Gordon Ferris is a sixty-two old year Dublin writer living in Ballyshannon in Co Donegal for the past thirty-six years. He is a member of the Dublin Writers Forum and has had poetry and short stories published in A New Ulster, Hidden Channel and The Galway Review.
It was a dull drizzling Sunday afternoon in May. Upstairs on the 34A bus, Gary and Doug sat quietly waiting for the bus to reach its destination. Doug was glancing over the shoulder of the woman in front, reading her newspaper.
The headline spoke of the end of the war in Southeast Asia, with a smaller column in the corner of the page of another war raging in the middle with Egypt, Syria and Israel involved. Doug read the headlines the same way he read the football results on the back page, with all these countries against each other as if it was a game. He jokingly commented on how selfish the woman was for not having the sports page open when he wanted to read it.
The bus pulled up at the traffic lights at Doyle’s Corner between Murphy Pub and The Bohemian. The two lads, both in their late teens leaned into the driver saying,
“Lets out here pal will ya.”
The driver opened the door saying. “I could be getting the sack over this, ye know”
“Thanks, see ya.” The two lads said in harmony ignoring the driver while jumping off. They headed around the corner on-to the North Circular Road.
They crossed the road opposite the State cinema, telling the baldy cinema usher in the purple uniform with a gold stripe down the leg to, “fuck off and mind your own business”
When he admonished them for not using the zebra crossing.
Both of the lads wore wrangler jeans, denim shirts and had shoulder-length hair. Gary was five foot eight, heavy build and of a distracted nature. Doug, on the other hand, was five foot two, scrawny and confident, almost arrogant.
They both walked fast with a hard-mans swagger, trying to hide there fear while in a strange area. Doug shoulders hunched moving fast in the lead with Gary struggling to keep up the pace.
They turned into Berkeley road on their way to visit Doug’s Mother in the Mater hospital where she had just had her gallstones removed.
Doug pointed in the direction of a biggish corner shop with a fruit and veg stall outside, saying.
“Look, there’s a shop with gear outside, you go in and get something small, distract her while I rob stuff from the fruit-stand outside. I’ll meet you over the road when yur done, right”
“Right, see ya in a few minutes,” Gary said heading nervously towards the shop. As he entered the shop he was astounded by the biggest display of flowers he had ever seen, set in bundles covering every occasion, with all the colour and exotic scent invading his senses that he could never imagine.
A voice from nowhere said,
“What can I get for you young man”
Gary looking around to see who was talking to him, he saw no one.
“Over here,( pause) No down here.”
A woman waved, saying from a kneeling position behind the counter. She was adjusting a radio trying to get a decent reception.
“Oh, I’m just looking for a packet of fig rolls for me pals ma, she’s across the road,” Gary said assuming the woman knew he meant the hospital.
The woman pointed to a shelf behind Gary’s head without bothering to get up.
“Behind you (pause, with a sigh) over your head,” She said.
“How much is that,” Gary said, turning around and grabbing the red packet of biscuits. He put the money on the counter as the women had instructed him to do and made his exit, impulsively stealing a box of milk tray as he departed.
Meeting up across the road Gary and Doug compared their bounty on their way to the granite steps at the entrance to the Mater hospital. Doug had stolen a big bunch of grapes and several oranges which were stuffed inside his shirt.
Walking in through the two big heavy wooden doors, they were asked by the Porter where they thought they were going and to keep the noise down a bit.
“Sorry sir, we didn’t mean to be so noisy, just on the way to see me Ma. “ Gary said in his butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth tone.
“Go on then, just behave yourself, show a bit of respect, there are sick people in here.” The porter said with an air of authority.
“Well this is the place for sick people, ya dope ya,” Doug said under his breath.
“What did you say, you little scut,” The porter said angrily.
“Never opened me mouth, honest to god pal, never said a word” Doug replied, walking on, grinning with his back to the man.
Waiting for the lift on the third floor, a frail little old man stood with one crutch looking up above the lifts door, listening to to the racket coming from inside the lift shaft. The sound of laughter, cursing, singing and general mayhem getting louder as the lift approached. The doors finally opened and out came Gary and Doug with big grins on their faces, Doug held the door for the elderly man, who entered looking annoyed, but say-in nothing. Gary apologized for the delay, saying they got lost on the lift, both laughing, the old man cursing them angrily with his eyes.
Entering the ward, the two lads were blinded by the sun coming in the window from above Mountjoy’s roof across the road. There were five beds in the ward which left Doug wondering why there was an uneven number of beds there. Perhaps it’s just the shape of the ward or a shortage of beds, or maybe a bed had been taken away to be repaired, the way buses are taken off the road when they breakdown, this was typical of Doug’s idle thoughts.
