I go into the bedroom, switch on the lamps and lower the blinds. I slump into Hugh’s chair and place my hands on the arms where his would have rested. From across the room he beams at me from the photo by the bed .
‘It’s nearly six o’clock, Mosie. Pauline will be home soon.’
‘I know, Hugh but I just want to sit here.’
Hugh continues to smile. I can see nothing funny and I shiver in my misery. I glance down at my arms. The goosepimples are standing out on my skin and I realise how cold I feel. I’ll have to get up and get moving, that way I know I’ll be warm. I rub my arms to generate some heat and can hear the mock despair in Hugh’s voice,’You can’t be cold, Mosie, this place is like a furnace!’
‘I hope that doesn’t describe the place you are in at the moment, Hugh!’ And I actually chuckle.
Goosepimples. Now there’s a word and here I am still smiling as I head for the kitchen .‘Mosie ! Don’t you dare! I forbid you to tell that story!’
It was 1971. We were on holiday in Dublin with Joyce and Mac. My mum and dad were staying nearby in Dun Laoghaire and had come to our holiday house to babysit and give the four of us a night on the town.
We started out at a very popular folk club where Hugh quickly acknowledged that the general mayhem was just too much for his hearing aids to cope with. So he switched them off. Content with his Guinness and his smoke he sat back in his chair and left the three of us to scream quietly at each other. As the club filled up we were obliged to make room for two other congenial tourists who, having caught the mood of the place, were eager to join in. They were German. Hugh gave me a look which said :There’s no point in even asking me to participate. Carry on ! (I should point out that Hugh, in quieter circumstances , would have been a great asset to the company. He, unlike the rest of us, could speak German.) He lit another cigarette and sat back once more in his chair smiling politely as I tried to explain in my best German hand signals about Hugh’s hearing difficulty. Their English was as good as our German but they seemed to understand.
‘You are Irish?’ asked the more fluent of the two.
‘No, Scottish,’we replied chorally in our flat, broad tones. Our foreign friends’ eyes lit up.
‘Ah! Ve haf just come from your country….ve haf seen all d ‘locks and d’mountains…………ve haf climbed your Ben………ve look out from d’top and ve see all d’beautiful sings…..all d’vunderful scenes……..ah…ve feel………..ve feel……….’
He was at a loss for words and at that point he began using body language to convey the tremendous excitement he had obviously experienced. He was running his hands very eloquently up and down his arms. We were with him every step of the way.We could sense his frustration at being unable to verbalise the exhilaration building up inside him but he wasn’t about to give up.
‘Ah….ve feel all ze…….all ze………..on our arms……..on our necks………..all over ………ve feel all ze………….’
At that precise moment, and as I was framing the word ‘goosepimples’ in my mouth, Hugh leaned forward in his seat, flicked his ash into the ashtray and pronounced in a voice loud enough to frighten the French, ‘Tattoos!!’ and sank back into his chair. There was a split second of stunned silence as punctuation marks of the question and exclamation variety flashed invisibly above our heads. I was aware of Hugh‘s smug expression as he nodded with encouragement in the storyteller’s direction.
‘Ah, ze tattoos!’ He seized the word gratefully and continued to relate how he and his companion had experienced both a rush of pleasure and a rash of ‘tattoos’ at the breathtaking scenery of the Scottish Highlands.
Poor Hugh. It took a while before he could laugh at the story – which I loved to tell – but he did learn to get his own back. With a somewhat lighter heart I start to prepare the meal. I realise I am trying to work with the telephone handset under my arm and I chide myself sharply.
‘It’s a good job nobody can see you,’ I say to myself, as I stare into the fridge trying to remember why I had opened the door in the first place. I am the victim of my own joke about the ‘Hereafter’ – here I am gazing into the fridge and I haven’t the faintest idea what it is I’m here after. But I do know why I had the handset tucked under my arm . Pauline will call soon to let me know that she is on her way home.
I like to have everything ready for Pauline – not because she expects it but because it makes me feel needed still .
Do you know, Hugh, if Pauline wasn’t here I don’t think I’d bother making a ‘proper’ meal every night. I’d just feast my eyes on ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ and say, ‘I could do that if I wanted …… then I’d go off and create some ‘pain grille and oeuf a la coq’.Well, there’s nothing wrong with toast and a boiled egg or beans or banana or jam or…….’
‘Mosie! Have you learned nothing from me? Did I not bring home the best bacon ,the finest beef, the freshest fish, the tastiest vegetables, the crispiest apples and the best BOGOFs in the country!! Good grief, you’ve got me so worked up I’m breaking out in tattoos!! Thank God for Pauline!’
‘Thank God indeed, Hugh .’
