The People Versus Chapter 20

Airplane window

She asks for fourteen thousand dollars. He has been dead for six weeks. I am leather-skinned, chapped-lipped, salt-stained and blonde, staffing a water sports centre in October, late season, as the summer sets behind Crete.

I am sorry that you have lost your father, she writes. But

In the early morning, a group of quiet Americans hire scuba fins and a paddleboard and set off towards Spinalonga island, two swimming and one stroking behind on yellow fibreglass. I sit on the shore and read the message on my phone with the scrappy tendrils of the resort’s internet, its signal like the setting sun as it reaches the beach.

A direct message on Twitter. Five figures. She claims he owes her. I ask the swimmers’ retreating heels as they disappear into the dawn in the shadow of the leper island, are you seeing this? but they keep on swimming. Even after I read it and pull the screen down to refresh the page, sucking up more satellite broadband, the notification doesn’t go away. Message requests: 1 person you may know. And I do. I do.

I have been seeking payment.

I am not here; it is six years ago. I am driving a taxi from Magherafelt near Belfast to Castle Leslie in Glaslough, just over the border in the Republic of Ireland, shortly before Christmas. The passengers are going from a wedding to the reception and one of them is carsick. Dad texts me, but I don’t receive it until I cross back into the United Kingdom. She has fired him. He’s going to fight it. He does. He loses.

I am at the back of an empty 747 in the middle of the night, fourteen years old. He trusted me; he sent me on my way. He is the reason I became anything at all.

I would appreciate payment.

I am landing a Cessna with a busted oil tank in a barley field in the Wairarapa. He knows I can get her on the ground and walk away.

She waited six weeks, although she knew he had died within days, before he was cremated, before my eyes stopped stinging like I had swum from Plaka to Spinalonga without goggles, before I flew home at the front of a full 777, and I know this because she took to Twitter and spoke ill of the dead, her reply hidden below the “here be dragons; show more bile?” barrier but I had to know, so I clicked. She asks for fourteen thousand dollars, knowing with the degree of certainty reserved for those who spend their lives in self-funded, self-inflicted, self-righteous litigation and bald-faced malice, that he had died dead broke.

I will pursue the payment of these funds.

It is cold comfort to know there were others. Colder still, when we learn that someone else was awarded one point four million dollars in damages after crossing her path. I move the decimal place back twice until it reads fourteen thousand.

I am presuming you are the Executor

in the event that you are

He takes a job in Auckland. He has a new boss. She corners him in bed during one of his first hospital admissions, proposing management changes. He says no. The hospital trips mount.

I am standing at the bottom of the staircase, agitated. He is on the phone with her and she just doesn’t fucking stop, and we are going

a court decision on reparation that he owes me

to be late for my wedding.

She was in my head then. Sixteen years earlier:

Our camper van has blown a tyre at sixty miles an hour on the autobahn near Heidelberg. It’s a Sunday afternoon in early 1999, and we stand on the shoulder next to the lopsided vehicle and study it like it’s a poor rugby result and we are the coaches whose job it is to get the tour back on track. I am notifying you of this debt, as a young couple in a dark blue BMW pull over. They don’t speak English; we don’t speak German. They motion up the autobahn, make driving gestures, say “Weinheim” and make a show of pretending to jack up a van and replace a tyre. Dad and I look at each other like the stray dog I’ll find on the London Road outside Royal Berkshire Hospital will look at me one day when I’m trying to coax it into my husband’s car, and I don’t know what the dog heard, but we hear Crowded House on their stereo singing about the weather, so we get in.

Every memory with him. Every time we trusted each other and came out unscathed. She’s in them now. She weaves a rancid strand through four rich decades, the fabric of remembered happiness turning cold at her touch. I have been receiving this DM my entire life.

 If you wish to contact me you can do so on

They’re changing the guard at Buckingham Palace.

The debt dies with you if you die with nothing. I am blending basil leaves with pine nuts and photoshopping the Bat signal onto a picture of my house when Huw Edwards comes on the BBC in black and says hey you guys Liz is dead, two weeks after Dad. I wish I could have told him. He’d met the Duke of Edinburgh. He would have bloody loved the Queue. A five mile creek of them, a lost south London stream-turned-sewer, Effra or Ambrook, reemerged a zombie of itself on the banks of the Thames and resplendent in purple puffer coat, shuffling. I am emailing him in the middle of his night and intercepting the morning’s surprise: Dad turn on the TV. He won’t read it.

I am resting my elbows on my knees at a high-topped table at a bar under the Sydney Opera House. I am royal flush in Vegas, Lady Luck. I am crying in the corridor of my third flat and he is on the phone in my ear; he says, just keep on going. I am thin air. I am still here. I am learning the guilt felt by the bereaved as we try to make everyone else feel better when they say, I’m sorry, and we say, thank you, it’s okay.

I am sorry that you have lost your father, she writes. But

but you’ll never take me.

I am fourteen thousand days old. I would rather throw fourteen thousand bags of gold into the fires of Mount Doom. Petition the court for his will. Make an inquiry with the law society. Spend money on me. Let me know what you find. I am my father’s daughter, and I too am looking at you through the screen, steel-toed, pursuing relief from this crushing debt.

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