Doug’s mother was sitting on the bed with his elder sister Tina. Both talking in hushed but still very loud voices that everyone could hear, but they thought no one else could. When she saw the two lads arrive she brushed her dyed black hair with her painted fingers and roared greetings to them in throaty strong Dublin accent.
“Ah howaya son, and Gary, thanks for calling, sure ya didn’t have-ta,”
“Sure me Ma would kill me if I didn’t Missus Kinsella” handing her the biscuits and chocolates, red-faced as he spoke, making it noticeable how uncomfortable he was with the attention being on him.
Doug placed the loose oranges and grapes on the bedside locker.
“Had they no bags in the shop?” The Mother asked them with a knowing grin, staring Doug straight in the eyes.
“Any sign of your Da today, he was to be here yesterday with clean clothes and to give me the money he owes, don’t suppose he was in the house today by any chance”
“Ma, how does he owe you money? You’re not still giving him money are you, Jasus you’re a soft eejit you are. You know he’s only going to drink it. Should have washed your hands of him completely when you kicked him out.”
“Ah I wouldn’t leave anyone short of money for food or fags, and that’s what he said almost with tears in his eyes, but your right, I should know better, ill have to tell him I can’t afford it any more and get him to start paying towards the house.”
“If he didn’t pay when he lived at home, he’s hardly going to start now, is he?” Tina snapped.
As this discussion was going on Gary, feeling awkward, wandered down to the far end of the ward, nodding to each of the four other patients as he passed, muttering,
What’s the story,
ya all right there, or some such utterance.
Reaching the window he enthusiastically says.
“Will ya look at the size of the seagulls, there like flying chickens”
Nodding at the red-haired sleepy-eyed woman in the end bed, he added.
“You’ll be having them for dinner tomorrow missus, just you wait and see. Be pulling feathers out of yur teeth all day ya will”
” The holy sister in charge reckons they’re a pest, she does, tells us not to feed them, tried giving them some of me dinner yesterday, even they won’t eat it” The red-haired woman replied.
Gary continued his strolling, back to where Doug and his family were situated, watching the occupants of each bed as he walked. In particular, the woman opposite Mrs Kinsella got his attention. She was sitting upright in her bed with a huge smile of happiness and joy on her face, there was no stimulus for this joy to be seen, it must have been coming from within, not that there could be much joy lying in a hospital bed.
“Must be great crack living inside yur one’s head?”
He said when he reached the end of the ward, to where Gary and his family members were seated.
“What do you mean, Doug’s mother said as Gary sat on the end of the bed taking the half-eaten grapes from Doug.
“Your wan over there, will ya take a look at her, she’s away with the fairies,” Gary said in mocking tone.
Mr Kinsella turned to Gary angrily and in a hushed voice laced with venom said.
“I’m surprised at you Gary. I thought you were better than that. You’ve no business slagging off that poor woman, you know nothing about her. She is on her own here all week, from the country she is. She is a very nice gentle-woman, chatting with her a few times since she had her surgery. Eleven kids, she’s had, that’s eleven deliveries, some more difficult than others, two of them she had to be sectioned. The old bolox of a husband is only worried about who is going to get his dinner and tea for him. The doctor had a word with him about it being very dangerous for her to have any more kids and guess what he said, the old fucker, he said all that sort of thing had nothing to do with him, that’s what he said, nothing to do with him.”
“I was only messing, didn’t mean anything by it.” Gary sheepishly said.
There was an awkward silence for a few moments before Doug broke the silence offering the opened Milk Tray around, or what was left of them after he had helped himself.
Doug lay back on the bed with his head on the pillow, mother and daughter sat on the edge nearest the door with Gary sitting into the ward. They sat silently, all chewing, then Tina and the Mother spoke simultaneously, saying.
“Where did you get those sweets and chocolates” Mother.
“Ye, I can’t see you forking out for anyone else but yourself” Tina.
“Did ya rob them, the truth, remember the last time, the bother you got yourself into” Mother.
“Yeh, ye robbing bastard” Tina.
Now Doug’s impulsive response to Tina burst out
“What are you on about, sure you taught me how to shoplift, ye bleeding gee-bag.” Now Doug realized he had got carried away and was embarrassed by what he had blurted out. Calling his sister a gee-bag was too extreme even for him.
Now the mother cut in, annoyed with their use of bad language and mane calling, towards each other.
“Now for fuck sake, do ya have to be using that kinda language in front of all these sick people. I d expect that from your waster awl-fella, but I thought I reared yous better.”
“Sure we; re only messing, tell her to keep her trap shut and stop winding me up,” Doug said in defiance, his embarrassment disappearing.
“Listen to him, ye think butter wouldn’t melt in his mouth. I could tell ye things he’s done you’d never imagine.” Tina cut in with a smirk on her face.
