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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Other  |  House: Booksie Classic
When Sarah loses her father, she connects with him in a way that she never thought possible.

Submitted: March 10, 2017

A A A | A A A

Submitted: March 10, 2017



It was Sarah’s birthday.

Sitting in her kitchen, she leafed through the morning post, sorting out the birthday cards from the bills and junk mail, sipping her first coffee of the day.  She turned her attention to the birthday cards, but this was interrupted by her phone ringing.

It was her mother, Eileen.

Sarah put down her coffee and picked up her phone from the kitchen counter.  Pressing Accept, she sat back and readied herself for the annual Birthday Phone Call.

‘Hi, Mom,’ she said, brightly.

‘Hi, sweetheart.  Happy birthday.’

‘Thank you.’  Sarah took another sip of coffee.

‘So, what time is the meal tonight?’

‘Mom, you’ve asked me a hundred times.  The table is booked for seven.’

‘Seven, that’s it.  Don’t mind me, I’m just getting old.’

‘You’ll outlive us all,’ said Sarah, chuckling to herself.

‘Have you heard from your father?’  Sarah put her coffee down again and rifled through the small pile of cards that awaited her.  Sure enough, there was one with her father’s unmistakably precise handwriting on the envelope.

‘No, but there’s a card here from him.’

Eileen simply said: ‘Hmm.’  Sarah’s parents had been divorced some years now, and while they appeared to have split up under amicable circumstances – at least as far as Sarah knew – her mother always seemed a little cagey when her father was brought up.

‘Mom, what is it?’

‘It’s nothing, sweetheart.’  Sarah knew her mother better than that.  It wasn’t nothing.


‘Have you booked a place for him for tonight?’

‘Of course.  I always do.’

‘Well, you know your father works nights, sweetheart.’

‘I know.  That’s why I told him about this a few weeks ago so that he could see about getting a night off.’  Eileen was silent for a moment.

‘I just don’t want you to be disappointed if he can’t make it again.’

‘Mom, I’m sure he’ll come if he can.’

‘I’m sure he will too, sweetheart.  Your father loves you so.  You know that, don’t you?’  This struck Sarah as an odd thing to say; of course she knew that her father loved her.  So what if he’d missed the occasional thing because of work?  That seed of a thought now planted in Sarah’s mind, she started to tot up the events of her life that her father had missed out on: birthdays, school functions, quite a lot of things the more she thought about it.  She suddenly felt a jolt of anger towards her mother for leading her thoughts this way.

‘I know, Mom,’ she said, flatly.  ‘I’ll see you tonight.  I have to get ready for work.’

‘Okay, sweetheart.  I’ll see you at seven.  I love you.’

‘I love you, too.’  Sarah hung up the phone and sat in silence for a few moments.  She knew her mother meant well, and there was no ill will towards her father – the ending of their marriage hadn’t been like that – but still, Sarah couldn’t help feel angry in that moment for the suggestion, whether it was there or not, that her father never tried hard enough to be involved in her life.  Her father, Sam, had been in the Army when she was younger, so that could be forgiven.  He had been away a lot during that time, but he always wrote, and he always made time for his wife and kids when he was home.

When he was home.

After he’d gotten out of the service, though, he’d started working nights.  Doing what, Sarah wasn’t that sure.  Something security-related, she believed, but her father never really talked about his work.  A holdover from his Army days, she supposed, when he wasn’t allowed to talk about his job.  He’d flat out rejected the suggestion of early retirement, claiming that work was what kept him healthy, and for that Sarah could respect him.  But, as she picked up the birthday card from him she grew apprehensive about what it would say.  A nagging little voice in her head told her that she already knew what it was going to say, but she opened the card all the same.

Sarah sighed.

Sure enough, amongst the well wishes for her birthday was an apology that he wasn’t going to be able to make dinner.  Sarah stared at the neat writing, almost willing the words to change and tell her that he was coming, but she knew he wasn’t.

‘Cheers, Dad,’ she said, scornfully, tossing the card on to the kitchen counter.  She looked at her phone and considered calling him, but she stopped herself.  It was 7:45am and her father would be in bed after last night’s shift.  Even through her anger she didn’t want to wake him up just to tear a strip off him, that didn’t seem fair.  So, instead, she settled for going to work in a bad mood.  She could bitch to someone at the office about it.  Not perfect, but it would have to do.

Sarah left her kitchen and went upstairs to finish getting ready for work.




Fortunately, Sarah’s bad mood had subsided a little by the time she got to work, and the newspaper that her co-worker Lucy slapped on her desk as she was settling in took her thoughts in a completely different direction.

