The rain hammered down over Tim's hunched back, making a rattling
noise as the water reverberated from his plastic overcoat. It was
a rare extremity for Bournemouth weather, but the old man didn't
seem to care. He just plodded along his garden paving in green
wellington boots. As a booming roll of thunder shook the earth a
gust of wind knocked the hat on his head to the ground. Only a
few wisps of white hair remained underneath, but Tim looked up at
the sky with a smile. As he bent to retrieve his hat, the stone
steps ahead of him grew progressively further apart and the
garden began to slant downwards so that water streamed in muddy
banks to his side. The slope steepened and so Tim stumbled
downwards until the ground tapered to a small enclave.
On top of the hill carefully tended tulips and roses plateaued.
The grass was mown to circumvent a graceful water feature. But
the enclave at the bottom was wild. Where grass still had the
strength to grow underneath an oppressive rock wall, it wisped
randomly up towards waist height. All around him, muddy puddles
greedily engorged themselves on the rainwater. But Tim didn't
seem to mind. He walked over to a cracked stone bench which was
half crumbled into the earth and he sat. He sat down on the
bench, in the midst of the fierce storm and rested his chin
gently in his hands. After a time, he reached into the pocket of
his raincoat and withdrew a cigar. It took him several efforts to
light in the pouring rain, but he eventually managed. And so he
was sat, umbrellared by his cheap plastic hat as the smoke from
his cigar teased his nostrils before eventually surrendering to
the fierce weather.
The storm calmed and the rain slowed to a drizzle. With a sigh,
Tim rose to his feet. His knees now struggled with the walk back
up the hill, and he was not helped by the bulky wellington boots
on his feet. But with a grunt he pulled himself up to the
well-kept garden and began on the path back to his house, taking
care to wipe off as much mud as possible. He pushed open the
patio doors and exhaled as he walked into his house. Standing
there with her hands on her hips was a plump woman in her late
'You,' she exclaimed with a quiver of her lips, 'will catch your
death of cold.'
Tim looked down at his rain-drenched figure as though in
astonishment, but he winked mischievously as he hung the clothes
up on a peg. 'Me?' Tim replied. 'A man who fought for his
country. Who has lived to be eighty-six years of age? Now come on
'Honestly,' Margaret reprimanded, unable to help herself from
smiling, 'you have to look after yourself, you're not a young man
'What is the point of breathing if you can't live?'
'Just look after yourself! Do it for me if nothing else! What
would I do without you to clean for?' Margaret light-heartedly
pinched his arm as she calmed down. Her tone softened as she came
to rest her hand on top of Tim's. 'Any news on Dawn?'
Tim stared blankly before responding, 'I'm on my way now.'
'Give her my love, won't you.'
'I will my dear, thank you so much. You know, you know that she
struggles now... to...'
'I know.' Margaret continued as she patted Tim's arm.
Tim cleared his throat and picked up his car keys. He walked out
of the front door and raised himself into a green Ford. The car
purred to life with the windscreen wipers pushing away the
lingering rain. Soon Tim was faced by a light blue door with the
name Dawn Smith engraved on it. As he entered, he saw that his
daughter was sleeping. Her greying hair was matted beneath her on
the plain bed. A family photo stood on the bedside table. It was
a relief when she was like this, so he sat in a thick armchair to
her side and looked down upon his only child. Her rythmatic
breathing reassured him and he relaxed. Tim reached into his
pocket and reverently withdrew a tatty piece of paper.
The old man's glazed expression was drawn from the letter as his
daughter began to shake her head from side to side. He knew she
was about to wake and so he folded the letter and placed it back
in his pocket. He placed his hand on his daughter's arm. Her eyes
began to twitch and shortly afterwards her left eye cracked open.
She jerked her head up in shock, in the way of one unfamiliar
with their surroundings. Dawn scanned her bedroom in distress.
Tim stroked her arm until her attention came to focus on the man
to her side.
'Who are you?' She asked.
Tim's body shook, it was the question that always got him. But he
forced himself to control his emotions. 'It's me dear.' He
replied. 'It's your father. Remember?'
He carried on looking at his daughter as she tried to process the
response. The look on her face was one he had seen a hundred
times, but each time the confusion and the sadness failed to
'Oh.' Dawn replied, 'I don't... I don't...'
