The next week passed, somehow. Arrangements were made, forms were signed, people took me here there and everywhere and asked my opinion about churches and flowers and coffins and songs, and I kept telling them, it’s all written down, Matt knew what he wanted, no church, no sad faces, no black, balloons, silly songs; Darth Vader, Joy Division Oven Gloves. That was what he wanted. It was all written down.
There was a gathering, everyone was there, they said things about Matt, they said things to me, none of it stayed with me because there wasn’t room for any of it in my head. All there was room for was this huge scream, this enormous cry of rage, this whirlwind of loss. Of course, eventually the whirlwind died down, and the cry diminished to a whisper, and the scream became a moan, and then there was room for other things, for other people, and I saw that they’d been holding me all this time. And although the whisper and the moan were always with me, I started to cover them up with the rest of the world.
Looking back, although things didn’t instantly change for Lau, perhaps they started to. A few days later she started to call a few people, then she’d stay in the room when people visited, and after a while, she was back, Lau again. Not happy, still grieving, but noticeably herself.
Dec took longer. He came out of his silent mode, but didn’t seem able to concentrate on anything. When you talked to him, his eyes would wander all over the place, and you often had to repeat yourself a few times before he got what you were saying. He forgot arrangements, and got things wrong. None of it was good for his business, which needed someone in charge. Tom did a lot of the techy stuff, and also took over the contact part, but there were people who needed to deal with Dec, and if it didn’t start happening soon, it was looking shaky for Linebreak.
Dad, well it was sometimes difficult to see when Dad was withdrawn, because he was never one of life’s socialisers. But he just had this air of, like, an old teddy which had lost some of it’s stuffing. All the plans he and Mum had made to travel had been put on hold, and he spent even more time than usual lying on the sofa flicking through the sports channels. He started to put on weight, because he wasn’t getting any exercise now he wasn’t running around a training ground every day, and it was driving Mum nuts. Dad was so used to her going on that nothing she said made any difference to him.
Gran was amazing. She is so stoic, so practical about everything. I can’t imagine, don’t want to imagine, what it must be like to lose your youngest son, and I’m not saying she wasn’t upset, but she just carried on with things, saying ‘well, dear, life goes on, doesn’t it’ and ‘Matthew would have been annoyed if I’d moped about’. She didn’t get around as well as she used to, and we all made an extra effort to call and see her, keep her in the middle of everything that went on, because we knew without her having to say it that not having Matty around caused her a lot of pain.
Me? I coped. Life went on, because no one really has a choice about that. Uni was hard, for several weeks, especially as I’d really only just started, and I couldn’t concentrate that well and failed an assignment. But none of that really mattered, it was just stuff. As we’d all known would happen, the family all helped each other. Led by Mum, and her ‘open house’ policy with additional gatherings for cake and meals and coffee, we saw a lot of each other, did a lot of crying and a lot of laughing, and a lot of mending. I held my kids extra tight and tried not to imagine what it might be like to lose them.
Lau started coming out a bit, Josh and Ella felt OK about leaving her on her own, although they both lived at the house for the time being. Josh had officially moved out, but he wanted to stay with his mum for a while. Ella hadn’t finished globe-trotting, and was waiting a while to plan her next move. Her next move seemed to very much depend on Basty’s next move.
The two of them had finally come clean about seeing each other – well it had been pretty obvious for weeks, and Chrissie said she’d had a feeling for months – and although a part of me felt like it was a bit weirdly ‘in the family’ kind of thing, well they weren’t actually related, so if they didn’t feel weird what right did I to?
The only problem really was that they lived in different countries. Basty was yet another family rugby pro, but he was currently based in Buenos Aires. These things were always negotiable, and Basty was currently in his off-season, so was staying with Ella while they discussed things.
Ella and Josh had stayed at the house, and a couple of months after Matt died, a weird message popped up on my phone. It wasn’t a text, more like a reminder.
‘PP laptop L=Gt^2/s^4’
I wasn’t sure where it had come from, and it freaked me out a bit. I called Tom.
‘Hey Lau. How’s things?’
‘Oh, getting there Tom. How about you? Been busy?’
‘Yeah, tons of emails today. Dad’s been busy the last week.’
‘That’s great, I’m glad he’s getting out and about again.’
‘Yeah. Me and Mum had a word with him, told him if the business went under, it wasn’t much of a memorial for Matty. Did the trick, I think.’
‘I’m glad. It’s been tough for all of you.’
‘And you, Lau.’
‘Tom, I’ve had a strange message come on my phone. I thought it was a text at first, but there’s no number; it’s more like from within the phone, like a calendar thing. But I didn’t put it there. I’m a bit worried, I don’t know if someone’s hacked my phone or something.’
‘What does it say?’
I told him what the message said.
