Sometimes Rose writes short stories for their own sake, sometimes as test pieces for longer-format ideas. Read her Somesuch pieces here.
The piece below was published in My Old Man, a collection of writings about fathers. “If you were asked to write about your father, what would you say? In this carefully curated collection, a dazzling list of contributors – including Tilda Swinton, Paul Weller, Florence Welch, Chris Martin, John Niven and the sons and daughters of Ian Dury, Roy Castle, Leonard Cohen and many others – open up, some for the first time, about their paternal experiences. From the heart-rending to the tragic, from expressions of joyful love to a quick snapshot of a life, these beautifully written pieces are also deeply personal. As universal as it is powerful, My Old Man offers a unique opportunity to reflect on our own relationships with our dads.”
Memories of Dad and animals
Frogspawn ~ 1990
You came into Year 1 with a tank of frogspawn from our garden to show the boys and girls in my class. You said the funny clear stuff which is like jelly protects the little dots inside that will one day be frogs. You said they wouldn’t survive without it. You said the adult frogs return to the place of their birth every year. The boys and girls in my class all looked into the tank and asked you a lot questions and I was proud because you were my dad.
Pigs ~ 1991
You took me and my brother to see the pigs on the twisty lane next to Hunkers Wood, where dormice and adders and skylarks lived. You sang your Pigs Lane song, which sounded a lot like your Heigh-Ho song and your Cow Lane song.
Puppy ~ 1992
You picked up the puppy and she fit in your hand she was so tiny. When you put her in the basket by our kitchen door she cried and you touched her head and told her she was a good girl. You showed me how to stroke her without stretching her eyelids back.
Swallows ~ 1994
You took me for a walk on the Malvern Hills which are as big as mountains when the swallows were migrating in summer. Thousands and thousands, all the way to the Nile Valley, you said. You put me on your shoulders even though I was too big for that now, to try to reach them. You said I was at the top of the world.
Long tailed tits ~ 1997
You wouldn’t let me take them straight away, because you said the mother bird might come back, but when a cat started coming across the lawn you brought them inside. They were like two tiny balls of cotton wool and their eyes were like tiny black beads. They were shivering and I wanted to hold them to keep them warm but you wouldn’t let me. You said I could talk to them while you went to find worms and caterpillars, and I did, but they died. I said it wasn’t fair and you said nature isn’t fair, and I stomped away from you.
Tadpoles ~ 1998
The year’s tadpoles were nearly adults, so you said I ought to see them while I had the chance. They still couldn’t live independently outside the pond, you said, but they were coming closer to the surface because they were starting to breathe in a different way. I groaned and walked off. You’d shown me them a trillion times before.
Woodlice ~ 2000
I was trying to make a good impression because it was the first time my sister’s boyfriend had been round for dinner. You came in from the garage and demanded to know who’d been spitting on the woodlice in the back loo.
Pheasant ~ 2002
I was bored on a Saturday afternoon when you came home with a dead pheasant. You’d accidentally ran it over and thought it’d be fun to show me how to pluck and gut it. It was totally gross. You held up the kidneys to your ears like earrings. I told you I had better things to do and went into town.
Dog ~ 2004
I was away at uni when the dog got put to sleep, but you told me about it on the phone. While it was happening you touched her head and told her she was good girl.
Magpie ~ 2011
I was up from London with my new boyfriend. It was the first time you’d met him. In the morning, while we were still in bed, a dead magpie peeked around the bedroom door and said ‘hello’, then did a little dance to a tune which sounded a lot like your Pigs Lane song. You’d found the bird dead in the garden and thought it too beautiful not to show us. My boyfriend took a photo. I love that photo more than words can say.
Frogs ~ 2015
I called you on my way home from work, tired and clammy from the Central Line. When you answered you were breathless because you’d rushed up from the garden, where you’d been showing your granddaughter the year’s new frogs under the beech ferns by the pond. I was jealous. You once said that adult frogs return to the place of their birth every year. So often, in the big city, I want to return to mine.