Being a parent was not anywhere near the top of my list. Hell, I’m not sure I had a list. Becky said, “It’s time,” and after a full-term gestation there was Jo (not her real name, because I never liked Minerva). I’m not a huge fan of babies — I know they exist and I’m pretty sure I know what causes them, but not a huge fan. Then there was Jo, and I was hooked. Everyone said, “What a cute baby,” but she wasn’t — just average, but boy, did she grow into her looks. I took this photo just before I had to leave. It’s how I remember her. Her bedroom is very girly, thanks to her interior decorating wizard mum, and I always felt slightly nervous being in there.
She was usually asleep by the time I got home from work — and then there wasn’t any work. I can’t tell you what I do, but I can tell you that my work has to do with keeping an eye on people.
A sudden change in policy and my station was closed. No ceremony and little fanfare. These days, I think they use the building for a bank of servers that feeds everyone’s desire for cloud storage. So, my skill set just sat there like a cat that no one needed anymore. I was getting paid, but if I wanted that fiscal situation to continue I would have to move to nowherefuckingnearanywhere, and no, we won’t pay for your family to relocate. Besides, Jo has started school, and it is essential that she be adequately indoctrinated into the ways of the average person — couldn’t disrupt that process. We talk on the phone — at least three times a week and every time she asks when I’m coming back, but lately, not so much. Her mum asks how I’m getting on, and I say I’m not allowed to talk about it and then there is a long silence followed by, “I’ll put Minerva on and you two can talk.” Occasionally, my wife complains that my salary needs to increase so she can buy a gold plated can opener, or whatever it is that she wants — she never asks when I’m coming home. I’ve missed two of Jo’s birthdays, and I haven’t the slightest idea how I’m going to avoid missing more of them. I’m stuck here and she is there — not exactly stuck, but she might as well be.
The doll in the photo came from a toy shop in the seaside town I was in at the time. It was a boring assignment, and there were three of us watching what I considered to be a low-value target, so there was plenty of time off. The lady who ran the toy shop was a few years past her prime, but still pretty in a dishevelled sort of way. She constantly chased a loose strand of hair which refused to stay behind her ear. I think her name was Mrs Wilson but I got the feeling that Mr Wilson had legged it a long time ago — with the girl who worked in the local fish and chip shop. Not sure if I heard that somewhere or I made it up, but it seemed to fit.
I remember that Mrs Wilson was reluctant to sell me the doll — something about having put it aside for a special customer. To clinch the deal, I offered way above the value of the doll. “Alright then. What do I care? It’s been sitting there for months, and she never came for it. Serves her right,” said Mrs Wilson who never once looked directly at me during our conversation. I handed her the money and looked around the shop while she wrapped the doll. It was well maintained, and the toys all seemed very new. The shop faced the shoreline, and the light streamed in late in the afternoon. I wondered how Mrs Wilson survived during the offseason. She didn’t seem prosperous. Didn’t seem like someone who had inherited from her great Aunt Ethel. Didn’t seem like she had ever known much money.
Jo loved the doll when I gave it to her. Her mother said I was spoiling her, which I was. I’m a father with a daughter — what was I supposed to do?
There was a small item in the national daily newspaper about a raid on a shop on the coast — MYSTERIOUS WOMAN ARRESTED UNDER VEIL OF SECRECY. I asked around. “Dead drop,” said the kid in the mailroom (I wonder where he ended up when they pulled up stumps on our operation?) “For whom?” I said. “Well-financed right-wing nut bags,” was his reply. I considered asking him how he found out about all this and then I could see myself in front of a Senate inquiry — “And how did you use this information, Mr X?” I’m a crap equivocator, so I let it go. You’ve already worked out that there is something of value inside my Jo’s doll, I know you have. The penny dropped for me a few moments after the loose-lipped mailroom boy finished talking. Whatever it is it can stay where it is. “Hi daddy, I haven’t seen you for two years. Why are you dismembering my doll?” I don’t think so. Not having that conversation, and no, my very young daughter doesn’t usually use words like dismembering — but you knew that too, didn’t you?