by Chris Cottom
Read his story Father’s Day here.
This story seeded itself when I was thinking about the massive honey-coloured building blocks of places like Merton Chapel. For its first seven drafts, the story was called ‘The Chapel Tower’.
My father, uncle and grandfather were all Merton undergraduates and all died in 1970 or 1971, along with my grandmother, three of them in traffic accidents. In 1972, I also went to Merton, where I lived next door to J.R.R. Tolkien. I climbed the chapel tower two or three times and, once, in the dim light, heard singing soaring from the nave.
The father in this story isn’t my father. He died aged forty-seven when a car came off a French road where he, my brother and I stood on the verge, five weeks after my stepmother had given birth to my sister. I don’t know what he’d have been like in old age.
Some years ago, a close colleague would talk affectionately about his father, a former headteacher who’d struggled initially with retirement and later with old age, and the dad in the story looks a bit like how I imagined my colleague’s father. It’s only now that I see I’ve borrowed someone else’s dad.
I was the oldest person at my son’s wedding. It was a more emotional experience than I’d expected, because, looking at the young people in their hipster suits and pretty dresses, I knew that it was their world now, that it was up to them to sort out the messed-up planet which we, for all our loon-trousered and tie-dyed idealism, were passing on to them.
When my son asked me what themes recur in my writing, I counted more than a dozen dad stories. And I told him I’d worked on ‘Fathers Day’ for several months before realising I wasn’t writing about my relationship with an imagined, fading father. I wasn’t the son in the story after all. I was the dad.
Chris Cottom lives in the north west of England, and once wrote insurance words. He’s won the Retreat West Flash Fiction Prize, the LoveReading Very Short Story People’s Choice Award, and competitions with Shooter Flash and On The Premises. His stories have been published by The Centifictionist, Streetcake, Story Nook, Secret Attic, Parracombe Prize, London Lit Lab, Hysteria, Free Flash Fiction, Flash Flood, Cranked Anvil, Bournemouth Writing Prize, Apricot Press, and Anansi Archive, and broadcast on BBC Radio Leeds.