On the 18th Day of Christmas Han Clark gave to me…
To my father’s credit, he manages to smile as he unwraps the bejewelled starfish broach. He smiles and nods, turning it over in hands that I have always thought were too small for his frame, running his thumb across the shimmering imitation sapphire in the centre. The glazed paste dulls with the smear of his thumb-print but he doesn’t notice.
“Well … I do like the beach…”
I flinch. He has no idea why his daughter would buy him such an ugly thing. I was his ‘Starfish’ for one summer, a nickname I cherished because my brother was always just ‘Danny’ and my sister was always just ‘Megan’. I am about to say so when something alights behind his eyes and his smile loses the wary fear of mockery and becomes a genuine expression of glee.
“Oh! I remember!” He is laughing now, little huffs that develop into a breathless splutter. “We were watching the Jurassic Park guy on Graham Norton. He had one on, didn’t he? And I said I looked a bit like him. I said I could be his … what’s-it…his… body boy?”
“Body double, Dad.”
“Right!” Dad roars his approval and slaps his meaty thighs, making us all jump.
Ruddy cheeked and nearly crying with a hilarity that only he seems to be able to grasp, his tiny hands clutch at his monstrous gut, and he jiggles like the cartoon trifle served by clumsy mice in a film we used to watch every Christmas as kids. Those mice looked more like Jeff Goldblum than my father, but I don’t say so and neither do my siblings.
I could tell him he’s got it wrong, I could remind him of the summer he would happily lift me up by my waist at the local pool whilst I spread-eagled my arms and legs and declared myself Queen of the Sea and he called me his starfish girl. I don’t think he would even mind being corrected anymore. He’s lonely when it comes right down to it. He can’t afford to lose those allies he still has, not this close to old age.
I glance at Meg and Danny to see if either of them recognise what I’ve tried to do with the one ‘funny’ gift we’re each permitted to buy him each year because he doesn’t need anything except a good laugh. My sister is trying to laugh along but the smile in her eyes is not for my father, she is already imagining the crisp breeze outside his flat, ushering her back to her real life. My brother is not looking at us at all, he is watching something on his phone.
“Yep! That’s the right!” I grin and pick another parcel out from under the tree, my job for the last thirty years. It is from Meg. Whilst Dad opens it, I slip out onto his balcony and watch my breath swirl away from me, my legs and arms spread as far as I can reach.
Han Clark shares her home in Manchester, with a man, two cats, and a baffling assortment of houseplants. She is an MA student at Manchester Metropolitan University, studying Creative Writing. She is currently working on her first novel and is a freelance writer for The Quietus magazine. Her fictional work has appeared with a variety of print and online journals. She is part of the editorial team at Lunate.com
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