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Short Story – The Boy in the Box Part Three: by Margaret Hannigan Popp

19 Sep 2022 13 minute read
The Rose and Crown

Margaret Hannigan Popp

Dafydd never left me a note when he had to be away for a few days. We just had that way of knowing between us. It never bothered me.

I had the freedom to work and earn far more money than my friends because he stayed at home and minded Luke.

He spent all his spare time improving the house. Another bedroom, a conservatory, a loft extension. I took care of the garden.

It suited us both when he needed to pop down to Cardiff to meet up with someone. It gave us space and I enjoyed the special time with Luke.

he first day that I went into the Rose and Crown to ask Wayne if he had heard from Dafydd, he was really surprised. He said, ‘maybe it’s the phones, Dafydd’s sound. He’ll turn up. Some emergency’.

Real Welshies

One week later, I went back. He said that Dafydd only did the odd shift. He often passed him on his way to the train station. Once he met him in Cardiff. He was in a terrible rush. Said he couldn’t stop.

He was with some earnest looking types. Gogs! North Wales. Real Welshies. Not like the Merthyr lot. I was relieved, Cardiff wasn’t far away. ‘Linda’, he said then, ‘I don’t want to speak out of turn but I better tell you this. Could be something or nothing. Some of the lads, y’know Mog Williams lot, they were up in London last May. Way out in Kingston, picking up scrap. Good copper scrap. Heard about it from Alan Priestley’s lad. Lot of money. Worth their while see. Anyways while they were there. They went for a pint in one of their pubs. And they swear black and blue they saw a lad there – the spit of your Dafydd.’

My Dafydd, his words shot through me.

‘But before they shout out, how’s Dafydd? That you butt?’, the lad had scarpered.

‘And?’

‘Well,’ we said to him ‘You got a double boy? But he just laughed and said he were long done with London.’

Mumbles, Oystermouth Castle image by Sarah Morgan Jones

Clean break

I moved to Swansea with Luke. I couldn’t stand it. People coming into me in the bank saying, ‘How are you love. Feeling a bit better.’

I didn’t want to hear about Richard Evans doing a runner and getting caught in Bristol with ‘some piece’. Or Andrew Boran surfacing in the Cardiff barrage twelve months later.

I didn’t want sympathy. I didn’t want pity. I wanted to be left alone.

Philip Maynard offered to negotiate a transfer to the Oystermouth branch. I thanked him. I declined. I wanted a clean break. I was persuaded to hang on for a redundancy package.

Urine

The house was valued far higher than I expected. Good location and well improved said the estate agent. I was able to pay off the mortgage and have enough to buy what they call a ‘doer-upper’ in St. Thomas in Swansea.

Eddy and Jack stood in the front room early one Sunday morning. The bay wall was bubbling with damp, floor boards were broken and rotten.

The whole place reeked of stagnant water and urine.

My brothers rubbed their hands in glee.

‘We’ll do a great job here, Linda. It’ll be a right little palace for you and our boy Luke.’

We looked through the window at the blue light stood on the water in Swansea Bay.

‘First though, we have to tell you’, said Eddy.

‘Went looking for him’, finished Jack.

‘Not that we were going to do much to him.’

‘Well not as much as would matter.’

‘You deserve to know.’

‘Tell me’, I said.

‘Went to that road, Thackeray Street, where he said he was from. Knocked on every bloomin’ door. Talked to everyone. Nice they were. Different but nice. Very polite. Couldn’t believe we were from Wales. Some of them a bit difficult to understand. Not proper English.’

‘We was a bit nervous at first. Being London. And them English and whatever.’

‘But honest, they all wanted to hear about Wales.’

‘One old lady asked us to sing.’

‘Go on. You didn’t?’

‘We did! Calon lan. We were shite but she didn’t care. Her school teacher, Miss Emily Jenkins, sang that in class. Her name was Mrs. Eloise Vutenberg. How about that. We sent her a card when we came home. She was seventy four.’

‘Loads of tea and cakes. Buns, strudel, chapatis. You name it, we ate it. But no Dafydd.’