‘Hm. Not sure what to make of that. Those letters and numbers are ringing a bell, it’s an equation or a formula or something, I’ve seen it before somewhere. Has anyone else had access to your phone?’
‘No, I always have it with me. I had it at Cal’s the other day and Lily was playing with it, but she wouldn’t have known how to do that, would she?’
‘Doubt it. Doesn’t PP mean someone’s signed something on your behalf?’
‘I think so, but that still makes no sense.’
I’d hoped Tom would be able to put my mind at rest; I hated techy things I didn’t understand, and usually stuck to the things I knew how to do. Without Matt nearby to sigh exaggeratedly, roll his teasing eyes and help me out, blips like this made me feel uneasy, and I worried about some faceless hacker stealing all my money.
‘Have you checked the laptop? Maybe you’ve got an email, some kind of automated delivery note or something? Have you ordered anything online?’
‘No, but I suppose Josh or Ella might have done. But it’s not a message, there’s no ‘to’ or ‘from’. Hang on, I’ll just check my emails … no there’s nothing that fits.’
‘Hmm. Alright then, how about files? Is there a PP file?’
‘Oh, do you think that’s what it is? A file?’
‘It might be. Worth checking.’
‘What if it’s a virus?’
I didn’t really understand how viruses worked, although Matt had explained it enough times (with my eyes glazing over before he’d got more than a minute into it).
‘Ha ha, Lau, it would have to be a more sophisticated virus than I knew had been invented to be able to access your phone and your laptop independently and then link them with a message. But you never know. Do you want me to come over, check it out?’
‘Oh that would be lovely, flower, but don’t rush over, come when you’ve got a moment.’
‘OK, I’ll be there in a bit, I’ll run that equation thing past Rosa, she’ll know what it means.’
Tom came over that evening. Josh had just got in, and was making himself a snack, and Ella was watching TV. I put the laptop on the kitchen table, and Tom sat down and looked through the menus. I heard his sudden intake of breath.
‘Here it is. PP. What’s in it, Lau?’
Josh looked up from his sandwich.
‘Your mum got a weird messagy thing on her phone today, telling her to check a file on the laptop, and some other stuff. A bit freaky. Oh, I asked Rosa about the equation, she said she didn’t recognise it, but she’s on the case, checking the net and that. Here we are then, yep, it’s password protected. I bet those numbers are the password. Have you ever seen it before, Lau?’
‘No, but then I haven’t delved too deeply into the inner workings of the laptop. All I ever needed to know was the web address for the online food shop, and where all the photos were.’
‘What do you want to do? Open it?’
‘Could it be a virus?’
‘I really don’t think so, but it’s up to you. I can run it through the virus checker if you want.’
‘There’s a virus checker?’
Tom tutted and shook his head, much as his uncle would have done.
‘Yeah, Lau. You need to keep it updated. Josh, sort it for your mum.’
‘Or maybe you could show me another time, Tom? I should learn I suppose.’
Josh had been brilliant, I don’t know how I would have coped without him these last few weeks, but it was time I started doing things for myself and took some responsibilities away from him.
A tone on Tom’s phone blared out. He rolled his eyes.
‘Sorry, Rosa made me put that on because I’m always telling her I didn’t hear my phone when she texts me. Oh, she’s found it, she says it’s the equation for love.’
‘What? That makes no sense.’
‘No, wait a minute, Josh. The only people who would have been able to put a reminder on my phone recently are you and Ella, or maybe, when he was feeling up to it …’
My heart had started to pound. What had he done? How had he done it?
‘Open it, Tom. Put the password in. Ella!’
‘Come and look.’
Ella appeared at the kitchen door.
‘I’m not sure yet. Tom?’
‘There are some files. This one says ‘Letters to Philpotts’, this one says ‘For You, Lau’. The other one says ‘In the event of my demise’. Oh, it’s a video file.’
‘Whoa. Open it, then.’
I sat down, suddenly.
‘I don’t know if I can.’
‘Actually, Lau, I think I should go. This is just for you guys. It’s not a virus. Looks like Matty’s left you a message. Double click here if you want to play it.’
I grabbed Tom’s hand and squeezed.
‘Bye, Lau. Let me know how it goes.’
Josh and Ella sat either side of me, and we all looked at the little icon, with the heading ‘In the event of my demise’.
All kinds of feelings were whirling around inside me. I didn’t know if I could cope with a video. I had hardly been able to bear to look at a photo of Matt. But I also couldn’t bear to not see it, to see him moving, alive again, if indeed that was what the video was of. For all I knew it was his favourite YouTube clips, of animals falling over and footballers scoring own goals, to give us a laugh. I looked at Ella and Josh. They looked nervous, but gave no other sign of what they wanted me to do.
‘Your choice, Mum.’
