Tag: Cheating

Tobacco Road Part IV

(final)

Paddy was in shock at the man’s meagre offer. He had hoped to at least double his investment, but he now saw a huge loss being the only results of his dealings. “O, my darling Jenny!” Paddy began to cry, swinging his body from side to side in his grief, “My sweet Jenny! What will you say to your man, after him throwing away a half year’s rent that should have been given to the agent? O! what will you say, sweet heart, but that I made one stupid eejit of myself, for listening to Shane Fee, that lousy schemer! And what shall our wee Sheila say when I when I won’t be able to give her a dowry and when Tim Murphy won’t take her without the cows that I won’t have to give her? O, Mister Parsons will you not show me some mercyand don’t short change or cheat me for God’s sake? Give me the ten pounds that it cost me, and I’ll pray for your soul, always. O! Jenny, Jenny, I’ll never be able to face you, or Sheila, or any of our neighbours again. At least not without the ten pound note.”

Well, if you don’t give me your tobacco for less than that, you can call on Mr. Burton, at the other side of the bridge. He deals in such goods too. Although I cannot do more for you, you could go farther but you might also fare worse,” warned Mister Parsons and directed Paddy to Mr. Burton, who was, in fact, the excise officer.

smugglers 2Feeling very deflated by his experience with Mister Parsons, Paddy cautiously proceeded across the bridge until he reached a house with a big green door and a brass knocker. Paddy hesitated when he saw that the building was not a shop, or advertised any business enterprise. When assured that this was indeed the house of Mr. Burton, he went up to the door, and gave the door three loud knocks with the butt end of his Blackthorn stick. The knocks were so loud they could have awakened the dead, but it had the desired effect of rousing Mister Burton, who was angered at the loudness of the rapping and went to see just who had created it. “In the name of God, man, are you wanting to break my door down with that brass knocker, or what?”

Ah sure, I’m sorry for being so noisy,” said Paddy as he removed his broad-brimmed hat, and tried to hurriedly shine his shoes on the backs of his trouser legs. “I’ve never seen such a large knocker on a door before this night, and sure I wouldn’t have troubled you at all, only I have some fine goods that I have been told would suit you. You can have it for next to nothing, because I don’t have the heart to go on any farther. My pony is almost done and I’m shite scared of being caught by the guager.”

May I just ask you, who sent you here to sell smuggled tobacco?” asked the astonished guager.

An honest man, but a bad buyer, who trades the other side of the bridge. He would only give me five pounds for what cost me ten pounds. I wish I had never started all of this! I put a half year’s rent into this! My thirteen female children and my poor wife, God help them, will be soon be out on the roads. I’ll never go home without the ten pounds in my pocket. Damn to you, Shane Fee, you sickly faced blackguard, that brought me into smuggling. O! Jenny, I will have to go soldiering with a gun an my shoulder.”

Shane Fee!” exclaimed the excise man. “Do you know Shane Fee? I’d give ten pounds just to see that villain.”I do sir, and it is myself who could put your finger on him, if I had you in Ballintree. But, just I was leaving the place, he was lying under an old quilt, and I heard him telling someone that the priest said he had spotted fever enough for a thousand men.”That villain will never die of the spotted fever, in my humble opinion,” said the guager.

You’re a good judge, sir. Sure, didn’t I hear the rogue himself say, ‘Bad luck to that thief of a priest, and him telling me that I would die of a stoppage of breath!’ But won’t you just allow me to turn in the wee bit of tobacco?”

The excise man was now extremely angry at the underhand way that Mister Parsons would attempt to bring ruin to this wee man, just because he didn’t get his way. Mr. Burton was now determined to punish that crook’s treachery. “Listen to me, wee man,” he said to Paddy, “I am the exciseman that you dread so much, and I am sworn to do my duty, and confiscate that bit of tobacco. But, it is common justice that the treacherous blackguard that sent you here should be punished. Go back to him now, quickly, and tell him that he can have the lot at his at his own terms. I will be close behind you, and give him the proper reward for his treachery. Do this job right, and I promise, on my word, that I shall give you ten pounds more, and you will make the profit you need.”Paddy threw himself to his knees, and lifted his hands in prayer, but he could not speak. The terror and delight of this moment, however, made him unable to utter a sound.

Get up, I say,” exclaimed the excise man, “up now and get going. Go now and earn your ten pounds, while getting a sweet revenge on the thief that betrayed you.”Paddy rapidly made his way back to Mr. Parson’s shop, muttering a prayer of thanksgiving beneath his breath, “What a real gentleman, and may the Lord make his soul a comfortable bed in Heaven.” Then he turned his mind to Mr. Parsons, muttering, “Now, that cheating villain of a man. He thought he was sending the fox to mind the hens sure enough. May he be hung high, the blackguard and informer. He’ll suffer for his sins this day.”

When they met again Mister Parsons asked Paddy, “Have you seen that gentleman I sent you to?”Ah, sir, when I came to the bridge an looked about me, I began to suspect everyone I met was a thief or a guager. Then, after I stood there a while, quite distracted with fear and nerves, and I forgot the man’s name. So I came back again to ask you, if you would please …”You had better take the five pounds I offered if you don’t want any more bother. There’s a guager in town, and your situation, therefore, is very dangerous.”Oh my God, a guager in town!” cried Paddy. “Jesus, Mary, and Joseph, what’ll I do now? I’m done, surely to God. Take it for what you like, and should you ever have trouble like this, you be comforted in that you had a poor man’s blessing. I give that to you on my knees and may it help you along the road of life.”

With the deal done the tobacco was brought inside the premises, and placed it among Mr. Parson’s other contraband goods. Paddy placed the five pounds in his pocket and, in that moment, Mr. Burton burst into the room. The Tobacconist’s business and reputation was destroyed. Parson’s was subjected to a heavy fine, and the community would have nothing to do with him because of his treachery, causing him die in extreme poverty. The man’s family and descendants were destined to become homeless wanderers. There was to be no forgiveness for the family of the only informer that ever disgraced the district.

Tobacco Road Part III

It was early on a clear sunny morning, soon after this, that a man with a pony and cart was seen entering the town of Kilferns from the west. He walked slowly in front of the animal, which appeared to be very reluctant to allow himself to be dragged along at the full length of his halter. On the small cart was laid a quantity of straw, upon which lay a human form. It was a long body of a grown man being, whose feet extended over the rear of the cart, and was covered with old flannel quilt. The man’s face, as it appeared above the tattered hem of the quilt, looked to very ill and malnourished, which seemed to be causing him some pain. His distorted features showed the terrible pain he was enduring, and as the small cart jolted along that rugged path, he groaned hideously. This miserable human being was, indeed, Shane Fee, and he who was leading the pony was none other than Paddy Corr. By this manner, Paddy was trying to smuggle his “bit of baccy,” which he had concealed in well-packed bales beneath the sick-bed upon which Shane lay, simulating his grevious illness.

