Two Stories by Sarah Robin



The Voices In My Father's Study

I was sat cross-legged on the rug in front of the fire playing with some toy soldiers when I heard the voices for the first time. I wasn’t scared, but I was curious as they weren’t voices I had heard before. I thought maybe my mother had visitors in the lounge, however when I passed her to go to the bathroom, she was sat doing her needlework with nobody with her but Winston, our old cat.

When I returned to the study, I paused by the doorway and looked at my father – well, I say I looked at my father, he was always hidden by The Times in the evenings. It was a comical sight, like the newspaper had its own pair of tailored trousers and shiny brown boots, with puffs of cigar smoke occasionally rising from behind.

There was part of me that wondered if he was playing tricks on me but then again he didn’t normally joke around like that, not when he was reading his articles anyway. Maybe he had had one too many glasses of brandy. I rose onto my tip-toes and leaned to one side, straining my neck to see if I could see his mouth moving from the side of his face. Nothing; not even a twitch.

I rested my heels on the ground and sighed, confused. I made my way back to the fire where my toy soldiers stood to attention at the mantlepiece, when I heard the voices again. They weren’t clear enough for me to make out what they were saying, they sounded more like they were mumbling – similar to the collective sound of a crowd of passengers talking in small groups on a railway platform.

Placing my hands on my hips, I surveyed the room trying to find a logical explanation. Ah, the radio! I thought maybe it had been left on on a low volume. I ran over and inspected it but found it wasn’t turned on. ‘What are you doing over there?’ My father’s deep voice boomed from across the room, though his head never moved from behind the newspaper. ‘Nothing, just checking something!’ I squeaked. Even as a boy, I knew hearing voices was not a good thing, so I didn’t dare tell anyone.

Feeling defeated, I returned to the rug and carried on playing, but the voices never went away and after some time I realised several things; one; that only I could hear the voices, and two; that the voices were coming from inside my head. The voices became clearer as time went on and my mind would conjure up images of what these people looked like.

“Who were they?” Elizabeth whispered, wide-eyed in wonder. They were the characters of my stories, I told her, cradling her on my knee, her blonde ringlets tumbled clumsily over her little shoulders. You see, characters such as these do not come to just anyone, they come to those who will listen and will tell their stories through words on a page, give them adventures and lives that only you could create.

We sat under a blanket on my father’s armchair by the fire in his study, where he had always sat. I stared at the large glass cabinet of books opposite us. It reached from one end of the room to the other and filled the whole space from floor to ceiling. It was full of expensive leatherbound books that I was never allowed to touch as a boy. My own collection lay on the mantlepiece, for fear my father would object to them being worthy enough to be in his glass cabinet - even long after he had died.

‘’So you would write stories about them, the people in your head?” she asked, pulling me away from my train of thought; painful memories of disapproval and humiliation. I would write in secret, I told her. My father disapproved of me writing what he called ‘silly fables’, so I would write my stories when I was hidden from his view, usually staying up past my bedtime, scribbling away in the moonlight by my bedroom window. My mother quietly supported what I loved, though she didn’t show this enthusiasm in front of my father.

Elizabeth thought about this for a while. “Was he a bad man?” she asked cautiously. No, I shook my head. My father, your great-grandfather, wasn’t a bad man, he simply didn’t appreciate the creative arts and instead filled his head with business matters and politics. She played with my beard as I spoke. He didn’t have the time for my stories of children’s tales and he thought I should have been using my brain for more grown-up things, things he said were useful and sensible. Of course, he didn’t realise at the time how popular my stories would be to other children and I would go on to make a good living out of it.

“I like to write stories too, papa. I draw pictures to go with them too,” Elizabeth’s eyes grow in size at the excitement of a shared love of writing stories. An artist as well as a writer? I gasp in exaggerated awe. Well, you do sound very talented. I would very much like to read those stories. Elizabeth beams in delight in my interest, something I never had myself, not from my family anyway.

“What happens to the voices once you have written the stories, papa?” she queried, her brows furrowed with concern. They never leave you, I reassure her. They may become quieter as new ones come along, but they will always be a part of you and you will never be truly alone. You’ll have hundreds, if not thousands of them by the time you’re my age and they aren’t always people either, I have had many animals too.

