Archie loved baking flapjacks and watching Sean Connery movies with his mum. He only realised he wanted to meet his father when Noah’s dad was taking him to see Edge wrestle at WWE.
Noah, Mikey, and Henry were Archie’s best friends. Every day after school they would cycle down to Smithy’s Woods and make dens. The year eight kids named it this after Dan Smithy’s body was found hanging from a tree there one morning. No one went back after that, apart from Archie and his friends. They would play there until their hands got too cold to sword fight with sticks anymore and then they’d race home to play Civilisation. The boys referred to their mums as the ‘Cult’ after they began meeting up every Wednesday to plot ways of spoiling the boys’ fun. From now on they had to switch off their computers by 8 o’clock.
Archie often wondered if his dad would let him break the rules and stay up late. Noah had asked if he had wanted to meet his dad to ‘see everything he’d missed out on’. Archie thought on this again, and realised he just wanted to see if he had a cool house. Oh, and maybe he could take him to WWE at some point. His mum worried an interest in contact sports would make him lose his passion for piano, so she ‘put her foot down’ when it came to wrestling. Quincey Jones was a far better role model than John Cena.
One evening Archie noticed his mum sobbing again. She often did this on Tuesdays whilst watching Grand Designs. She’d pour some red wine into one of those tall crystal glasses off the top shelf of the cabinet that she instructed Archie never to touch. Tonight, he built up the courage to ask what was wrong.
‘Mum’, Archie gently stroked his mother’s elbow. He curled her hair behind her ear to reveal black blotches beneath her eyes. Archie didn’t understand why she wore makeup if it made her look so glum. ‘Why do you always cry on Tuesdays?’ Archie asked. His mum seemed a little taken aback, but still managed an answer, ‘It’s Grand Designs’, she pointed at the TV. ‘It reminds me of your dad, Arch’.
Archie looked confused. ‘We can watch Goldfinger instead if you want? I’ve got the DVD in my…’
‘Look, Sweet. Maybe you should sit down.’
Archie, again, didn’t quite understand. ‘Well, I don’t really like Grand Designs. I will sit if we can watch…’
‘Archie!’ His mum shouted and quickly realised the alarm in her voice was inappropriate. ‘Arch, I’m not upset… I mean, I am… but, I just need to explain some things to you’.
Archie took the seat next to her on the sofa and hugged a pink pillow close to his chest. Archie now understood that this conversation was important to his mum and couldn’t be diverted, even by a James Bond movie night. So, he looked intently into her eyes with his chin resting on the pillow, an imitation of what he thought ‘focussed’ looked like.
‘I want you to know, more than anything, that your dad loved you. So much. And everything that happened… well, that was not your fault. None of it was. That was between your father and me’.
Archie regretted sitting down. Conversations about love made him uncomfortable.
‘You see. When you were born, your dad got a bit… overwhelmed. Yes, let’s say overwhelmed. He had a lot on… to do with…’ Sarah closed her eyes and sighed, ‘to do with his work.’ She continued, ‘I need you to understand that he was a good man once. Things just…’
‘Change’, Archie interrupted.
Sarah nodded in disbelief. Archie knew. Her head shrunk into her shoulders and she rolled forward into Archie’s lap. Archie didn’t know what to do with his arms, as crying made him uncomfortable. He placed his hands on her back and rubbed her sweater. The threads were sparkly and glistened in the warm light. It was soft.
Archie realised that the only way he could understand his mother’s distress was by meeting his father in person. Archie abruptly pushed his mother into a sitting position and held her shoulders in place, ready to be addressed. He stared into her eyes. ‘Mum, I think I should meet dad’.
The day had come. Archie peered up at the proud chimneys and pointed eaves. It raised its brows atop its bowed windows. The house was examining him. He studied the perfectly positioned Victorian red bricks. He picked a pimple on his chin, ignoring his mum’s advice that it would ‘only get redder’. He was unable to move from that spot on the cobbled path. A toot from his mum’s horn lurched him forward. She beamed at him from her little red Corsa. Archie signalled a thumbs-up in reassurance and slumped towards the house, swallowing his regret.
He reached the top step and tapped on the timber door, but he had second thoughts. He turned to run back but the place where the Corsa had been trembling was empty. Instead, there posed a slick, black Jaguar in the drive. Mum had gone and he was left to face a man called ‘Dad’. He’d only ever associated the role of sperm provider to this human and now they were to chat about the Blue-Eyes White Dragon and Raigeki Yu-Gi-Oh cards he’d just acquired? He loved the way mum showed an interest in his card trades and place in the leader board, but dad didn’t even know that Danny was dealing fake Upper Deck cards, rather than authentic Konami editions. Mum reminded him to keep away from Danny, but dad wouldn’t know to warn him of that.
The door unbolted and swung aside to reveal what appeared to be a fitness instructor, or at least a Nike ambassador. ‘Mia’, she declared stretching out her spindly arm. Archie wiped his wet nose on the cuff of his hoodie and grabbed at her hand with his clammy palm. She pulled his fingers close to her eyes and inspected his grubby nails. ‘Right!’ she retorted, slapped his hand, and sent it back. ‘Let me give you the grand tour!’