‘Have you seen this?’ said Lucy, pointing at the headline of the morning local paper.  Sarah looked at it with eyebrows raised quizzically.  It certainly was different to the usual fare that tended to grace the front page.  The headline ran:




Sarah looked up incredulously at Lucy.  She read a few lines of the article.  Apparently, a woman was saved from being mugged by some masked stranger the other night.  Sarah could only read a few lines before she started laughing.

‘What’s so funny?’ asked Lucy.

Sarah snorted.

‘You don’t actually believe this stuff, do you?’

‘Why not?’

‘Because!  Come on, vigilantes in our town?  We’re hardly Gotham City, you know?’

‘I’m just glad that someone out there is brave enough to take a stand.’  Lucy sounded almost proud of this person.

Sarah smiled.

‘I’m sure the Police won’t share your sense of admiration.’

‘If you ask me, they should be grateful.  This masked man left the scumbag for the Police to pick up.  That’s one less threat roaming our streets.’

‘Until the Police have to let him go.’

‘Not if he confesses,’ said Lucy, sounding like she felt she had scored the winning blow.

‘Ever the optimist, aren’t you?’

‘I just thought it was interesting.  Our sleepy little town has its own Batman.’

Sarah laughed.

‘I wouldn’t go that far.’  Lucy smiled and turned to walk away.  Sarah waved the newspaper after her.  ‘Hey, you want this back?’

‘No, you keep it,’ said Lucy, over her shoulder.  ‘Call it a birthday present.’

‘Cheers,’ said Sarah, sarcastically.  ‘Love you, too.’  Lucy turned and blew a kiss theatrically at Sarah before returning to her desk.  Sarah read the rest of the article about the apparent vigilante out of curiosity and then put the newspaper away so that she could get on with some work.




Later that evening, Sarah arrived at her favourite restaurant to find her family waiting for her.  As she accepted birthday greetings from those around her she scanned the assembled faces for her father’s, even though she knew she wouldn’t find it.  It would have made a really nice birthday surprise if he managed to pull a visit off after all.

No such luck, it seemed.

As their party was seated for its meal, Sarah noticed the empty chair that could have contained her father.  Almost all of the party knew the score and didn’t mention it.  Almost all.  God love her, but Sarah’s Nan, Lily, could always be counted on to voice what was on everyone’s mind but no one really wanted said.

‘So, where’s your Dad, then?’ she said, suspiciously.  ‘Not here again?’

Eileen cut in quickly.

‘Mother.’  The tone was exasperated.  It said please, not here, not now.

‘What?’  Lily looked around her, wondering what she’d said.

‘Nan, Dad works nights.  You know that.’

Lily sniffed.

‘That’s as maybe, but you’d think a man would make time for his daughter’s birthday.’  She looked at Eileen before continuing.  ‘Your father never…’

‘Yes, okay Mother, we get it.’  Eileen sounded genuinely annoyed.  Sarah gave her hand a reassuring little squeeze and a look that said it was okay.

‘Excuse me?’

It was one of the waiting staff.

‘Yes?’ said Eileen, trying not to sound as ruffled as she felt.

‘Is this the Kempthorne party?’

‘Yes, it is.’

The waiter had something in his hands.  It was a small box wrapped in a red ribbon.

‘May I ask which one of you is Sarah?’

‘I am,’ said Sarah, turning in her chair to properly look at the waiter.

‘This was left for you at the bar earlier today.’  He handed Sarah the small box, nodded to the assembled party and went about his business.  Sarah turned the box over in her hands.

‘What’s that you’ve got there?’ asked Lily.

‘It’s a present, I think.’

‘Secret admirer, eh sis?’ said Gary, Sarah’s brother, knowingly.

Sarah subjected Gary to one of her looks that she had perfected over the years.

‘Hardly.  It’s from Dad.  See?’  Sarah showed everyone at the table the label.  It bore the same unmistakable script that the birthday card from her father had that morning.

‘Open it then, sweetheart,’ said Eileen.  Sarah undid the bow and removed the lid from the box.

‘Oh my God!’ she said, clapping a hand over her mouth in surprise.  Everyone at the table tried to get a look at what was in the box.

‘What is it?’ asked Gary.

‘It’s…my necklace,’ said Sarah, quietly.

‘What?’ said Lily.  Her hearing wasn’t great these days, and she hated feeling like she was missing out on anything.

