‘You were always running away from home,’ he says. Clear as a bell, he conjures the image of seven-year-old you, your spare vests in a carrier bag, taking yourself as far as the bus stop before you were drawn home with the promise of a glass of Dandelion & Burdock and a Blue Riband.
Later, you would go further each time, and for longer.
Today you notice his difficulty walking, the drips of lukewarm coffee puddling around his trembling fingers as he hands you the cup, and you offer to clear up.
In the kitchen, a hole in the ceiling grabs your attention, an angry gaping mouth with crumbling plaster teeth. It was caused by a long-ago leak, and there will never be enough fivers in the old Birds custard tin to repair it.
You tip the remnants of the drink you didn’t want down the sink. Mellow Birds, sterilised milk, and two sugars, because he doesn’t remember that you haven’t taken sugar for over twenty years.
He has complained, again, that you have been too long gone. He lists all the others who never come.
Two blackened, shrivelled sausages wait under the grill for a sandwich that will never happen. You check that the gas is off and then tip them into the overflowing bin, trying not to look too closely. You know you will find there the scrapings of other uneaten meals, and half hidden beneath yesterday’s Daily Mirror, empty purple cans, the special brew that is both sickness and medicine.
‘What’s it like?’ he asks, when you get ready to leave, ‘The town you live now.’
It’s here, you remind him, home now is just a few streets away. He looks doubtful.
You’ll be back tomorrow, and by tomorrow, he won’t know that you were here today.