When a father finds his daughter’s old roller skates, their relationship will shift forever.
He left the roller skates on the front porch as a reminder of how they’d spent her childhood.
He still remembered buying them in a small, family-run sports shop – Activ, or something like that. It was an Asda now, but back then he’d wandered in, a week before Christmas, thinking he might treat himself to something. A set of golf clubs, maybe. Once inside, though, he was struck almost straightaway with the children’s section, brightly coloured and filled with fake snow, tinsel and penguins. Then he saw the roller skates, a rich Ruby red. He thought he’d finished buying presents for Ruby, but he could see, even before handing over his MasterCard, how her smile would grow, like dough in a proving drawer, when she saw those roller skates.
The first time he took her out on them, her forehead crinkled with concentration. He’d chosen their spot, the park on Miry Lane, as their starting point.
‘You’re doing fine,’ he said. ‘Look at you go.’
Ruby didn’t say anything – only tensed her fists and stared at the yellow laces and stubborn Ruby red with such intensity as though they could start roller-skating for her.
‘I’ve got you,’ he encouraged her. ‘I’ll catch you if you fall.’ But Ruby never did. She concentrated and concentrated until one day, the little park on Miry Lane where she’d learnt to roller-skate, to ride a bike, to run around with Lottie and Max and countless others, just wasn’t big enough.
‘Can I skate to Mummy’s house?’
‘Can I skate to school?’
‘Can I skate to Lottie’s house?’
He never denied her. In fact, she always begged him to come along, as though she needed that security behind her. She’d smile and smile and click her Ruby red skates together and say: ‘I love skating with you, Daddy.’
Ten years later, the roller skates forgotten in some dusty corner of the house, he collared Ruby after coming home late again. He heard her unlocking the front door and shutting her bedroom door. Getting out of his own bed, he crossed the landing to Ruby’s room.
‘If I tell you be home for nine, you better bloody well be home for nine, not gone midnight,’ he said. He didn’t raise his voice. He’d passed conventional methods of discipline. She was lying in the bed, mascara smeared down her cheek and lipstick staining her teeth. ‘You’re 14, not 20.’
‘But nine’s like, little kid bedtime. Mum lets me stay up until eleven.’
‘I bet she does.’
Ruby rolled over, turning away from him.
‘Ruby, I know you think you’re grown up – ‘
‘Dad, I didn’t listen to this the last time.’
‘Ruby – ‘
He left, but not without slamming the door so forcefully that Ruby groaned. She was prone to headaches and the shake of the walls gave him some sort of satisfaction. Served her right for coming home at stupid o’clock. A few weeks ago, after yet another of Ruby’s late nights, he’d even phoned Hannah to talk about Ruby’s behaviour. She thought he was overreacting, of course. It was the excuse she’d given when she posted divorce forms through his door and couldn’t understand why he was shouting at her down the phone.
As he walked back to bed, biting his lip as he thought about Ruby, he heard something thud to the floor, tumbling slowly like an aftershock.
He cocked his head, trying to source the noise. Their house wasn’t particularly big. He’d moved after the divorce and the two-bedroomed house in the middle of nowhere was the first thing he saw.
Another thud, this time sounding like something metallic. He was paying more attention this time, and he grumbled when he realised he’d have to climb into the attic. The dust up there aggravated his chest, which always seemed congested and full of mucus these days. After getting his phone from his bedside table, he unfolded the attic stairs, switched on the phone torchlight, and began the climb. He remembered Ruby wanting to come up her before she was big enough, jumping up to reach the stair cord, pestering him to take her up to that magical place. He almost laughed at the memory.
Nearing the top of the stairs, he started to shine his torchlight into the darkness. So long as it wasn’t anything fragile, he thought. Then he could climb right back down again. He had too much rubbish in the attic. Too much rubbish for a 50-year-old divorcee.
When he reached the top step, the light fell onto an overturned Amazon box, the sticker with his name on yellowed. He followed the line of its fall until he saw what had made the noise.
Out of the box had tumbled a pair of Ruby red roller skates.
Ruby was due back from her mother’s at 8pm. The air was cool outside, but not chilly enough to keep him indoors. His mother’s old rocking chair was comfortable enough to track the minutes, rocking to and fro, until Ruby’s return. The roller skates were in front of the door, neatly aligned, yellow laces tied in bows. He’d had to thoroughly clean them that afternoon, but seeing the colour come back had been worth it. Even their smell, of baby oil and slight must, made him think of childish giggles, autumn leaves and the grind of wheels on tarmac. He sat back in the chair, head facing up the road, the slow rocking gentle in the late summer breeze. Ruby would smile when she saw those skates. He was sure of it.
Several hours later, Ruby would return to her father’s house, cycling in the dark even though she knew he didn’t like it, to find him snoring in the rocking chair. After tying her bike to the porch, she headed to the front door, almost tripping over the roller skates in the dark. She picked them up, a brief smile falling on her face when she realised what they were. How small her feet had been back then! She doubted she could fit her big toe into them now.
Opening the door, she took her dad’s winter coat off the hook and went to tuck it around him before going to her own bed. He’ll come inside when he wakes up, she thought. She didn’t want to disturb him when he looked so peaceful. Heading back inside, she smiled one last time at her dad, rolling her eyes as he let out a loud snore.
The roller skates she left, neatly arranged, on the porch.