It was bitter winter when Father returned from the city with yet another painted whore on his arm. Bunyan and Bennifer eyed her shyly, but she was certainly not built of the ilk that notices a seven-year-old boy and even less his sister.
It was late morning when Father came into the warmth of the kitchen to find his son rolling out the dough for ginger biscuits. The man snarled, but before he had chance to do more than curl his lip Grandmother speared him with a glance.
“Do you perhaps wish to take your children and move elsewhere?” Her voice was sugar sweet but the threat was nonetheless explicit.
Father shuffled his booted feet, but he had imbibed some hot spiced wine and was feeling unusually brave. “Should he not be outside with the other boys?”
Grandmother made a clicking sound with her tongue against her teeth.
“Grow up, man. It’s beyond cold. Even the Sergeant at Arms is inside this morning.”
Father seemed to shrink into his cotte like an eel into the mud of the duckpond. Then he lifted a shoulder.
“I see I have been remiss, I shall have to ask after his progress with proper men’s tasks.”
“You just pop along and do that,” Grandmother sneered, “Bunyan is beyond his years in all the manly pursuits, as you would know if you stopped drinking and whoring long enough to take notice.”
For a moment Father eyed his own parent with something like dislike, then he lifted his shoulders in a gesture of defeat. To Bunyan’s great surprise, Grandmother stepped over to him and held out her arms. Father dropped his head on her bony shoulder and held on for a moment before stiffening his spine. Then he did something even more surprising, he reached out and ruffled his son’s chestnut curls.
“Never mind, boy,” he spoke with a rough kindness Bunyan had never heard before. “It’s none of your fault.”
Then he was gone, leaving a man-shaped hole in the kitchen air.
The children looked at Grandmother with their mouths agape. She smiled albeit grimly, and wiped a furtive tear.
“He was a fine man once. Before your lady mother died.” She made a visible effort to cheer up, but Bunyan felt that his father had a great deal to answer for.
Some hours later, with the baking done and the kitchen scoured. Bunyan and Bennifer sat at the table with mugs of foamy milk and gingerbread biscuits.
“Look Bun I made this one like Father,” Bennifer put one pink-tipped finger on a gingerbread man with a beard and fur-trimmed cotte iced on its brown body. Bunyan picked it up and stared, still feeling unsettled by the near row and Grandmother’s silent tear. He smiled before he snapped the head off the gingerbread man and thought, that’ll teach him.