'Shhhhhh.' Tim reassured. 'I know. It's ok. It's ok.'
Dawn turned her head away from the stranger as a tear fell down
her cheek to rest on the pillow beneath her. They remained in
that position for many minutes, Tim's hand resting on his
daughters arm. Eventually Dawn twisted to face the man at her
side, her mind still searching for recognition. Failing, she
looked at him with a curiosity. After several moments she noticed
a long scar on his right bicep, something clicked deep within
'Where did you get that?' She asked, pointing at the scar.
Tim smiled, it was typical. His Dawn, asking the one question he
had always tried to protect her from. 'Where did I get that?'
Tim replied, 'September the twenty-third, nineteen thirty-five is
where, in a flat in Dorset.'
'Tim.' A shrill voice shouted, 'Tim! Dinner's ready.'
'I'm coming,' the young teenage voice replied, 'what is it?'
But there was no response, and so the fourteen year old placed
down his book and rose to his feet. He looked around. A single
bed behind him was crammed into the small space, taking up fully
half of his room. A solitary blanket lay on the worn mattress.
Above, the window filtered what was left of the day's light
through murky glass. Across the room a wooden shelf struggled to
attach itself to the crumbling plaster. Tim had to balance the
few books he had just perfectly, the slightest pressure would
cause the plank to crash to the floor. Sighing, the teenager
stepped out to the landing. His mother tried to greet him with a
smile as she faced him from the kitchen table. Will looked at the
stove and sink behind his mother, seeing how she had tried to
clean the pots and pans. The thick stew that was to be their
dinner would not shift from the iron cookware. But it was not his
surroundings that upset the teenage boy as much as the appearance
of his mother.
As she smiled from the rackety wooden chair, her hair fell over
her face in an uncontrolled cascade. It shot erratically in every
direction, as though someone was hovering over her head with a
particularly strong magnet. He noticed that she had intentionally
pushed handfuls of the coarse brown hair over one side of her
face, so that only one eye could be seen. He pretended not to
notice and returned her smile.
'I cooked meat stew,' she said, 'your favourite.'
Tim didn't have the heart to remind her that he had given up meat
earlier that year, after a previous meal had bedridden him. He
still hadn't regained the weight.
'It looks lovely!'
'You're a good boy,' his mother was shaking as she continued to
smile at her son, reaching across to pat his hand warmly, 'you're
such a good boy.'
Tim just smiled back and began to pick at the stew with his knife
and fork. He was careful to ensure that all the meat was returned
to the wooden bowl as he spooned sodden vegetables and the sauce
into his mouth. He looked up to watch his mother raise a full
fork. As she did so, a gust of air blew the hair away from the
side of her face, revealing a swollen red and black eye. Looking
at her son in shock, knowing that he had seen, she dropped the
food. The fork dropped to the floor with a thud.
'Now look... now look what I've done,' she stammered, 'I have to
clean this mess up, I have to clean before...'
Tim watched as his mother rose and walked to the sink with her
back to him. He saw her body begin to shudder up and down as she
began to weep. The young man just sat silently, watching his
mother cry. As he stared, almost blankly, the familiar thump of
footsteps and clinking of glass distracted him. His mother
clearly heard the sound as well because her body jolted to
attention and she raced to retrieve a worn broom. The front door
jerked back on its hinges with a boom and a waft of sweat and
stale ale entered the kitchen as a voice began to shout, 'I'm
There was no response and a looming figure soon emerged in the
doorway. Dressed in the slacks and shirt of his work, his father
was swaying as he raised an almost empty bottle of liquor to his
lips. He crossed the kitchen, resting the drink on the table as
he leant in to kiss his wife. She flinched as his beard scraped
her skin, but the man was too drunk to notice.
'How was your day?' She asked.
The man sighed deeply before responding, 'Terrible. I'm just an
honest man, trying to make an honest living. You wouldn't believe
some of things...' Tim's father lost his trail of thought and his
sentence slurred off as he sat down in what had been his wife's
chair. As he began to ravenously scoop the meal into his mouth
with his fingers, his attention was slowly drawn to the pile of
food on the floor. 'What.' Tim's father clenched his fists as
tried to control his temper, 'Is that?'
'I was just... I was just about to clean it.' Tim's mother
whimpered. The broom in her hand shook like a leaf.