As they continued along the road, Shane uttered a loud groan, and with such a sound of real agony that it startled Paddy. He was so sure that Shane’s cry of pain was real, that he rushed to the back of the cart to see for himself if his companion was still alive. Shane, however, was very much alive and none too pleased that Paddy had left his post. “For God’s sake, Paddy,” he growled in a deep voice, “it’s not that far now until we come across that thieveing and scheming guager. Back to your post now and make ready to carry out our plan. Don’t forget now, that it is the spotted fever I have.”

As Shane had said, a short time later, they came upon the ‘Excise Man’ on the street. Nervous about being able to act out his role caused Paddy to avoid looking at the man. This aroused the suspicions of the guager, who brought the traveller and his cart to a halt. “Well, wee man,” he greeted Paddy, “where are you from, and just where would you be heading?”

O, sir, may the good Lord bless you, for you must be one of the good ones, asking after the health of a poor shore fisherman like me. But, sir, it isn’t so much where I come from as where the body in the cart will die on me.”

How far are you taking him?” asked the ‘Excise Man’.

Sure, wouldn’t I like to know that myself. I would get down on my two bended knees and pray for your soul, sir, if you could give the answer to that question. Didn’t I forget to ask the poor creature where he should be buried when we came away, and now he can’t string two words together.”

The guager listened intently to what Paddy told him, but he was becoming very suspicious of the way he was delaying in answering his questions.“Come on now, where is it that you live?”

Ah, Jaysus, sure it’s your way of talking that has me entirely confused. But if you want to know where my woman and children are, it is that way. To the west in Ballintee, Surely you have heard of Ballintee, Sir?”

No,” came the reply.

Well, no matter, sir, for if you had been there you might have got the sickness, God forbid. Stay away from that place, for it would be better if you talked to the man there and ask him to offer up a rosary for you. It would be cheaper than having to send for Doctor Crummy.”

Perhaps I should just search the cart. Maybe you have some soft goods concealed under that sick man,” said the guager, as he came closer to the cart. “It wouldn’t be the first time that I caught a smuggler and his wares in such a situation.”

There’s not even the smell or taste of any goods under that man, but your welcome to look if you wish to disturb him. As for catching a smuggler, I would say the only thing you’ll catch under him is the spotted fever.”

Fever!” repeated the startled guager, taking a step or two backwards.

Aye, the fever, sir! Didn’t Father Brody prepare him, and tell us that he had the spotted. He said he had never seen worse, and that it could destroy a thousand men! Come on, sir, take a wee look in the poor man’s face, and then lift the dying creature out of his resting place. He that came that came all the way from the hill country to fulfil a dream of his, to sort out a Mass for the soul of his wife at Ballintee. Aye, sure just you go ahead and throw him out of the cart and on to the road, and let his blood, a stranger’s blood be on your conscience, and his fever in your body.”

Paddy Corr had played his role very well and had brought out the guager’s fear of the dreaded fever, which saved his load of ‘baccy’ from being discovered and confiscated. Nevertheless, both men decided it was too dangerous to search for a buyer in Kilferns and directed their path toward the nearby coastal town of Carnbay, that lay further east.

It was late in the evening as the small party entered the town. Fortunately, Shane could read quite well and it was he who noticed a sign for a guest-house with adjacent stable for the pony. He told Paddy that they would spend the night there, and then told Paddy to visit the only tobacconist in town. But, Paddy felt it strange that Shane chose not to accompany him.

The shop owner, Mister Parsons, had just finished dealing with several customers, as Paddy entered. He waited until the customers had exited the store before greeting the owner,“Well, big man, how’s business?” Mister Parsons was startled by such a rude greeting from some person unknown to him, when a more formal greeting would have been appropriate. The shopkeeper looked at the new visitor with an expression that showed his distaste for those he considered to be of a lower class. At first he ignored the small man’s presence in the shop, but, after a moment he acknowledged Paddy and asked, “What can I do for you?”

Paddy Corr said nothing, but stood there with his mouth gaping widely. Mister Parsons immediately added, “I believe you have come from the west?”

Paddy now came to his senses again and replied, “Sure enough, from the westernmost part of the west. By the grace of God, I have made it this far on honest business and would like to speak to you.”

Mr. Parsons now showed a great deal of interest in what this strange, short visitor and asked him, “I have no doubt that you have brought something in my line of business with you?”

Indeed I have,” replied Paddy. “I have the best bit of tobacco that you have ever seen, or smoked, and that’s no idle brag. The man from whom I received it that a sweeter taste had never left the hold of his ship. Now, I will give it to you dog cheap, only because it has travelled such a long way.”

I don’t think you you have been very long in this business,” said Mister Parsons.

That’s true. This is not something I have done before, in all my life, short though it has been,” Paddy told him.

Mister Parsons smiled inwardly to himself, because if the man before him was inexperienced in running smuggled goods, there might just be a profitable deal to be made. He told Paddy that he should bring the goods privately to the back door of his premises. Paddy, with his fear of the guager still very much on his mind, wasted no time in carrying out the instructions. But, when Mr Parsons examined the packages brought by Paddy, the shopkeeper had a deeply disappointed expression upon his face, and exclaimed, “This stuff is no good, young man! It is entirely damaged by sea water, and will never do.”

Sea water? I don’t think so!” replied Paddy. “Not one drop of water, salt or fresh, did ever touch my ‘baccy’. The boat, ‘The Black Widow’ that brought it could skim along the waves like a seagull, and I can assure you that there are two things she never yet let in, namely water or ‘water-guards’. Water drips off her as it does a duck’s back, and the great wolfhound on her deck keeps the at a good distance.” This was information that Paddy had simply gleaned from talking to Shane as they journeyed along the road, and in the smugglers’ cave.

Ah, don’t you be trying to hoodwink me with your knowledge of the sea, for you cannot teach me anthing about my own business. So, take it away, for no man in this trade would take it on. But I’ll tell you this, I will do you you a favour rather than let a poor, ignorant man fall into the hands of the guager. I shall give you five pounds for the lot.”

Tobacco Road Part I

For many years before Ireland became free of the British Crown and its oppressive offices, the vast majority of the population held a particular revulsion of men in uniform. Though these groups included soldiers, sailors and policemen, the most severe treatment was reserved the members of the Royal Customs and Excise. Even in these modern times, in certain places the men of the Customs and Excise, whether Royal or not, continue to be reviled by a wide variety of social classes on this island. Although these men do not raise their hands against all men, it can be truly said that almost every man’s hand is raised against them. Most will smile cordially at the ‘Revenue Man’, but those officers are very much aware of the unmitigated hostility that those same people hold against them throughout their career. Those people look upon the smuggler as a ‘Robin Hood’ figure who supplies untaxed goods such as alcohol, tobacco, and luxury items. The ‘Revenue Men’ are seen as the evil forces of the law who try to stop them.

Known to the old-time Irish smugglers as ‘Guagers’, the ‘Revenue Man’ has often wrongly been depicted as being a ludicrous figure of a man. Those many occasions on which the ‘Revenue Man’ showed generosity, a sense of justice, and a certain abandonment of the strict rules have, for the most part, been entirely forgotten by writers. In this story we will see reasons as the why ‘Gaugers’ should not be the butt of ridicule, and that their virtues should not be ignored.

