Ever since my father’s treatment – which, in many ways, had to be considered a success – it had been hard to know what to do with him. My brother and I went to pick him up from the farmhouse in Dorset where he had been staying for the week. When we pulled into the driveway we could see him sitting around a table in the garden with seven or eight others, all talking and smiling, their faces turned to receive the sun which was bright and high in the sky. He came over to the car, hugged us both fiercely – uncharacteristically so – and then led us over to the group.
‘These are my boys,’ he said to them, and then told us everyone’s names. Someone brought us tea from inside the house and a balding young man in a yellow t-shirt began to ask me a series of earnest questions, about my work, my family, my plans for the future. Next to me, my brother was receiving the same treatment from someone else. Meanwhile, my father seemed to have resumed telling a story, the details of which I could not catch but which was punctuated by comments and bursts of laughter from the rest of the group. Altogether, an air of brittle hilarity, or even joy, hung over the scene and in this – as in other ways – they struck me as resembling nothing so much as a group of hostages suddenly and unexpectedly given their freedom.
After ten minutes or so my father finished his story, stood up and began to embrace each person around the table. There were vows to email and phone and get together again soon, emotional goodbyes that seemed excessive for people who had known each other for not even a week. My brother and I found ourselves shaking hands with each member of the group in turn, accepting their good wishes. Before we got in the car, my father made a great show of folding up his wheelchair and packing it in the boot.
In the car, my father talked – very rapidly, a stream of free association, flitting from one subject to another, the words sometimes getting tangled up or muddled, his mind apparently moving more quickly than he could articulate. He sat in the back, his face pressed against the window, pointing out everything that went past, a vintage car similar to one his brother had once owned, a pub that would have been nice for lunch except it was past lunchtime and anyway he wasn’t hungry, repeatedly marvelling at the loveliness of the day and the countryside, the hills, the blossom on the trees, how all this made him think of a holiday he and my mother had taken nearby before my brother and I were born. Throughout this, one of his feet drummed rapidly on the floor of the car.