My father was christened Jack,
but in the Army they called him
John, Jack being considered naval.
My father loved airports.
Sitting over a Heathrow sandwich,
he'd say: "I bet this one's bound
for Basra." Or "Look, that one's off
to Singapore." He once told me
he was restless for years after leaving
the Army. I didn't take much notice,
supposing myself the adventurous one.
Now I think of his romantic side
as Jack, overlaid by conventional John.
One Christmas visit, I stayed up to catch
Greta Garbo in Queen Christina.
My father, dressing-gowned and slippered,
put his head round the door to say good
night, but instead came in, sat down.
After half an hour without speaking,
he suddenly remarked quite casually:
"I last saw this fifty years ago
at Sandhurst." That was all. The fire
slowly fell in, dissolved to ash.
Jack and I watched on in silence.
I can see it all already:
sitting up long after the kiwi
and the cat have gone to bed
to do whatever it is they do
when the screen scrambles to noisy snow.
I'll hear you shut the front door
with a soft click that makes me jump
- just time to fix a welcoming smile
before you bound into the kitchen (perhaps
for a drink) blooming with your secret life.
What shall we say? Will I blurt out
"Do you know what time it is?"
angry with relief that you're home
at last and apparently unharmed
from that film, that party, that lover?
Would that be better or more likely
than a "Had a nice time, sweetheart?"
poured out with an oh-so-casual cup of tea?
"Sorry, Dad." "Yes, Dad." Not now, not soon,
but sometime it will happen.