Elizabeth grins then turns to the glass cabinet. “What books are in there?” she asks. I don’t know, I tell her, I’ve never been in it. I wasn’t allowed, remember? “But you’re not a little boy anymore,” she points out. I think about this for a moment and I smile at her maturity for such a young girl. That’s right, I’m not a little boy anymore. We clambered out of the large, old leather armchair and she clasped my hand and took me over to the cabinet. I was still intimidated by it, even now.

There must have been hundreds if not a thousand large, thick books, mainly on economics, world maps and scientific essays of botany and medicines of other sorts. There was no fiction, unsurprisingly. “What’s in there?” Elizabeth’s little hand pointed to a locked compartment on the top shelf of the cabinet.

Elizabeth, pass me that stool, I asked. I stood tall and reached my arm to the top of the cabinet, sweeping my fingers through layers of dust before they brushed onto something small and made of metal. The key was dirty and had obviously been untouched for decades. I blew on it, removing some of the dust, then rubbed it on my jumper.

Mine and Elizabeth’s eyes met before I inserted the key into the lock to find it was a perfect fit. We held our breaths as I turned the key until we heard a click. The wooden panel swung open easily and in there was a large handmade box made of reddish wood with a beautiful design of flowers and birds intricately carved into it. I pulled the box out of the cabinet and placed it down on the rug by the fireplace, my hands shaking slightly.

“Shall I open it, papa?” Elizabeth asked, placing her hand on my arm. I nodded in approval and she proceeded to open the box ever so delicately. “A treasure box!” Elizabeth exclaimed. It was a treasure box; inside was my mother’s wedding ring, a collection of photographs of my parents when they were young and a handful of letters they wrote to each other when he was away during the war. I put the letters to one side to read another time when I noticed a large, dusty envelope at the base of the box. I opened one end and pulled out around twenty sheets of paper with my boyish scribbles covering both sides.

My stories! I whispered, dumbfounded. “He must have liked your stories if he kept them in his treasure box,” Elizabeth proclaimed so innocently and so sure of herself. I wiped way a few tears from my cheeks and she hugged me tight. I’m ok, they are happy tears, I reassured her.

She looked through the photographs one by one. Suddenly, she lifted her head and looked around the room. “Who is that?” she asked. They are pictures of your great-grandparents when they were courting, I pointed to the black and white photographs. This was probably the first time she had seen pictures of her great-grandparents. “No, who was that talking?” she scrunched up her face.

Ah, I think you’ve just met the characters for your next story! I chuckled, memories of my own experiences flooding back through my mind, as if I was watching myself in a strange out-of-body experience. I’ll go and fetch you some paper and pencils, I said, heaving myself off the floor. I paused as I got to the large oak door of the study and smiled to myself as I watched Elizabeth play on the rug in front of the fireplace just as I did so many years ago.




“I’m not going!” I throw my arms into the air with frustration. My dad pokes his head around the door to see what’s going on. Seeing that the coast is clear and there aren’t any objects flying across the room, he enters my bedroom and stands behind me looking at my reflection in the mirror. I stare at his large hairy hands placed on my shoulders. “Deep breath, son.” He picks up my tie, untangles it and drapes it around my neck, tying it into a perfect knot.

“What if he sees the chair and changes his mind?” I scowl, my head cloudy with negative thoughts. “Then he’s obviously not the one for you.” My dad had a hard time accepting my sexuality, but he took it far better than knowing I’ll be stuck in this chair for the rest of my life. So what if I date other guys? I can’t swim, I can’t play football, I can’t go motorcycle racing with him. I can’t do all the things with him that we loved doing together as father and son. Being gay is trivial compared to the loss of my ‘old life’.

In the car, I sit staring out the window, my stomach turning over with nerves, my dad humming ‘Streets of London’ as we make our way to the restaurant. Once I’m in my chair and ready to go, he pauses for a moment and his eyes go a little red. “Hey, son.” He looks me up and down. “You look great.” He sniffs, smiles and then leans forward and nudges me on the arm. “I’m proud of you, son. Now you go and have a good night.”