‘This man, Ludwig Epstein told us everything.’

‘Luddy he’s called.’

‘Ok. Right. He knew everyone. He came to live there in 1937 with his parents. They escaped from Hitler. His Dad was a scientist so he got papers to come into Britain and he worked in the big Institute in Mill Hill.’

‘The same place where Dafydd’s father worked?’

‘He never heard of a Mason. Even if the family had changed it’s name he reckoned he would know. Said the Institute was like a club. The Scientists had their own gym and tennis courts.’

‘Their own pub and all.’

‘Family outings. Women’s things. All that mullarkey.’

‘Another thing he said is ‘I know every Jewish family in North London. You understand our history boys. We had to look out for each other. But I never heard of this Mason family. I don’t know who this English Dafydd could be. I’m sorry boys. It’s hard for your lovely sister. Give her my regards. Luke is a good name. She has that.’

Rhoiodd Dad ei llaw ar fy phen i. Ei llaw e. Fy phen i. Dwi’n teimlo e er hynny.

Ten years later I heard a woman talking on the news. Luke was on the phone, full of excitement from his first rotation. He was ‘on the ward’, a second year medical student in Gwent Hospital.

I was just thinking how proud my mother would have been knowing that her grandson now walked in a white coat with stethoscope on the floors that she had scrubbed.

I heard a voice saying, ‘I just got up in the morning and he wasn’t there. I never saw him again.’

That was it. Exactly the same.

Frugal

A few weeks after Dafydd left, I looked in the wardrobe and realised how his clothes were all the same, just jeans and plain shirts. All M&S labels. Identikit. Winstanley shoes. Berghaus walking gear. The pockets were empty. And clean.

I used to joke to my friends, Mari and Helen that he was easy to keep. Very frugal.

I looked at the wardrobe and thought, yes there isn’t much left of him.

In the loft, we had a simple space for table, chair and shelving. Dafydd said he didn’t need a computer. We would wait until Luke was ready and buy a good new Dell. He was happy with pen and paper and his books.

I had rarely gone in there. It was like his office and I just accepted that he should have his own work-like space.

When I looked, I found that most of the books were maps. It seemed like he had bought the whole of Wales and the West Country from the Ordnance Survey Office. The note pads were empty. I never searched for him.

Now the news was reporting an investigation into covert police operations. A secret police department had placed officers in deep undercover to penetrate activist groups.

Animal Rights groups, Nationalists Groups, Left wing Groups – anything that had a name was fair game. Free The Pig Now! Cymru am Byth. Man up for Miners.

Disappeared

The really big story however was the discovery that these police officers had entered into relationships with activist members.

I watched as ‘Leila’ told her story of being with ‘John’ for seven years and having two children.

When he disappeared, she had no idea why he had left. It felt like a death to her.

Now, finding out that their life was a hoax just felt like another death. It broke my heart. I couldn’t put Luke through another death.

Dringodd dyn i’r mynedd.

Gwelodd e yr eryr.

Sefyllodd yr eryr ar pen yr fan.

Dringodd yr dyn yn fwy uchelach.

Clywodd e swn.

Roedd yr eryr wedi yn dihuno.

Dechrodd e yn eheddeg.

Eheddegodd yr eryr trwy yr bwlch rhwng yr mynedd ac yr golau.

Cwympodd yr dyn. Buodd yr diwrnod yn tywyllwch.

Clywedodd e swn.

Gwellodd yr dyn cefyll.

Roedd yr cefyll gwyn ac disglair.

Teimliodd e yr cefyll.

Arogliodd e yr cefyll.

Dilynodd e yr cefyll.

Aeth yr cefyll trwy yr bwlch rhwng yr mynedd ac yr nos.

Genes

‘I’ve decided to specialise in gene therapy, Mum. What do you think of that?’

We are sitting in our little front garden on the wooden seat that looks out across Swansea Bay. Our throne room Luke calls it.

It’s a tiny garden really, just space for clumps of salvia, lavender and aleoli. I put the dahlias and gladioli in pots, it makes it easier to lift them in winter and to stake against the strong breeze.

