When Dad wasn’t dancing a Greek dance; with a pile of glasses stacked on his head, he was at the local coffee shop, talking to his friends. Mum was always sending me to fetch him, because he was supposed to be working at our restaurant. ‘What am I, a slave?’ she’d say. ‘Go and tell the idle man, chef needs him in the kitchen – and tell him I mean now.’
‘Now’ didn’t mean anything to my dad.
I don’t think he tried to make Mum angry. He just lived in a different world to her. ‘I’ll finish my coffee and we go, he’d say, slurping the dregs from the bottom of his coffee cup. He usually stood up – then sat down again. There was always one more thing he thought of to say. Or a joke he suddenly thought of.
Mum used to say Dad should have owned a bank because he spent his time giving our money away.
‘It’s good to help others,’ Dad would say to mum’s complaints.
Mum’s eyes would turn to slits. ‘We won’t have a roof over our heads if you carry on like this’.
Mum came from Moss Side, which was somewhere in Manchester, and all she got to eat growing up, was bread and dripping. I tasted it once. It was greasy and disgusting, so I knew why Mum didn’t want us to be poor.
Lots of things about my dad made mum mad. The tailored hand-made suits he bought from a posh street in London. His hand stitched Italian shoes. The cologne he wore when he was going to his snooker club.
‘Sure you’re not off to see your girlfriend?’ mum would say crossing her arms. Dad carried on whistling and took no notice, but he knew how to get around her. He pinched her bum. I don’t know why that worked, but mum seemed to like it.
Mum didn’t buy her clothes from expensive shops. She preferred Chapel Street market. It took two buses to get to from where we lived. The clothes she bought for me were always a size too big, so I could grow into them. I really hated it.
When I wanted something special, I’d go to my dad. After I moaned a bit, he’d hand mum a wad of notes.
‘What use is money if not to spend?’ Get her whatever she likes’.
Mum would squeeze her lips together. ‘’One person in the family who thinks he’s the Sultan of Arabia is more than enough. She’ll get what I’m buying her and count herself lucky.’ Most of the time, Mum won the battle – unless I made an extra fuss.
When I was seven, I fell in love with a pink dress with heart shaped pockets I’d seen in a shop at the bottom of our street. I wanted it even more because of a boy called Kevin. He was 11 with long, floppy hair. I wanted to marry him when I grew up.
Because dad had an important meeting at the horse races that Saturday and couldn’t keep his promise, when Kevin came in for his two scoops of strawberry, he said ‘I’ll give you free ice creams for a week if you take her boating on Regent’s Park.’
Kevin shrugged and said ‘Alright.’ Kevin never said much except ‘alright’.
I started plotting how to get the dress.
Every time we passed the shop I gave my Mum my pleady look.
‘Only millionaires would pay that price for a bit of cotton and tuppence worth of lace’. Mum would sniff.
That night, when mum was sitting on dad’s lap, looking like a poodle because she’d had her hair permed, I practiced my sulky look on Dad.
“Why you make her unhappy,’ he said, pushing some money in Mum’s hand- ‘Buy her the dress’.
Mum wagged a finger at me. ‘I’ll give in this once but you’d better get good wear from it.’
Soon as I got the dress, I hung it on the hook behind my door where I could look at it. Then I remembered I hadn’t told Blind Annie my news. Blind Annie lived around the corner and was my best friend. She used to be a music hall singer when she was young. She wore velvet cloaks and big flouncy hats.
On Saturday morning when Mum handed me over to Kevin – with a bag of kebabs from my dad – Blind Annie was sitting on the wall. She put her hands on my dress to feel the material, ‘A dress fit for a princess’, she whispered.
Kevin didn’t say much that day apart from asking if I was alright. We both smelled of the same soap. He was wearing a blue T-shirt that matched his eyes – although I couldn’t see them under his fringe. I took off my socks, dangled my legs over the side of the boat and let the water splash my feet until Kevin said it was time to go.
I was so happy, I can’t remember mum tucking me in that night, but I remember the funny dream I had. Annie and me were dancing on the ceiling. Me in my pink dress and Annie in a yellow hat. Her hair was long and swingy. She was a little girl and she could see. When Dad came in to wake me up, he told me Blind Annie had died.
I wanted to give Blind Annie a special dress she could wear. I went on about it so much, Mum said we’d go to Chapel Street Market. I knew what that meant. She’d choose something a size too big and make Blind Annie look stupid in heaven.
I went and told my Dad about my dream and what I wanted. I kept pleading until he gave in.
‘OK, put your pink dress in the coffin,’ he said. ‘Let Annie enjoy it.’
So we did.
‘Let’s hope Annie gets more wear out of it than you did’. Mum sniffed.
Dad took a coin out of his pocket, tucked it in Annie’s hand and gave me a wink. ‘In case she likes to buy party shoes.’
Mum started laughing and linked his arm ‘Your dad’s as daft as a brush.’ she said.’
‘Annie wouldn’t want us to be sad,’ Dad smiled and took my hand. ‘Let’s go and get a milkshake.’
Stella Ralfini is a life coach, yoga teacher, beauty/health advisor and author. Her latest book ‘Sensual Sorcery’ is now available worldwide on Amazon.