The wee light oan the answer machine’s flashin when ah get back in fae the shoaps. Bloody pathetic, ah know, but it gies me a wee tinge ay excitement. It rarely rings at aw tae be honest, never mind a recorded message. Ah hope it’s Tam, ah’ve no heard fae him since the other night there when he did his disappearin act. Stubborn bloody fool that he is.
Pressin the button, ah’m surprised tae hear Daniel’s voice. Sais he’s just checkin oan me an that he’s gonnae drap by fur a visit. It’s no like him, tae phone or bloody visit, truth be told, but it cheers me up nae end. Gies me somethin tae look forward tae.
If nothin else, it’ll expedite this pot ay soup ah’m intendin makin. Nae time like the present, is there?
Ah take the bag ay messages ben the kitchen an put the gas burner oan, stickin a pot ay watter oan tae boil afore startin the preparatory work oan the vegetables. Afore ah get tore intae them, ah turn oan the wee wireless ah’ve goat oan the windae ledge, the static white noise hissin oot at me until ah find a station.
‘ . . . following the historic Good Friday Agreement which was signed on the tenth of April this year, the landmark cross-party agreement will ultimately be sanctioned or rejected by way of concurrent referenda in both the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland in just under two weeks on the twenty-second of May . . .’
Ah never thoat ah’d see the day tae be honest. How they goat them aw roon the table tae thrash oot a deal agreeable tae aw concerned is beyond me. Ye’ve goat tae laugh at Blair, an Major afore him; the British Government wae nae bloody hint ay irony, ridin intae toon professin tae be peacemaker. British bloody imperialism is the root cause ay the bastarn divisions! The displacement ay Roman Catholics, ye see; ethnic bloody cleansin by the war criminal, Oliver Cromwell!
Folk talk aboot the potato famine. Pish! It wis orchestrated genocide; the population wis starved intae subjugation if they were lucky, death fur the less so. The conditions fur it were laid oot two hunner years earlier by Cromwell, when the native Irish were pushed West tae less fertile lands, necessitatin an over-reliance oan totties fur basic subsistence. That wis bad enough in itsel, but two hunner year later, wae the harvest sufferin fae phytophthora infestans — or late blight tae you an me — the British, absentee ‘landowners’ (that’s a bloody laugh) took their cattle an whit crops remained unsullied, at gunpoint, an shipped them acroass the watter — no just tae feed their ain, but tae sell oan in Europe, which hud also suffered fae the blight — tae the highest bidder! Profit oer people! They just left good folk tae starve tae death, the swines! Folk think it’s religion they’re fightin aboot: The Troubles, Protestants an Catholics, an mibbe, oan the face ay it, it is, but if ye ask me, it’s been gaun oan that long noo that people lose sight ay whit’s really at play. Religion? Nationality? Cultural identity? See when ye cut through aw the shite, it’s no hard tae see whit it wis really aboot — whit it is aboot — laissez faire bloody capitalism! Maist people just don’t know it.
They’ll no tell ye that in school. Educate yer bloody sel, that’s whit ah’m always tellin young Daniel. Nae other bugger’ll dae it fur ye.
The big pot ah use fur makin soup’s bubblin away, the ham haugh ah brought in bobbin aboot in the frothy liquid. The windae’s thick wae condensation wae globules ay watter rollin doon its surface every so often like wee tadpoles racin tae the boattom ay the gless.
Ah’m nearly by wae peelin the totties when the phone goes in the hall. Probably young Daniel again wonderin how ah’ve no phoned back.
Dryin ma hauns as ah go, ah hurriedly pick up the receiver afore ah miss it again.
‘Hullo, Arthur is that you?’ a female voice comes through.
‘Aye, speakin. Who’s this?’
‘It’s Jackie O’Henry, Tam’s daughter. Mr. Coyle, ah don’t know whit tae dae, it’s ma Da. Ah’m up at the Royal Infirmary –’
‘Calm doon hen. Take a deep breath. Whit’s happened?’
‘Ah don’t know. He’s no sayin much – well, just that he fell doon the stairs but ah don’t know. He looks like he’s been in a car crash. He’s black an blue an his nose an airm ur broke. He wulnae tell me anythin; just that he wanted tae see you. He asked me tae phone. Will ye come up tae the hoaspital Mr. Coyle? Ah’m at ma wits end an ah need tae get the wean, ma neighbour’s goat him –’
‘Just try an staiy calm hen, it’ll no dae fur ye tae get yersel aw worked up. Just staiy there, ah’m oan ma waiy.’ ah sais an hing up the phone.
* * *
The nurse oan the desk directs me tae a private room aff the main ward. Enterin the room, ah’m surprised tae see it empty, just a couple ay chairs fur visitors, some hoaspital equipment an the privacy curtain hingin roon an empty bed.
