh Philip and it was my Mums voice and I dont know how long she had been there and Uncle Alan was now behind her and touching her shoulder but she didnt feel the coldness down her back like I did.
The Bad News
Dad died because his car crashed into a bridge outside of Kelham which is a village near Newark. There was a picture of it on East Midlands Today and it showed the whole car hanging over the edge like it was going to fall into the River Trent. All the windows were smashed like spiders webs and the woman on the news was talking about the bridge having to be closed for two months as if the bridge was the important thing.
Before we saw the news there was a policeman who came to the back door and I knew the policeman because he had been into the Pub before talking to Dad. The policeman had a face like an empty plate and he opened and closed his mouth for a long time with nothing coming out but air.
I was watching from the top of the stairs and they couldnt see me and I couldnt hear them properly but I knew something was wrong from the way the policeman had his hat on his chest.
And then they went into the office and shut the door and I could hear nothing for ages and then I heard Mum. She was howling like a WOLF and the noise hurt my stomach and I closed my eyes to try and hear the policeman and all he was saying was Im sorry and he kept on saying it
and I knew that he hadnt done anything wrong because he was a policeman and policemen only say sorry if something very bad has happened. So I knew right then what the pain in my stomach was. And I saw the policeman leave and the hat was in his hand but not on his chest any more like the Bad News had been in there and set free. And I saw Mum and she saw me but didnt see me properly and she went to the corner of the hall by the radiator and sat down in a ball and cried and shook her head in her hands and said No no no no no and everywhere round us looked the same but bigger and I wanted to go and tell her it was OK but that would have been a lie and so I just sat there and did nothing.
Excerpted from The Dead Fathers Club © Copyright 2007 by Matt Haig. Reprinted with permission by Viking Adult. All rights reserved.
The Dead Fathers Club
- hardcover: 336 pages
- Publisher: Viking Adult
- ISBN-10: 0670038334
- ISBN-13: 9780670038336