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Tuesday, 5 July 2011

CHAPTER 20


Sophie was tidying up the flat.  She was trying to decipher which newspapers and magazines to keep and which ones to throw out.  Her father’s habit of setting things aside and stacking clippings to read later made the lounge seem messy most of the time.  He would argue that he knew where everything was and why he wanted to keep particular articles but Sophie just saw all the newsprint and glossy paper as clutter.  In addition, the strewn box-set contents of The Rockford Files seemed to have taken up permanent residence on the floor in front of the television set.  Sophie went through the routine of replacing the discs in the correct boxes and propping the sets up by the TV stand.  The obsession with a 1970s Los Angeles private detective was beyond her, but, then again, Sophie admitted she liked Saturday Night Fever and Abba, so, she supposed, there was some kind of cultural balance between her and her father.  As she stacked some magazines, Sophie spotted a file full of clippings and handwritten notes.  It was labeled “Operation Sophie”.  She knelt down by the coffee table and looked inside.
The clippings were mainly advertisements from estate agents and apartment landlords.  There were financial investment supplements from the Sunday papers and a sheet of calculations that seemed to be about savings, shareholdings, insurance policies, pension statements, living expenses and stuff like that.  On another sheet of paper, Sophie noticed her father’s summary of his plan, his “Operation Sophie”.  It read: “Aim – to find alternative accommodation for Sophie by the end of the year.  Tactics – any way I can!”  She sat back and heard herself gasp.  Her father had been making plans behind her back, doing his financial arithmetic and scheming to dump her out in the street.  Sophie was about to through the file across the room when the doorbell rang.  She folded over the cover and went to see who was there.
On opening the door, she stepped back in disbelief.
“Hello Sophie darling,” said Annie. “It’s been too long.”  Sophie looked aghast.
“What the hell do you want?” she asked in a disgusted tone.
“Now, now, that’s no way to treat your mother, is it darling?”  Annie made a move to enter the flat but Sophie blocked her path.
“What do you want?” asked Sophie, more emphatically than before.
“First of all, I would like to come in and talk in a civilized fashion,” said Annie, making another move to get past Sophie.
“You are not coming into this flat,” stamped Sophie, ‘a right you gave up when you walked out.”  Annie backed off a little.
“Now, what do you want?”  Sophie now hands her hands on her hips.
“Well, I remembered a couple of reference books I left behind and I thought I could pick them up, if it’s no bother.”
“It most certainly is a bother.  You gave up any claim to anything in this flat when you upped sticks and cleared off.  You make me sick.”  Sophie started to close the door over.
“Sophie, I know I have done some bad things but I think we should try to make amends, you know, mother and daughter like before.”  Annie tried a sob face to get Sophie to smile but Sophie felt too incensed to react in any other way than venomous.
“Right, I am closing this door and I never want to see you or your smug face again, and if you want any books or cds or dvds or knickers, nighties or any thing else, then please post a note through the door and I will leave them outside in a bin bag for you to collect.  Goodbye.”  The door slammed and Sophie on one side breathed a long breath and exhaled slowly, finishing up with a broad smile.  On the other side, Annie made a face in protest at the snub she had just received.  She knew her infiltration on her family, albeit abandoned and neglected, would only happen if she could break the ice with her daughter.  She need Sophie to soften up a little if she was to get to Jonathan and a share of whatever he had saved and invested.  Annie stuck two fingers up at the door and started to walk back to her flat.  Sophie, looking through the door’s security peephole, saw the hand gesture and shouted, “it’s not big and it’s not clever.” Before whispering to herself “brazen cow.”  She had been so close to her mother when she was a little girl, besotted even, certainly on equal terms with her affections for her father.  But in the last couple of years she was drawn more to her Dad, as her mother seemed to become colder, more aloof, more preoccupied with herself and the things she wanted to do with her life.
When Jonathan got back home, Sophie was ready with a tirade of a speech about the folder but she quickly detected that something was wrong.
“What is it Dad, what’s the matter?”  Jonathan slumped on the sofa and Sophie sat beside him holding his hand.  He told her about the man dying in the gym changing room and how he felt responsible, or at least helpless when faced with a human being gasping for breath, grasping onto any lifeline.
“I think I killed him, Sophie, or was part of the reason why he died.  Another couple of minutes might have made all the difference to him.  Oh God, what about his family?  What must they be going through?  If only I’d had the guts to react in some way, give him the kiss of life, pump his chest or something, anything, just to try to keep him alive.  Hopeless, useless, pathetic.”  Sophie noticed that her father was crying.  She couldn’t ever remember him crying before.
“Don’t worry, Dad, “ she said, cuddling him as closely and as tightly as she possible, ”these things happen and I’m not saying that just to make you feel better, I’m saying it because it’s true.  You’re not responsible.  You were just out of your depth as most people would be. It was unfortunate.  Now, I know at this moment you won’t feel like it but it will do you good to have a long, hot bath before we get ready for the party.”  Sophie detected that her father was about to say that he was not in the mood for a party.  She put a finger on his lips.
“We’re going and that’s that.”  Jonathan managed a smile and gave his daughter a kiss on the forehead.  She was the most precious thing in his life. He looked over at the coffee table and saw the “Operation Sophie” file just as she looked at him with a “we’ll talk about that later” expression on her face.

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