It was around half five in the morning, four days before I would turn fifteen, that I heard the familiar shuffle of my father's footsteps come into the kitchen, which was strategically placed in the basement but was accessible from a set of stairs in the hall or the ones outside from the garden. My father's appearances in here at this time were a regular occurrence throughout my childhood and I was yet to become used to his unpredictable moods.
Today was no different.
The familiar Poppy I had grown up with, his nose lumpy from the amount of times he'd broken it getting into fights, his red hair tousled and face stubbly (seeing as he rarely cared to shave, and when he did, it was clumsily and it often ended with me patching his slightly bleeding face up). The overall image of my father was pretty grubby- no matter how hard my Auntie May scrubbed at him- but he tried his best. And seeing as he couldn't remember I was his daughter half the time and regarded me as just sort of there I didn't call him dad, or father, or anything of that sort. It was just Poppy. So that is what I called him. Just Poppy.
"Where's Idden?" He asked,
"In the garden" I wearily replied. But of course she wasn't.
Idden was my mother's name. The day she disappeared was only days before I was due to be born, and not a trace was found of her anywhere. Sometimes, she would disappear for a little while. No one knew where, but no one really worried as she always came back. But a heavily pregnant woman making off in the dead of night was a cause for concern. It was only when Poppy- though I'm not sure how he did it- managed to recover one thing, which wasn't at all helpful but seemed to be a sign that my mother was not coming back did he finally lose it. And that thing was probably, and still is, a burden to most of the people around it.
"Oh." He said in a small voice and slumped in the chair opposite mine. Where he always sat.
"Poppy, eat" I pushed a plate of toast, still warm, towards him and motioned for him to take one.
He seemed to contemplate picking up a slice before picking the whole plate up and hurling it at the wall behind my head, sending shards of porcelain and toast skittering across the room. This was considered pretty normal behaviour for Poppy.
"She's lost Maddie!" He howled, "She's lost and it's all his fault! I could've stopped him! I could've I could've I could've!" He collapsed crying onto the table, continuously muttering 'I could've' through his sobs. I wasn't sure who 'he' was but I tried to soothe him the best I could.
"Poppy, shush it's okay, she'll come back" I gingerly crept over and rubbed his back as he cried.
"I want her back" He sniffed, wiping his nose on his dressing gown sleeve.
"I know Poppy," I sighed, "We all do... now why don't you go up to your room and read for a little bit? I'm sure Chess will be glad to keep you company"
At the mention of his name Chess, my grey tabby-cat, lazily opened one amber eye and looked at me with a solemn expression from his perch on the seat next to me where he'd been sleeping through the whole thing. He opened his other eye- which was a startling blue colour compared to the amber one- and flicked his tail impatiently.
Poppy eyed him suspiciously, like Chess was the type of cat that would savage him in a second. Which he probably would be if he wasn't so up himself and was more concerned with keeping his paws clean than actually doing any dirty work.
"Damn cat. Should've drowned him while I had the chance. Shame Idden was so bloody attached to you." He addressed the cat directly, who regarded him with a bored expression "'It's his eyes' she'd say. I don't like you no better and never 'ave. Be off with you already" Chess continued to stare at him before laying down again and promptly shutting out the world by going back to sleep.
My father glared at him a second but turned away after he'd assured himself Chess wasn't going to launch himself at his face and started ascending the stairs leading to the hall.
"Poppy?" I called after him and he paused, one foot still on the first step, but didn't turn to look at me.
"I love you"
He grunted and climbed to the landing, leaving me to clean the mess in the kitchen.