Our story begins one foggy November evening many years ago as two men made their weary way along a muddy road that wound its way through the wild mountains that stood guard over a remote area of Ireland’s far west. Now, as then, it was a wild, savage, and lonely scene that surrounded these two men. Ahead of them, in the far distance, they could just see the wild, heaving waters of the broad Atlantic Ocean, upon which the lowering clouds appeared to be settling themselves. Scattered over the surrounding moorlands arose a variety of misshapen rock formations, like large fingers of stones that have been carved by the winds and rains into a vast range of picturesque shapes. Around their bases and within their niches grew thick holly bushes and hardy mountain greenery. On the highest peaks of the nearby hills roamed herds of sheep and goats, scampering from place to place as they took full advantage of their freedom.

These two men, each of whom was leading a small pony that bore an empty sack along that difficult road, were widely different from each other in both form and appearance. One of the men was a small thickset man whose broad shoulders and muscular limbs showed that he possessed a degree of strength. But, he was a man who also possessed soft, blue eyes and a kind, good humoured face that would convince any observer that this man’s strength amd muscular arms had never been involved in any act of violence. He was dressed in a heavy brown jacket and corduroy trousers, while on his head he wore a broad brimmed, tightly woven straw hat that made him look like an outcast from the American ‘Wild West’.

This man’s companion, however, made a much more strange and unseemly figure of a man, being taller than his friend. In fact, he would be considered to be taller than the great majority of local men. His arms hung loosely together and seemed to accompany his extremely thin body with some reluctance, being literally nothing more than skin and bone. His head was a conical shape, thinly covered with rusty coloured hairs than were so thin they waved about his face in the light evening breeze. The tall man’s complexion was a greasy, deathly yellow colour, and highlighted by his rheumy sunken eyes, his highly prominent nose, the thin livid lips, half showing a few of his rotten, well-spread teeth. In fact he could have been held up as an excellent example of how disease and misery can affect the human body. He moved like a human skeleton and the pony that he led was hardly able to keep pace with the swinging unequal stride of that gaunt man, whose fleshless limbs did not fill the clothes that flapped and fluttered around him as he strode along that chilly moorland path.

As the two men and their ponies proceeded along the road, they were able to walk side-by-side and enjoy a good conversation with each other. The smaller of the two men pushed forward and renewed a conversation that had been interrupted some yards earlier as the path had narrowed to only allow passage in single file.

You were saying, Shane,” said the small fellow, as he came up alongside of his lean, taller companion. “You were saying about that face of yours being the means by which we can keep the ‘guager’ from our wee bit of baccy (tobacco).”

Aye, not one of those ‘gaugers’ will ever get a smell, never mind a squint, at even one bit of that baccy,” Shane promised, “as long as I am with you. In all the twelve months that I travelled with Tim Casey there was not one ‘gauger’ who even suspected the man. If that ‘buck eejit’ of a man had taken me with him that day, his load of best Brandy would still be his and he wouldn’t be sitting in a cold jail cell. If I had been with him he would now be stting at his own table, in front of a blazing fire, tucking into a good steak!”

Paddy Corr laughed heartily at his companion’s comment and then roguishly told the taller man, “The worry on my part is that it wasn’t much of Tim Casey’s profits that came your way, more like the cheap change, and that was what caused the poor man’s fate to change.”

It’s you that could be laughing heartily on the other side of your mouth, Paddy Corr, should a ‘gauger’ got a sniff at your taste of ‘baccy’,” Shane replied. “There’s no doubt that he would take all that you have if I was not there to frighten him off, just like I have done, so often before.”

But, could we not just put our ‘baccy’ in a couple of panniers on the backs of our ponies, put a few fish and oysters on top, and pretend that we have just been out fishing?”

I know what I am talking about, mark my words, Paddy Corr. I was taught the trade by an old man whom the devil could could not out do when it came to committing a bit of roguery. So, Paddy, put your goods in the pony cart and spread an old sheet over them. Then I will lie down on that and you can tell any ‘gauger’ that we meet that I was on my way to the fair in Ballintree when I came down with a bad fever. You tell them that, as an act of mercy for my poor mother, you are taking me home. Say that it was Father Brady who had seen to me, and that he had said it was the worst case of the spotted fever that he had seen in the country for almost ten years. By Jaysus if that doesn’t frighten the nosey bastard, then you can be sure that someone has sold you out, and me alongside you”

By this time they had reached a deep ravine, through which a narrow stream pursued its slow, murmuring course. At this point they stopped, left the horses, and, gathering up some empty sacks, they walked on until they reached the edge of a steep cliff. In the dark void below them could be heard the great, hollow roar of the heaving ocean, as its waves smashed against this towering granite barrier. All along the dark outline at the foot of the cliffs great mounds of foam were created, as the snowy-white crests of never ending wave formations angrily vented the last vestiges of their strength in constant flashes of phosphoric light, that sparkled and danced splendidly to the wild and sullen music of the crashing sea.

The Cailleach of Ballygran – Part V

Baby

ChangelingThe news about Maura’s illness spread quickly around her neighbours and friends. Johnny, of course, kept Luig up-to-date about Maura’s condition. For the first time since he had met this strange, fascinating woman he felt the pangs of conscience sliding in and it was causing him to have some second thoughts. He had known Maura since they were both teenagers and he had loved her forever, it seemed. Johnny could not quite comprehend what had caused him to have such a strong reaction to a woman who was not his wife. Now that Maura was seriously ill, she would require Johnny’s full attention to be paid on her and her needs. “Maybe,” he thought for the first time, “this affair should be brought to an abrupt end, and as soon as possible.”

One afternoon, in the club, Johnny confided in his best friend, Seamus, his intention to end his liaison with Luig. “It’s just sex,” Johnny told him and Seamus thought that it was all such great joke. When he heard about Maura having cancer, Seamus had suggested that Johnny should terminate his affair, but he had thought that it was more than just physical between the two of them. He was surprised to learn different and he encouraged his friend to act quickly, and yet he knew Johnny preferred to avoid confrontation rather than face it.

When Dympna Murphy heard that her friend had contracted cancer she was heartbroken for her. She called at the house to see Maura and to enquire if there was anything that she could do. Dympna had not forgotten about Johnny and Luig, but she was reluctant to tell Maura that her husband was a cheat. She thought that Maura had enough troubles on her mind without her adding to them, but there was a need to put a stop to this affair once and for all. Fiona was strong-minded woman and would appreciate the truth, even if it was about her father and another woman. Dympna now turned to Fiona and one Saturday afternoon invited her for a coffee and a chat in town.

It was just after two o’clock in the afternoon when Fiona came into the coffee bar and sat down at the table that was already occupied by Dympna. There was quite a bit of small talk while the two women waited on their coffees and, finally, dympna decided to ‘bite-the-bullet’ and approach the delicate subject of Johnny’s affair. “Fiona, I don’t want you to think that I’m just another old gossip, but I have been given some information that I think you should hear,” said Dympna mysteriously.