‘Yeah, like Josh says, totally up to you. When you’re ready, if you ever are.’
I looked at them. They both looked like they were trying hard not to appear too keen in case they influenced me. I took a deep breath.
‘OK, let’s do it.’
I double clicked on the icon. The screen blacked out for a few seconds, then slowly brightened up to reveal Matt sitting up in bed, a smile on his face. I felt Ella’s and Josh’s hands grip mine. It was so, so good to see his lovely face again, to look into his big grey eyes. I’d forgotten what a startling colour they were, how they crinkled at the corners as if remembering all the times he’d ever smiled and laughed. How could I have forgotten? Then he spoke.
‘Heh guys. Sohry if this is a bih frehky, kind of whoo, beyond the gravey type of thing, oh, ha ha, beyond the gravy, sohnds lihk ohn of Beth’s roast dinners. Buh I digress. OK. Well, hehrs the thing. I wahnt suhr I’d geh tuh say goodbye, yuh never know, and chances ahr I’ll beh first tuh peg ih, soh hehr ih is. Bye guys. Yuh hahv behn the most awesohm, fucking amazing fahmly a blohk could have wished fuh.
Josh, Ella, sohry yuhr old dad’s such a fucking crihpl. Yuhr mum signed up fuh ih, she kind of knew wha she was letting herself in fuh, buh yuh guys, I, well, if I could hahv spared yuh seeing meh lihk this, I would hahv. I’m soh proud of yuh both, yuhr the best kids. Hippo, if yuh dohnt play fuh England I’m cohming bahk tuh haunt yuh. Squeaks, if yuh dohnt becohm a pahtner in a top law firm, expec a visit from zombeh dad. I lohv yuh both soh much, yuhv made my lihf complete. OK, kids, if yuh could both jus pretend not tuh listen, I wana talk tuh yuhr mum.
Lau. Heh Lau. Fuck, I lohv yuh soh much. Never, ever stopped lohving yuh. Yuhr in my bluhd. Dohnt think I can say goodbye tuh yuh, maybeh dohnt nehd tuh, we’ll beh hohding hahnds fuhever. I know I’ve been a miserable bastahd a loh of the tihm I’ve been wih yuh, buh I’ve always behn hahpy, inside, soh hahpy because I’ve goh yuh. Dohnt know wha the fuck I’d hahv done wihouh yuh. Yuhr soh sexy, Lau, I only hahv tuh see yuh smile, or bend over an … well depends wha state my bluhdy nether regions are in, buh yuh know wha I mehn. We’ve had sohm greht tihms, hahvn’t weh, sohm awesome sex, sohm awesome lohv, some awesome kids. I wish there’d behn mohr, of all of ih. I fucking hate this bastahd MS foh taking meh away from yuh. Buh I’ve kind of goh tuh lohv ih a bih, cos I migh not hahv met yuh if I hadn’t had ih.
OK kids, yuh can listen again, I’ve finished ghost-flirting wih yuh mum. I bet yuh wehr listening anyway, wehrnt yuh. I know ih’s not cool fuh mums an dads tuh say they lohv each other an hahv sex, buh weh duh, when conditions allow, an ih’s greht. Yuh know, I was a bih of a lad in my day, lohs of ladies befohr yuhr mum, not tha I’m proud of ih or anything, buh I thoht one day I migh shahr my experiences, kind of a learning thing. No chance now, too late. Ask yuhr mum, tho. An maybeh Rach. Oh, an fuh further insights intuh wha I thoht when I was younger, read the Philpotts letters. Lau, duh yuh remember? How fucking frehked I was? Sehms lihk centuries agoh.
OK, guys, I’m gona stop wittering now, befohr yuh fall aslehp. Jus nehded tuh say, I lohv yuh all, an I’m gona miss yuh, if I’m sohmwehr missing’s an option.’
Matt blew a kiss towards the screen and it faded to black.
I sat back in the chair, unable to name all the emotions that were assaulting me. I breathed out, only then realising I’d been holding my breath in for the almost the entire duration of the video. Josh and Ella were still holding my hands; I risked a look at their faces. Ella had a few tears on her cheeks. Josh looked a bit dazed.
‘When the fuck did he do that, Mum?’
I shook my head. ‘I don’t know, Josh. It looks like a little while ago.’
‘It must have been after I got back from Sri Lanka. He’s wearing that t-shirt I brought him.’
‘That was awesome. Are you OK, Mum?’
I thought about it. It had felt very strange seeing Matt, but in a way it had released something. I hadn’t talked about him, or wanted to see pictures of him; I had found it hard to say his name, and had often left the room if people were talking about him. But seeing him there, on a screen, made me miss him so much, I wanted more. I wanted to see all the photos, hear all the stories.
‘Yeah. It was just a bit strange, seeing him.’
