John Cantwell lives in Dublin where he has had some short stories published and is currently attempting to find a publisher for his novel.
A Grand Day Out
She knew everyone in the room, past and present. Councillor Willie Ó’Flannagáin and his Groucho Marx moustache, Mary Reilly who liked a certain blend of whiskey and Big Martha Connolly, a neighbour and a half. Occasionally a burst of laughter from a corner in the room would make her turn and look about with interest. She always had a casual attitude to life and greeted them all warmly without a shadow of apprehension on her aged face. In the meantime she did the rounds, may as well have a listen, pricking up one’s ears to the stilted conversation with a friendly smile. To avoid embarrassment she pretended a greater surprise than she felt and wondered if they would start gossiping about her as soon as she made a hasty exit from the place. Following the sound of the Beatles she joined in and sang along round an old record player. Paul was her favourite with George a close second on account of his cheeky grin and the way he sat cross-legged on the floor and played his sitar. Looking around the room you could see who else she favoured from the sixties. There was Elvis Presley, Dianna Ross, Frank Sinatra and Sandie Shaw…to name but a few. Every morning before leaving the house to go for her messages she would put on a record and listen to them have a bit of a sing. She had no sooner started to sing along to another than a voice not unlike ole blue eyes himself called and they filed out into the driveway just as the funeral coaches for conveying the deceased and mourner alike arrived from Massey’s Funeral Home in the Coombe. But what caught her eye when they stood aside to let the cars pass was the appearance of a horse drawn carriage, regal in bearing and decked out in brightly coloured flowers.
I say that’s a bit much, remarked a tall skinny woman.
I wouldn’t say no to a drink, replied her husband anxious to get things moving.
She brushed a tear away from her cheek and was about to say something when six pallbearers slowly exited the front door of the house carrying a casket. There was a surprised silence as she cocked her head slightly to one side and smiled in delight. The casket itself was made from willow and eco-friendly to boot. Back in the day her son Dominic used to drive up in a taxi and take her to the Dublin Mountains. He’d bang on the front door and if her close friend Mrs Mc Google was with her they’d pile into the taxi and head off for the day. When he had his accident she was frightened because he had left her alone. Then Mrs Mc Google moved away and the hours grew lonelier. But she never forgot the natural beauty of the countryside and how much she enjoyed watching the city from the comfort of a country pub. As she got closer to the casket she could see that they had created a spray made up of birch, copper beech, oak and scots pine with wild flowers decorating the base of the casket.
Oh it’s fabulous, she said to nobody in particular. I’m sure it will burn and crackle as cheerfully on the alter as in the grate.
Some of the neighbours came out of their houses and stood by the front door or peeked through lace curtains as the horse-drawn hearse slowly trotted pass, the rest travelled smoothly behind the carriage. Looking through a side window she greeted them all with a friendly smile, tucking her blue veined hands childlike under her chin, while the funeral cortège turned in the direction of Mount Jerome Cemetery. As the solemn procession began to gather speed the silence did not escape her notice. Next to her sat a tired looking man who bore some family resemblance, a distant cousin perhaps. Across from them sat a large red-faced man and a sharp nosed woman whose smile transformed her stern face. He perspired heavily wiping his forehead with the aid of a red handkerchief. Mildred, is Jimmy’s youngest and George her henpecked husband.
I don’t know why she’s so sour looking.
Growing up Jimmy’s sunny disposition made him the darling of the road and being the only boy in the family, spoiled rotten.
Even though he liked to be the centre of attention, he never looked down on me.
Mildred, she surmised must be on her mother’s side, a grump.
My stomach feels like the inside of a volcano, he groaned.
Sit up straight, she ordered.
He slowly straightened up wiping his large nose and heavy jowls with his handkerchief the red dye making his face a sight to behold.
She’s a scold and he reminds me of an Indian in the stories I read of the Wild West as a young girl.
You can’t have an ulcer and drink on an empty stomach and expect not to experience something other than a hangover, she chastised.
Suddenly, without a word in advance, he let rip with sheer gusto, the remainder lingering about the car like a burnt offering. His wife sniffed and wrinkled her nose while the driver complained about the smell.
Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, somebody back there open a window before I suffocate, he yelled.
The other man as if coming to life after a long sleep leaned across and rolled down the window next to her without speaking. She smiled gracefully and observed the others ruddy-jowled face grinning cheerfully his eyes shut as if drowsy with sleep. Of course, George didn’t have an ulcer while his farting is well known and Mildred’s brusqueness was to be avoided at all cost.
No wonder the car is half empty.
She continued to look out over the heads of the passing pedestrians some crossing themselves quickly at the sight of the cortége as it passed between the Hospital and Mr Finkelberg’s shoe repair shop with its faded shop sign and wisps of vegetation poking out from under its boarded windows and doorway, now only a common haven for grey and white pigeons and their country cousins on a flying visit to the city.
Some of the neighbours thought him very odd. My mother would send us to him to mend our soles. My father used to joke that he did more for our souls than any clergyman.
He used to keep a German Shepard at the back of the shop. We’d hear it barking as we came through the door with our shoes in our hands. Don’t worry, he’d say, he’s bark is worse than his bite, but nobody believed him. Well nearly nobody, that is. One fine day the dog escaped and rushed towards us. I was rooted to the spot in fear of my life unable to do anything except close my eyes, but Jimmy just walked forward over to the dog rushing headlong towards us. When I opened them again he had the thing eating out of his hand with a few kind words. Mr Finkleberg couldn’t believe his eyes when he took his hands away. What an extraordinary boy! he said.
She smiled sadly.
Years later he emigrated to America and fought in the Korean War. I think, if truth be told, I was sad to see him go, for he was good company. When the fighting ended we received a letter telling us how brave he had been winning a purple heart, but he wasn’t coming home. My father never spoke about his death and my mother…it was the worst time of her life. Soon after she complained of chest pain and shortness of breath. I think she died of a broken heart.
The cortége wound its way like a slow-moving river as the horse clip-clopped slowly along the canal road to take the first turning on the right.
Moving quickly they came to the cemetery gates decorated it seemed to her with flowers of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, all the colours of the rainbow.
Here we are, she said.
Even though the sound of voices was quieter in here it was music to her ears while she stood alone at the back of the chapel during the short service, as friends and relatives made their way up to pay one’s last respects. When it was over she stood by the willowy blonde casket her face lit up with glee even as it was taken through the curtain with a soft swishing sound. But her presence did not go unnoticed. A child sitting on her mother’s knee pointed as she rose heavenward through the high ceilinged room clapping her hands for joy.
© 2019 John Cantwell