Today was just another day.
The autumn sun split the cobweb on the window and landed lightly on Jimmy’s sore head. Jimmy’s head was always sore especially in the mornings. On the mantelpiece a dusty statue of the Enfant de Prague was stony silent gazing down on the scene below - a scrawny man in his late fifties with Spanish black hair, but Irish to his very core. So Irish he was a navvy for twenty five years with John Bull, and was now home to run down the clock on his last few years - his own pub words.
The shit-stained sheets, the yellow-white curtains; and the forty watt bulb hanging naked over his head were his constant companions. The musty smell that dominated every room shouted out that this house was on its last legs; and not a euro anywhere to stick a lick of paint on the weeping walls. Jimmy rubbed his moist brow, drew a fag from the porter-stained box, searched frantically for his matches and wondered where in Christ’s name he would find an aspro. After four attempts he got a match to light and stuffed it up against the fag now drooping from his crusty lips.
He lobbed the black match in the direction of the crystal ashtray on the floor and missed again. Would never make a golfer he thought. Just like the racing; couldn’t make it as a jockey either – hopes dashed after five long years in Newmarket. He still remembered the day he left Ireland with hopes sky high; his mother’s hopes even higher.
“He’s going to England to become a famous jockey you know”
She told everyone she came across.
“Now, wasn’t he lucky he was born small?”
Jimmy was always amused by those words, strange words for any mother to use, he often thought. He didn’t grow much in all the years, and he certainly didn’t put on weight – you would need to eat food to do that!
Now that his mother was lying out in Joseph’s Cemetery, his chances of finding a few euros for a cure - the hair of the dog he called it - were remote on this Monday morning. He shuffled over again in the bed as the low sun sneaked under the dresser and to light up the face of his mother on the old black and white photo on the ground. It had fallen out of his hand the night before when he was full of porter.
Her gaze was firmly fixed on him.
“Ma would you for Christ sake let me alone”
He called out in the direction of the photo.
“I buried you over two weeks ago and you are still on to me, will I ever get a bit of peace.”
He barely had the words out.
“Ma, for Christ sake you know I don’t mean that, I’m all over the place today”
He stubbed out the half-burned fag on the ground as he wriggled from the bed; his balls hanging out over his lose underpants. He pushed everything back in some kind of order, pulled his trousers up on his boney frame and threw his old navy jumper over his head. The bluebottle perched high on the dresser saw him scrambling round the house in a vain attempt to find an aspro – the only tablet he ever found to dampen down a headache. Dejected he wriggled round in the scullery and poured water into the battered kettle, before again starting the ritual with the matches. He was getting lucky – just two matches before the gas was spluttering under the kettle. He pushed aside the stale half-pan loaf and went straight for the coffee. Black. There was a tap on the door. When he opened, he saw the beaming smile of his neighbour accompanied by her young daughter.
“Mr Jim, my daughter Felcia has just made her First Holy Communion”
The young child smiled into Jimmy’s face.
“Because she’s a sick little girl she’s did not have to wait until May”
Jimmy’s eyes lit up and he stretched his brown fingers out like a piano player and placed them softly on the child’s head. His first thought was that he needed a twenty euro note.
“Oh she looks so beautiful ... it was nice of you to come and see me.”
Already he was feeling the embarrassment.
But he was also feeling something else – it was the fist time in ages anyone had come to see him.
“It is a lonely time for us, so far from our home in Poland, we were all dressed up on Saturday and we had no one to visit”
He could see that look in her eyes; he understood lonely.
“Well I’m delighted to see you … maybe you might drop over again on Thursday….. You never know I might have something for this little girl”
Thursday was social welfare day.
“Do not worry about money; that is not important”
And the conversation dried up.
With radiant smiles they both disappeared.
Jimmy closed the door and headed for his armchair, lit the match at the first attempt, reddened the tip of the fag and sent curly smoke swirling to the ceiling.
“Imagine someone coming to see me”
Even the day his mother was buried the house was empty; his sister paid for the food and the drink and his black tie and vanished once more out of his life.
But he did not bear a grudge; never in his nature.
Strange he thought, just sitting there on the chair how his thumping headache had disappeared just like the smoke. He thought about his two visitors; how gentle they both were; gentle people go through life too. He remembered the hard men he met in England on the lump. Men with hands like iron shovels and hearts like raw steel.