‘I know what you mean. He did say ‘whoo beyond the gravy’. You OK, Ella?’
Ella nodded. ‘Do you think there’s any more hidden anywhere?’
‘I don’t know, my love. If anyone could have hidden them, your dad could, but I wouldn’t have a clue where to look. We’ll just have to see if any more messages pop up. But I don’t think it’s likely. That was goodbye, wasn’t it.’
‘Maybe Tom can look?’
Ella looked hungry for more.
‘Well we can ask, but I don’t want you to be disappointed.’
I had an idea, something that might satisfy all of our hunger for more of Matt.
‘What about this other thing, the thing that’s for you?’
I had a feeling that Matt didn’t want the children seeing whatever it was, so I took Ella’s hand and brushed her hair back from her face.
‘I’ll look later, my love. I should think it’s just some silly poem or something. I’ll let you see once I’ve looked.’
Ella looked so disappointed that I told her what I was thinking.
‘How about we get all the old photos out? Your dad used to make albums of special occasions, and there are loads on the computer and the iPad. We can have a good old reminisce. There must some other old bits of video around as well.’
Ella nodded, and Josh said ‘Awesome.’
I left Josh to find the photos on the laptop, while Ella searched through the iPad. I delved in the back of the wardrobe, where the old albums were kept. There weren’t any recent ones, but there were several large books, each labelled with Matt’s curly handwriting, showing the date and events held in the books. The bottom one was our wedding album. I carried them all downstairs, to find Josh and Ella laughing at some of the pictures they’d found.
‘I can’t believe you used to wear this, Mum.’
‘Hey, that was my best dress. Your dad used to say it showed off … well, certain assets.’
‘Yeah, it certainly does. You tart!’
‘Ella Elizabeth Scott, that’s no way to speak to your mother. I can still just about fit in that dress.’
‘What? You’ve still got it? Oh you so have to let me have it, I’ve got a party in a few weeks, I’d be the talk of the town. Or call-girl of the week – oh, is that your wedding album? I haven’t seen that for years.’
I put the folders on the table and opened the first one, my heart contracting as Matt and I smiled out of the pages, more than twenty years younger, many hairstyles ago in my case, the same dishevelled hairstyle in Matt’s.
‘This isn’t your wedding.’
‘No, it’s before. We got married a few months after we met, so Dad decided to do a, oh what did he call it, before and after or something. This is on top of Gap Hill. I was nearly dead, that’s why I look so red faced. Your dad had marched me up the top, wouldn’t listen to me telling him I needed to rest, and practically had to carry me back down. I let him go hiking on his own, or at least with people who didn’t need a full resus kit with them, after that.’
‘Where’s this one?’
‘That’s your dad’s swanky flat in Avondale. I think this was the day I moved my stuff in, that’s me under a heap of cushions. He didn’t really approve of girly touches, and he piled them all on me as a protest. I managed to scatter a few here and there, despite him, though.’
‘Is that … Rach? Didn’t Dad say something about Rach in his vid? Mum? Spill.’
‘Oh, yeah, I’d almost forgotten. Before I met your dad, I knew him a bit by reputation. He was a bit of a … hm, how can I put it politely … womaniser. That’s not polite, but that was his reputation. I used to see him at parties and clubs, at a distance, making the moves on the hot ones; he left with a different girl every time.’
‘No way. Dad? No, no way.’
‘Yes way, Ella. Anyway, a couple of years before I met him properly, he’d, er, oh it feels strange telling you this. It was a very long time ago, long before he met me, he was different, he’d changed by the time we got together. But he’d had a one night stand with Rach, and –’
‘Mum! Rach? Rach of Jed and Rach? Fat Rach?’
‘Ella! That’s a horrible thing to say. Rach is larger than she used to be, but most of us are. But yes, Rach of Jed and Rach. At the time I first knew him, there weren’t many women I knew who hadn’t had a one night stand with him, or that’s how it felt sometimes.’
‘Dad, you dog!’
‘Thank you, Josh. Anyway, I think that’s what your dad meant, that there were witnesses to how he used to be. It’s not how he was when he was with me, though.’
‘Is this your first Christmas?’
‘Yes. We were at Jay and Beth’s for most of the day, but this was first thing in the morning. It snowed, and, look, you can see the view behind us from the window over the moors, it was so beautiful.’
‘Were we on our way by now?’
‘Yes, I suppose you must have been, just about, but neither of us knew about it, I didn’t find out until a few weeks after Christmas. Then we got married a week later. It was completely mad.’
I smiled to myself as I remembered the whirlwind.
‘Things didn’t really calm down – well ever I suppose, there’s always been something going on.’
‘Oh! This is Dad in his kilt. Have you still got it? He looks awesome, so does Jay. God, doesn’t Jay look young. Dad doesn’t look much different. He’s a bit heavier here, isn’t he, but he never lost his hair. Few more wrinkles I suppose.’