“I would never call you an old gossip, Dympna,” Fiona laughed, “Tell me what you have heard. I’m all ears.”

“This information concerns your mother, and your father,” Dympna began.

“Oh yes?”

“You know how close I am to Maura, and I don’t want to say anything to hurt her, or you. But, to be honest, I don’t know how I should tell you.”

Fiona laughed at what he thought was mock concern being shown by Dympna. “You’re an awful case, Dympna,” said Fiona, “Now tell me why I am here. I know you’re worried about Mammy, but we all are.”

“It’s that, Fiona. What I have to say can change lives and, maybe, for the worse. I just don’t like being the bringer of bad news.”

“For God’s sake Dympna,” said an exasperated Fiona, “Will you just sill it out?”

“You Daddy is having an affair with that woman that calls herself Luig,” Dympna told her, all in one breath. “There, I have said it, and I am sorry.”

Fiona looked at the woman seated in front of her with shock in her eyes. Her face went pale as the blood drained from her, and she tried to make some sense out of the words she had just heard. Firstly, she wondered if she had accurately heard what Dympna had said, and shaking her head slightly she asked her, “Could you please repeat that, Dympna?”

The older woman took a deep breath and repeated her statement word for word, though in a slightly lower voice. Fiona couldn’t believe what she was hearing and, at first, she felt a great anger toward her friend. “How dare you?” she asked, “You’re supposed to be a good friend of my mammy and you start spreading gossip about our family?”

“No, Fiona,” Dympna insisted. “The gossip is already out there, for God’s sake, and I am just making you aware of what people are talking about behind your back. Don’t shoot the messenger because you don’t like the message they bring.”

“But it’s gossip, Dympna. Lies! All damned lies!” Fiona insisted as a tear came to her eyes.

No, Fiona! It’s not lies. It is the truth, because I saw the together with my own eyes in the Club,” Dympna informed her.

“In the Club?”

“Yes! In the Club!”

There was a light of rage that suddenly came into Fiona’s eyes. “I am going to get to the bottom of this,” she snarled bitterly, “and if this is true, by God he and his fancy bit will get a huge come-uppance.”

“You can count on my help,” said Dympna as she took a comforting hold of Fiona’s hand.

**** —****

As Fiona and Dympna were discussing Johnny Magowan’s affair with Luig, the two guilty parties were having a quiet lunch together in a small bistro on the edge of the town. “This is a nice surprise, Johnny. It’s not often that we have lunch together on a Saturday,” smiled Luig. “What’s the special occasion?”

Johnny had just finished eating the last few chips on his plate, and was wiping his mouth with a serviette to remove any ketchup, when Luig spoke. In a short moment he was able to answer her and said, “There is something that we must talk about, Luig.”

“Oh! Johnny you sound so very mysterious. What is it all about?” asked Luig.

Johnny’s throat suddenly went dry and his heart began to pound a little heavier. There were serious matters on his mind and he knew what had to be done. He had chosen this day, and these surroundings to bring an end to this mistaken affair. Johnny coughed dryly and began to speak what he had prepared for this occasion. “Maura is very ill, Luig, and she is not going to get any better,” he began.

“I’ve been told she has cancer, poor woman. I have already heard all about it and I am sorry to hear it,” said Luig, “but what has that got to do with us?”

I’m sorry Luig, but she needs me now more than ever,” he began to explain. “And as the weeks go by, Maura will require more and more help, and she will look to me to provide it for her.”

“And what?” she asked.

“What do you mean?”

“And what has all this to do with us?” Luig asked. “Are you going to tell me it is over between us because you have to spend more time with our, poor sick wife?”

“I’m not going to cast you to one side, Luig!” he explained. “But, maybe, we should stop seeing one another for a while. We can still be friends.”

“Friends?” Luig snarled at him, almost spitting out the word. He had never seen this side of her personality before and he did not like it. “We are lovers, Johnny,” she added, “not just friends with benefits, as they say.”

“You have to understand, please,” he pleaded. “I just need to be there for Maura. She is my wife after all.”

“Your wife?” Luig sniggered at the thought. “What about me, then? Am I just a bit on the side for you? And what about our unborn child?”

The words were like a huge hammer that had just hit him on the head. There was silence, and Johnny’s head began to pound heavily as an anxiety began to build up inside him like a pressure cooker. He looked at Luig, but could not see her clearly and the sounds of the bistro seemed to fade away.

Well, Johnny, what do you say, now?” she asked, bringing him back to reality.

“Ch-Child?” he stammered. “What child?”

“Our child, Johnny! The child that I am carrying now!”

“How can that be? I thought you took precautions, and anyway are you not too old now?” he asked.

“I’m not that old, you bastard! And contraception is not one hundred per cent, you know. Any way you weren’t thinking about any of that when you were enjoying yourself!”

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph!” exclaimed Johnny in despair as he put his head in his hands. “Why tell me this now?”

“Well, now is as good as any other time, considering what we have been talking about,” she told him.

“Are you sure? How long is it since …?”      

“A woman, especially at my age is always sure of such things,” Luig interrupted him. “And as far as how long have I known, the answer is six weeks only.”

“Six weeks?” he sighed. “Have you been to the doctors, yet?”

“What is a doctor going to tell me? ‘You’re pregnant!’ I already know that I’m pregnant. My question is, ‘Do I keep it or not?”

“Oh! My God!” Johnny exclaimed again in total exasperation, “This just cannot be happening!”

“Well, it is happening Johnny, so you need to man up and help me decide what I am to do,” demanded Luig. “This is all about you and me, Johnny, and if the people were to find out, your reputation would be destroyed!”

“What about Maura, and the children?” he asked with tears of desperation.

“That is the first time you have thought of them. You have never thought, or spoke, about them before this, and especially when we were in bed together. But, of course, that is when you were enjoying yourself, and telling me how much you wanted me. Well, Johnny you have had me, numerous times, and I am not going anywhere!”

In that moment Johnny Magowan could almost hear the trap-door closing firmly behind him. His mind was just simply filled with confusion and concern, wondering how he could get out of all this mess that he had gotten himself into. He just wished that he could turn the clock back and, if he could, he would never go anywhere near this woman. But, now Luig was pregnant and there was absolutely no possible way that such a condition could be kept hidden from Maura and his family. This was such a small area that everyone knew everyone else, and nothing could be hid from public view. Moreover, a few of Luig’s friends were also friends to Johnny’s sister, Marian, who lived not too far away.

Unknown to Johnny, Marian had already heard some of the rumours about his relationship with Luig McGirr, and she was not at all impressed. She had only heard about Johnny’s activities a very short time before, but she was ready to confront him about them, as soon as possible. Some forty years before, Marian had suffered at the hands of another woman in similar circumstances. Her husband ran off with another woman, leaving Marian alone with her teenage son to rear to adulthood. She remembered the heartbreak and the anger she felt at the time, and the shame of being abandoned. She, personally, had nothing to feel ashamed about, but the broken heart she suffered was almost impossible to live with. After twenty years of marriage all he had left her was an envelope on the fireplace that contained a letter and two ten pound notes. Her concerns grew as her son appeared to enter a dark world of anger, depression and revenge. It took her a long time, she recalled, until she once again had a smiling, happy, and content son who could see hope return to his life. There was much then, that she wanted to say to Johnny.

