It has always fascinated me how it is possible for someone to completely disappear without trace when there has been no foul play, no murder or kidnapping, accident or war. In the developed world, there are so many ways to trace a person, yet, if that person chooses to disappear, it seems they can. Very effectively. According to my research, it happens all the time, and not just youngsters running away from home but thousands of adults of various ages every year.
It’s a subject I return to often in my writing.
As a special treat for you, since you’ve been so kind as to visit my blog, I thought I’d let you read the first chapter of one of my published novels, Family Matters, which explores this phenomenon in the case of one man, and the impact his disappearance and subsequent reappearance has on his family.
A relationship novel, but also a detection novel with a difference; this story traces a woman’s drive to uncover and understand the truth about a family she thought she knew… her own.
Update: June 10, 2020
Just to say, this is the earliest version of this book. It has been revised since this post, so there may be slight differences in the text, though the story is the same. I like to think it is the better for the revision, and you’re welcome to check it out with the original.
I have to inform you that David died, suddenly, ten days ago. As his father, you probably have the right to know.
Kate frowned as she handed back the letter. “For heaven’s sake, Mum. Is that it? Is that all you’re going to say?”
“It’s more than he deserves!” A small tabby cat wound its body round her legs, pausing to look up at the unusual chill in Sarah’s voice.
“Come on, Mum! Now’s not the time for bitterness. David’s dead. Surely Dad should know about it?”
Sarah folded the letter and stuffed it into an envelope. “I’m telling him.” She punched on a stamp.
“You know what I mean. Shouldn’t you tell Dad how David died? When the funeral is? Things like that?”
Sarah turned to her. “Listen Kate. When your father walked out on us he forfeited his right to know anything about this family.” She slapped the letter down on the kitchen worktop. “I’ve only written at all because you nagged me.”
Dragging out a chair, she bent to pick up the cat and settle it on her lap, allowing the soft warmth of its body to calm her. The cat began to purr softly in response to her gentle caress. “Why on earth, after all these years, did David want to find your father?” She smoothed her palm across the cool pine surface of the table, tracing the grain, feeling the occasional indentation of wear and tear, the faint imprints of heavy-handed homework.
Kate shrugged. “He just did, I suppose.” She too sat down at the kitchen table with her cup of coffee, its freshly percolated aroma filling the bright little kitchen, wisps of steam catching the morning light.
“But he never said. I had no idea.”
“Well, he wouldn’t say, would he?”
Kate shifted uncomfortably, stirring her coffee, watching it swirl round the cup. “Well… you know,” she said.
“No, I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking.”
Kate pulled a face. “He probably thought you’d be angry.”
“Well, of course I’m angry!” Sarah was up again, the cat leaping from her lap as she rose. She started pacing the room, the usually adequately sized kitchen feeling suddenly cell-like, moving chairs, wiping surfaces with her hand. She picked up a cloth and started to wipe the shining, clean table. “Why should he want to find him?” Her body wound like a spring, her too-thin frame jutting at awkward angles from her newly-loose clothing. “What’s he ever done for him? For either of you? He made no attempt to see you. No Birthday cards, no Christmas cards. Nothing.”
Sarah closed her eyes, trying to shut out the picture of David as a little, dark-haired boy, standing for hours looking out of the window, waiting for his daddy to come home. She’d put her hand on his shoulder, her heart contracting, adding his pain to hers. She would try to find the right thing to say, the words of comfort or hope that would help him, but there were no words. Only the empty pain.
‘It’s all right, Mummy,’ he’d lie. ‘I was just wondering if Martin was coming out to play.’ And he’d turn away from the window and go back to his book or the telly, making no effort, having no real desire to call for Martin, his friend.
“And you wonder why I get angry!” She banged her fist on the table, startling the cat and spilling the coffee. “The damage your father did when he left us!” She mopped up the spill with a swipe of the cloth she’d been holding and walked across to facilitate the cat’s escape out of the back door.
“It wasn’t just me he left. He left you and David. He walked out on his children! I don’t know how anyone could do that! All the love and attention he’d given you for years thrown away!” She threw the cloth. It hit the water in the sink, sending a fine spray over the work surface. She neither noticed nor cared. “Thrown away like so much garbage. And for what?” she demanded of the air, her hands outstretched, “For what?” Fire seemed to spring from her auburn hair into the depths of her hazel eyes.
‘Time for bed, son,’ she’d say. He just nodded and turned from the window following her meekly up the stairs. No tears, no arguments. Just the sadness in his eyes, the mention in his prayers, ‘Please look after Daddy. Please let him come home soon.’
Sarah covered her face with her hands, hiding from the images, biting on her anger, tasting its bitterness.
Kate watched in silence as her mother paced about the spring-coloured kitchen, its lemony brightness at odds with her dark mood as she twitched a gingham curtain here, tidied the pot plants there, releasing their herby fragrance into the air.
“He left. Just left! “ Sarah snatched up the wet dishcloth, squeezing the water out with a furious energy. “Didn’t come home one night!” She frantically scrubbed at the work surface, over and over the same spot, over and over the same wound.
