By Wendy Taylor
Once Alannah turned twenty, she only ever interacted with her father on Christmas Day.
Today she had the misfortune to deal with him twice.
Her mother did not miss out though. Alannah made the two-hour trip north regularly to her childhood home for afternoon tea in the front room, perched on the edge of a beige and white striped wingback chair, discussions mutually safe. No politics, religion or climate change. Alannah’s mother saw her role in life to be that of undying support to a great man, through charity work, afternoon teas and a uniform of upturned collars and pearls. Alannah viewed it as a life sentence, so opinions on women and society also tactfully sidestepped. Occasionally, offers of financial help waved.
‘We are fine,’ Alannah repeatedly said.
Her mother would sniff and delicately sip her milky tea.
The concept that Alannah, a paramedic and her husband Jason, a builder, could possibly be fiscally solvent was beyond belief, or happy in an apartment building instead of residing in a mini village of a sprawling mansion and out buildings, tended by staff. She had come to accept but not understand that her daughter’s calling in life was on the medical frontline. In contrast, Alannah’s father was inconsolable that she did not follow in his footsteps and become a surgeon. Marrying a builder was the final nail in the coffin of what he could tolerate.
Alannah suspected it was not because her father had no respect for paramedics, or builders, or that he disliked Jason, he didn’t, it was because builders and paramedics, in his view, lacked the cultural standing society gave to other professions. He wanted to be able to say, ‘my daughter, the something or other medical consultant’ or my son-in -law, the politician.’
It was easier to avoid him, rather than endure the disappointed frown that nestled between his eyes and the barbs that slipped from his lips.
So, Alannah was surprised to receive a call from her father, summoning her to meet up with him for dinner out. He was in town for a conference and stayed over the night before, so he would be fresh for an early start.
‘No, I can’t meet you for dinner, but if you come early, I can do 4pm before my shift starts. I’m on nights.’
It seemed he could, and here they were in the spectacular leather and chrome restaurant, on the top floor of a communications high rise. Her father’s choice. He was there first and despite being all charm, decorum and manners in his world, he did not rise to greet his daughter. Her shoulder bag tangled in hair, as she lifted it over head, then caught on her arm, then around the chair as she pulled it out, redness creeping up her face Alannah sat. Her father looked away. After a few pleasantries, coffee served by a brisk waiter, and hands held up in a familial unison when asked if they could be enticed by a delicacy from the afternoon tea menu, Alannah’s father enlightened Alannah as to the purpose of this meeting. A surprise sixtieth birthday party for Alannah’s mother. It was the least he could do for his wife of thirty-five years, his soul mate, the love of his life, and a thank-you for her dedication to his success. He needed Alannah’s help. A list of tasks in a leather-bound notebook, gold pen removed from the spiral binding to tick them off as he dictated them to Alannah. With a few notes tapped into her phone, a downing of her coffee, Alannah nodded and departed.
The call came in mid shift. It was a short drive in the ambulance, to the seedy hotel behind the library, her colleagues beside her, Alannah swaying at the wheel, all ready for what they needed to do. Up three flights of stairs, they are greeted by a frightened, pert, brunette, in a hotel robe, clutching it shut across her chest, with red nail polished fingers.
‘Tatianna,’ she introduced herself.
‘Titianna,’ Alannah callously renamed her in moments of reflection.
‘He went grey and collapsed.’
Alannah approached the familiar figure on the bed.
Eyes flick open. Ice blue, exactly like hers.
Alannah placed a reassuring hand on her father.
Loudly, so the others could hear she said, ‘hi, I’m Alannah.’
As expected, there was a distraught voice message from her mother on her private phone when Alannah finished her shift.
Alannah arrived at the hospital as her mother hurtled in the doors having driven through the night, navy jumper askew, loafers slapping the lino. Clutching each other’s forearms, they scurried to a private room, to be asked to wait for information. A grim-faced doctor, a shake of the head.
The presence of Titianna if known, by Alannah’s mother, or others, never acknowledged.
Alannah organised the funeral held in a school auditorium, to accommodate all the mourners. There would be many, predicted the obituaries, for a man of such standing. There were. Eulogies were long and detailed to cover all the milestones and achievements. The longest and most boring was delivered by an angular fellow surgeon, John Thompson.
Refreshments afterwards, passed around by black skirted twenty somethings, gratefully received by air kissing, sympathy gushing, attendees, mostly unknown by Alannah and probably her mother too. Alannah glanced over, at her mother, elegant, poised, in a black jersey wrap around dress, jewellery like her husband absent. A vision of understatement.
‘What would she do now?’ Alannah pondered.
Queen of her husband’s charities no longer valid. Entertaining his cronies redundant. And who would keep her company on long winter nights Alannah shuddered slightly the image that popped into her mind.
She spied John Thompson shouldering his way through the crowd. He passes Alannah’s mother. A grazing of a delicate wrist with a slender surgeon’s finger. Soft eyes. In both directions.