****—****

Fiona was, by now, completely aware of her father’s extra-marital affair. She had no idea who this woman was, calling herself Luig. But she was determined not to waste any time in filling in those areas where her knowledge of this woman was lacking. There was some little doubt left in her mind that these stories were true, but she was set on finding this out for herself. She decided not to inform John, or her younger sister, at the moment but would wait patiently until she was certain of the truth in this tale.

Much later that evening Fiona came home early from visiting her mother in the hospital. When she got to her father’s house she found that it was empty. Johnny was already away to the club and Fiona decided that she should follow. She just might, she thought, discover if any part of the rumour was true.

Leaving her car outside the house Fiona walked through the estate to the club. The building itself was lit up as usual and people were coming and going to and from it. Some were carrying kit bags loaded with training clothes, and others were going home after having a drink, or entering the premises to get themselves a drink. Fiona met and greeted several people, with whom she was acquainted as she walked through the front doors to the club. She moved down the corridor towards the bar, and came upon the ‘Snug’. The walls were clear, thick, soundproof glass, which kept out the hustle and bustle of the public bar. As she looked through the clear glass, Fiona anticipated seeing her father with his friend Seamus sitting beside him. But, Seamus was not to be seen, while Johnny was sitting beside some woman that Fiona did not recognise. When she saw this, Fiona’s heart sank but her determination to seek out the truth remained strong.

She opened the door to the ‘snug’ and walked directly to where her father was sitting, beside this strange woman. “Hi Dad,” she said.

Johnny looked around to see his eldest daughter standing over him. His heart pounded and the blood left his face as he stared at Fiona, stumbling for something to say.

“Can I sit down?” she asked as she moved to a seat across the small table from Johnny and his female companion.

At last Johnny found his voice and spoke nervously, “Hi, Fiona, what are you doing here?”

“I’ve just come from the hospital, and I thought I would come and tell you the outcome of the tests she had done,” she told him. “Can we talk privately?”

“Oh, this is Luig. She’s a friend of Seamus and I, so its alright to speak in front of her,” said Johnny.

“Hello,” said Luig with a smile, “Your Daddy has told me so much about you, your brother and sister. How is your Mammy doing?”

The woman’s smile looked pleasant, but Fiona could see something poisonous behind it. There was also something unpleasant about her voice and the way that she greeted Fiona. While she looked at the woman, her body gave an involuntary shudder. Even as she looked into Luig’s eyes she felt that she could see that there was some kind of evil buried within the woman. There was a darkness in those eyes that looked as if they were mocking Fiona, and the angry young woman just wanted to hit out.

Well, what’s happening?” Johnny asked.

“Daddy, I don’t know this woman or who she is friends with,” Fiona said tersely,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

The smile left Luig’s face and she stood up from her seat to face down this young opponent, but she found that Fiona was unmoved by her action. Luig could see the deeply seated hatred in Fiona’s eyes and decided that, on this occasion, she would be better giving way. “I have to go the ‘Ladies’”, Luig excused herself politely as she lifted her handbag from beneath the table, and she left the ‘snug’ without speaking another word.

“That was a bit rude,” said Johnny, after Luig had left.

“Rude?” Fiona retorted. “How rude is it for you to be sitting here with that old ‘floosie’ and drinking, as if there was nothing to worry about, especially when your wife is in hospital.”

But, she’s only a friend, Fiona. Nothing else,” Johnny insisted.

“Have you no male friends, Daddy? They might be better drinking buddies for you. They might even be able to give you some support when you hear that Mammy has a terminal illness!”

“What?” Johnny exclaimed in disbelief at what he had just heard.

“Your lawful and loving wife is in hospital, having been told today that her illness is terminal. She needs you, Daddy!” Fiona told him.

“Jesus, Mary and Joseph,” sighed Johnny, putting his hands to his head in horror at what he had heard.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Fiona told him getting up from her chair and leaving the ‘snug’. As she walked back up the corridor, toward the front door of the club, Fiona came to a sudden stop outside the ‘Ladies’ Toilet’ from where Luig walked out. Fiona, quick as a whip, grabbed her by the lapel of her jacket, and pulled Luig closer to her.

“You better listen to me, you bitch! That man you are with is my father and you keep both your hands and eyes away from him!” said Fiona.

“But …,” Luig went to say something but she was not allowed to finish, as Fiona tightened her grip on the jacket’s lapel.

“No buts, ands, or ifs!” insisted Fiona. “Let me assure you that if I see you anywhere near my Father again I will kick you from here into town, and there is not one wall you won’t be hit off on the way! Understood?” There was a fire in her eyes that demonstrated to Luig that Fiona was a woman of her word.

“Understood,” said Luig, and Fiona released her grip, shrugged her shoulders and left the club, feeling quite satisfied with herself.

It was only a few minutes after Fiona walked into the house that Johnny stormed in. Throwing his jacket on the sofa he confronted Fiona. “Where do you get off with threatening people?” he thundered.

“Did your lover complain, then?”

“She’s not my lover! You have it all wrong, Fiona. I swear it’s the truth,” he answered more calmly. “But, you had no need to threaten her!”

“I didn’t threaten her, Daddy! I just made a promise,” Fiona smirked.

“Look, Fiona, your mammy does not need all this trouble now!”

“No, she doesn’t need trouble. She needs rest and looking after. She may only have a short time left to her, and you are not going to start being adulterous now, and especially with that ugly bitch!”

“Fiona!”

“Is that a bit too rough for a young lady like me? Well, you need your eyes tested, Daddy, if you would take the likes of that over Mammy. Or is it your just like other dogs and chase after any bitch in heat?”

“You have it all wrong, Fiona! Believe me!” urged Johnny.

“Then, half the town, and most of the estate, have got it wrong and haven’t seen you being a little more than friendly towards that Luig woman.”

“Lies!” he screamed.

“No, Daddy! It’s the truth because a very good, trustworthy, friend of mine saw you both,” Fiona told him. “I don’t want Mammy to know anything about any of this, so you finish it now. If you don’t I will be the first to let Mammy know the type of man she is married to, and then I will sort out that damned woman.”

“Please believe me,” he pleaded, but any plea fell on deaf ears and he could only watch as Fiona stormed out of the house.

****—****

Johnny had just made himself a cup of hot tea when the mobile phone in his pocket rang. He removed it, looked at the screen and immediately identified the number that was calling him. It was Luig and he was not in the best frame of mind to be speaking to her, and allowed the phone to ring out. But, almost as soon as the phone stopped ringing, it began ringing again from the same caller ID that had called previously. This time Johnny decided to answer the call and pressed the green receive button.