“You shut the fuck up you spiteful bitch, ye forget all of a sudden our weekly trips to Superquin for the weekly shop, don’t ya.” Doug angrily replied.
The bell ending visiting time rang out, accompanied by the nurse doing the ringing calling time like a pub landlord at closing time. At this exact minute, Tommy the father and Ex husband appeared at the door, broad grin on his face, looking around at all the patients in the ward greeting them with.
“God bless all here, and now a little recitation for you all to brighten your day.
The boy stood on the burning deck
Picking his nose like mad.
He rolled it up in little balls
And through them
At his Dad.”
At this, Mother mortified told him to
“Shut the fuck up ya dose. Where the fuck were you till now, ya dozy bolox. I asked you to bring in some clean clothes. Just as well I know what your like and wasn’t depending on you. Sister here did it for me”
“Ah don’t be getting on to me after the morning I’ve had. It was your brother that delayed me, inviting me in for a pint. And when we get inside he has no money. Who the fuck does that, invites ya in and gets you to pay.” he answers with hunched shoulders and what he thinks are irresistible sad eyes.
“Sure ya didn’t have to go in, did ya. Can you not say no. you say it enough to me and your kids.” She angrily snapped.
“You should know better than to listen to that eejit, you’re a bigger eejit for falling for his crap.”
“Sure how was I to know he was playing me. I’m not a mind reader,” he replied in defence.
“any excuse to have for a drink, isn’t it, think I don’t know your games by now, you must think I’m really stupid”
She turned away to face Tina, ignoring what he had to say, leaving him talking to the back of her head.
Fathers face turned red now with frustration.
“no matter what I do it’s never good enough’
“But the problem is you don’t do anything unless you get something out of it”
“See, no matter what I say, you turn it around and upside down, it was Your Brother who took a hand at me don’t forget”
“Bleedin con man he is” Leaving he finished with these five words under his breath, turning on his heels and storming out.
“Ah ye, off ye go again, any excuse for the pub.” She said after him.
“Told you before to get rid of that wanker, he’s no good, and I know he has lifted his hand to you many’s the time, you try to hide it and make excuses for him but I’m not bleedin stupid,” Sis said when he was gone in soothing tones.
“Ah sure I know how to handle him, heel be back in tonight with flowers, and in tears begging for forgiveness. Wait and you’ll see.”
As this exchange played out the two lads and Tina kept out of it, making lips not moving communications, trying not to be drawn into battle. Brother and Sister had seen their father in action before. They knew what he was like under the influence of drink, both had been at the receiving end of their father’s drunken madness. It was after one to many of these episode’s that the mother, enraged by violence being done to her children, lost the plot and had him thrown out.
Her own abuse she tolerated
somehow thinking it was all she deserved in life,
if only I made home life more appealing for him
if only I could satisfy him in bed
instead of finding him revolting
instead of feeling nothing
it’s not my place to enjoy lovemaking
its to keep my man happy
these were the thoughts that always raced through her head,
but this was the last straw, seeing the hate in his eyes, hurting their kids, in order to hurt her as much as he could.
“It’s now rest time for the patients,” the nurse said to them as she sauntered through the ward,
“Time to go now ladies and gents, you can visit again between seven and nine this evening, OK”
“All right Ma we’re going now, I’ll be back in later. Don’t you be getting upset over that prick, ya here, if he comes back in tell him to fuck off.” Tina said in concerned tones.
“You will have to be moving now,” the nurse said, with Doug answering back,
“All right, we’re on our way, calm down will ya”
“Don’t be so cheeky Doug, the nurse is doing a great job looking after me here, you should be thanking her instead of giving her abuse.”
The three of them headed out down the granite steps to Eccles Street. Proceeding on to Berkeley Road on their way to Glasnevin, where the bus home to Finglas stops. Passing the Hut public house Doug suggested going in for a quick pint before going home to eat. Gary didn’t answer, looking at Tina, obviously not wishing to get caught in the middle of their sibling verbal high wire act.
“Don’t look at me, I don’t give a shite what yus do, I’m going home anyway to clean up whatever mess you left behind you today?” Tina said dejected, glancing in the direction of Doug as she spoke.
“I don’t mind Doug, are you sure you don’t want to come in for one Tina, I have a few bob on me if your skint” Gary said, blushing as he spoke to Tina.
“Hope you’re not having any funny ideas about my sister, you can just fuck off with any funny business like that you can”
“Here, I don’t need you to speak for me. Where do ye think ye are, in the last century, me granny may have had to take that crap, but not me, you can just fuck off with yourself you can, you and our ol lad”
The more annoyed she got the harder she pounded her feet on the pavement as she made her way down the Phibsboro Road towards the bus stop at Harts Corner to get the bus home to Finglas.