“ ‘A short haul this time,’ he said, blowing me a kiss. He blew me a kiss! I can hardly believe the nerve of the man! He blew me a kiss!” She wrung the cloth out yet again with even more feeling. “A short haul! A short haul!” Sarah’s voice had risen almost to a scream. “Eleven years!” Her face contorted as the near hysteria gave way again to pain and her body crumpled over the sink. She let the cloth fall to the floor and slumped into a chair, her hands covering her face, her anger finally doused by despair.
Kate knelt beside the chair and stroked her mother’s hair.
Sarah held her close. “I’m so sorry, Kate,” she said, taking her daughter’s face in her hands, looking into the deep brown eyes. “I’m not angry with you. I don’t mean to snap at you, my darling.”
“I know, Mum. I know.”
“Oh, we’ll get through this, won’t we?” She sighed. “It’s just… I can’t believe David’s gone too. That he’s not going to walk through that door,” she nodded in the direction of the back door, where the cat peeped round, cautiously checking to see if things had quietened down somewhat.
“And throw his coat at the chair on his way through the kitchen.”
“Always missed.” Sarah sighed. “Never picked it up.”
“He knew you would!” Kate sat back on her heels, laughing at the memory of her untidy brother and her mother’s happy acceptance of it.
“You weren’t much tidier!”
“He didn’t want to talk much,” Sarah said. “Just go to his room with the telly, his music. I thought he was happy. Quiet, but he was always quiet. I thought he was happy enough.”
“I suppose he just never stopped loving Dad. He was such a little boy when he went, only what? Seven? He only remembered the good times, the fun Dad was, the toys he brought home, the jaunts we’d go. David never knew about the rest. I didn’t know about the other side of Dad till you told me a few days ago.”
“I didn’t want you to think badly of him.”
“You protected us, cushioned us from the pain of the truth.”
“I don’t know if I was right.”
“Of course you were right!” Kate squeezed her mother’s hand. “We were only kids. We didn’t question where the toys and things came from, how we could afford holidays. Kids don’t. Question, I mean.”
Kate was still kneeling beside her mother’s chair and she stayed like that, her head resting against Sarah’s arm, the cat pushing its nose against her, trying to find its favourite spot on Sarah’s warm lap.
The kitchen clock whirred and ticked, the fridge hummed and buzzed: soothing murmurs of comfort in the clamour of distress.
“So d’you think David saw your Dad?”
Kate straightened up, shrugged her shoulders, tucking an auburn curl behind her ear. “I don’t know.”
“But what d’you think?” Sarah persisted.
“I just don’t know, but I keep wondering,” Kate continued, getting up from her squatting position, flexing her stiff muscles, rubbing feeling into her numb legs, her hands warming with the friction from her jeans. “It’s hard to believe that Dad was here, in Edinburgh, all this time and we didn’t know.”
“If he was.”
“Yeah. I s’pose he might not have been. Could have just moved back.”
“Certainly didn’t announce it!”
“But once David found out he was here, he must have tried to see him, I’d imagine.” She leant against the worktop. “And yet,” she shook her head. “I’m sure he would have told me if he had. He told me most things. Mind you, I didn’t know he had an address for Dad till we found it the other night. I was looking for his ring. You know? The one we bought him? I noticed he didn’t have it on when, after…” Kate swallowed hard and tried to continue. “Anyway, it wasn’t there. Neither was his watch.”
“Right, Kate. Let’s get on.” Sarah walked across to the unit. “We’ve things to do. We mustn’t give up. We’ve got to keep going. I’ll pop round and post this letter,” she said as she picked it up, “And then I’ll get us something nice for lunch.”
“Don’t you think…? Can’t you say a bit more Mum?”
“Let’s not start again Kate. The letter’s sealed. I’ve said all I’m going to say. I have no intention of telling your Dad how David died. We don’t know how David died!”
“The coroner said…”
“Yes, yes. I know what the coroner said, but there has to be more to it. Someone, something happened, and I intend to find out what.” Fire sparked in her eyes as she turned to face her daughter. “And until I do, there has to be no talk of telling your father anything. It’s none of his business.”
Kate stood tall, taller than her mother, stretching her back, pushing her chin out defiantly. “I don’t suppose I’ll get the chance, if you’re not even going to let him know when the funeral is!”
“Anyway, we can’t know for sure this is his address.”
“I’m fairly sure.”
“How? How can you know?” Sarah challenged her daughter. “Just because it was scribbled on a bit of paper in David’s drawer?”
“Under the heading: ‘Dad’s address’!”
“So? David may not have…”
“Mum! I checked it out. Well, not me personally. I got a friend to check it out. It’s Dad’s address.”
“But are you sure?”
“I gave Mike a photo of Dad. He says he’s hardly changed.”
“A friend,” Kate waved a dismissive hand. “Just a reliable friend.”
“But how did he…?”
“Mum! It doesn’t matter. All that matters is that this is Dad’s address,” she emphasised her point by waving the piece of paper in front of Sarah, “and you are, quite properly, writing to let him know his son has died.”
“Not because I want to.”
“I know, Mum. I know. Believe me. This is hard for me too, but we must do what’s right.”
“He didn’t.” Sarah muttered.
Writing the letter to Tom had put some fire in her for a while, but it had gone out now, smothered by the dross of her bitterness.
But, later, when she posted the letter, she impulsively scribbled the funeral time and place on the back of the envelope. She didn’t suppose he’d bother to come.
And now, if you’d like to read on, dear friend, here are the links where you can buy Family Matters