“Hi, I just missed your last call,” Johnny lied to her.

“Did you sort that cheeky, wee bitch out, Johnny?” Luig demanded to know. “Or are you just going to allow her to talk to me like that?”

“I can’t handle this at the moment, Luig,” Johnny told her. “I have too much on my mind. Let me ring you back.”

“Well, thank you very much, my hero,” Luig responded satirically. Johnny shook his head in a sense of hopelessness and just continued to listen to Luig rant, without making any reply, remembering that the least that is said the soonest it is mended.

“Are you still there, Johnny?” She finally asked after a long period of silence.

“I am,” Johnny replied wearily.

“In my condition, you know, I cannot be put under such stress.”

“I know,” he told her. “Just you leave this with me tonight and I will see you tomorrow.”

Cailleach of Ballygran Part IV

 

Maura

Maura Despair

In the local health centre there was a new, young, female doctor attached to the practice that Maura attended. Being young and new to the practice she, not surprisingly, wanted to make a good impression, and so conducted a thorough examination of Maura. Fortunately, on this occasion, Fiona decided to accompany her to the doctor’s surgery and she listened attentively to what the doctor had to say. After the examination was complete, the young doctor told Maura that she would make arrangements for her to attend the hospital for a series of tests. At the same time, the doctor also promised that she would do everything in her power to ensure that the tests would be carried out as soon as possible, and, in the meantime, she would take some blood samples. Maura was, of course, concerned and a little upset when she was told that hospital tests would be required and she asked, nervously, “Is it something very serious, doctor?”

“To be honest, Mrs. Magowan, I will not know anything until the test results are returned to me,” the doctor smiled reassuringly. “Once we know exactly what we are dealing with, then we shall be able to treat it rapidly and efficiently so we can get you back to full health.”

“She’s right, Mammy,” added Fiona comfortingly. “Let us get these tests over and done with so we can treat you before it becomes any worse. Sure, I’ll come with you to the hospital, for you know what Daddy’s like about those places.”

It came as a great surprise when, barely two weeks after seeing the doctor, Maura received a letter from the hospital offering her an appointment ten days time. Fiona was excited for her mother and she urged Maura to call the hospital on the phone and confirm the appointment by telling them that she would be attending. Encouraged by this piece of good news Maura and her two daughters went out shopping for some new clothes that she might need if she was going into the hospital. Then, later that same evening, Maura sat down with Johnny and told him that she would be going into hospital to undergo some tests.

“Sure, Maura, it might not be that bad of a thing,” Johnny tried to assure his wife. “It will, probably, only be that IBS thing that has got so popular, or just an ulcer of one kind or another.”

“I think it might just be a little more serious than that Johnny!” she said, but appreciated his efforts at trying to comfort her.

“You worry too much Maura, as you always do. I’ll bet you that when you get these tests they will say you’re as fit as a fiddle.”

Later that same evening, as was his usual custom, Johnny went to the club, where he met Luig in the snug. They talked in whispers to each other, and Johnny told her about Maura’s impending hospital appointment and how worried she was. But, as they talked quietly, unknown to them, a close work colleague of Maura, called Dympna Murphy, saw the couple getting rather cosy with each other, and she decided that this was more than just an innocent friendship. She had come to the club with one of her friends and asked her, “Who is that with Johnny Magowan?”

“Oh, you haven’t heard the gossip have you?” the friend replied quietly.

“Now, would I be asking you such a question if I knew who she was?”

“Hush, for Jesus’ sake! Not so loud,” Dympna’s friend urged. “That’s Johnny’s fancy piece.”

“His what?” exclaimed Dympna, in shock and disbelief at this sudden revelation. “She’s not that bloody fancy!”

“It’s that girl with the odd name, Luigseach. But, she just calls herself Luig. Luig McGirr and she’s Johnny Magowan’s bit on the side,” explained the friend. “It has been going on for quite a while now. I’m surprised you haven’t heard about it until now.”

“What, in the name                                                                                                                                                                           God, does the like of Johnny Magowan see in that witch?” sighed Dympna despairingly.

“Typical man, he’s always looking for his comforts. I would say it’s not what he sees in her, but what she does for him,” laughed Dympna’s friend loudly and gathering attention from around the room.

“The dirty old bitch! How could he prefer the like of that instead of his wife, Maura?”

“I don’t believe that Maura knows anything about the affair, to be honest. I definitely would not like to be the one who tells the poor woman, if you know what I mean.”

“I know exactly what you mean,” sighed Dympna. She knew already that Maura was going to attend the hospital for tests. She was of the opinion that any such disclosure should be left until after the results of those tests were known. But, Dympna was equally determined that, as Maura’s friend since childhood, she should let her know the secret.

When the day for attending the hospital finally came, Fiona, as promised, accompanied her to the hospital and Johnny drove them to the appointment. As is usual in all hospitals, Maura was called and brought to an area where she and Fiona were told to await the doctor’s call before they could go into the consulting room. After another lengthy period of waiting both ladies were brought into the room by a nurse.

As Maura walked into the office, the doctor greeted her courteously, “Hello Mrs. Magowan. Sorry for keeping you waiting so long.”

“It’s fine,” she told him politely.

“Well, we have several tests to be done and we may have to keep you in overnight on the ward,” the doctor began. “First I have some questions to ask and then the nurse will take you to the ward and help prepare you for what lies ahead. Now, the first test will not be carried out until this afternoon, and there will be a short wait until the next test. We will make every effort to ensure that you know what we are doing it, and when.”

After thanking the young doctor, Maura and Fiona were shown up to the ward, where she undressed and put on a nightdress and a dressing gown. Almost immediately nurse followed nurse, as question followed question, and they checked this and they checked that. Temperature, blood pressure observations were taken, along with a heart trace carried out on a portable ECG machine. Finally, a nurse inserted a ‘butterfly’ connection to the vein in Maura’s left arm. This was to be used only if further medication had to be delivered intravenously. With such attention from the nursing staff the time appeared to fly past until lunch arrived in the ward. Maura, however, was not interested in eating food, being too nervous even to eat a morsel.

Almost immediately after lunch Maura’s first test was carried out, involving a body scan rather than an X-ray. Once the scan was complete, Maura was taken to another department in the hospital, where she was given an ultra-sound sweep of her abdomen. Because of the waiting times in between scans these procedures took up most of the afternoon. When Maura returned o the ward she was served a light tea, but she could only nibble at a slice of wheaten bread and drink the cup of tea provided. She was tired and bored. So far all that had been done was answer questions and have scans completed. There was not, much to her frustration, one word about what they were actually testing her for. Fiona, however, continued to support her mother and to keep her spirits up by ensuring that any dark thoughts of her mortality did not linger in Maura’s mind.

There were no more tests that evening and Maura suggested that Fiona go home and get some rest. Eight O’clock was the start of visiting time, but Fiona did not stay and an exhausted Maura prepared to get some sleep. For several weeks she had become very concerned about her health, and she had said prayers to every possible saint asking them to protect her from her worst fear, which was contracting cancer. Maura had seen people die as a result of this devastating disease, and she had no wish for her family to witness her waste away in a painful journey toward death. Despite the positive messages from others, the reality of becoming yet another statistic in the fight against cancer played heavily on Maura’s mind.

