Lizzie sat on the bench, looking at the bay. She went there every afternoon, after leaving her job. Watching the ships coming and going from the harbour soothed her. It was strange, not having to run away anymore, to be over with lies. She yearned for years for her liberty, and now that she finally had it, that Frankie was save, that everything was over, she didn’t know what to do with it. She felt that there was something missing, she knew what it was, who it was, but she didn’t have the courage to say it loud. As she had not the courage to ask Marie about him.. “My brother”, replied Marie when Lizzie wanted to know who the stranger was. And she didn’t ask about him anymore, not a word. She didn’t even ask his name and Marie did not utter a single word about him after that day. He kept on being “the stranger”. That was their agreement, a man with no past, no present, no future, who had only to pretend for a few hours to be the father that Davey never was. And he had been for Frankie, during that hours, more a father than the man that died in an hospital cursing her and yelling to have his son back.
She heard steps approaching and she felt her heart beat thick. She asked herself afterwards why was so sure that it was not simply someone passing by. She closed her eyes for an instant; she had not forgot that smell, that faint perfume of tobacco and leather. He sat beside her, but when she opened her eyes she had not the courage to turn and watch him.
– “Marie told me you were here.” – she closed her eyes again and when he held her hand she finally turned.
He hadn’t change a bit those months, even his clothes were the same. As if knowing what she was thinking he said:
– “I have other clothes… I was just afraid that you didn’t recognise me. I even have my hair cut yesterday, just to look as when you met me. Are you at least happy to see me? Please say something.”
Lizzie smiled and assured him that everything was alright.
– “I have something to tell you, let me tell you everything and then you decide if you want me in your life or not. If you don’t want me I’ll go but I swear you that I really care for you and Frankie, I really do.”
He sighed deeply, as if taking courage and he started to tell his story.
– “That period I was in jail, Lizzie. I was on leave, for three days, I had just a few months of my sentence left to serve and I came here to see Marie. I finished inside for a drug problem, I was a dealer. I hadn’t seen Marie for a long time and she had talked me about you, in her letters. When I called to tell her that I was to come to see her during my leave she told me your problem and she asked me if I wanted to do it; she told me also about the money you were to give me. I accepted because I really needed the money and had to start looking around to know what to do when I would leave the jail. Nobody knew me here in Glasgow, I just had to come, meet you and the boy, take my money and leave. I remember when I met you at the bar, and you gave me Frankie’s letters… you looked frightened as a mouse but there was something in you, you had courage. That morning with Frankie was one of the best ones of my life. Being with him was like peeping through a lock and have a glimpse of what my life could have been, a normal, quiet life. My plans were to spend with him just Saturday but I wanted more. And I wanted to know you better. So I went back to Marie’s that night and didn’t leave her flat, although I had to meet some people, for business. Not legal ones, of course. But I changed my mind, that night I kept thinking that maybe it was not too late for me. Sunday morning I went to the quay, Frankie should see me getting down from the ship, to make the story more reliable. I convinced one of the sailors to let me in first hour in the morning. And we spent the day the three of us together. When later that afternoon Frankie saw Marie and his boyfriend Ally at the ballroom door… When you said you and Frankie had to go away I was terrified, I wanted so badly to spend more time with you and the boy. But not so terrified as when Marie asked me in front of him since when I rolled my tobacco… Oh my God, our faces! I just could start breathing when I realized that Frankie has not understood her.”
Lizzie interrupted him for a moment.
– “You’re wrong, he did. Frankie knew you were not his father. He told you in a letter he wrote you, when his daddy died.”
He laughed for a moment, and kept on talking.
– “When you went to the bathroom I put back your money in the pocket of your jacket. I didn’t want it. Then we went strolling by the bayside, and you told me that you spent the last years running away from Frankie’s father, that his deafness was “a present from his daddy”. I became mad with rage, and anger. I promised myself that very moment that I would come back, for both of you. When I kissed you goodbye I felt myself tearing apart but the more pain I felt the more I was sure of what I had to do. So, here I am.. I’m a clean man now. I’ve come back to stay, Allie has offered me a job. Please let me be part of your life.”
Lizzie took his face in her hands, and wiped with her thumbs two small tears that were rolling down his cheeks.
– “Under one condition. Tell me your name.”