Nathaniel didn’t particularly enjoy having to take the bus to Norwood to clean for his elderly parents. He was fifty, divorced and his teenage daughters who lived with him had managed to come with him only once in four years.
His parents, Ivy and Robin, had been clinging on with his help but of late their mobility had noticeably declined. Nathaniel had been initially slightly horrified by the task of helping his Dad in and out of the bath but had now grown used to it.
When he arrived this Sunday later than usual he let himself in with his set of keys, picked up the post and wiped his shoes on the doormat in the hall. Nathaniel had always been flamboyant as a teenage boy and his father Robin had worried he could be, as Larry Grayson might have put it, a whoopsy. Nathaniel’s marriage and subsequent births of Florence and Natalie had quashed that concern.
“Helloohoo.” he called out as he arrived.
There was no reply. When he opened the door to the dining room he found out why. His father was facedown on the parquet floor. It was such an unexpected and grotesque welcome that he had no idea what was going on. He stumbled upstairs to find his mother in bed seemingly unconscious. His parent’s bedroom smelt terrible. His mother had obviously relieved herself in the bed.
Nathaniel started shaking violently. His parents were dead and had been so for several days and he hadn’t even called them since last week. As he fell onto his knees beside the bed, his mother’s eyes flickered open and with a weak rasping voice called out. “Is Dad back from the Post Office yet?”
The next six hours of Nathaniel’s life where possibly the most distressing he’d ever had. The ambulance men stepping over his dead father as they brought his soiled mother down stairs, Nathaniel using his body to shield his mother’s view of her husband’s grey and distorted body on the parquet floor. And then the men who came from the mortuary and carried his Dad away like a sack of potatoes had enflamed him so much that he had to keep himself from shouting at them. When the men tossed the white wound sheet into the back of a bare transit van and he heard the clunk of his father’s head bang on the metal floor he couldn’t contain himself anymore. He came back into the house and punched the Halley wall until his knuckles were bruised and raw.
Then came the cleanup. That was the second part of his ordeal. Removing the sheets in the bedroom and tossing them in the bin outside and then noticing the murder suspect impression left on the parquet floor. The moisture from his father’s mouth had left a stain in the wood and wax of his father’s face. He had picked up the large envelope from the floor, near where his father was found and put it on the dining room table along with his father’s door keys. He almost missed the small padlock key on the floor until he kicked it halfway across the floor.
When he came back to his parent’s house two weeks later on a Saturday, after his father’s funeral, it was to prepare the house for his mother, for Ivy’s return from the hospital. She had insisted on returning, boasting to the nurses that she was going home to die. Nathaniel didn’t want her to do either.
After polishing the parquet floor Nathaniel tore open the envelope that he’d left on the dining room table and a pornographic magazine fell out onto the table. Alongside it a typewritten letter. Not a standard A4 letter but an A5 letter with fuzzy grey ink printed typewritten letter.
Nathaniel sat down and read the letter.
Oberlast” unmistakably in the black biro of his father’s neat but shaky hand.
Then the rest was typewritten;
“We have not received full payment of this year’s subscription of Shaven Babes Hardcore XXX. Please send payment of £112.48 or we will have no choice but legal action.”
Then there was an address and a post office box number. The last statement at the bottom of the page;
“Cheques made out to Pleasure Publications Ltd. Postal orders also accepted.”
Who was Mr Oberlast? Why was Dad sending a porno mag in the post? Nathaniel it up a cigarette at the table and flicked through the magazine of girls shaving their vaginas.
The flap of the letterbox rattled, startling Nathaniel. He made his way to the hall and picked up a similarly sized brown envelope, the address written in blue ink. He brought the letter to the dining room table, opened it and out fell another pornographic magazine, a handwritten letter and a postal order for £112.48. He read the letter written in the flow blue in hand. “Dear Sir or Madam Mr Worthington is now deceased. I am sending a postal order for the full amount. Please do not send any more magazines.” Do not send was underlined.
What on earth was going on?
Nathaniel went outside to the overgrown garden and then to the garage to drag the lawnmower outside. He went back and forth over the grass twice and had to empty the tin grass box from the fifty-year-old mower several times. As he cut the overgrown lawn, Nathaniel fixated on the letters and the magazines as the engine puttered along. Was his dad running a pornographic mail order business? Did mum know?
The key to the padlock had a plastic Christmas wreath key wring. A family friend had called Robin and Ivy the Christmas couple and had sent appropriately themed presents every year. The lock opened and Nathaniel entered the well-appointed shed. A telephone, a typewriter and a kettle on the workbench, a machinist’s stool beside it and the engravers tools that his father used on brass plates neatly arranged on shelves, a hobby of his. It took the son five minutes to find the guilty secret of his father’s industry. An ancient photocopier, a stack of pornographic magazines, a ledger, and file of neatly dated obituaries stuck in a ring binder. The latest obituaries from The Times sellotaped to A4 paper had handwritten dates and addresses in his father’s hand. Mr Worthington and Mr Oberlast were one of the last but five entries at the back of the file. On the photocopier the letter that his father had failed to post. A facsimile except for the handwritten names.
The names tallied with the pages and pages of obituaries with green ticks or red crosses beside the handwritten addresses.
Why was he sending jazz mags to the deceased? Then it dawned. His father was a con man, a fraudster; he was conning recently bereaved widows into believing their dead husbands owed money to a supplier of top-shelf magazines. There was no other logical explanation. The ledger bore out the facts of the enterprise. Nathaniel calculated that his father had netted over four thousand pounds in a year and most entries helpfully had PO or Ch beside them. The majority of payments had been by postal order.
This left him torn. Upset that women, like his mother, in their hour of need, had been mercilessly targeted. Alongside this, a sense of pride that his father was a sly old fox.
He had seen his father naked, but now he understood he never really knew him.
As Nathaniel locked up the house as he left for home, he was glad he had not paid for a notice announcing his father’s death in The Times. Otherwise who knew what would have arrived on the doormat.