There was an unbearable silence for several moments as Tim's
father stared at his balled hands. As he watched, Tim could see
his father's breathing quicken and his face getting redder and
redder, until the chair slid ominously back and he began to rise
to his feet.
'No.' Tim protested with a quiet weep. 'No.'
But his father didn't hear him and he lifted himself, and next,
his scarred calloused fists. As the large man stood over the
kneeling figure of his wife, he rained his fists down. Normally,
he was careful to hit her in the ribs or the legs, but on days
where he was especially angry, or drunk, he went for her face.
Tim watched as a white tooth flew from his mother's mouth,
sailing out in a river of blood. And he could take no more.
The fourteen year old jumped from his chair onto the rickety
wooden table. He lifted the nearly empty bottle of liquor and
smashed the glass onto his father's head.
'And that's how I got my scar.' Tim said. 'My scar, three cracked
ribs, a broken wrist and the loss of a tooth.' The old man
fingered a gap in his mouth. 'On September the twenty-third,
There was a silence in the hospice room before Dawn looked at the
man to her side in astonishment. 'I didn't know that.' Then she
paused to think for a second, 'Did I?'
'No my dear. You never knew that.'
It seemed to Tim that there was a flicker of recognition in
Dawn's eyes and he squeezed his daughter's arm once more.
'Dad.' Dawn said, as though saying a foreign word. She smiled
afterwards. There was a silence for some time as Dawn lay
thinking. 'Dad,' she started again, 'I can't remember... I can't
remember who my mother was.' She looked away awkwardly after
saying the sentence.
'It's ok dear.' Tim said with a smile, fingering the golden ring
on his wedding finger. 'She was a writer, exactly like you are.'
'Go on.' Dawn implored.
'Oh yes, she was a writer. And so talented, much too talented for
a daft fool like me. You should have seen the things she used to
write, they could reduce a grown man to tears.' Tim's eyes
sparkled as he talked. 'And beautiful too, did I tell you that
she was beautiful?'
Dawn smiled at the affectionate tone in her father's voice, 'So,
how did you two meet?'
'Oh, but we were childhood sweethearts.' Tim replied, 'From the
day I threw mud in her hair on the village common I knew we would
'And how old were you then?'
'I was six and she was five!' They both shared a laugh then. It
was a deep and innocent feeling. Tim readjusted his hand and they
sat there in silence for several moments.
'But dad?' Dawn asked with a slight hesitancy, 'Where is she
'Timothy David Smith, I am not having this child out of wedlock.
You hear me?'
Tim looked at his pregnant fiancée with a grim smile. She keeled
over again on the street, breathing rapidly as she faced her
knees. Her blond hair bobbed over the top of her head as the buns
that had been fixed for her wedding rocked in the gentle breeze.
Sweet perfume wafted towards Tim's nose as he glanced up at the
church clock. The time was almost twelve pm, it was at least an
hour before the ceremony was supposed to start. He looked up and
down Milham's road, in the small town of Fernham, near
Bournemouth. The street was empty except for a trickle of friends
and family arriving early for the wedding. Tim's best man ran
from across the street, his wedding suit trailing in the air
'Tim, Sylvia,' he panted, 'what's wrong?'
Sylvia glared up at him from her keeling position, still holding
her stomach in agony.
'You needs a doctor!' The best man continued, preparing to run
down the street.
'Stop.' Sylvia hissed. 'I am not having this child until I'm
married, do you understand?'
The best man caught Tim's eye in desperation. Tim shrugged at his
friend before kneeling and holding his fiancée's hand.
'I'll only ask once.' Tim said, 'You're sure about this?'
'More than anything,' Sylvia paused to let out a yell of anguish,
'more than anything else in this world.'
One last look at the resolution in her eyes was enough to finally
turn Tim against his better instinct. 'Ok,' he conceded, 'stay
with her,' he stated to his best man.
Tim ran the short distance into the church, startling the priest
who was leaning against the pew.
'Father, father,' Tim blurted, 'you must help me. It's an
'Calm down,' the priest replied with a gentle smile, 'what seems
to be the problem?'
Tim hurriedly explained the situation.