‘It’s the necklace that Dad bought me for my sixteenth birthday,’ said Sarah, more loudly.  She turned the box around and showed everyone the birthstone pendant that hung from a simple silver chain.  In an instant Sarah was catapulted back through the years to her sixteenth birthday.  She was going through a hippie cum classic rock phase at the time, and the birthstone necklace had been just what she’d wanted.  She had seen it in the window of the local jewellers and she remembered how much she raved to her parents about it.  Tears stung her eyes and a lump formed in her throat as she looked at the simple item, so commonplace and yet so meaningful.  She looked up at her family with misty eyes.

‘Oh sweetheart,’ said Eileen, kindly.  ‘Your favourite necklace.  I thought you’d lost it.’

‘I had,’ said Sarah, thickly, choking back the tears.  ‘I thought I’d left it at uni, but I must have lost it at home.’

It was absolutely perfect.  It even had the small chip in the silver frame where the birthstone sat from when she dropped it at a party and somebody stepped on it.


Sarah took the necklace out of the box and underneath it was a note.  In her father’s neat hand it read:


Dear Sarah,


I was in the attic the other day and look what I found.

I hope it will do as a birthday present.  I’m sorry again

for missing dinner.


I love you,




Just like that all of Sarah’s anger towards her father for missing another birthday was gone.  She smiled widely as she put the necklace on, feeling a part of her past reattach itself to her.  She looked over at Eileen, who had a strange little smile on her face.

‘What?’ asked Sarah.

‘Your father,’ she said.  ‘I swear he’s full of surprises.’

‘Yeah.’  In that moment Sarah felt happier than she had in a long time.

Thanks, Dad, she thought to herself.

I love you, too.




Riding the high that her father’s present had created in her, Sarah thoroughly enjoyed the rest of her birthday meal.  Even Lily seemed content that the gift was a suitable gesture in Sam’s absence, and even if she thought otherwise she had the good grace to keep it to herself.

The meal over and the bill paid, Sarah was saying goodbye to her family.

‘Are you sure I can’t drop you home?’ said Eileen.

‘I’m okay, Mom,’ said Sarah, as she put her coat on.  ‘The taxi rank is just around the corner.  I’ll be fine.’

‘If you’re sure, but please send me a text to let me know that you get home alright.’

Sarah smiled.

‘I will.’

Everyone said their final goodbyes and left the restaurant.  Sarah headed off down the street towards the nearby taxi rank.  She reached up and touched the familiar shape of her old necklace that hung proudly around her neck.

It had turned out to be a good day.

That thought had barely entered Sarah’s head when she felt a sudden tug at her coat.  She tensed and her eyes widened in shock and fear as she realised she was being pulled by someone.  The touch was rough and unfriendly as she was manhandled into the darkness between two buildings.  She breathed in, ready to scream for help, but a hand was clasped painfully over her mouth, and a pair of eyes came into view, angry and piercing.  Sarah’s own eyes continued to bug out in terror as comprehension dawned.

She was being mugged.

‘Hand over whatever you’ve got, and make it quick!’ hissed a voice from somewhere inside the partially concealed face that was frighteningly close to Sarah’s.  Her legs felt weak and unstable, her brow prickled with the sweat of fear, and her stomach lurched unpleasantly as the desperate nature of her predicament played itself out inside her head.  Her assailant jostled her roughly.

‘Now!’ he demanded.  Sarah could feel tears sting her eyes, but she was too scared to close them, too afraid at what this man might do to her.  The smell of his hand assaulted her nostrils as she fought for breath, which was fast and urgent.  Sarah was terrified; words like “assault”, “rape” and even “murder” flashed in her mind, sending her fear skyrocketing.  Her attacker began rifling savagely in her handbag, when…

He was suddenly gone.

Sarah felt a violent jerk as the man disappeared into the night-time gloom.  She felt a moment’s stinging pain in her neck as his closed fist came away with her necklace clasped inside it.  The chain broke and the pendant skittered across the ground.  Suddenly free of her assailant’s grasp Sarah looked about wildly, scanning the immediate vicinity for any sign of him, all the while trying to steady her breathing and fight down the urge to vomit.  Her pulse thudded heavily in her ears, but this was sharply cut off by a voice in the darkness.

‘No, please!’

It was her mugger’s voice.

It sounded afraid.

Then there came a series of noises that Sarah didn’t have to see to comprehend.  It was the sound of flesh hitting flesh.  More accurately, it was the sound of fists hitting flesh.  Three quick strikes and a noise that sounded like a body hitting the floor rang in Sarah’s ears.  Breathing fast and shallow, Sarah fumbled in her pocket for her phone.  Her palms were slick with sweat as she activated the phone’s torch function, and her stomach gave another sickening jolt as the alleyway was instantly bathed in light.  Lying motionless on the floor was her attacker, but there was no sign of who had caused him to be so.  Sarah’s hands shook as she quickly scanned the area with her phone light, the pool of illumination quivering as she fought to maintain control of her body.


