“Oh yes,” Joe would say, “There’s royal blood in us. Way back, but royal blood.” And he’d sit his son on his lap, even when he was nine or ten and tell him about where he came from. “My dada, your grandad, Matthew Davidson, he was in the trades too. He died when you were very small. But he loved you, didn’t he, mum?”
And Moira would turn around, drying up the dishes or folding the clothes and say, “Oh yes. Your dada, he loved you, little Josh. When we got back he was always poking his finger into your face, laughing with you. You used to cling onto his big finger like that,” and she’d show the boy. The others would sit there around, little Jude tugging at something, James in his cot, the girls, a bit older, helping their mum or playing at house.
“And his dad, dad?” Josh would ask, and Joe would huff and puff and pretend to struggle to remember – but he loved this bit. He knew them all the way back.
“His dad was Elbert Davidson, he was a milkman. And his dad, who was born back in Queen Victoria’s time, he was George Davidson, and he was a blacksmith who moved here from Yorkshire. But he was descended, eventually, from a royal line, you see. Kings of the hill country, back, back in the distant past. And so are you. This is your country, lad. And all of yours,” for Joe tried his best not to let his firstborn son seem over-special in the family, although the truth was that he loved him like he loved nothing else in the world.
For it hadn’t been an easy birth and Joe Davidson, who didn’t talk about it that often and, when he did think about it, was amazed by what they’d been through and amazed by his power to begin to forget it, he was inclined to think of it as a miracle.
They’d been in love. Joe was starting out working for himself, subcontracting and labouring when couldn’t get the skilled work, driving around the Notts-Derby border in a beat up Vauxhall van. And Moira had just finished college, got herself a qualification in hospitality, although she spent most of her time looking after her aunt, who lived in the house. And they were going to get married, God knew how, with no savings and precious little to live on, when Moira, one tear-stained evening by the Trent, told him that she was going to have a baby.
It wasn’t his. Because although they’d been sweethearts through school and their teenage years, nothing had ever passed between them.
Joe had been heartbroken. He’d put Moira back in the van, driven her to her parents’ without talking and gone home to his own mum, cried and cried with frustration and disappointment. Life had only been just beginning.
His mum had said they were young, he still had plenty of chances, but he hadn’t wanted to fall at the first hurdle. He’d always wanted a wife and a family and boys crawling on the kitchen lino and girls to walk to school in their cotton dresses, one on either hand. And Moira… She was such a sweet thing. Overlooked. His. He had thought.
A bad week had followed. A bad week of work, he’d cut his hand and thrown the chisel away in self-disgust and anger. He’d taken long walks and not wanted to tell anyone anything.
And then the dream, which he barely remembered now, but he remembered it by its shadow. It had been so powerful, so important, that it had shaped his life, and though he couldn’t remember what the man had looked like or even what he had said anymore, his whole life since then had been changed.
He’d been sitting on a concrete wall, his legs dangling, looking down at the water and at the gravel embedded in the roughcast beside him. He could still feel the cracks in the concrete where he sat. And he’d looked up and there’d been someone walking along the very edge of the parapet, arms out, balanced, enjoying the edge, but not at risk, and as he’d come closer, he’d spoken to Joe in the dream and said, “Don’t be frightened.” Yes, Joe remembered that. And then the man had comforted him, somehow, with words or an arm around the shoulder and he had the feeling that Moira’s baby wasn’t a mistake or a broken promise at all, but like the sun that was sinking into the sea in front of him, was something that defined everything it touched. And he’d known, absolutely known, that it was going to be a boy, and a boy he could love, his son even if it wasn’t quite his son. For all children are gifts from God and belong to him, whoever conceives them or raises them.
And when he’d woken up, he’d even known what he would call him. Joshua. And he got out of bed and went to find Moira and instead of leaving her on her own to cry and weep and feel abandoned, he had chosen to be the man she needed as a husband and the man she deserved. They went through with the wedding, but brought it on. Civil ceremony, no big party, and they moved into a flat near her mum’s place, and he watched the child grow inside her and worked and worked to be the man he had dreamed he might be. And when the baby was born, Joe had told her all about the dream and she’d cried.