‘Here comes Jimmy the Jockey, couldn’t ride a rocking horse’
Jesus they were great gaz at the Crown and Stag. He remembered the first day he started driving the dumper on the site, all broken up inside after his sacking in Newmarket. When the word filtered through that Jimmy was an ex- jockey the hard men had a field day.
“The Dumper will be ridden today by Jimmy The Jockey, and is now ten to one to win 3.30 at Sandown.”
The fun was amazing.
All words printed on his brain still, especially the words of his governor.
“Sorry to let you go but you will never make it at this level”
He left the stables with his brown case and his shattered dream and headed for the bus; his eyes full of water, his mother’s words swirling round in his head.
‘He’s going to England to become a famous jockey you know’
The staccacco thoughts beating again throughout his head.
He rose from the armchair and went for the kettle again and made more coffee with the lukewarm water. He lingered on a little longer on the armchair pondering his life in England, and wondered who might be driving his dumper now. Fool he was for thinking that he could turn a new leaf when he returned to Ireland – he got worse. His mother in her old age cried salty tears and wore out many a rosary bead in almighty efforts to get him to stop drinking.
Perhaps there is no cure for loneliness!
Any other Monday morning he would be well on his rounds by now testing all the old haunts where he might pick up a few euros for a cure; but somehow his visitors had changed all that and the manic urgency had dissipated into the morning air. When the smoke had escaped completely from the room, the bluebottle left his perch on the dresser and sang songs as he circled Jimmy’s head. Another day Jimmy would frantically chase the bluebottle with a dishcloth, but today he just leaned his head against the stained covering of the armchair and left the humming sound of the bluebottle lull him into a gentle sleep. By the time he woke up the sun was beginning to die in the sky, and the different shades of autumn darkness were gathering outside. His mother’s clock on the mantelpiece had stopped ticking and the hands had died at twelve on the dot.
“The first time the clock had ever stopped,” he murmured to himself.
His mother was so proud of that clock
“The best timekeeper this side of the equator”
She proudly told every visitor to the house.
Jimmy again thought of his own visitors. This little child all dressed up and no one to visit - in the greatest week of her life.
And she only seven!
The day was passing by and he hardly noticed that his lips had not touched a drink – no fast pints of Guinness or chasers to steady the ship on this Monday. Though he was stony broke and not a morsel of food in the cupboard he still felt strangely in control.
“Will leave it until the evening now,” he told himself.
Later he would go for his few pints; pick up a loan from the lads on their way home from work. He put his head outside the back door to check the day and the smells and aromas from the chipper wafted round his nostrils. For the first time in years he felt hungry; hungry for food. He thought of Arthur his cat; that blighter was always hungry.
Mad Murph gave him the loan - forty euros. Seven pints and a few chasers and enough to buy a few tins of cat food in the morning; he was calculating in his head as he headed for the nearest pub in Barrack Street. The hill took his breath and he had to stop and invoke the help of his inhaler. He smiled inside when he remembered the words of Dinny McGrath.
“What is worse than having an inhaler; not having an inhaler when you can’t breathe of course?”
He needed it today. My God this hill was getting steeper by the day.
When he had recovered he began to make his way to The Rusty Nail pub. The smell of porter greeted him at the front door. He stopped once, twice; he was reluctant to go on through the door. There was a quietness about the place this Monday night – the dart players had not yet arrived. The light coming out to greet him did not have the same magic lure – there was something different about the world tonight. Perhaps it’s me he thought. His legs felt heavy and his breathing seemed fast and erratic – it’s strange what happens to a body when it’s deprived of the nourishment of porter; the lads always said. Jimmy decided to go down the hill to Geary’s shop and pick up the few tins for Arthur - it would be handy to have the food for the hungry blighter in the morning. He passed the Karaoke Bar on his way down; it was just revving up for the night ….
‘Everybody talks about a new world in the morning’
The croaking voice was blasting out …. Into the autumn air.
Roger Whittaker, he remembered. He put his hand into his inside pocket and took out the twenty spot just to make sure it was there; suddenly a ferocious choking pain enveloped his neck and chest and he fell to the ground. The crisp twenty euro note flew from his grasp and floated down the hill. The stare grew in his eyes as it eventually settled on a star in the distance.
The Karaoke bar was still howling; Arthur was returning home after his few days rambling and Felcia was still peering into the long mirror and admiring her Communion Dress as the ambulance man pushed Jimmy’s eye shut.
His mother would have been proud – he did the last day without.