‘Yeah, I’ve still got the kilt. It was his own father’s.’
‘Oh for fuck’s sake. Ella, look at this, Dad displaying all. Put it away, Dad.’
‘You’ve seen these before, haven’t you?’
‘I think I must have blotted these ones from my memory. He wasn’t shy, was he.’
‘Not specially. He was quite proud of the fact he went commando under the kilt, while Jay opted for boxers.’
‘Aw, is this your first dance?’
‘No, that’s later. The first dance was the one where he’s displaying all, it was a fast folky thing with lots of twirling.’
‘You look so into each other.’
‘Yeah, we were. Always.’
Ella took my hand and squeezed.
‘Ooh, gay Paree.’
‘Yep, that’s the view from our hotel balcony. Jay paid for our honeymoon, it was a beautiful hotel.’
‘Is this us?’
Josh pointed to the ultrasound picture. I looked at it, and everything flooded back like it was yesterday.
‘Oh bloody hell, Mum, you’ve gone all sloppy.’
‘Yeah, your first baby picture. I’ve got the DVD somewhere.’
‘Have a look for it later, that’d be awesome. Which one’s me, and which one’s Josh?’
‘We couldn’t tell, you were too cosy with each other.
‘Can you imagine being all snuggled up so close to me, Hippo?’
‘No thanks, Ella. You dig me in the ribs enough as it is. I bet I was black and blue when I came out. I was first, I should think I was trying to escape.’
‘More like I pushed you out to get some peace for a bit.’
‘Well you both made enough noise when you were reunited. Look at this one, you’re both yelling your heads off.’
‘Aw, doesn’t Dad look proud.’
‘He was, he always was, but he was so happy the day you were born. Although he nearly missed it, being out on the lash.’
‘He was at a stag do, you came a few weeks early, he had to do an emergency dash back home. I’ve told you this loads of times before.’
‘Yeah, but I like hearing it. Didn’t Dec have to break in or something?’
‘No, he didn’t break in, he was yelling to me through the letter box, then he had to help get me down the stairs, and drove Matt’s car to the hospital because your dad was a bit the worse for wear. We were lucky you weren’t born in the back of the car. Your dad would never have forgiven me if I’d got afterbirth on his seats.’
‘Who’s this with Lis? Oh, that’s never bloody Nico! He’s got hair! Lis looks exactly the same. Is that Basty? Get him to text me, Ella, we were going to play that new online battle thing together.’
‘Oh, Mum, who are all these babies? There’s tons. Oh, that’s me and Josh, isn’t it? And this is – is it Cal? He looks so grumpy.’
‘Yeah, he would have been about twelve. He was pretty much grumpy from when I first knew him, until he was about fifteen, and from then he was pretty much how he is now, laid back and gentle. He really didn’t like being the oldest, as you can see. There’s you and Hippo, you’re about six months – I think this was the only Christmas Beth didn’t do it at her house. We had it here and up the road – look, there’s the corner of the Christmas tree. Charlie was nearly two, Tom was nearly one, Iz would have been about five and Basty was about eighteen months. You were all so cute, it was chaos. Oh, and here are the grown ups.’
‘Oh, is that Rose? God I miss Rose. We had the best chats.’
‘She loved seeing you, my love. I know Dec always appreciated you going to see her.’
‘You make it sound like it was a favour. I just really liked her.’
‘I know, Squeaks, that’s what’s so lovely.’
‘We’ve got a crazy family, haven’t we?’
‘Oh, here’s Granny Carol and Nana April. Looking sprightly.’
‘I promised Nana April I’d go and sort out her tax thingy.’
‘Good girl. Thank you. Josh, have you been to do Carol’s garden recently?’
‘Yeah, I went with Tom on Tuesday. She’s bloody amazing, Mum, I know her hands are all gnarled up and shit, but she’s still living there on her own. Tom said Cal and Jay were trying to persuade her to go and live with Jay and Beth, but she wouldn’t hear of it.’
‘Carol’s got the Scott stubborn streak.’
‘Ha ha, yeah, like Ella.’
‘Hey. I’m not stubborn. I just know my own mind and don’t take any shit from people.’
‘Oh, silly me, I thought that was what stubborn meant.’
‘No, Josh, stubborn is when you carry on doing something even though you know it’s wrong, or don’t do something when you know you should, just because someone’s told you what you ought to do. Like, for example, asking a certain girl out.’
‘Piss off, Ella.’
‘Hey, stop that, you two. A certain girl, Josh?’
‘Nothing, Mum. Just Ella sticking her beak in. Oh look, Dec and Amy’s wedding. Ha ha, Cal looks grumpy again – ooh, hang on, here’s another one of him with a girl. Go Cal.’