Mavis the Fairy. That’s what Joe calls Pauline. She thought the photograph(Pauline dressed like a prima ballerina) which had given rise to that ethereal title, had been well and truly lost. Wrong! Not only did it reappear but her loving brother had it enlarged to poster size in honour of her thirtieth birthday. Pauline took it in her stride and laughed with the rest of us. If she was hurt or embarrassed or angry she didn’t show it. Anyway, she would never have spoiled the moment by such a display ……..because that’s the way she is – to the outside world….. quiet, still, truculent. All her school reports used these words as a criticism of her performance in class. But Pauline is much more than this as those of us who love her know very well. She has a steely core which has become more apparent since her dad died and since her role in the household changed from youngest sibling to mother ‘carer’. She doesn’t ‘boss’ but she is firm and outspoken –in a quiet, still and measured way. She doesn’t flap or fuss but takes stock, takes time and takes action. She assumes an air of exasperation and impatience and makes her response with, when appropriate, a deliciously wicked sense of humour. She is endearing, sensitive, self critical, creative, intuitive, funny and , it has to be said a bit over fond of her bed. She has lots of dreams and is at the moment, teetering on the verge of making some of them a reality. She is passionate about owning property, interior design, cookery and Spain. I recall one of Hugh’s school tales about a very snobbish teacher of classical subjects, who, on being told by one unfortunate miscreant that he was engaged in studying technical and Spanish, retorted sneeringly, ‘And is that the height of your ambition, son……….to be a ‘jiner’ in Barcelona?’ I’ve often wondered if the poor lad ever turned that scathing put-down into a personal goal and built his own place in the sun………what’s the Greek for‘na na nana na !!’
So perhaps opening a tea and tattie scone shop in Tarragona wouldn’t be such a bad idea, Pauline……….Maybe I’ll come too. After all I do know a good scone when I hear one………………
Pauline came back to stay with us in June 2000. Her relationship had broken down and her little flat, although glowing with the burnished tones of which she is so fond, had lost its warmth and charm. She was heartbroken and wanted to come home. So her little property was sold, our garage reorganised to accommodate her possessions and the spare room commandeered as sleeping quarters. In September 2000 she spent two weeks in Washington as a guest of our friend Anne and husband Glen, who, typically, wanted, like the rest of us, to make her feel ‘better’.
Some weeks after her return she became ill but was misdiagnosed and continued to struggle stoically to her place of work. On Christmas Eve, however, her dad and I realised that we had to seek further advice and took her in considerable pain, to an emergency doctor. On examination it was discovered that she was suffering from an abscess which required immediate surgery. Shortly afterwards we received the devastating news from Washington that Glen, Anne’s husband,had cancer.
Anne and Glen ………….now there’s a story ……and what the ending will be cannot yet be predicted for Glen is still with us thanks to gruelling cancer treatment and tender, loving care. Being a Colonel in the US Army no doubt gave him access to immediate and exemplary medical treatment and being married to Anne gave him exclusive access to an outstanding civilian carer. Glen’s positivity and Anne’s capability have undoubtedly given them much more quality time than either of them could have initially hoped for.
As for Pauline, she had to endure a whole year of hospital visits, operations and nursing which was mercifully less traumatic for everyone because she was at home with us. It was a trying time for her but on September 11th of that same year, as the three of us watched the horror of 911 unfold, we, all of us, were able to put a lot of things into perspective particularly when she reminded us that on the very same date the previous year she had been visiting Washington with our friend …….
What a strength Anne has been to me, Hugh. She left a message every day you were in hospital. She telephoned daily for weeks after you died, expecting nothing from me but giving me all that she could. She listened when I felt like talking, she talked when I was silent with grief.She was never sharp or impatient or trite. I knew she was saying to herself often,‘God, this could be me….’ for she was, remember, nursing her sick husband and was sorely in need of comfort herself. I can’t help but think that my circumstances have in some strange way helped her to bear her own burden. And I, in turn, feel a great sadness for her that she has yet to confront her ultimate suffering. Still, she calls regularly and we continue to buoy each other up as we reach across the great ocean of tears which flows from here to eternity……….
I glance up from my writing and stare directly into the seascape, you know the one I mean, Hugh. I loved this picture from the moment I saw it . It was a Saturday afternoon, as I remember, and I was supposed to be food shopping but I had seen a poster advertising a sale of paintings in a local hotel: ‘FOR ONE DAY ONLY’ ….I was tempted and I ‘fell’. I asked the dealer to set my potential purchase aside while I dashed to the supermarket for essential supplies. Reeling slightly from the cost of the painting, I obviously had to do some serious prioritising of the shopping list if I was going to seal the deal………………..
Your face was an even better picture, Hugh when you came to pick me up that Saturday evening . I had a small fortune under one arm and a plain loaf under the other. We took the painting home and ‘hung’ it.
‘Well, now,’you said when you felt you had admired it enough, ‘what’s for the tea?’
Thank goodness your ‘team’ had won that day or I could easily have been hung alongside my precious ‘investment’……
I look at it now : an expanse of sea, a rocky promontory, a serene lighthouse beaming out its rays of hope through the grey, damp mist of an early morning.
How could I have known all those years ago that I was buying something which spoke only softly to me then …….but speaks volumes to me now…….
….to be continued…..