Maura did not sleep well that night in hospital. Her mind was filled with negative thoughts and she cried quietly to herself as she lay in the hospital bed. When the ward came back to life the next morning, Maura was still wide awake. Yawning widely with exhaustion she watched on as the nursing staff began preparing for the changeover of personnel. She got out of the bed and made her way to the nearby bathroom, where she showered and prepared herself for the day ahead. After breakfast, Maura sat in the bedside chair awaiting her next test, but no person came and the doctors began their patient rounds. Meanwhile, Fiona had been allowed into the ward just after breakfast and together they waited patiently for the doctors to come to them.

There were two doctors who eventually came to the bedside, accompanied by a senior nurse. The taller of the two doctors, also appeared to be the youngest, while the other doctor was a small man, wore glasses and looked to be much older than his colleague. The taller doctor pulled the curtains around the bed to give them a little privacy, while the smaller of the two sat on the bed to talk to Maura. “Is this your daughter. Mrs. Magowan?”

“Yes, Doctor,” replied Maura. “This my eldest girl.” 

“Is it alright to discuss your case in her presence?”

“Yes, of course, she can stay,” Maura assured him,and the doctor began to explain to Maura that they had examined the results of the previous day’s tests. He told her that they had discovered an aberration of sorts in her pancreas that required further investigation. From what he had seen on those tests, he explained, he felt it was important that she should be made aware of it. He also wanted to mention the need for a swift, exploratory procedure to determine what type of growth it was. The plan was to bring her down to the theatre that very afternoon and, until that time, she would just have to fast.

Maura signed all the necessary papers that she needed to allow the procedure to take place. As she was signing her name, Maura felt like she should ask what the doctor’s prognosis was. But, Maura was too nervous to speak and left it to Fiona, who asked, “Doctor, what do you think this growth is?”

“It is hard to give you an answer to such a question without first doing the investigation. There is, it must be said, as much chance of the growth being nothing serious, as there is that it might be cancerous,” the doctor told her.

“But, what are you investigating?”

“Your mother appears to have a mass of tissue in her pancreas. It is not a big lump but neither is it small. We need to go in and see if that lump is benign or not,” replied the doctor.

“Malignant?”

“Well, yes. But, we cannot be sure. If it is not benign, however, we will immediately arrange for its removal,” the doctor assured Fiona.

Maura’s heart pounded heavily in her chest when she heard that dreaded word, “Cancer.” The heartbeat increased its rate, as tears of fear filled her eyes, and Fiona threw her arms around her mother to comfort her at this moment of shock. “Don’t be crying, Mammy,” said Fiona softly. “We will get through this together as a family.” But, Maura said nothing in reply and quietly watched as the two doctors moved away from her bed. It was as if she was numb, because she could feel nothing anymore. She felt that every emotion she had was frozen, or replaced by a numbness of the body

**** —****

Maura’s friend, Dympna Murphy, had called to the house earlier that morning, but it was Johnny who answered the door, much to her surprise. “Good morning, Dympna!” Johnny greeted her, “What’s happening?

“Nothing much, Johnny, I just called up to see how Maura was, and when she might be back at work,” Dympna told him.

“Well, she went into hospital yesterday and was kept in overnight. It’s nothing serious, she is just getting some more tests done today.”

“Are you going over?” Dympna asked.

“No. You know I can’t stand hospitals, and Fiona is with her anyway. She’ll be home late I’m sure and I’ll get her to ring you,” Johnny replied.

“Thanks, Johnny,” she smiled at him and the, turning her head said, “There’s Frances. Sure, I’ll walk into work with her. See you later, Johnny.”

“Aye,” smiled Johnny as he watched Dympna move swiftly away, before closing the front door.

Dympna quickly caught up with Frances Conlon, another work colleague, and greeted her with a bright, “Good Morning!”

“I saw you up at Maura’s house, what’s happening there? Is she any better?” questioned Frances.

“Well, Johnny says she has been taken into the hospital and is being kept in for some sort of tests,” Dympna told her.

“That doesn’t sound too good, does it?” remarked Frances.

“No, Frances, it doesn’t sound good and that useless lump of flesh isn’t even going over to visit her,” said Dympna. “But, he says, she might get out tonight.”

I bet you if that Jezebel, Luig, was in the hospital he would be over there in double quick time,” Frances sneered.

“Do you know about her?”

“Sure half the country knows about him and her, the dirty old sod. And his wife not well. But, sure there is no fool like an old fool and Johnny Magowan is proving the truth of that. The man must be stupid, as well as blind, if he can’t see that Luig is just after his money. Anyway, she’s not exactly Nicole Kidman, and the old boot is not fit to lick Maura’s shoelaces. Have you seen that neck of hers, and the wrinkles in it. She’ll definitely not tear in the plucking!”

“Now Frances, don’t hold back. Say what you mean woman, for there is nothing I dislike more than someone who sits on the fence,” laughed Dympna.

The two women began to walk a little faster so that they would not be late for work. “You know, I was going to tell Maura about this carry on,” Dympna declared.

“Rather you than me,” replied Frances. “But the woman should be told the truth.”

“I’ll tell her the first chance that I get,” Dympna promised.

**** —****

It was lunch time when Fiona reached her parents’ house and entered through the front door. “Are you in, Daddy?” she called out.

“I’m in the bathroom,” came the reply, “I will be down in a minute.”

Fiona moved into the kitchen and switched the electric kettle on so that she could make a pot of tea for the two of them. When Johnny came down the stairs he walked into the kitchen and greeted his oldest daughter. “And how is your mother?” he asked.

“She has all her tests done, but we will not know until later about when she’ll get home, “Fiona told him. “Are you going over to see her this afternoon?” she asked him.

“Ah now, Fiona, you know that I can’t stand hospitals. Sure I will wait here until she comes home,” he told her.

“This is your wife dad! You should go over and see her. She needs you,” Fiona pleaded with a tear in her eye.

“Is there something wrong?” he asked.

“Well, they’re going to check her out this afternoon, but she might just have some form of cancer.”

“Cancer?” he gasped and felt the blood drain from his face. “Oh, my God!”

“Aye, and she will need you by her side if they give her confirmation of that,” Fiona told him sternly.

“I’m no good with sick people, Fiona, and I cannot stand being in hospitals. It would be much better for her if you go, and you can keep in touch with me,” Johnny replied.

“And just what are you going to do? Will you just sit here moping around all day, or maybe it will be over a couple of pints in the club?” she sneered at him.

“Don’t be like that, Fiona, try to understand what I’m going through, especially now that I have heard this terrible news. But she will be alright. She has always had a fear of cancer since her brother died, so she’ll be terrified. Bring her a wee box of chocolates from me and tell her I said everything will be okay,” Johnny told her.

