Dewey sat in a bare room alone, gazing blankly at the white walls through tearless eyes. He felt numb, and as empty as the room itself, although there was a dull ache deep within that he knew would intensify with the hours to come. His mother joined him and, without saying a word, took him in her arms. He felt like a child again and wished he was. Time passed as though it was straining at an anchor, and the silence weighed down upon him. Eventually he broke free.
‘What was his name?’ he asked hoarsely, watching the tears spill down his mother’s cheeks.
‘Luke,’ she whispered, understanding exactly what was being asked of her. Then she said something else, her voice so faint that Dewey didn’t immediately grasp that she was remembering aloud the opening lines of an address, answering his second, unspoken, question.
He raced through the corridors, barely conscious of where he was going, but following his route by instinct alone. Gasping, he plunged out into the cold night air, but didn’t stop running until he had reached the car park and located his car. He was in no state to drive, but drive he did, like a maniac along the deserted roads. He was oblivious of his speed as he hurtled down the dual carriage way, and didn’t drive much slower when his course took him through a housing district with narrow roads and a greatly reduced speed limit.
When he reached his destination he parked, partially up on the curb, outside house number four, and walked lifelessly to the front door. And although it was the middle of the night and he was as good as a stranger, he knocked. When there was no response he knocked again, more frantically this time. They were elderly, the people who cautiously opened the door, keeping the chain pulled tightly across. They took in Dewey’s dishevelled appearance and wild eyes, and seemed all set to shut the door and call the police, when they saw that the young man was crying.
‘Does Luke still live here?’ Dewey asked, huskily.
For he knew that on this tragic night he needed to find the man who never had the chance to know his son; the man who was overjoyed by the prospect of fatherhood, and devastated when, heavily pregnant, his partner had walked out on him in the dead of night; the man who had spent the following years seeking her out; the man that would ever play on Courtney’s conscience as the victim of her own immaturity and selfishness.
And now the old people gazed back at the mournful stranger, no longer afraid of him, but suddenly aware, as they took in his resemblance to Luke, of who he must be. But their eyes were sad, and their sorrow overshadowed their joy in meeting their grandson for the first time. And Dewey knew the truth, even before the old man cleared his throat and spoke the words he had been most dreading:
‘Luke is dead.’
But Luke has a namesake who thrives. A summer has been and gone and now, on a warm autumn afternoon, Dewey, along with his mother and newly found grandparents, watch as little Luke takes a few tentative steps across the grass, clinging to his father’s fingers. Dewey can see Vivien in his son, and hear her in Luke’s infantine chuckle.
Dewey was surprised by how easily he forgave his mother. He may have been too late to find his father but not too late to be reunited with his grandparents, who had long given up on ever recovering their only grandchild.
Luke takes another hesitant step, and then boldly lets go of his father’s hand. Dewey holds his breath but his son overbalances, landing squarely on his bottom. His onlookers are given no cause for concern because Luke simply laughs and uses Dewey’s trousers to hoist himself up onto his feet. Dewey picks up his son and hands him over to Courtney. Luke is passed from father to grandmother, to great grandfather and great grandmother, who fuss over him until he squirms, wanting to be on his feet again.
Dewey watches his family from a distance, smiling as Luke’s laughter fills the air, reminding him of Vivien. He remembers the footsteps she could hear and the man she could see and how, on the night of her death, as he raced out of the hospital and into the night, he thought he heard footsteps echoing his own. And then, later, when he was driving at heart-stopping speeds through a labyrinth of roads, his conviction that he could see the figure of a man out of the corner of his eye. It had been a comforting notion at the time, but whenever he had turned his head, all that had lain behind him was an uninhabited back seat, and an empty road lit by streetlamps.
© Kess 04-07-2008