Sarah bent double and vomited on to the concrete.  Her retching drowned out the sound of a fire escape ladder groaning, and when she stood and wiped her mouth it was then that she screamed for help.



Six months had passed since the night Sarah was attacked.  Attacked and saved.  By whom she never found out, but the memory of that night was hard to shake.  However, as she was having breakfast one Saturday something happened that did just that.

Her father died.

Sarah was halfway through her toast when her phone rang.  It was her mother.  Thinking nothing of it, as Eileen often called of a weekend, Sarah answered the call expecting it to be an ordinary phone call.

It was anything but.

The call didn’t last very long, but what was to be said at a time like this?  Her father was dead and things needed to be put into motion.  Sarah put her phone down, steadying herself on the kitchen counter as she did so.  She had only spoken to her father last week, albeit via text, but he hadn’t mentioned being ill or anything like that.  Would he have told her even if he had been?  This thought ran through Sarah’s mind as she sat down heavily on one of the stools at the kitchen counter and tried to allow the enormity of it to sink in.

Dad was gone.

Sarah wasn’t sure how to feel.  She knew that she should feel sad, and she did, but her sporadic relationship with her father over the past several years had muddled that thought process now that she was faced with the finality of his passing.  She hadn’t avoided a relationship with him, at least she didn’t feel she had, and neither had he, from her understanding, but there always seemed to have been more important things to be done.  Sarah felt terrible for thinking that, but it was true.  Dad had been a workhorse – never stopping, it seemed – and being away in the Army and then working nights can’t have helped.  She’d never asked her parents, but she was pretty sure that his work schedule was one of the causes of the breakdown of their marriage.  There was no question that he’d worked hard and provided well enough for the family, but through all that hard work he didn’t seem able to provide one thing: time.

Not able or not willing?

No.  Sarah stopped herself before the thought could take root.  There were many things that could, and no doubt would, be said about her father, but he hadn’t been a neglectful man, at least not on purpose.  Sarah sat in her quiet kitchen and thought about how hard he’d been on himself for missing things like birthdays, school functions, and the like.  It always seemed to genuinely upset him.  Sarah choked back some rising tears as she thought about the sad look he’d get on his face as he apologised for missing this or that.

At least he’d never tried to buy her off with presents, she thought.

That much could be said.  Sarah’s father seemed to have respected her enough to know that some cheap toy wasn’t about to make up for him not being there.  Thinking this, Sarah reached up and felt the patch of her neck where her favourite necklace used to sit as a teenager, and then again for a few wonderful hours on her birthday.  Gone now, lost the night of her attack.  Now, with her father gone, she missed the necklace more than ever.

Sarah let out a long sigh and looked at her phone.  She wondered for a moment how her mother must have felt.  Her voice on the phone had been matter of fact, but not cold.  Everybody dealt with this kind of thing in their way, Sarah supposed.  Her mother had asked Sarah if she’d mind helping clear out her father’s house.  He’d never remarried after the divorce, and had lived alone, but there was still a house full of his things that needed…


Dealing with?

Sarah grimaced as the notion of her dead father being in some way an inconvenience to the living rose nastily in a corner of her mind.  She mentally squashed it and stood from the stool.  Of course she would help.  It wouldn’t be fair to leave her mother to do it all alone, and as Sarah prepared to leave the house she realised that she very much wanted to see her father’s house with all of its things in one last time before it all changed.  She scooped up her phone and sent a quick text message to her mother:


Please don’t start without me.


She’d know what it meant, thought Sarah, as she zipped up her coat.  She shouldered her bag and left the house, bound for her father’s place.




Three quarters of an hour later, Sarah unlatched the garden gate to her father’s house and made her way up the drive.  She was so enveloped in her own thoughts that it took her a moment to realise that someone was talking to her.  She looked around and saw an older lady standing in the garden of the property next door.

‘I’m sorry?’ she said, feeling embarrassed that she hadn’t heard a word the woman had said.

‘I said, was he family?’  The woman had a kindly expression.

‘Yes.  He was my father.  Is my father.’  Sarah wasn’t quite ready to start exclusively referring to her father in the past tense, not just yet.

‘I’m sorry for your loss,’ said the woman.  ‘We won’t see his like again.’  Sarah thanked the woman for her words and entered the house.

You probably knew him better than I did.

Again the thought arose in her mind before she had time to stop it.

No, Sarah.  That’s not going to help.

