By Auburn Red
See previous OFAH fics for disclaimer. Sixth verse same as the first! :D
Ted Trotter had done a lot of thinking, something even he admitted he did rarely often, but he came to a decision and it was about time that he told Del Boy about it
Del returned to the sitting room, his white plain T-shirt showing obvious tear stains and wrinkles on the shoulders that probably came from a four-year-old's hands gripping him too tightly. During his leave, Del had absently taken the book with him. He shook his head, rolled his eyes, and place it on the mantlepiece, the title visible on the spine: The House at Pooh Corner.
"He's finally asleep," Del said nodding over to Rodney's bedroom. He poured some brandy in a glass and handed it to Granddad. The senior drank as the young man continued. He noticed that Del had neglected to pour himself one. "He was doing alright 'til I got to the end where Christopher Robin and Winnie-The-Pooh had to say good-bye forever, then he started blubbering. Thought I was going to have to wear a life-vest and swim my way out of there. I can't wait 'til he grows out of that!"
Granddad shook his head. He might have said, "But you'll miss it when he does," remembering a small boy of his own who used to listen rapturously to his father's stories always wanting to hear one more tale before he finally nodded off. That was before adolescence and manhood turned that wide-eyed grin into a cynical frown and that joyful exciteable boy transformed into a lumbering sour man with fists that he was all too willing to use. He felt a little wistful, but he said, "Not much for reading. Gets in the way of my telly time and it fills that boy's head with nonsense."
"It can't get any more full with that than it already is," Del said doing his characteristic laugh. He then sat down across from his grandfather opening the ledger and taking out the money that he had earned during the past few weeks. It was a small pile, a much too small pile, as he divvied up the amounts. He went over the family budget with the care and practice of a man twice his age.
"You ain't going to eat anything Del Boy?" Grandad asked nodding over to the plate of frozen dinner that Granddad had heated up for him while he had read to Rodney. Del glanced over to the food. He filled a fork and held it towards his mouth. He stopped and then returned the fork back to the plate without eating from it.
"Thanks Granddad, but I'm on a rubbish free diet," Del joked.
"I should clock you round the earhole," Granddad lectured making a fist as if carrying out his threat. He knew that this wasn't the first time that Del had turned down food. He remembered that Rodney told him that while they were out, Del had bought two apples. Rodney thought that they were for him and Del, but Del told him that one was for Rodney for now and the other was for later. Come to think of it, Granddad couldn't remember Del eating in front of him in the last couple of days and had wondered, hoped anyway, he was eating at the market or with his friends, but he had a feeling that the opposite was true.
"You need to eat something Del Boy," Granddad suggested. "You can't live on nothing."
"There ain't much difference between this and nothing, "Del joked. "You can eat it yourself, if you want it so badly or save it, heat it up, and give it to Rodders later, I don't care. I ain't touching this I assume it's food." He pushed the plate away as if proving his point. Any other person would have thought that Del Boy was purposely being ornery and hurtful, but Granddad knew the truth as if the boy were shouting it. He knew what Del Boy didn't say often spoke louder than what he did and the truth was as plain as the dwindling money in front of them: Del Boy was not eating his share of food, so that Granddad and Rodney could have more.
Ted might have told him that he noticed this. He might have told him, no ordered him to eat something and that to take care of his family, he needed to take care of himself first. He might have reminded him that if Del Boy should have learned anything from his mother's death it was how fragile life could be and how important he was to the family and not do anything foolish that could alter his health and hurt Rodney even further. That in believing he was helping them, he was doing more harm than good with his intentions. He might have said a number of things, but he didn't. It wasn't his place. After all, he wasn't usefu,l wasn't as needed as Del Boy was and he wouldn't listen anyway.
Del Boy put out the money for the rent, gas, and electric, without comment.
Granddad winced at the bad news. "I hate to tell you, Del Boy but you ought to put some down-"
Del shook his head annoyed. "Don't tell me, please don't tell me that Rodders needs a new pair of rhythm and blues already!"
"Alright, I won't tell you," the old man said. After a moments silence he continued. "He needs a new pair of shoes."
Del rolled his eyes but then nodded. "Yeah, I saw his feet. Blisters." He put down a fiver for the shoes. "That kid, I think he grows out of them or wears them out almost as soon as he gets him. What does he do with them? He'll be wearing a man's pair by the time he's 11! I'll have to cut him at the ankles by then. No matter, I know someone who can get a pair for him."
"It better not be the same bloke you got them from last time," Ted remarked. "They were the wrong size and the wrong color."
"So they didn't match his eyes," Del remarked. "By the time I got to him, it was either them or a pair of baby girl boots."
"They were the wrong color for each other," Granddad corrected. "One was black and the other white!"
"Alright Mr. Fashion," Del said. "I won't go to the same bloke alright" He was about to go to another amount on the list, but then pretending that it was an absent gesture he put another fiver down. "If I get him a new pair, maybe he can hold onto them a little longer this time."
Del Boy continued to go over the budget as Granddad stared at his grandson, his guilt almost consuming him. He should be the one doing this, after all, wasn't he technically the grown-up, the adult in the house now? Del Boy was still technically a teenager. He should be out doing teen things like riding in wild cars, shagging birds, listening to that rock-and-roll music not going over the family budget trying to make money stretch from one lean time to the next, which now seemed to be all the time.