‘Aw, Iz and Charlie are so cute.’
‘They managed cute for about five minutes, then they were at each other’s throats all night.’
‘No change there, then. Oh my God, Dec looks so hot. He was the buffest when he was playing, wasn’t he. Lucky Amy. Aw, look at this one, Dec holding Charlie, and Amy holding Tom, all dancing together. Oh, is Gracie there as well, kind of, in Amy?’
‘Yes, she was on her way, she was kind of the reason for the wedding. Did you know Dec used to ask Amy to marry him all the time, for years? She always said yes, but they never made any plans, then Gracie was on her way, and suddenly it was all systems go.’
‘He still asks her.’
‘Yeah. Not all the time, but every so often.’
‘Ooh, spiffy beard Dad. What possessed him to grow that? It’s horrible.’
‘He was trying to see how long I would last before I made him shave it off. He got fed up with it itching before I did. I told him I was more stubborn than him, but I don’t think he believed me until then.’
‘Oh, this is that holiday in – oh, where did we go? Was it France or Spain? Huge villa thing, hundreds of us, complete anarchy.’
‘We had a couple like that, one in France, one in Spain, where everyone came. Then Dec went to Australia and we just never did it again when he came back. Maybe we should try again before everyone scatters.’
‘Oh, is that what all the cork hats are? When Dec went to Australia? I remember Facetiming Tom and there was this bloody enormous spider on the wall behind him, and I couldn’t say anything because I didn’t want to freak him out, but I couldn’t concentrate on what he was saying, and I couldn’t stop looking at it.’
‘Oh, this is the party when they came back. Look at the smile on Dad’s face, he missed Dec, didn’t he.’
‘Yeah. I think Dec misses your dad now, too.’
‘Yeah. Well, we all do.’
‘Your dad had a special place in everyone’s heart. I wish he’d believed that a bit more.’
‘Oh, is this another Beth special?’
‘Yes, it’s Dec’s party when he retired from Raiders. And here’s one of him and your dad celebrating their first client in their new business.’
‘I remember this Christmas, going into the hospital to see him, the whole lot of us. We must have made such a racket.’
‘Ooh, you look cosy here, Mum, are you sure this one shouldn’t be censored?’
‘Ha ha, no, that’s our tenth anniversary. We spent the day in bed – don’t look at me like that, Ella, he wasn’t well enough to get up. But we went all over the world on the iPad.’
‘Oh, one of Dad’s virtual tours. I used to love when he did that, getting all sidetracked and going off to look at weird animals and star charts and old videos on YouTube and stuff.’
‘Here’s you, look, Josh, playing for mini-Raiders. Looks a bit cold.’
‘It was usually bloody freezing up there. This must have been before I broke my nose, look. Oh my God, Ella, however many different clashing colours could you be wearing? That is gross.’
‘It was a rainbow party.’
‘That’s not a rainbow, it looks like someone’s puked up a paint shop on you.’
‘Oh look, Cal’s wedding. Have we missed a load, Mum?’
‘No, I don’t think so. I don’t think we always took pictures, and your dad wasn’t always so finicky about putting them in albums in the last few years. There must be a lot on the computers that need sorting. I think that’s the last of them.’
‘Do you want me to take them back upstairs for you?’
‘No, my love, leave them here for a bit. I’ll have a bit of a wander down memory lane, I think. I’ll have a rummage on here as well. Thank you both, I think that was just what I needed.’
‘It’s always awesome to remember Dad with you, Mum.’
‘Yeah, Mum. We should get some of these blown up and framed. I’d like to have a couple, so I can take them with me wherever I am.’
Josh and Ella continued sorting through the pictures, deciding which ones they wanted copies of, which ones they thought should be framed, while I held the memories inside me.
This evening of looking back, beginning with the startling video, had unlocked something in me. I’d begun to lose that sense of ‘holding hands forever’, not feeling like I had anything to hold on to. Now I knew I had these memories, these pictures, all the time I’d spent with Matt, and I had our children. I could hold them all in my heart, and was never going to let go.
Much later, when Josh and Ella had both gone to bed, I was sitting on the sofa, laptop open, finger hovering over the mouse button, cursor poised over the ‘For you, Lau’ file.
Seeing the video earlier had been a bit of a roller-coaster, and I wasn’t sure that I had the strength for much more tonight, but looking at all the photographs with the children had made me miss Matt, and I wanted more of him. I would play the video again and again in the days to come, until I knew the words off by heart. For now, this was something unknown and a bit scary. I stared at the screen for a long time, until almost of its own volition, my finger double-clicked the file.
There were three folders. The top one was entitled ‘Read this first’. The next was ‘Really, Lau, only read this if you want to’. The last one was ‘Take a deep breath, it’s a long one’. I clicked on the first file. It was a document.
