About three years ago now this blonde kid asked me if I would be his father. I felt this tugging on my sleeve, and when I looked down there he was with his question, quiet and sincere. He was wearing thick glasses, with a spiteful scar across his face, and he was with his sister who looked older. We were in the snow beside a stream in Montreal, and the woman I was with – Ali – she was a photographer, so she laughed, said, “I got to take a photograph of you three,” and because I thought I loved her I laughed too, and I took hold of the blonde boy and his beautiful sister, and I put them on either side of me, my arms draped around their shoulders.
“Here,” I said, “Take the photograph,” and as she got the picture right through the viewfinder, I looked at the blonde kid and the girl. “Smile,” I said, and the blonde kid, he did exactly that. But his sister, she shrugged my arm off her shoulder.
“You're not our father,” she said.
“Hey,” I said. “I know. I'm not anyone's father.” And I smiled here, the way my father used to smile at me. Or, at least, that was the smile I was trying for. “It's just a photograph,” I said, and I leaned in closer to her, mock-whispering, “It'll make my girlfriend happy.”
The girl turned back to look at Ali. “Fuck you,” she whispered, but she smiled, and Ali took the photograph.
“Yey!” said Ali. “That'll look great.”
The girl didn't even look at me. She just grabbed her brother's hand. “C'mon,” she said, and she pulled him after her. I watched the two of them, her stomping in her heavy boots, stick-skinny legs, stripy tights, and this little blonde boy – I had no idea how old he was, six, ten, they all looked the same to me back then – he kept glancing back over his shoulder, smiling this weird little smile that didn't show any teeth, and made his eyes squint up all tight. There were a load of people at the river – tourists, Australians, Japanese – and soon I lost the kids in the crowd.
“That was weird,” I said.
“Yeah, but they were cute, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “They were cute enough.”
Not long after me and Ali got back from Montreal we broke up. I'd been fucking this college girl, and Ali found out – the girl turned up at the flat one morning, Ali was still there, in bed, there was a big scene – and I after the whole break-up thing, I got rid of all the stuff that reminded me of her. I had a lot of photographs – the two of us, some self-portraits she'd done – and I found the one of me, the blonde kid, his sister. The girl, she's smiling, but you can see right through it. It's a smile that says “Do not fuck with me, and this man is not my father.” You can read it, right there on her face. But her brother, he's got those glasses, that big scar, and this huge, huge grin. God, he looks happy enough to start floating in the air. His whole face says, “Look at me, with my family! This is how good we can be together.” And then there's me. I'm grinning, my arms around these two kids who I'd met about thirty seconds before, and my hair's messed up, and there's two days of stubble on my face, and I look like just about the happiest man alive. I've looked at that picture a lot, and one thing I've noticed is that I look just like my old man. It's scary, but there it is, plain to see.
Now, that whole thing with Ali, it didn't really affect me, and I guess I can't have loved her like I thought I did, but I kept that photograph. It's on my wall. People ask me sometimes who the kids are and I just say, “Oh, they're family, you know?” And people just nod, because you look at that blonde kid, maybe take away the glasses, get rid of the scar, and there's a resemblance. There