When Dad was still here, I was his favourite. That’s not me being stuck up or anything—it’s what he used to say to me all the time. He had this thing of almost never meeting your eyes when you talked to him, but whenever he said this he would put down whatever little wooden toy he was sanding and look right at me. Even through his glasses his blue eyes pierced. “Penny,” he’d say, “Margaret’s your mum’s favourite. That’s just how it is. But that’s ok. Because you’re mine.”
The year before he died, Dad and I spent most evenings in his shed out the back. He sat at his bench and worked on his wooden toys, and I would sit in Granddad’s armchair and read. All of Dad’s books were in the shed—Mum had made him move them out of the house years ago—so there were overstuffed shelves and bookcases lining all the walls. The low bookcase by my armchair doubled as a coffee table, somewhere to put my cups of Milo. If I was writing in my diary, he knew not to disturb me, but if I was reading and ‘making faces’ he would always ask me what was wrong with the book, and I’d make my usual teenage know-it-all complaints about how the protagonist’s dialogue was just so unbelievable, and he would laugh and nod his head. Sometimes, when the mood took him, he’d drag an old deckchair out of the corner and sit by me and read too, our two dark heads together in the warm yellow glow of his single benchtop lamp.
Once, Mum asked me, “What are you two doing out there in that shed?” Margaret looked up from her bowl of cake batter and stopped stirring.
“Nothing,” I replied.
“You’re not doing nothing,” Mum said. Mum was prickly with me at the best of times, but there was something weirdly aggressive about her now. “What are you doing in there?”
I decided to humour her, this once. “I’m reading, and Dad’s working on his toys.”
Mum rolled her eyes. “Those bloody toys.”
“Mum,” Margaret said, “what do I do now?”
“Grease that tin there, darl. Look,” she said to me, “you tell your dad to stop wasting his time in there with his toys. What kind of grown man plays with toys anyway?”
“He’s not playing with them, he’s making them. He’s been getting calls from people who actually want to buy his stuff.”
“He has! He told me!”
“Well, he hasn’t told me, which means he knows those stupid little ponies are a waste of time.”
“They are not!” I loved Dad’s wooden ponies—the first one he’d ever made had been a present for me.