It wasn’t that woman’s fault that Sarah had spent the journey to her father’s house thinking about how much of his life she didn’t know about, but getting bitter about it was only going to hurt her in the long run.  She could devote the proper time to her emotions when it was right to.  Before any of that she had another task before her.

Her father’s house.

Sarah stood in the living room and felt the alien quality of the space overcome her.  How many times had she been to this house since her father had moved here, all those years ago?  Half a dozen, if that?  She silently cursed herself for not making more of an effort.  Again the tears threatened to come, but Sarah knew that if she let them out now she wouldn’t be able to stop, and then she’d be no use to anyone.  Fighting them back, she looked around the room.

‘I’m sorry, Dad,’ she said, in a whisper.

‘Sarah?  Is that you?’  Eileen’s voice was calling down from upstairs.  Sarah swallowed down the last of the threatening tears and walked over to the foot of the stairs.

‘Yes, Mom, it’s me.’

‘Come on up when you’re ready, dear.’  Sarah ascended to the second floor and found Eileen on the landing, looking at the pictures that hung on the wall.  She smiled when she saw Sarah and reached out to give her a daughter a hug.  Sarah fell into it gratefully, and the two of them stood there for a few moments, saying nothing, as nothing needed to be said.  When they separated Sarah saw that her mother’s eyes were glassy.  She reached into her pocket and offered Eileen a handkerchief.  She took it with a silent nod of thanks.

‘Where do you want me to start?’ asked Sarah.  She needed something to do, to keep her busy.  She didn’t want to slow down or stop for too long because she was afraid it would all catch up with her and then she wouldn’t be able to get going again.

‘I think the attic would be best for you, dear.  I’m a little old to be climbing ladders.’

‘Okay, Mom.  What about downstairs?’

‘Gary’s bringing a couple of his friends with him to help with the bigger things.  They’re going to start downstairs.’

‘Okay.’  Eileen kissed her on the cheek, and Sarah moved along the landing to where the attic hatch was.


‘Hmm?’  Sarah turned.  Eileen was at the top of the stairs, her hand on the banister.  She had an odd expression on her face; wistful, yet concerned.

‘Your Dad really did love you, you know.  Gary, too.  He’d want you to know that.  It’s just his work…’

Sarah felt the sting of tears again as she walked back across the landing to her mother.  She placed a hand on her shoulder and looked sadly into her eyes.

‘Mom, don’t.  I know he loved us.  I love him, too.  Both of you.’  They stared at each other for a moment, and Sarah could feel it coming; she could so easily break down and let it all out, collapsing into her mother and letting the emotion take over.  Eileen seemed to have the same thought.

‘Right, let’s get started, shall we?’ she said, sniffing audibly.  ‘Last thing that’s needed now is us both getting all teary.’

‘Okay, Mom.  Thank you.’  Sarah leaned in and pecked her mother affectionately on the cheek.  Eileen smiled and went downstairs, leaving Sarah alone.  She walked back towards the attic hatch and reached up and pulled on the rope dangling from it, stepping back to allow the ladder stairs to unfold.  Once they were securely in place, Sarah climbed carefully into her father’s attic.

And into her father’s world.

A life in one room, Sarah pulled the small chain attached to the light bulb in the attic’s ceiling and bathed her father’s possessions in its unforgiving glow.  She stood there for a moment, as the dust motes drifted lazily in the light, and she suddenly felt like an intruder.  This was her father’s personal space, and though she knew she must, she still felt invasive, like an outsider.

Again she said: ‘I’m sorry, Dad.’

Not knowing really where to start, Sarah dove in and began going through boxes.  It was an odd sensation, rifling through the belongings of someone she felt she both knew and did not know.  She also felt a strange claustrophobia pressing in on her.  The attic felt more cramped than it should be.  It was full of her father’s things, but the walls felt too close together, as if the attic was too small for the size of house it was on top of.  Sarah shrugged it off and carried on.

A noise downstairs let her know that her brother and his friends had arrived.  She hoped that they would be too busy to come and find her.  The more she dug through her father’s things the less she wanted to be bothered.  They could handle the rest of the house; she would sort the attic.  As much as she didn’t like going through her dead father’s things she felt it was a private moment between him and her; one last time to connect with a man whom she didn’t realise how much she would miss until he was gone.  Wasn’t that always the way, she thought: you never truly appreciate something until it’s taken away from you.  Looking around the attic, she knew that she would want to keep some things for herself to remember her father by.  On the journey to his house she had devised a system for how she was going to sort through his things.  She would be as sparing as possible in the things that she wanted to keep, because she knew, if she allowed herself to, she’d end up trying to keep it all, and with all the will in the world she didn’t have the room for all of her father’s things.  Also, her mother was a longstanding member of the local Royal British Legion committee, so a lot of her father’s things could and probably would go there for various charity events.