“That will be a great comfort to her,” snapped Fiona. “Just you enjoy your afternoon, for I am away to the hospital to see Mammy!” She jumped up from the seat and moved toward the back door. Taking her car keys, she went around the side of the house, where she had parked her car.

Almost as soon as Fiona had gone out of the back door, Johnny went to the hall where he lifted the telephone off its receiver and began to dial a number. The call was picked up at the other end of the line and Johnny asked, “Luig, is that you?”

“I am just ringing to tell you that I can’t make it this afternoon. Maura is in hospital still, and it could be very serious.”

He listened for a few moments to what Luig said, and then told her, “Well, she might not get out tonight at all. Okay, I will try to be there about five o’clock -.”

“Where at five?” asked Fiona and caused Johnny to jump with surprise. “Who are you talking to?”

“No one!” he replied quickly. Then speaking into the phone he told Luig, ”Thanks for calling. Sure we’ll talk later.”

When he had hung up the phone Johnny found that Fiona was still waiting for an answer. “It was Seamus. He was looking to know if I was up for a drink. I told him no, of course, but you know how persistent he can be. I told him I would maybe there about five o’clock.”

“That’s right Dad, make sure you get your two pints and forget about everything else!”

“But, Fiona -,” he began, but Fiona wasn’t listening anymore and just lifted her purse that she had left behind her before storming out again.

**** —****

When Fiona got back to the ward she discovered that her mother had already been moved down to theatre. The ward manager invited her to wait in the “Relative’s Room”, where she brought a cup of tea for the anxious girl to drink. It was the first time, since the doctor had spoken to her mother, that Fiona had time to consider what had been said. Before this moment she had never considered the possibility that the family might lose their mother, and she might lose the woman who was also her best friend.

Maura was a woman who had never experienced serious illness in her life, but had always taken great care of her family when illness would strike. Fiona could not visualise a time without her mother, and she sat in that waiting room praying in a manner that she had not prayed in many years. Fiona was a mother herself now, and it began to dawn on her the great difficulties that her mother would have when confronted with the possibility of leaving her children motherless. Bitter tears came into Fiona’s eyes and, as was normal with her on such occasions, she had no tissues in her bag.

The door of the room opened slowly, and the head of a young man peeped in. “It’s only me sis,” said the young man, who was actually Fiona’s younger brother, John.

“John!” gasped Fiona, “How did you know where I was?”

John moved into the room and sat down beside his sister. “I rang the house and Dad answered. I was ringing up to find out how Mam’s tests had gone, and he told me that you were both still here. He also told me that it could be more serious than first thought, so I came straight out of work.”

“Thank God you did,” she sighed and gave her brother a comforting hug. They could now wait together for Maura to return to the ward.

**** —****

Meanwhile, in Luig’s house, the telephone rang again and she lifted the receiver to her ear. “I’m glad you rang again Johnny. What is Happening? You sounded so strange the last time you rang.”

She tutted and shook her head as she listened to Johnny explain the likelihood of his wife having cancer. It was not an appropriate topic to be talking to his ‘lover’ about, Luig thought. He, however, was so wrapped in this woman that he was not thinking about propriety. “Don’t worry, sweetheart,” Luig told him in a false maternal tone, “if she is that ill there is nothing you can do for her. It’s sad, of course, but it is all too common these days, you know. I’m sure it will be a difficult time for you Johnny, but I will always be there to help you through it. Now, I’ve bought two lovely steaks for our tea tonight and maybe you could get down here for five. Well, if they do ring, you can say that you had to go out for a walk to clear your mind. I’ll see you later then, love you!” She hung up the phone with a large, contented smile upon her face, and with a new and lively skip in her step, Luig moved into the kitchen to prepare the steaks she had bought an intimate meal with Johnny.

**** —****

In the hospital the minutes passed slowly into an hour, then two hours. Finally, however, the ward manager came into the waiting room to tell them that their mother was back on the ward, and that she was awake. She also told the two young people that the doctor was on his way up to the ward to speak to their mother. “Can we see her?” John asked.

“Of course you can,” said the ward manager. “She is moved into a side-ward for a bit of privacy.”

When she heard the news Fiona glanced at her brother and she could see that he, too, was concerned at this news.

Holding hands, Fiona and John walked slowly toward the side-ward, where their mother had been placed. They were both eager to see Maura, but neither of them was in a hurry to find out the results of the investigation. Their steps were slow, but they eventually came to the door of the private ward and opened it. Before them, Maura lay on the bed, awake, but obviously exhausted by her experience. Her face was very pale, and her lips a purplish-blue colour. Fiona was frightened and gripped John’s hand. “Well mother, decided to give us all a bit of a fright are you?” smiled John in a jocular way.

Weakly, Maura moved her head to look at her son. “John, what took you here?”

“I came to keep Fiona company, and to see you. So, tell me, what’s happening with you?”

“I don’t know son. I have had some kind of an investigation done, and I’ve been told the doctor is on his way to see me,” Maura told him in a low, weak voice. But, before anything more could be said the ward door opened and the doctor entered.

He was still dressed in his blue theatre clothing as he addressed Maura, “Mrs. Magowan, how are you now?”

“Just a little weak, doctor,” replied Maura, “but anxious to find out what you discovered.”

That is what I wish to discuss with you now,” the doctor explained. “Maybe in private if you prefer?”

“It’s perfectly alright,” she told him, ”this is my son, John, and that’s my eldest daughter, Fiona. I would prefer it if they stayed.”

“That, of course, is your decision, Mrs. Magowan,” replied the doctor, as he pulled up another chair to the bedside. “Now, there is no easy way to speak about these things, so I will keep simply to facts. You, Mrs. Magowan, have an inoperable growth in your pancreas, which appears to be very aggressive. I’m sorry that I have to be the one to tell you –.“

Maura had stopped listening. Her thoughts were already numbed by those terrible words, “inoperable, malignant growth.”

“Unfortunately the cancerous cells are not confined to one organ, but they have spread,“ the doctor continued to explain. “This is terminal, Mrs. Magowan.”

After those words were spoken, you could have heard a pin drop. The silence in that room was so intense. Fiona was already wailing, and had her arms clasped around her mother in the bed. John was frozen to his seat with shock, but he managed to mumble, “What can we expect?”

The doctor shook his head sadly and took a moment or two before he felt able to answer the question that John had posed him. “I know Mrs. Magowan that you are already feeling quite weak and are suffering some pain with your illness. These symptoms will not lessen, but will increase. We will, nonetheless, make every effort to relieve your pain …”

“How long?” asked Maura, almost in a whisper.

“That, I am afraid, is a question that I can’t answer. The growth is quite large and aggressive. All that I can tell you is that it could be months, or weeks, instead of years. We just don’t know, but it might be an idea if you began to settle your affairs.”

There was no reply from Maura, or any of her children. “I have asked for a MacMillan nurse to come and discuss things with you,” the doctor added.

“Thank you, doctor,” Maura spoke with a half-hearted smile. “You have been very good to me.” The doctor nodded his head toward his patient and silently left the room.