Carmen Nina Walton
Ahead of a visit from her returning sister, a woman considers the effect of her father on their family. "In the wedding photo on Ruth’s sideboard Mum is at the back of the crowd of relatives. I have to pick the frame up and bring it close to my face to see her there, behind Graham and Julie, slight with her hair cut short and that pale blue dress she liked so much. Da’s at the front of the picture, bold and bluff with pink cheeks and his paunch, standing where the best man should have stood if Da had had any decency, which he didn’t. The photographer tried to tell him but he’s not a man for taking advice he didn’t ask for."
"She recognises herself not with any rational sense, but with a pang of protective love for the three year old who grins at her from the living room wall." An unexpected twist in the closing frames of an old home movie sends Rose hurtling back to her childhood - a time and a place where no one else's parents were divorcing, and where stepmothers were as exotic as shop-bought cake. Revisiting her memories of glamorous part-time fathers and fortnightly treats, Rose unpicks the unspoken adult acrimony, and the childish confusion: "Each time they were returned to her with their bounty she was tight-lipped and unimpressed, flattening their ebullience to a shapeless guilt, their double bind of love and loyalty teaching them early to suppress their enthusiasm in her company." Dual Carriageway is about parents and children, and how complicated it all is.
"I killed my little brother. When he was two, and I was six, I crept into his bedroom and suffocated him with a pillow while he slept. ‘No you didn’t, Nadine,’ said my mother, ‘It’s a dream.’ ‘It’s a dream about guilt,’ my psychiatrist said, patting me on the knee. ‘You mustn’t blame yourself, my dear, it wasn’t your fault.’ On Tuesdays, I go to the Community Clinic for my weekly meeting with parents who are thought to present a risk to their children. Publicly, it’s called a ‘parents’ support group’ so they have a cover story when they come into reception. But these mums and dads are under no illusions; they watch me scribbling notes and know my risk assessment will dictate their future. If they give the right response, the courts may grant them a family life; the wrong answers and they won’t see their children again; something in between and they could get one afternoon a fortnight at a contact centre where, corralled by cuddly toys, they will try to engage their little strangers in a parody of play, under the watchful eye and busy pen of a social worker. While this process grinds slowly forward, the children who are being protected will metamorphose into sullen teenagers with unmet needs who will probably follow the pattern of their parents, having children of their own who will be in need of protection; and the cycle will start again..."