Dad would have liked that, Sarah thought.  He always liked helping people.

Thinking that stopped Sarah in what she was doing.  She sat back on her haunches and let her memory travel back to another time, another world.  Silence wrapped itself around the attic again as she sat lost in her memories.  She smiled thinly to herself as her father came to her in her mind.  She was brought back to the here and now by her mother calling up from the landing.

‘Sarah, would you like a cup of tea?’

‘Coffee, please.  Thank you.’  When her drink was ready Sarah climbed down the ladder and drank with her mother.  Gary and his friends had taken their drinks outside so that they could smoke.  Sarah had thought of taking up the habit again since finding out that her father had died, but she had resisted.  It had been ten years since she had quit, and she remembered how proud her father had been.  He had never smoked, apparently, which was strange for a man of his generation.  Sarah thought everyone did back then.  She thought some more about her father as she sipped her coffee.  Her mother always did make the best coffee.

‘How are you getting on, dear?’

‘Getting there.’

‘Have you decided what you want to keep yet?’

‘I’ve got a few ideas, but I don’t want to think about it too much yet, you know?’

‘I understand.’  Eileen sipped her tea and looked over her cup at her daughter with a knowing glance.  ‘You keep going.  I’m sure you’ll find something.  Your Dad was nothing if not interesting.’  Sarah smiled and finished her coffee, silently wondering what was meant by that comment.  Her parents had been divorced for a long time, but they had been together longer, so she simply chalked it up to her mother indulging in her own reminiscing.  She drained the last drops of her drink and gratefully handed her cup back to Eileen.

‘Thanks, Mom.  I’d better get back to it.’

‘My pleasure, dear.  I’ll be down here if you need me.’

Sarah climbed back up the ladder and looked around again.  The attic definitely felt smaller than it should have been, but she couldn’t quite make out if that was because of the boxes stacked up against one of the walls or not.  Not wanting to get sidetracked, she continued to go through the remnants of her father’s life.

She worked her way from one side of the attic to another, unearthing an old record collection, various boxes of clothes and linens, and then…

A box with her name on it.

Pulling away the ancient brown tape, Sarah opened the box and gasped, clasping her hand over her mouth as she did so, at the contents.  Filling the box to its brim were drawings she had done as a child, school reports, all manner of things pertaining to her own life.  Sat atop it all was a photograph.  It showed Sarah as a young girl with her father, she sitting on his shoulders.  Both of their faces were creased with the joy of laughter.  Sarah was wearing the blue dress that she remembered being her favourite when she was a child.  Her father always said she looked so pretty in it.  She was holding a red balloon in one hand and the other was clasped tightly in her father’s hand.  She had not thought about that day for years, but seeing the photograph shot her back through time in an instant.  Immediately she was seven years old again, laughing and playing with her father, the cares of the world a lifetime away.

Moving the box she noticed a similar one with Gary’s name on it.

He really had cared.

Now the tears came.

‘Oh, Dad.’  Sarah made no effort to stop herself as she erupted into heaving sobs for the loss of the most important man in her life.  She hugged the photograph to her chest and rocked back and forth, crying deep and sorrowful tears for a great man now gone.  Still crouching, her thighs started to burn in protest, so she clumsily shifted position and sat down on the dusty floorboards.  Leaning back, she felt the rough brick of the attic wall scrape along her clothing, and…

A draught?

Sarah felt colder air against the back of her neck.  She shivered slightly and turned in her sitting position to look at the wall.  There were no noticeable holes or places where a draught might be coming from, but holding her hand up close to the brickwork she definitely felt something.  Frowning, she moved her hand to the left, and the draught was gone.  The same when she moved her hand from the draught to the right.  Moving her hand upwards, it continued.  It was slight but definitely there.  Sarah extended her arm as she felt the cooler air on her palm.  It kept going, so she rose from the floor and stood up.  The draught extended to above her head, and eventually she stopped feeling it as she moved her hand upwards.  Sarah bit her lip and looked down at where she had first felt it to where she had felt to; it was a straight line.  She took a step back from the wall and looked at it with a puzzled expression.

‘I wonder…’ she said to herself.

Stepping back to the wall, she found the spot where she had left off.  She took a deep breath, held it in, and moved her hand to the right, feeling the draught continue as she did so.  A prickle of nervous, excited sweat threatened to break across her brow, as she continued to trace a shape in the wall that was emitting this strange draught.  A shape like…

A door.