The windae’s mawkit wae a film ay grime oan the ootside makin it near impenetrable tae see through, just impressions ay slow-movin vehicles fae the traffic oan the street below, an motorway beyond.
Turnin roon, ah head taewards the door tae make sure ah’m in the right place when a lassie comes intae the room, her dark hair damp an glistenin wae the rain. It’s Jackie. Ah’ve no seen her fur years; no since she wis a wee lassie, but it’s her awright.
‘Mr. Coyle, thanks fur comin. They’ve took him away tae get some tests done. Ah wis just doon the stair huvin a fag.’ She looks fraught wae worry, the rim ay her eyes red an the surroundin skin puffy fae greetin. She gies us a cuddle, quite unexpectedly, an ah feel her frail boady tremble, ‘Wis he in any kind ay bother?’ she sais, ‘he’ll no tell me anythin but somethin’s no right. He’ll talk tae you.’
‘Bother? Naw, no that ah know ay.’ ah lie, nae sense in worryin her mare than she awready is, ‘ . . . ah know it’s hard, but try an no worry hen. He’s maist probably hud too much tae drink an took a tumble. When ye get tae oor age it disnae take much. Ye bruise like a bloody peach. Ah’ll talk tae him.’
There’s a clatter fae the door as the trolly the nurse is pushin comes back intae the room. Christ, she wisnae lyin. He dis look like he’s been in a crash. His eyes ur black, blue an swollen; the left wan closed oer entirely so that his eye’s just a wee slit in the folds ay balloonin, purply flesh. His nostrils ur caked an encrusted wae dried blood an his mooth dry an sare lookin roon the lips.
His airm’s in plaster, elevated oot in front ay him, an he’s goat a drip gaun intae his other good airm.
The nurse wheels him back intae position next tae the bed an ah help her get him intae it. He reaches oot an clasps ma haun, weakly.
‘Jackie, go an get Arthur here a cup ay tea hen, wull ye? Ah want tae talk tae him.’ he rasps, quietly, ‘The watter.’ he sais tae me, noddin tae a jug oan the bedside table.
Jackie leaves the room alang wae the nurse an ah pour him some watter, gien it up tae his mooth.
‘They goat me.’ he sais, ‘ . . . earlier the day they came tae the hoose. Two ay thum. Barged right in when ah opened the door.’ he gestures tae the watter again an ah gie him a wee tait mare, ‘ . . . ah gied thum aw ah hud, four hunner an eighty odd quid. Ah selt everythin ah could an put ma pension money tae it. That oan tap ay whit ah’ve awready gied thum but they sais it still wisnae enough. Interest. Ah telt thum, “whit mare dae ye want? The shirt aff ma back?” an that’s when he hit me. The tall wan, Monty. Next thing ah knew ah woke up at the boattom ay the stairs, lyin in the doorway. They wur long gone.’
‘BASTARTS! FUCKIN BASTARTS!’ ah shout oot. A young doactor walkin by glowers at us an approaches the door.
‘Sir, this is a hospital ward. I’ll thank you to keep the foul language to yourself.’ he sais, sternly, like he’s talkin tae a bloody wean, an shuts the door oer.
Tam looks at me, his face an boady broken. If he wis a bloody animal, they’d huv put him doon. Ah haud his haun again, the skin loose an bloodied where the drip goes in. Ah want tae tell him whit a stupit, cantankerous bloody fool he’s been; that he should’ve took the fuckin money aff me an no let his pride get in the waiy, but ah don’t. The truth is, we’re no that bloody different an if ah wis in his shoes, ah’d probably huv done the same.
The door opens again wae his daughter, Jackie, haudin a couple ay polystyrene cups ay tea. A wee boay sticks his heid roon the door, nervously, ah cannae mind ay his name: Tam’s grandson.
‘Look who’s here tae see ye. Ah furgoat tae say; ah phoned Mary next door fae the paiyphone when ye were gettin yer tests an she drapped him aff.’
The wee boay rushes oer tae see him an ah think ah kin just aboot see a glimmer; a wee fleck ay comfort in his eye as the wean flings himsel oan tae the bed an Tam strokes his hair.
‘Careful John-Paul! Yer granda’s aw sore.’ Jackie sais.
‘He’s awright, leave him alane.’ Tam sais, offerin a strained smile.
‘Don’t worry auld pal. This ends here. This ends noo.’ ah sais tae him quietly, ‘he’ll be awright, hen.’ ah sais tae Jackie, takin the tea aff her.
‘Aye, don’t you worry aboot that, tough as auld boots, yer auld Granda, so he is.’ Tam sais tae wean, grimacin as he tries tae sit up in the bed..