I tell him I love him and start to roll away as panic starts to set in. What if there are steps? What if the table is the wrong height for my chair? What will he think of me? Will he be annoyed I didn’t tell him I use a chair? Thoughts race through my head as I approach the entrance to the restaurant. “Great, no steps. Good start.” I reassure myself silently. I arrive at the doors and just as I go to reach the door handle, a middle-aged guy and his wife spot me and they hold the doors open for me. “Cheers!” I thank them. “So far so good.” I begin to ease a little.

A young waitress strides over in her white blouse and black apron. “Reservation?” she squeaks. I confirm my name. “Great, your party has already arrived. Just this way, please.” Oh god, he’s already here! I don’t have any time to settle in and make sure everything is ok. I follow the waitress past many tables, conscious of the odd person looking up from their tables to look over at me, especially children who gawp at me until I’m out of sight.

We turn into a quieter area with a log fire and an impressive chimney breast. “There we are. Can I get you some drinks?” The waitress’ voice sounds muffled in my overwhelmed reaction to meeting Ryan for the first time after speaking online for a little over six months.

“Same again for me, please.” His voice is lower than I thought it would be. “I’ll have what he’s having.” I stammer. He smiles warmly at me, the orange glow from the log fire flickers onto his face. “Great, I’ll move this chair over.” I thank her and park myself into the spot. I stay silent for a moment, unsure as to what to say. I decide to let him speak first.

“Well, isn’t this a surprise.” He grins, looking at the chair. I immediately spill out apologies and try to explain the many reasons why I didn’t mention anything about the chair beforehand. Before I could go any further, he raises his hand and I instantly stop my spiel. He calmly leans over to one side and points towards a wheelchair folded up behind him. “Me too!” He laughs. I sit open-mouthed and we both giggle uncontrollably. “No way! What are the chances?” We echo each other. This perfect ice breaker relaxes me and the twisting sensation in my stomach eases. Our drinks arrive and we order our food; our starters and mains identical with a dessert to share.

“How long have you used a chair?” I ask. “Parachuting accident four years ago. I did a jump for charity and the parachute got tangled and we had a pretty hard landing.” He explained. “What about you?” I tell him about the car accident; about how mum had died and dad blamed himself, even though it wasn’t his fault. “I’m sorry” he frowned.

“This is my first time out in public on my own since getting the chair, so I was pretty nervous about not having someone with me in case I got stuck. But then again I didn’t fancy my dad joining us!” I joke. Ryan explains he had a few guys stop talking to him online after he told them he uses a chair so he figured just to get to know someone well enough to meet up and take it from there.

We speak a little about the emotional and psychological effects of using a chair and it comforted me to know he is fully independent, lives on his own, has a great job and plays a lot of sports. “You’re welcome to come along on Tuesday night and meet the team. Bring your dad along, too. It can be something you can do together,” he said enthusiastically. “How could he play?” I ask, confused. “He would need to use a spare chair from the sports hall,” he explained. I didn’t know if wheelchair basketball would be his thing, but it was worth mentioning, I suppose.

We finish our dessert, argue over who pays for the bill and get ready to leave. I watch him get into his chair quickly with ease. Once outside, we say goodnight and say we’ll talk later. I roll around the corner to the car park, a contented smile on my face. I enter the carpark to find, to my surprise, my dad’s car already waiting for me. I knock on the driver’s side window and wake up my snoring, drooling dad. After some disorientation he rolls down the window.

“How long have you been here?” I laughed. “I never left. Just in case, you know, you needed me or things didn’t work out,” he admitted. “You silly sod!” I go round to the passenger side and heave myself into the car with his help. He pushes the door shut and hauls my chair into the boot when I feel my phone vibrate;



                        It was great meeting you tonight. See you Tuesday for

Basketball 😉 I’ll msg you later to sort out our next

date, my treat this time xx


“I take it it went well then, yeah?” he asked, spotting the smile on my face. “I’m taking you out on Tuesday, Dad. Bring your gym shorts.”




Sarah Robin (she/her) is a new writer from Bolton, England, starting her writing journey during the coronavirus pandemic. Robin has had several pieces of work published in anthologies and online literary magazines as well as being a competition winner for both short fiction and poetry. She is also a prose reader for Sepia Journal.





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