Then She Was Gone - Luca Veste

For Uncle John “Murphy” Kirkham

Thank you for the inspiration and for everything else over the years

ONE YEAR AGO

Tuesday 1 September

He had no final memory of her. Only a single image. One last moment, trapped in an interminable loop, playing over and over in his mind. There, every time he closed his eyes, mocking him.

Tim Johnson was beginning to accept that there was nothing else about his daughter he would ever remember.

People will tell you that love at first sight doesn’t exist. That it takes time to feel all the emotions that make up the L word. Comfort, familiarity, yearning. They don’t just appear overnight.

Those people are wrong.

Have a child and feel that bolt of lightning when you hold them for the first time. A little face looking up at you, completely at your mercy and dependence. That’s love at first sight. When his daughter had been placed in his arms, he had fallen in love instantly. Head over heels, flat on his back in love. His whole life had led to that point. Every mistake, every misstep, it had all been worth it.

It had taken him a couple of days to find the best route to walk around the park. The area was new to him and full of hidden surprises, nooks and crannies to discover. He had seen it only in pictures before now, the large pavilion-type structure taking up most of results when he searched for it on Google. A circular building with glass windows making up the outside structure.

There was, of course, more to Sefton Park than that building. The park itself covered at least two hundred acres; a piece of tranquillity in the heart of the city of Liverpool, its vast green spaces surrounded by trees. He had found a cafe in the middle of the park, an old fountain nearby. The whole area undisturbed and well-kept, despite the reputation of the local youths. There were closer parks, but it was worth taking the extra time to visit this one.

The days had seemed much longer recently. It had become more difficult to fill the quiet moments.

‘Feed the ducks, Molly? That’s what we’ll do today, hey, baby? Daddy take you to feed the ducks?’

The four-week-old child he pushed around the park in front of him didn’t open her eyes, having fallen asleep before they’d even reached the park. The motion of the pushchair sending her straight off.

‘When you’re a bit older, we’ll find some swings in this place. You’ll like that.’

A balding man, desperately hanging onto the last remnants of his thirties, jogged past them, his heavy breathing and the tinny dance music filtering through headphones breaking the silence.

The jogger didn’t seem to notice him, lost in the effort of running just a little further.

A cool breeze whistled through trees to the side of them, disturbing birds perched in the treetops. He looked up as they took flight, circled and settled once more. Autumn was drawing in. The last remnants of summer already forgotten.

‘We’ll have to wrap you up warmer soon, Molly. It’ll be cold this winter, I think.’

He’d lived in the north of England for almost a decade and still wasn’t used to the subtle differences compared with the south where he’d grown up. They passed another large open space of field. A bare patch of land sitting unused. Just a vastness, opening up and then encircled by a line of trees in the distance. A small inlet of water ran beside the path, broken twigs and leaves floating on the surface.

Silence settled back in. A contrast, he imagined, with the weekends and school holidays when the park would be bustling with life. Children of all ages being let loose by harried parents, taken for a walk to use up some energy. Football and cricket matches being organised on the spacious green land. Jumpers for goalposts and all that nostalgia.

He imagined sitting there, a blanket underneath him and the sun on his face, hearing the sounds of laughter and raised voices. Pictured Molly running off, never too far, but enough for her to learn a little independence. Meeting friends, discovering new things and new pleasures.

He imagined a life there. The thought of it made him smile.

When he heard the footsteps behind him, he thought it was the jogger again, back for another lap. The hurried slaps of soles hitting the path as they headed in his direction didn’t make him flinch or turn around.

Maybe if he had, things would have been different.

In the pram, Molly fussed a