Punchline

I sat awkwardly in a spare bedroom
Balancing my books on a curved dressing-table
Eating a plate of small things on toothpicks
Trying to concentrate on Henry VIII.

The party was getting louder.
I stood up to look out of the window.
My father was holding forth in a small circle of men.
Conspiratorial.
A roar of male laughter signalled the punchline.

Going home was always the worst.
The red hearty faces and slurred speech of my parents’ friends
Unfamiliar.

The argument as we walked down the drive to the car,
Me stupid with sleep and longing for my bed.
‘I’m perfectly all right to drive. There was no need for Earnest.’
I needed Earnest.
I needed his calm back behind the wheel.
Not my father swearing and clashing the gears
My mother stiff beside him.

We hit the cat turning into our own road.
My father got out and we saw him in the headlights
bend down and  come up with the limp body hanging from his hands.
He ran from house to house in the dark buzzing night
Trying to find the owner.
Big drunken tears running down his face.
While my mother and I sat in misery, waiting for it to stop.

He was repentant for days after.

But the cat stayed dead.

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