'But, you must understand.' The priest said, 'It is not as simple
as me saying a few words. There must be registers, witnesses,
there are procedures. You must tell your fiancée to find a
'Forgive me father, but I'd sooner batter down the gates of
'I could unofficially wed you, then you could renew your vows?'
The priest suggested. The shaking of Tim's head was his only
response. The priest pursed his lips, his soft face obviously
unused to frowning. 'Bring her to me child, I'll see what I can
Tim raced to bring Sylvia and his best man to the church as the
priest ducked through the bell-tower at the back in search of
administrators. Several minutes later the bedraggled party stood
in St Andrew's church. Two middle-aged woman, identified as
registrars, looked very out of place in their dishevelled
clothing. One had obviously just finished the gardening. The rest
of the party were sweating and flustered in their formal wedding
'Dearly beloved,' the priest began, 'we are gathered here today.'
Sylvia let out a scream of pain. As soon as the pang passed she
looked over at Tim with a warm smile.
'If you could make it a quick as possible father?' The best man
The small congregation laughed, and the priest smiled as he
nodded in acknowledgement. Soon after the ceremony had been
completed. Tim signed a piece of paper and passed the pen into
Sylvia's shaking hand. As she scrawled her signature a wave of
pain overcame her and she collapsed to the stone floor of the
'The doctor's house is just down the street.' The priest said,
'Come with me!'
Tim and his best man picked up the heavily pregnant woman from
the stone floor and they carried her between them as they made
their way to a detached house. The priest ran ahead and beckoned
them from the open door as they rushed to make their way in.
Inside, a long wooden table had hurriedly been cleared. A heavily
bearded man wearing a vest and trousers beckoned them to put
Sylvia on the table. He ran to place some smelling salts under
her nose and pried open her eyelids. The three men stood around
as she coughed herself awake.
'She is deep in labour,' the doctor said, 'you must all wait
The priest and the best man went back to the church, coordinating
the friends and family who were arriving unexpectedly late for
the wedding ceremony. Tim paced backwards and forwards in the
pristine little garden of the town doctor. Some time later the
door cracked open and the doctor's tired face appeared. He
Inside, covered with a coarse blanket his wife lay sprawled on
the wooden table. Crying lustily on her chest was a tiny red
baby, punching the air around her face in noisy protest.
'They're ok. It's ok.' Tim whimpered, rushing to his wife's side.
'You are the proud father of a baby girl,' the doctor said with a
'Sylvia,' Tim whispered, reaching to hold his wife's hand,
'Sylvia, how do you feel?'
'Dawn.' Came the tired response.
'Dawn,' Sylvia stammered, 'Dawn.'
Tim looked over at the doctor who ushered him towards the corner
of the room.
'Your daughter is healthy. Unfortunately there were some
complications with your wife.'
'It appears that she has a hereditary condition which affects
childbirth. Your wife has lost a lot of blood.'
'Her mother...' Tim gasped, 'her mother died in childbirth. Will.
Will she be ok?' Tim looked physically sick.
'It's touch and go,' the doctor replied, 'it would always have
been a dangerous birth. She should have been advised against
Tim stared in denial at the doctor's words as he recalled
Sylvia's reaction to her pregnancy. The joy, the fear, the
apprehension that he hadn't understood. 'I would like to be alone
with my wife now, please.'
'Of course,' the doctor replied, 'I'll just be next door,' he
nodded across the corridor.
Tim walked over to again stand at his wife's side, her sleeping
figure cradling the baby on her chest.
'You daft thing,' he whispered emotionally, 'why didn't you tell
Somehow the gentle words reached his wife's consciousness,
because she stirred.
'Tim?' She murmured, 'Tim?'
'Tim. I'm dying.' She stated, her voice growing in force.
'Don't be silly, you'll be fine. You're a fighter.'
'Tim.' She repeated. 'I'm dying, you hear me?' Tim sat in shock,
unable to respond as she continued. 'Will you do one thing for
me?' She asked. 'Bring me a pen and paper? And quickly.'
An hour later, Tim rocked backwards and forwards, his arms on his
knees, wailing loudly in the doctor's front room. Only the
piercing cry of his new daughter, Dawn, could break through his
grief. Almost unfeeling, his looked down at his clenched fist,
where he held the letter that had been his final gift from his
As Tim finished telling his story a teardrop worked its way down
his cheek. He rubbed it off with the scar on his bicep. As he did
so, his wedding ring caught in the bright light of the hospice
'You never took the ring off?' Dawn sighed, 'After all these
'Never even thought about it.'