There was never a real transfer of power, no words were said between himself and Del Boy. Just about a thousand little things culminated in this decision that Del was going to be the head of the family. Ted hated himself for the way this was done. Hated the fruitless job hunts that he went on before he came to the realization that no one wanted to hire a man in his late fifties with bad knees whose only experience was as a lamplighter, a nightwatchman, a one-day-only decorator for the Council, and a gun-runner during the Spanish Civil War, all before these current bosses were born. A man who hadn't held a regular steady job his entire life. He hated going home with his pockets empty and feeling like he failed his grandsons as surely as their father had.
He hated that he tried to make sense of the budget and could not. He remembered going over the ledger, unable to make hide nor hair of the numbers and drinking way too much. Del Boy was about to go out on a double date with his friend, Boycie, when he saw his grandfather, looked on in sympathy, and said "Give it here," and started working on it.
With only slight talking about the subject, they both knew who Rodney's guardian was going to end up being. It was more or less decided one night when Del said "I suppose it ought to be me that brings him up." He said in a determined, but almost frightened tone of voice. He turned to his Grandfather, "Unless you-" Ted shook his head and squeezed his grandson's shoulders tightly in an effort of solidarity and support to the young man who had already proven himself to be wiser than his years.
Ted knew that he should feel proud of that fact, that the boy was proving himself to be a better parent than either he or Reggie. He didn't want to think ill of the dead, but maybe even Joan. But, it didn't make him feel less guilty over it.
He wanted to be a better parent to them than he was to Reggie. He didn't think of himself as a bad father to his son, just a typical one. True, he wasn't always around, was a typical father of his generation, hands-off with the direct parenting, occasionally unafraid to use his hands or a belt to prove a point. But he never beat him mercilessly, or take a delight over lording himself over his son the way he regrettably saw Reginald do to his own wife and children. True, he and Vi had violent arguments, mostly through words, and there were very obvious reasons why Reg had ended up being an only child. But there was never anything that Ted could point to and say that he would have predicted that his son would turn out to be such a violent monster at times who would then carelessly abandon his children. But still it was a regret that he couldn't be better to them than he was to his own son.
Another addition to his store of regrets not saying anything when Reggie got violent, particularly with Rodney. He wasn't living with them when Del was growing up, so missed out on that drama, but he was certainly an eyewitness to the abuse that Rodney had endured. He watched as his son, took all his anger out on a young innocent child who could barely reach the table. He wanted to object, tried to but, Reggie reminded him that it was his flat and he could do whatever the hell he liked and if Ted didn't like it he could "get the fuck out!" So the only thing Ted could do was give the small boy a shoulder to cry on and a lap to sit on, when the beating was over. He would then wipe his grandson's tears and rock him back and forth. He should have stopped him, but he didn't feel strong enough, the only one who did was Del Boy and well, Reggie, left shortly after that if that was any indication.
There were too many regrets that Ted had of living here. He wasn't useful to these boys, another drain on their resources. Maybe he was taking the coward's way out and abandoning them just as easily as their parents did, but he couldn't see any use that he could be by staying. He put his hand on Del Boy's just before he took money out for extra living expenses. "Del Boy," he said. "You don't need to put anything down for me."
Del looked surprised. "Well unless you're going to walk around naked, which please don't, and live only on air, then I'll have to," Del said about to put the money down again. Once again, Ted, stopped him.
"No, Del, I mean you won't have to," Ted said. "I won't be living here."
The moment to announce his decision had come. Del laughed bitterly. "I'm sorry was I asleep when I chucked you out, because I don't remember doing it."
Ted shook his head. "No, I decided myself."
"So, where are you planning on going?" Del asked. "Moving back in with Gran then?"
Ted shook his head and laughed bitterly. "Well, I would but you know how her sister is!" His wife had been absent minded and ill lately, and her sister had more or less moved to the flat in Deptford to look after her. However, she did not get on with Ted at all. Ted could stomach living with Vi again. After all, they had begun to come to a truce particularly since Joan's death, but he could not bear living around that she-devil who watched over her.
"There's some senior centers that I could look into," he suggested optimistically. Really he hadn't done a serious look yet. If he couldn't find a place, it wouldn't be the first time that he had to sleep on the streets. "Maybe I should slow down a bit, wait to collect my pension," he suggested.
"You do that here anyway," Del reminded him. "The least you could do is do nothing in the comfort of your own home."
Ted laughed. Once again, Del wasn't saying what he really meant that he didn't want Granddad to go. Ted sighed and fingered the money. "I don't want to be another burden to you. What good am I if I can't earn my keep round here? I ain't any use to you or your brother. You don't need me here."
Del was silent for a minute and then pulled out 25 and handed it over to his grandfather. "This is for the housekeeping. I don't want Rodney to lose his favorite babysitter or mine," Del said. "Well my favorite 'cause he's the cheapest anyway." Once again deflecting the serious moment. He gave his grandfather the money with a gesture that he indicated for him to take it. Del then added another 20. "I don't give this to someone who didn't earn it who wasn't needed."
Granddad held the money touched that in his own way of what the young man had reminded him. They sat in silence as they heard a loud cry from the bedroom. "Granddad, Del Boy," Rodney's voice called.
Del sighed. "Times when I wish those monsters would just take him away already."
He was about to get up when Ted pushed him back down. "I'll handle this one, Del" he told turned around and said. "Just so you know, Del Boy, you're needed too." He pointed at the food."Eat."
Del shrugged as Ted walked over to his younger grandson's bedroom. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Del glancing again at the budget and filling his fork once again with food, this time putting it in his mouth. He winked at his grandfather. "It's horrible," he said, but he ate another mouthful.
Ted laughed on his way to Rodney's bedroom and nodded knowing that he wasn't going anywhere anytime soon.