Moving First by Jonathan Madge


Moving First

by Jonathan Madge

Freud was right about one thing: a boy’s relationship with his father defines him. They’re each our Superman, gods whose image we poorly reflect. Then eventually, inevitably, there comes a point when we realise they aren’t gods and instead of letting that fall from grace furnish us with achievable idols, we let our faith fall shattered.

When I was younger I always spent Christmas with my father. My mother was in the house too but she assumed the role of matriarch and busied herself with preparing lunch. Dad and I would play with our new toys (it’s taken me until adulthood to learn to think of them as just mine).

One year we wrote off the entire front bumper of a remote controlled car and about six separate inches of skirting board before the Queen’s speech.

It being Christmas, Dad would always have a glass of sherry. I was much older and the skirting board had been restored and destroyed a good many times before I noticed that despite him drinking from it all day, the liquid in the glass never went down. I was older still before I noticed his evening glass of wine performed the same trick the year round and I was practically an adult when I realised his morning glass of wine was badly mistimed.

I never said anything, that wasn’t how my family worked, but once I’d noticed it always caught my eye and held my attention at Christmas.

My main present, that first year after I’d pieced it all together, had been a chess set. It was beautiful, carved from dark and light marble. Owning it made me feel like a grown up but I didn’t set it up that year. Dad suggested we play together but I thought that if I changed the rules, played Christmas differently, so might he.

The first Christmas I spent away from home was in the company of a girlfriend. Tradition dictated she should introduce me to her parents but she wasn’t one for tradition so she introduced me to heroin instead. By the next year the girlfriend was gone from my life but the heroin and I had moved in together.

Heroin and I were one of those co-dependant couples, living in each other’s back pockets, rarely without one another. My single friends didn’t understand our love so they had to go. The couples we knew had changed too much, became too boring and staid for us so they had to go too. We made each other happy and that was all either of us needed.

I was supposed to spend the next Christmas with my parents but heroin and I had agreed to have the morning to ourselves. Anyone who has been in love knows how easy it is to lose track of time and the phone must have started ringing about half past two. That’s when he left the first message anyhow.

With lunch cold and Mum in tears, he says he came round about four.

By five he must have used the spare key and come in, the bathroom light would have shown him I was home, because he was cleaning the dried vomit from my face before six.

He called home, but I don’t think he told Mum the truth. Cold turkey sandwiches she could deal with, the needle and belt now residing in the glovebox of her Fiat she could not.

I don’t know if Dad ever told Mum what he’d seen. If he did she hasn’t yet found a time, a reason or a way to mention it. But he did start a new tradition that year. Every Christmas at eight o’clock he sets up my chess set. He’s always black, I always get to make the first move. He still has his glass throughout but now I never look for when he tops it up.

A graduate of literature and a music and fashion copywriter by trade, Jonathan likes to write about the unusual, the unsettling and the unexpected. He’s currently working on his first novel.

Read more of Jonathan’s work at
He can be contacted by email at, or by phone on 07891 578709.

illustration by Dan Pease

illustration by Dan Pease

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