Father and daughter sat in silence for many minutes, enjoying
each other's companionship.
'Dad?' Dawn whispered. Tim raised his head. 'Thank you.'
You have nothing to thank me for. It's my pleasure.'
Another comfortable silence came into the room, before Dawn
suddenly shook her head and caught her father's eye once more.
As Tim gave her his attention, his daughter asked simply, 'Who
Tim's face dropped in anguish.
But something didn't feel right and he caught a mischievous glint
in Dawn's eye. His sadness turned into joy and he began to
chuckle. Dawn too, began to laugh at her simple joke. A minute
later they were both speechless as laughter drained the air from
their lungs until they couldn't speak. They sat there, happy and
holding hands for some time, until Dawn began to gently snore.
'Same time tomorrow then.' Tim said to himself, standing.
It was a Tuesday at two pm in the afternoon
when Margaret let herself in. She wiped her shoes on the doormat
because of the torrential rain outside. After she had finished
her cleaning, she wondered where Tim had gone. Even he couldn't
be outside in this weather. She was just about to leave when a
snagging doubt caught her, and so she walked through to the
patio. Grabbing a coat from the rack to her side she gingerly
walked down the garden. Standing on the verge at the end of the
garden she squinted down. To her shock and sadness, she saw Tim
sitting on his broken stone bench. He was so enraptured in
something it took her several moments to register that he was
truly dead. Maybe, he had been hanging on just long enough so
that Dawn would go first, that she wouldn't be alone.
Margaret called an ambulance and then went
down to look at the old man one last time. She noticed a scrap of
paper pinned to his chest, somehow protected from the elements by
his coat. It was the one that he seemed to carry with him
everywhere. She pried it from his body and began to read.
Observation tells us that people have their root in childhood.
It tells that there is a determinism of life based on an
arbitrary carving of the young. Maybe there is truth in the
ancient wisdom, but there is also a lie. While all humans are
animals, they are also human. The humanity, the ability to rise
above the most inauspicious of beginnings and depravity of
circumstance is the only challenge worth undertaking. To rise
above oneself is the very act of being human. It is the
anthropology of our race.
And if each of us amounts to but a single animal, as equal and
as equally flawed. What is the difference between us? Some are
rich, others happy. Many are beautiful and others not. Which is
it that makes one better than another? The answer is
unanswerable, because it lies not on the outside, but on the
inside. One cannot judge or be judged by what is on display, it
is not what one is given by circumstance and birth that marks
their contribution and value to their kind. It is what one makes
of what they have been given. It is the full, whole dedication of
their soul and their spirit to the challenges of life that values
A human spirit, a life, is the thing that grows within that
circumstance in which we have been arbitrarily imprisoned. The
human challenge is to nurture it as we would tend to a flower or
a garden. It is thus the ultimate testament to our race yet to
some a mystery why the rarest of flowers only grows in the
toughest and most exceptional of circumstances. Like all great
questions it has the simplest of answers. It is because only the
most special of talents, of determinations, can survive in such
adversity. In environments where most rightly wither and die,
some struggle through their pain carrying with them their scars
and broken limbs.
But there are a very special few, who, against all the odds,
reach the open air with everything still inside. They nourish
from what they have within, repelling what is without. Thus they
become that rarest and most special of things. Equal to everyone
around them, but with what they have kept and protected on the
inside, more than equal. The rarest of flowers, though still just
a flower, is what it is because of what it has pushed through to
And when that flower has grown and bloomed, the life within
blossoms and the seeds fall to their side to replenish everything
around them. And thus a great cycle is reborn.
Our task is to become that flower.
Margaret then looked up from Tim's still, peaceful body, trying
to follow where the old man's gaze had been. Hidden, and yet
somehow directly in front of her, swaying in the maelstrom of the
weather, a previously unseen flower fluttered in the wind. She
had never seen anything of such beauty. Margaret wondered to
herself how the flower stayed alive in such a lonely, dank place.
She supposed that all through the years, that had been Tim's
secret. And as she watched, with one final gust of wind, the
storm tore the petals and seeds of that solitary flower, and
scattered them into the sky.