44 Scotland Street: A father forgives

Illustration by Iain McIntosh
Illustration by Iain McIntosh
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VOLUME 10, episode 62: Pat walked up the path to her father’s front door, past the lavender bushes that always made the scent of lavender so evocative for her of home and the warm feeling of security that home entailed.

Now, though, the lavender only seemed to accentuate her feelings of guilt.

She had hardly slept that night of her dinner party, rehearsing over and over the folly of her ridiculous plan.

She had tried to call it off – in fact she had done everything she could to call it off – but it seemed to have worked anyway. And the result had been her father’s departure from the party and whatever reckoning – if there had been one – with Anichka. She had not telephoned in advance as she was not sure what she would say. She would see him instead, and try to explain, if she had the courage to do so – which she rather doubted. She had her own key and let herself in.

“Daddy?”

The house was in silence, and for a few moments she panicked. She imagined finding him on the floor, unmoving. She imagined finding a note.

“Daddy?” her voice had an edge of dread in it.

He answered from the kitchen. “In here.”

Relief flooded over her as she opened the kitchen door and saw him standing at the work table. He had a bag of flour in his hand and had been measuring a quantity of it into the pan of a set of scales.

“What are you doing, Daddy?”

“Making bread,” he said.

His voice sounded quite normal, and she breathed again.

“I didn’t know you made bread. You didn’t tell me.”

He turned to her. Were his eyes red? She took a step closer to him.

“I bought a book,” he said. “A book of bread recipes. I made a Neapolitan loaf the other day. I’ve still got some of it.” He paused, and put down the bag of flour. “No, we don’t have to talk about bread …”

His voice faltered, and she rushed to him, flinging her arms around him. For a while they said nothing; he patted her back, and she joined her hands and hugged him hard.

“Don’t knock all the wind out of me,” he mumbled. “Breathing is important to me, you know.”

She wanted to laugh, but it was tears that came instead.

“There, there, my darling.” He patted her back again. “My darling, you mustn’t cry. There’s no need to cry – none at all.”

“I’m so sorry, Daddy. I’m so, so sorry.”

“Sorry for what? You’ve got no reason to be sorry. It was nothing to do with you.”

“But …”

He drew back, and looked into her eyes. He brushed at her cheek, gently, at a tear.

“I’ve been foolish,” he said. “No. Listen to me. Listen. I’ve been foolish in the way that all of us – or most of us – are foolish at one time or other. I closed my eyes to something that must have been so obvious to everybody else. I don’t know how I could do it.”

“Oh, Daddy, you were just being kind … You’ve always been kind.”

He shook his head. “You’re the one who’s being kind. No, I was stupid. My head was turned because a woman who was much younger gave me some attention. I was flattered, I suppose. And I behaved like a teenage boy. I had no judgement at all when all the time I’m telling other people, my patients, how to lead their lives I end up doing something really stupid, making the mistake a sixteen-year-old boy would make.”

“Oh, daddy …”

He looked at her lovingly. “And of course you could see it all along. Of course you saw it, didn’t you?”

Pat lowered her head. She was ashamed to meet his eyes. “I suppose I thought that she didn’t really love you … not for yourself, if you see what I mean.”

“I see perfectly,” he said. “I’m like a man who has a new set of spectacles. Everything is very clear since I put them on.”

“I thought that he might be …”

“Of course you did – and you were right.”

She plucked up her courage. She had to confess; she simply had to tell him.

“I rather hoped that Bruce might …”

He smiled.

“I knew that.”

“Knew what?”

“I knew what you were up to.”

She stared at him. She was mute.

“When you brought that young man into things,” he continued, “I worked out what you were up to. It was pretty obvious, you know.”

“You must have been furious.” Her voice was weak.

“Not at all. The opposite, in fact. I had suspected it, I’m afraid, but somehow I couldn’t bring myself to the final admission that Anichka was using me. It’s not an easy realisation, you know, and we tend to put it off until there really is no other conclusion we can reasonably reach.”

“So you’re not cross with me?”

“No, my darling, how could I be cross with you? All that you did was try to save me, and I suspect that is just what you’ve done.”

“I see.”

“Yes.” He took her hand. There was flour on his fingers and she looked down and saw it now on her skin – a thin dusting of flour.

“Infatuation is an extraordinary thing, isn’t it? You have no real control of yourself. You see, but you don’t see; you embrace denial. Amor furor brevis est. Love is a short madness – from which we recover, if we are lucky.”

“Not all love is like that.”

“No, of course not, but some is.”

He smiled at her again. “Do you want to help me make bread?”

She threw her arms around him again, kissing him on his cheek. He had not shaved.

“You must go and shave. Then we can make bread.”

“Why do daughters push their fathers around so much?”

She gave him the answer without hesitation. “Because they love them. In spite of any of the silly things they do, they love them.”

“And fathers love them back?”

“Yes.”

He pointed to the recipe book. “A big Puglian loaf? Or a French country recipe.”

She hesitated a moment, and then replied, “Puglian.”

“Then that shall be it.” He rubbed his hands. “And afterwards? A walk in the Botanics?”

She looked out of the window.

“Perfect,” she said. “But go and shave now. Go on.”

“Mrs Thatcher,” he said.

She looked at him blankly, and he realised that she was too young to remember – and not old enough to know.

© 2015 Alexander McCall Smith

• Alexander McCall Smith welcomes comments from readers. Write to him c/o The Editor, The Scotsman, Level 7, Orchard Brae House, 30 Queensferry Road, Edinburgh, EH4 2HS or via e-mail at scotlandstreet@scotsman.com.