‘Hey Lau. I feel very secretive, hiding all this shit on the laptop for you to find. And I feel bad, because there’s something I’ve kept from you, something I’ve been doing that I should have told you about, but I thought I was going to finish it and then I could tell you, but I don’t think I am, now, at least not in the way I wanted to. Right then, before you worry any more about what I’ve been deceiving you about, it’s not really deceit, not technically, not unless your definition of deceit is not telling you about something. Oh, right, that is the definition. Bugger. Oh well, sorry. So what I’ve been doing is writing my story, from beginning to end, although it all got a bit rushed with recent events, and well, you might have to do the actual ending yourself, as I doubt I’ll be in a fit state. I’m no writer, and I’ve rambled on a lot, and you’re probably wondering why I’ve seen fit to take up laptop kilobytes – oh that’s right, you don’t know one end of a kilobyte from the other, but anyway, you’re probably wondering why I feel the need to unburden. It’s because of you, Lau. I want you to know just how awesome you are, how much you have changed my life for the better, what a truly fucking awesome time I have had with you and how much I owe you for the life I’ve had. I think, if I’m realistic (which you have taught me to be), I haven’t got long now, but I don’t have one single regret about the time I’ve spent with you and married to you – oh, except maybe letting you paint flowers on the garage door. But that’s it. So my story, although it starts off about other people, it ends up about you. You and me. And maybe you’re wondering why I decided to waste my time doing such a bloody stupid thing. This is the main thing I’ve kept from you. It’s not really that huge, it was a letter I got, that GreenScreen forwarded on to me, years ago. From Jules. I hadn’t even thought about her for years, and then suddenly there was this letter, with a note saying ‘I wrote this, and it’s about you. I thought you had a right to see it. Julia.’ Nothing else, as if she just sent me shit every day, and was likely to reply or as if I wasn’t likely to have moved on from GreenScreen bloody years ago. But she was a bit like that. Anyway. So I didn’t know what to do with it, and I never read it, I just shoved it in a box with all my other GreenScreen stuff, forgot about it. But about a year ago I was going through it all, chucking old shit away, and I came across it. And I started reading it. It was kind of her story, from when we got together until when we broke up, and I should have told you, I know I should, I’m sorry, I’ve never kept anything from you in my life before, but as I was reading it, it gave me an idea, that I wanted to tell you my story. I know, I’m a bit of a big-head, but if my middle name wasn’t Robert it would be Egotistical Prick. Oh, that’s two middle names, as befits an egotistical prick. But anyway, if I told you about the letter from Jules, I’d tell you about doing my story, they both seemed to go together, so I just got on with it, and I really thought I’d finish it and then I could tell you, and we could have a laugh, but now there’s no time, and I’ve done as much as I can, but I don’t have the energy to tell you now, and go over it all, analyse it all, I just want to finish this and stop. I hope you can forgive me.
I hope you find this, otherwise I’ve spent a large part of the last year or so getting up in the middle of the night for nothing, so I’ve cobbled together this devious system. I wasn’t going to tell you how I did it, but I’m so chuffed with myself I’m almost rubbing my hands together in glee and going ‘hee hee’ to myself like the oversized infant I am, and I can’t resist. OK, here’s what I’ve done. Now, I know that I might have to stop writing at any time, and not really have much control over what happens after that, so I wanted to make sure there was some kind of automatic message set up to point you in the right direction. I toyed with it saying ‘I love you Lau’, but didn’t want to freak you out totally, and I’ve said that lots, in many different ways, all over the bloody place anyway. So I hid these files on the laptop, in a folder where I was pretty sure no one would look, and wouldn’t have the password anyway, and set up that reminder on your phone, to go off three months after I set it, with a reminder for me a few weeks before, so that if I was still around, I could postpone it for another few weeks. If I wasn’t in a fit state to fuck about with your phone, then I wasn’t going to need to cancel it anyway, get my drift? Did you like the password, by the way? Have you worked it out? Oh, I’m pretty bloody sure you won’t have done, but Tom or Rosa will have it sussed by now.
I’ve mainly done this for you, but if you want to share it with the others, well there are bits in there that are just for them anyway, so that’s fine. You might want to censor some of my more graphic descriptions, or you may not. I know you’re pretty bloody open about sex and all that shit, so who knows. I’m not proud. Or rather, I bloody am proud of what we’ve had, but maybe the kids … oh fuck it, it would be bloody great if they knew the awesome lovin’ me and you have had. Whatever, it’s fine with me.