The hall looked like the dentist’s, but bigger. The marble floors reflected the winding white staircase, kind of like his mum’s en-suite after a Sunday clean. The contrast of outside to in was almost destructive. The old-timey exterior had been eradicated internally.
Mia directed Archie to the living room to watch TV until his father returned home. He was late. It was the first time he would be meeting his son and he was late. Archie didn’t watch much TV at home, he preferred drawing his cat, Toby, in funny hats and scenarios.
‘Make yourself comfortable!’ Mia squawked. She popped her shoulders to her ears whilst squishing her hands to her cheeks, as if he was a Chihuahua she wished to Eskimo kiss. Archie smiled softly and, unsure how to respond, allowed the plump pillows of the sofa to engulf him. He wriggled his bottom and kicked his legs like a ladybird awkwardly trying to turn itself. With arms now crossed, Mia glared at Archie impatiently. He was like a cat investigating its sleeping spot. But, eventually, Archie got comfortable. ‘I’ll just set the dinner table then!’, Mia paused for a moment, smiled, nodded, switched on Cartoon Network, and left.
Archie, bewildered about the recent encounter, turned to view the pink and purple flashes from an irritating Power Puff Girls fight scene on the TV. His eyes glazed over and the dull thuds and sparkle sounds from their punches gently vibrated the porcelain Greyhound statue beside him. In boredom, Archie’s attention drew to a blotch upon Simon’s pristine carpet, spotted in his peripherals. He bent down to touch the blemish. Soft. It was so soft, not as expected. He wondered how it could have got there…
Perhaps it was a mud stain. Maybe his dad had a dog and would take it to that big park that Archie had noticed on the drive through the village to his dad’s house. Maybe the dog was called Robby. He could have taken it for a run around and when they returned home Robby might have run off his leash and when his dad caught up to him they fell into a heap on the floor and wrestled and ground some mud into the carpet. It could be a German Shepherd! If it was he could take it for walks around his school and if any kid saw him with such a fierce pet they’d know to keep away otherwise he’d ‘release the hound!’ If dad had a dog he must be an animal lover, and, in that case, he’d surely love to meet his pet tortoise, Herbert.
A pantomime-like uproar crescendoed from the flickering TV, distracting Archie from his thinking. Archie scowled at the remote and hunted for ‘off’. There were gatherings of gunk in between the rubbery buttons, like the control had leaked ear wax in despair from the cacophony the screen created. He found the red circle of release! The racket was silenced.
Back to the carpet splodge. Maybe it was a splatter of wine? His dad might be an entertainer. He might have parties all the time. What if he was really popular and everyone looked forward to attending his parties because he always made the best Hawaiian pizza and played the coolest music from the Radio 1 chart show. He might know party tricks and be able to juggle three bottles of wine without dropping any. But, maybe one time, when his dad was showing off, there was an excess drip on the side of the bottle that spilt onto the carpet.
‘Tip… clank… tink…’ Archie’s attention diverted to the washing machine. Someone must have left some change in the pockets of their jeans and it was tapping the inside of the drum. A rooky mistake, Archie thought everyone knew that if you leave change in your pockets the designated washer gets dibs on the abandoned money. Mum usually claimed the prize. So, Archie knew to always empty his pockets before dropping them in the utility room.
Why was Archie wondering about laundry when there was an investigation to be tackle? Back to the stain. It had a slight tinge of red to it. His dad might be a hitman! He could have lured his target into his apartment using Mia as his decoy. And just as he leaned in for a smooch, Mia’s choice of trap, Simon would have launched a carving knife at his throat and sliced right through his jugular. There would have been a lot of blood to clear up so perhaps this took place in the kitchen. Then, as Simon was cleaning away the evidence, a drop of the blood dripped from the cuff of his shirt when he took Mia into the living room to rest from the trauma. This could have been why he left Archie as a child; he didn’t wish to expose him to such violence. That would also explain his mother’s aversion to WWE. Maybe he really did love Archie, like mum said, and all he wanted since was to have his only child back in his life.
Whatever the stain might be, it was definitely difficult to remove because it was still visible.
Archie crouched above it, licked his finger, and rubbed it, like a mother to spaghetti splatters upon her child’s chin. From that close, balls of blonde tumble weed came into vision. There were also two woodlouse carcasses dry and limp like the pumpkin seeds Archie got in his lunch box. Perhaps, upon careful examination, this house wasn’t as clean as it first appeared.
‘Archie!’ There was a very tall man in the doorway.
Archie shot up.
‘Oh, don’t be looking at that mark.’ He said, ‘Mia would have a fit if she knew people noticed it.’ The man sat down beside Archie. He continued, ‘I was playing leap frog with Theo and he got a little too excited and catapulted himself off my back, head first into the ground. The nose bleed was awful. I was so panicked I forgot about the bloody mess when I rushed him to the bathroom to clean him up and calm him down’.
Archie just about chirped up to enquire, ‘Who’s Theo?’
‘Oh, did your mum not tell you? Mine and Mia’s lovely little boy.’