It was a chilly day. The icy drizzle slapped Peter in the face as he strode along the high street. Many of the shops were boarded up; closed due to consumers preferring the convenience of the shopping malls on the outskirts of town. He passed the invisible man sat in front of the vacated cobbler’s, averting his eyes, as did the other foot traffic. Peter couldn’t help but see him though, no matter how hard he tried. The homeless man sat curled up in the doorway, trying to keep warm under a flimsy blanket. His frozen breath mimicked smoke signals that soundlessly called for help. Peter picked up his pace and entered the shop next door.
Five minutes later Peter returned, drink in hand. “Here you go mate. Get this down ya.” Peter knelt down, laid his carrier bag on the floor next to him and offered the man the plastic cup full of black coffee.
The man sat up straight, extended both arms and took the coffee from Peter. He cupped it in his hands, blew on the surface to cool it down a little before he took a sip. “Bless you,” the man said.
“It’s no bother. Have you got somewhere to sleep tonight?” Peter asked.
The man took another sip before replying. “Yeah, I’ve got a guaranteed bed at the shelter tonight.”
“That’s good to know.” Peter stood up and patted his pockets. “I’m sorry but I don’t have much cash on me.”
“Don’t worry son, you’ve done more than enough. Bless you.”
“You stay safe, ya hear?”
The man nodded and raised his coffee in salute. Peter gave him a smile and walked away. He turned down the alleyway beside the café, continuing on his journey. He heard some kind of commotion behind him. He turned around to see a man tugging at an elderly lady’s handbag before launching her into the wall. Peter performed a double take as he realised the man had started sprinting towards him clutching the handbag. Peter braced himself for contact and shoulder barged the thief. The man hit the wall and dropped the handbag onto the floor. Regaining his balance quickly, the man swung his fist and punched Peter in the face. As Peter recoiled the man kicked him in the gut. Peter dropped to the floor and lost his grip of his carrier bag. The man took the opportunity to scarper leaving the handbag behind.
Panic overcame Peter. He ignored the pain and rummaged around the floor searching for his carrier bag. He breathed a sigh of relief after he ascertained the contents were still intact. He dragged himself to his feet, clutching both bags. He stumbled over to the lady and helped her up.
“Are you alright love?”
She was shaking. “I’m a little shook up, but I’ll be fine.” Her voice sounded as frail as she looked.
“Here’s your handbag. I don’t think he took anything from it. Let me call the police,” Peter said.
“Oh no, I don’t need the police. It’s all over with now. I’ve got my bag back.”
“Are you sure?”
“Oh yes, there’s no need.” She started to pat herself clean.
“Let’s sit down for a bit and calm our nerves.” He could see she was still in shock and he didn’t feel comfortable leaving her alone. He escorted her to the café. They sat down in a window seat after ordering their drinks and a slice of homemade cake.
“You don’t need to be here. Haven’t you got somewhere better to go?” she asked him.
“Nah, I’m where I need to be.” He gave her a smile and took a drink from his cup of coffee.
They sat talking for an hour. Peter learnt all about Dorothy’s late husband, Charles and their two children Samuel and Penelope.
“Sorry, I’ve been rambling on about myself,” said Dorothy. “How about you? Do you have any children?”
“I’ve got a beautiful daughter, Kimberly. It’s her birthday today. That’s where I’m heading. She’ll be twelve now.” He paused momentarily as his face lit up with a proud smile. “She loves horses. I made this for her.” Peter reached into his carrier bag retrieving a twelve inch tall carving of a galloping horse. He placed it on the table between them.
“That’s remarkable. So elegant. I keep thinking it’s about to race off the table. And you made this?”
“An hour an evening for the last three months. I wanted it to be perfect for the perfect daughter. I didn’t want to rush it, ya see.” He turned it admiring his own work. Dorothy gave him an approving smile. He reached into his bag again. “And this is from Kimberly. I take it with me for every visit.” He placed a mug next to the horse. It was inscribed ‘The World’s Greatest Dad.’ “It was a present on Father’s Day. I remember she brought me breakfast in bed, with the help of her mother of course. It was scrambled egg on toast with a side of baked beans. She was so proud of microwaving the beans. And next to the plate sat this mug full of black coffee.” A little tear escaped his eye.
“Aww bless.” Dorothy acknowledged his memory by giving his arm a reassuring pat. “You said each time you visit?”
“Ah yes, unfortunately her mother and I have separated. It’s been so long I can’t remember why. We still get on though, which makes it easier for Kimberly.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. It’s nice you’ve both remained friends, for all your sakes.”
Peter returned the horse and mug to his bag.
Dorothy placed her hand on Peter’s hand. “Thank you. I feel a lot better now. You’re such a sweet man. Kimberly is lucky to have such a lovely father. Now go on and give your daughter that perfect gift.”
Peter was happy Dorothy was okay. He bid her farewell.
It took him just over an hour to navigate his way across town using the public transport. He paused outside his ex-wife’s front door and checked he was presentable. He knocked and waited.
“Peter, what are you doing here?” Sarah, Peter’s ex said after opening the door.
“It’s Kimberly’s birthday. I didn’t think you’d mind if I came early.”
“Oh, okay. You’d better come in then.” Sarah opened the door wide and allowed Peter to enter. She was trying to hide her distress.
“Where is she then?”
“Let’s go into the kitchen.” She led the way and pulled out a stool for him at the breakfast bar. “Would you like a coffee? I assume you’ve brought your mug?”
Peter gave her a toothy grin. He had already put the mug on the worktop. She filled his mug with coffee and placed it in front of him.
“I’ll be back in a minute.” She scurried into the room next door.
“What’s he doing here?” asked Sarah’s husband Stan.
“It’s Kimberly’s birthday. He’s come to see her.”
“Not again. You’ve got to tell him he can’t keep doing this.”
“I’ll call Dr Rindle, she can come over.”
“Just tell him the truth. It’s been three years already. I sympathise, I do but it has to stop.”
“I can’t break his heart again. Let the doctor do it.”
“Well if you don’t I will.”
“Stan no.” She paced around the room for a few seconds. “Ok you call the doctor and I’ll tell him again.” She traipsed to the door. Her hand rested on the handle. “It doesn’t get any easier you know.”
“Just come straight out with it. Just say ‘Peter, I’m sorry but your daughter is still dead’.”
“You insensitive prick. She was my daughter too.” She opened the door and went over to Peter. “Peter, we have to talk.”