The thing from Jules really wasn’t a big deal – it really wasn’t, Lau, but I know how you used to get about Jules – however, I’ve saved it in the next file. If it makes you feel weird to read it, don’t. There’s some quite juicy stuff in there too, Jules would have made a good porno writer and I admit to cribbing some of her best stuff. But like I say, don’t worry if you don’t want to read it, it won’t make any difference. Delete it if you want to. The last file, though, I’ve spent the last year or so writing it, and if you could at least give it a little peek, that would be bloody awesome. You’re in there, more than half of it’s about you, and the rest of it is the build up to you.
Lau, you have been my anchor, my rock, my place of safety. I love you so much, I don’t know how I’m going to be able to leave you, but I don’t think I’m going to have any choice. I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you (repeat to fade).
I sat for a long time, reading and re-reading his words. I was feeling lots of things, some of which was anger that he’d kept all this from me in our last year. Matt always had his head buried in a computer, and I had never questioned what he might have been doing on it. I did feel deceived, and there was a part of me that was angry that I couldn’t yell at him about it or discuss it with him. But overwhelmingly what I felt was love. He might have left me, but he had left me with something; something solid.
It was nearly midnight, but I sat staring at the files, cursor hovering over them. I almost clicked the one that said ‘only read this if you want to’, but my courage deserted me just then, and I clicked the last one, the one that Matt had written for me. I started to read.
I was still reading when I heard footsteps down the stairs, and looked at the time. It was seven o’clock, and this would be Josh, coming down for breakfast, on his way to training. I shook my head, trying to come back to the real world. I’d been living in the past all night, it seemed. As Josh passed the living room, he saw me on the sofa.
‘Oh, hey Mum. You’re up early.’
‘Haven’t been to bed.’
I gestured at the laptop.
‘Your dad left me a story. I’ve been reading it.’
Josh came in and sat next to me, peering at the screen.
‘You’ve been reading all night? What the fuck sort of story is it then?’
I frowned at Josh’s language but didn’t comment on it; it made as little difference when I did as when I’d commented on his father’s.
‘His story, his life.’
‘What? Let’s have a look.’
I suddenly felt protective of it. I hadn’t finished reading yet, and I hadn’t thought about whether I was going to share it all with the children. I lowered the lid of the computer.
‘I haven’t finished it yet. I might do some editing before I hand it round.’
Josh frowned. ‘What sort of editing? Family skeletons?’
‘Ha ha, no, but your dad’s been quite, shall we say, explicit about some things, and I need to think about who needs to see some of those bits.’
‘What, smut? Oh! You and Dad smut? Ew. Yeah, get your point. But whoa, what’s it like, reading it? Is it, like, Dad’s whole life? Every single day?’
I thought about it, what it had been like, immersing myself in Matt. I understood him better, I knew him better, I loved him more.
‘It was a bit overwhelming, but it’s just … him. No, it’s not a diary, it’s important things to him, some longer stories, some snippets. Some of it’s funny, some of it’s dark, and some of it’s from before I knew him, so knowing the full story about some things has been weird, especially now I can’t ask him about it. When I’ve finished, I’ll let you read it, if you want to, but I need to think about it first.’
‘Cool. I think I’d like to.’
‘What’s going on down here? People trying to have a lie-in upstairs, you know.’
Ella was standing in the doorway, bed-hair tangling over her shoulders.
‘Ella, Dad’s written a story for Mum, his life story.’
Ella was still half asleep, and a grumpy frown creased her face as she tried to work out what Josh meant.
‘Sometime in the last year or two, apparently, my love.’
‘Oh, so is that what was in those files?’
‘Yeah. Mum’s been up all night reading Dad-porn.’
‘Dad-porn? What do you mean? Oh! Oh God. Is it, like, really gross?’
‘Well, I don’t think so, but I think before you and Hippo get to read it, I might decide what’s staying in and what’s being cut out.’
‘Ha ha, Dad’s life the director’s cut. Appropriate, Mum. Right, I need brekkie before I go out. Want a cuppa, Ella?’
‘I’ll do it. Mum?’
I listened to them chatting in the kitchen as I thought about Matt’s story. Their father’s death had hit them hard, as it had hit all of us, and I was pretty sure this would help them, for them to know Matt in a different way. In fact, it would help the whole family, and I decided that I was just going to send an unedited version to everyone, maybe with a warning, and just let them make of it what they would.
I opened the lid of the laptop and started reading again, hardly noticing when Ella put a cup of tea by the sofa.
Several days later, I had read it all, Matt’s story, Julia’s version, I’d watched the video over and over again, and I’d emailed Matt’s story to everyone. I didn’t expect people to have read it for a while – it had taken me all night and into the next morning reading non-stop, and people had busy lives.
Josh had changed his mind, and wasn’t now sure if he wanted to read it at all, and I knew Ella wanted to squirrel herself away somewhere she could read uninterrupted, so I put it to the back of my mind. I didn’t want to become obsessed, although it would be easy to read it over and over again, to try and cling on to that feeling that he was still around in some way.