Sarah withdrew her hand as the thought hit her.  Surely not.  A secret door?  That kind of thing only happened in films.  Sarah’s rational side was working overtime to convince her that she was imagining things, but the physical sensation of the draught could not be ignored.  The rest of the attic was somewhat stuffy, which is why the change in the feel of the air was so noticeable.

She stood there for a moment, not knowing what to do.  She thought about calling down to her mother to ask her about it, but as she stared at the wall, the invisible shape of a door pressing itself into the bricks, she decided against it.  If she was indeed imagining things the last thing she wanted was to have her mother worrying over her.

But if she wasn’t imagining things?

A swell of anticipation filled her up as Sarah reached out to the wall again.  This time she wasn’t feeling for a draught, but instead a handle, a knob, a loose brick, anything.  Mentally calling herself crazy, Sarah ran her fingertips across the rough bricks and mortar, torn between wanting and not wanting something to be there.

Then she felt it.

One of the bricks had a chunk of mortar at its side that stuck out more than it should.  A casual glance would never reveal it, but as Sarah’s fingers felt inside she touched something metallic.  She quickly withdrew her hand and gasped a little.  That prickling threat of perspiration had become full on sweat, while her heart raced.  What had she found?

Sarah stood for a moment or two, biting her lip nervously and holding her hands close to her chest.  Every ounce of her was now screaming for her to try the nook again and see if there really was something there, but at the same time she fretted over what she might find if there was indeed something beyond the wall.  She looked around the attic and suddenly that claustrophobic feeling she had had when she first came up started to make more sense.  Her father’s house was definitely bigger than this space suggested, by almost half if she was right.  Now, looking at the seemingly nondescript wall she grew bolder in her conviction that there was more here than met the eye.  Sarah took another steadying breath.

‘Here we go.’

She reached out gingerly and felt back inside the nook.  Again, there was the feeling of smooth metal after the roughness of the brickwork.  Letting out her breath, she pulled.

Somewhere inside the wall there was a click.

Testing for movement, Sarah’s eyes widened in shock as a section of the wall came towards her as she pulled.

It was definitely a door.

And there, beyond the door...

The rest of her father’s attic.

Containing the rest of his life.

‘Oh God.’  Sarah steadied herself on the handle that she gripped tightly, as her other hand clapped over her mouth.  In front of her was a small room dominated by a bank of computer screens, a keyboard and office chair at the centre.  Next to the desk was a tall steel locker, which was closed.  Trying to comprehend what it all could mean, Sarah’s eye was drawn back to the desk.  Next to the keyboard was a picture frame.  The photograph inside was of all of them: her parents, Sarah, and her brother.  The scalpel of memory cut straight through to the seaside holiday when that particular picture was taken.  Sarah’s eyes welled up as she looked back in time at a world almost forgotten.  She let go of the door handle and entered the small room.  She approached the desk and picked up the photograph with trembling hands.  A tear streaked down her face, as she held the frame in her hand.

But the frame felt odd somehow.  It was wooden, but her fingertips were resting on paper.  Frowning slightly, despite the tears, she turned the frame over to reveal an envelope taped to the back of it.  There, in her father’s careful and precise hand, was written:


To my family


Sarah felt her breath catch in her throat.  Her heart thudded audibly in her ears.  Everything else in the world had gone away; she was alone with her father.  Carefully, so as not to damage it, she removed the envelope from the photo frame.  Setting the photograph back on the desk with one more nostalgic look, Sarah turned her attention back to the envelope.  She bit her lip and thought for a moment.  Part of her felt she should take it downstairs and open it with her mother and brother, but something was stopping her.  It felt a little selfish, but she wanted this moment – whatever it was – to be her own.  Everyone else would find out eventually; a hidden room in her father’s attic was not something she could easily conceal, seeing as the property was to be sold, but for now Sarah wanted to find out on her own.

Reaching back, she swivelled the chair around and sat down on it, all the while staring at the envelope.  She took a grip on the paper, ready to open it, but, looking up, she stared out of the door that a few moments ago hadn’t been there.  If someone came up to check on her they would see the room instantly.  Then everyone would want to come up and see what it was all about.  Sarah still didn’t know what was going on, and she felt a sudden pang of defensiveness towards her father.  If this room had been hidden there must have been a reason.  Maybe the envelope contained instructions not to tell anyone.  That thought spurred Sarah on, and, rising from the chair, she pulled the door to.  Sitting back down, she carefully sliced open the envelope with her thumbnail.

Moving with reverent care, Sarah took out a piece of paper from the envelope.  Recognising instantly the same handwriting – her father’s – she unfolded the letter and began to read:




If you’re reading this then I’m gone, and you’ve found my room.

if you’ve already looked in the locker then hopefully you’ll understand

why I did what I had to do.  If you haven’t, then please know that I did

what I did because no else could, or least not as well.