‘Can you explain that to me?’

‘Basically, our bodies come from our parents, grand parents, great grand parents. Y’know stretching back. If we can explore and fully understand, I mean in purely scientific terms, right down to each strand in our DNA then we can do so much in a medical sense to use our genes to make ourselves healthier. We can understand how cancers work, why people with the same parents have different outcomes. We can alter people’s destinies.’

It’s a tiny garden but we can look out over the bay, a kingdom of light and colour and infinite possibility. Every day, every hour, every minute the view changes. Right in front of you.

‘So, I guess for an individual, knowing who their parents are is key. Right?’

He looks me in the eye. So calm and so composed.

Such a long time since he had hidden in a box to escape the questions about his father. Here he is now. Winner of the Heatherly-Whitton Gold Medal for Best Medicine Exam Results in Swansea University. Funding awarded for his own project in Medical Scientific Research.

‘You want to ask me questions. About your father.’

‘Yes. You don’t have to do anything. I don’t want to get you upset. I can do the looking myself. It’s much easier now with online research. Much harder to get lost. I know that Uncle Eddy and Jack tried that address in Kingsbury but I can trawl through so many sites now. There’s always some truth in a story. Loads of organisations have put up images of former employees, works outings and all that kind of thing. I can use image recognition algorithms. Don’t worry, I will be discreet. Make up some story to put with the photos that we have of him. The Welsh School in London moved but I can track them down. Persuade them to give me his National Insurance number. They’ll probably bang on about Data Protection but I’ll get around that. I have letters. Everybody does what the doctor ordered.’ His voice stumbled.

‘I’m sorry’, I said.

‘Why should you have to be sorry?’

His voice is sharp, sharper than he meant it to be. He surprises himself.

‘Oh, look at me! Mr. Know-it-all. Sorry Mum.’ It’s too much. We make ourselves laugh. Then we shout out to the sea. ‘Sorry. Sorree. Sori. Surry. Shorry. Sorry Sorry. Shut up!’

‘Anyway, I can put myself on a DNA database. Magic!’

‘Hmm…what does that do?’

‘Well, it’s not comprehensive. A lot of worries about privacy and human rights and all that. So they can’t just put DNA on databases. But there are loads of private and voluntary ones. It can work like a process of elimination. Think of it like finding your distant relatives first. Then you can keep cross referencing and getting closer and closer to a direct family member.

‘Then you will just have a small pool of people to follow up, find their story, get to see them, spot a resemblance, pop the question. I can access the state registers too. This is how the cold case reviews are working now. It’s all about forensic reviews. They rely on volunteers a lot to build up a big enough DNA bank so that they can have as many profiles as possible to work out familial links. So most of the samples are not from criminals at all. Most of the police volunteer their own sample. It’s all in a good cause. Isn’t it?’

Box

I find his story book in the bottom of the box. The story about the boy in the box is quite difficult to make out. It is easier for me to write it out in English.

A man climbs up a mountain.

He sees the eagle.

The eagle settles on the summit.

The man climbs up higher.

He hears a sound.

The eagle is waking up.

The eagle starts to fly.

The eagle flies through the gap between the mountain and the light.

The man falls down.

The day turns into the darkness.

The man hears a sound.

The man sees a horse.

The horse is bright and white.

He senses the horse.

He smells the horse.

He follows the horse.

The horse passes through the gap between the mountain and the night.

Sins

Luke rang me when he found Dafydd on the register. He was angry. Why hadn’t I told him.

He had explained the importance of DNA to me. He could have found him years before. He had a right to know. It even said so in the Bible.

‘The sins of the fathers were will be visited upon the children’.

Ei llaw e. Fy phen i. Dwi’n teimlo e er hynny.

What about the sins of the mothers? What do they do with them? Where do their sins go?

Chwilio, to lose.

I look out into the garden. The rain has stopped. It’s time to get out into the garden.

Take a spade and dig.

Dig and hoe and bury.

Prune the roses.

Take the secateurs and cut.


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