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On Being Sophie’s Father

On a cracker day you can see the hills from here. But today clouds block most of the view – it’ll rain again, later. The sky and the sea are the same grey, so you can’t pick out the horizon. I point to a cargo ship out on the bay but Sophie doesn’t look. She’s hunkered down into her jacket, packing a sad because I made her come walkabout through the orchard with me. She’d been grumpy all morning and I told her, ‘The fresh air’ll do you good, might even cheer you up.’ So far she’s proving me a liar.

A patch of blue catches my eye. The first time I held Sophie, it was a day like this: threatening rain and the sun trying to break through. I was all filled up with relief she’d arrived in one piece and terrified I’d squeeze the life out of her if I breathed too deeply or smiled too widely. Turns out being a father’s just like that – always having to keep myself reined in. That day I took her to the window of the maternity unit and showed her the world and told her it was hers and it was waiting.

Now, I turn my back to the view and face the rows of trees rising up the slope towards the road. I sweep my arm at the orchard. ‘You know, Sophie, this’ll all be yours one day.’


She’s still not looking. ‘It will, I want you to have it.’

She sighs and I shut up. I should’ve kept my gob shut. The silence between us feels bloody huge, like maybe we’ll learn to talk in another decade or two, if I’m lucky. Around us the birds are noisy enough; starlings scrap over a wizened plum and the fantails are busy chattering as they chase after insects. I’ve been told fourteen-year-old girls are like this: moody, withdrawn, nigh on impossible to live with. I wish that was all there is to it. Desperation drives me on. ‘You know I’ve been thinking . . . soon it’ll be time to teach you to drive the tractor. What do ya reckon?’

‘Really?’ She turns towards me, eyebrows up to her hairline.


‘Random. Now? Today?’

‘I dunno. I was thinking in a few weeks, in the spring, maybe.’ It’s like I’ve thrown a switch, the way that light in her face vanishes as fast as it appeared, and I give in. ‘All right, then – why not.’

‘Choice!’ Sophie jumps from the stile. ‘Come on.’ She races ahead through the trees.

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