I only ever wanted to keep you safe.  Please remember that.  If you

remember, or care to remember, nothing else about me, please know that

I did it all for you.

For all of you.


All my love,


Sam (Dad)


Confused and hurting, Sarah let fresh tears come.  They filled her eyes and splashed on to her cheeks.  That was so like her father, always thinking of others, always thinking of his family.  In that moment it didn’t matter how much he had missed.  This letter was proof that he always thought about them, always cared for them.

The letter and whatever was in the locker.

Sarah’s grief was quickly accompanied by pronounced curiosity.  She looked up at the locker and instantly she wanted to know what was inside it.  Standing quickly, she moved in front of it and tried the handle.

It was unlocked.

Sarah stumbled backwards a step at the sight that met her eyes when the locker door was open.

‘No,’ she said, quietly to herself.  ‘It can’t be.’

On the shelf at the top of the locker was a collection of what looked like photo albums or scrapbooks, but it was what was hanging in the main part of the locker that Sarah could barely believe.  It was a set of clothes.  They were dark in colour and looked padded and sturdy.  There was a pair of strong-looking boots and fierce gauntlets with metallic-looking studs on the knuckles.

There was also a mask.  It was a simple domino mask with whited-out eyeholes, but it told Sarah one thing: there was clearly a lot about her father that she didn’t know.  Looking at the clothes and taking in the entire room, Sarah wondered if it all meant what it was pointing to: that her father’s “night work” consisted of being a…


Just like the one in the newspaper.

And the night of her birthday?

Sarah’s mind raced as she recalled her attack and how quickly it had been stopped by whomever or whatever had pulled her assailant off of her.  Connections were being made as her heart pounded in her chest.

Dad, was that you?

Tentatively, and with a shaking hand, Sarah reached into the locker to take hold of the mask.  Her fingers brushed something other than fabric: a thin chain.  Moving the mask out of the way, her eyes bulged and her breath caught in her throat.

It was her necklace.

Taking it from the hook and bringing it into the light, Sarah could see that her father had had it fixed and polished.  Again the tears came, and Sarah sat down heavily on the office chair and rocked slowly back and forth, clutching the necklace to her chest.

‘Oh, Dad!’ she said, quietly, amid the sobs.

It had been him.  Her father had saved her that night.  A strange thought entered Sarah’s head that it was almost worth getting mugged to allow him to come to her rescue.

Sarah sat in relative silence for a few moments, crying to herself and holding the necklace tightly.  She had never felt this close to her father before, but at the same time she had not felt his absence more than she did in that moment.  The world spun on as Sarah cried.

When the tears finally subsided Sarah looked back up at the locker through bleary eyes.  Reaching back, she gratefully fastened her necklace around her neck, silently vowing to never take it off again.  She then stood and reached up to the books that lined the top shelf of the locker.  She set them on the desk, opened the first one and drank in the unknown portions of her father’s life.  It was all there: his service record; a journal of his thoughts that chronicled his struggle back into civilian life and his eventual decision to take up the role of a masked vigilante; training regimens; newspaper clippings; everything.  The existence of this room replenished all of Sarah’s faith in her father, and she instantly forgave every missed birthday party, every school play he couldn’t be there for, she forgave it all.  Regardless of the moral argument that always surrounded vigilantism, to Sarah her father was a hero, plain and simple.

Her hero.

Looking at her watch, Sarah realised how long she’d been in the attic.  The time had come to reveal her father’s secret, at least to her mother and brother.  She collected the scrapbooks and photo albums from the desk, picked the letter up, and made her way out of her father’s room.

‘Thank you, Dad,’ she said, softly, as she closed the door.  ‘Thank you.’

Sarah walked downstairs to where Eileen and Gary were sitting.  They stood as she descended the last step, looking curiously at what Sarah had in her arms.

‘Sarah, love, what do you have there…oh.’  Eileen looked at the books and then at the necklace around her daughter’s neck.  Sarah and Eileen looked at each other and Eileen smiled the smile of a mother.

‘So now you know,’ she said, still smiling.

‘Mom?’  Sarah looked at Eileen incredulously.

‘I did tell you that your father was full of surprises.’

Sarah stared at Eileen for a moment more.  She knew?  As if Eileen could read minds she reached out and placed a tender hand on Sarah’s shoulder.

‘I’ve always known.’

‘Known what?’ asked Gary, looking confused.  ‘What’s going on?’  Eileen turned and looked at her son.

‘Sit down, Gary.  We’ve got something to tell you.’



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