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BLACK AND WHITE ... short story

Not a whisper of a breeze.
Not even a puff of air.
Sunshine stillness – time is almost visible.

I push forward, my breath measured and even.

I’m waiting for that moment......... waiting for that gun to go off.

Suddenly........ CRACK.

I light up like a rocket and out of my blocks and almost to the first bend before an explosion of sound from the stands meets me head on. Every part of my body is moving at a frenetic rate in one almighty effort to get to that finishing line. I can see the yellow vest of the Jamaican out of the corner of my eye – I’m catching him.

Accelerate; accelerate now out of the last bend and hit the straight at full throttle... the finishing line..... Where is it..... I’m stretching every muscle forward and dipping..... Dipping.....

Suddenly the crowd is silent, I’m hanging there suspended in a purple haze; away in the distance I can detect a faint voice. It’s coming closer but I cannot see – I am unable to open my eyes. A voice calls out.

“Mr. Murphy, Mr. Murphy, take it easy there or you’ll break the bed.”

Sadly I wake up and half open my eyes, but alas I wake up without my glorious Olympic medal.

“ ‘Tis dangerous during all those tricks in your condition Mr. Murphy.”

I am so disappointed – won it on the line.

“Would we have any idea who was doing the gymnastics with you........
are you listening to me at all Mr. Murphy?”

I had it just on the line, I mutter..... only to wake up...... only to wake up.

“I’ll be back with your tea and toast later; you might be in a better mood to talk after all that running.”

My Olympic Medal..... Gone.... faded in the hospital air.

I lie back against the stack of pillows, my head still reeling, the lingering foul taste still on my tongue.
But the message on the chart beside me kicks me back into the real world once more.

“Fifty..... Heart Attack..... Triple By-Pass.”

I’m too tired to think now.

I need more sleep.... and the graveyard silence of the ward helps me drift away.

I’m woken again.

It’s the Philippine nurse again and she is whispering in my ear, her breath hot on my face, her voice just above a whisper.

“Mr. Murphy, I must take your blood pressure”

I stretch out my arm, her brown hand soft as a kitten brushes the hospital gown aside, she secures a tourniquet-like strap to my arm and the machine takes over.

“Do you mind if I ask you a question, Mr. Murphy?”

I nod a sleepy approval.

“I found out from your medical notes last night that you are colour blind, could I ask you.... what kind is it seeing the world in black and white?”

I was startled.

She just stood there with that quizzical look etched on her innocent face waiting for the answer.

“It’s like.... well.... let me think about it for a little while.”

“Ok so.”

And she nonchalantly moved away, leaving the air fragrant with her female scent and a little question for me to ponder.
I straighten up in the bed and peer around the room; my eyes eagerly seeking colours – I can clearly see the cream walls, the blue empty flowers vase, everything else is white. In the great big world outside the hospital window, I can see the green leaves of an oak tree, the speckled ivy bearding the wall, and high above the garden a blue patch is sticking to the sky.
Reassured, I surrender my thoughts to the afternoon stillness.
I measure time here in the hospital from one meal to the next, not that I am eating very much right now, after all it’s only two days since the operation. I’m not expecting any visitors; wouldn't like anyone to see me like this - all tethered up like an old donkey. None of my friends or family knew about this operation – not even my ex-wife or my daughter.

“It will be time enough for them to know should anything happen to me”,
I informed the hospital when they asked about next of kin.

Have been that way all my life – if I got myself into a scrape it was my job to get myself out of it. She could never get that, she was into sharing. I always insisted that the sharing stuff only worked up to a certain point, and ultimately life is about paddling your own canoe. Look it’s as plain as the nose on your face. Could anyone else have an operation for me; who could face the questions of the padre the night before but myself. The surgeon was very frank – a two per cent chance I might not make it. Now there’s a figure to be tumbling over in your head at four-o-clock in the morning. Now who could share that with you.

Suddenly the stillness of then afternoon is shattered by the laughter of Nurse Malone on the corridor and I’m shaken out of my ponderings – she is coming with my tea and toast. She pushes her head round the door, her blond hair showing, her eyes dancing in her head. I can see she is a full on menace.

“Is the medal ceremony over yet or am I just in time for the National Anthem.”

I feel awkward, and mutter something silly about the medication.

“Never mind Henry, every medal is welcome in Ireland even fantasy ones.”

She leaves the tray before me and gleefully skips away.
But I’m remembering other days when I won real medals – Leinster Colleges sprint champion in the 100 and 200; never made it to the All-Ireland though. The races took place the week my mother found the lump on her breast; the doctors said she needed immediate surgery. On hearing the news my father hit the bottle with a vengeance – went to pieces, never could face a problem, never wanted anything to go wrong in this world. Six months later I swore to her on her deathbed that I would never turn out like my dad. And I stuck to that promise as if my life depended on it. As his problem with the booze grew worse, I upped my sticks and left the house, married Rosie, and started my own plant hire business.
I was a man on a mission and hell bent on making a success of the business.
One thing for certain I had no space or time for wishy washy people that sometimes came through my doors.
“Shit or get off the pot” was my philosophy.
They would soon get the message and if they didn’t buck up I would have them out on their arses faster than they could say ‘Labour Exchange’I always wanted to be number one. That’s how I built my business over the years and that’s why I got three million in the takeover bid. When my ex-wife and daughter came sniffing for more money on hearing of my good fortune, I told them in no uncertain manner where they could go, and sure enough they disappeared. I hear the physiotherapist at the door. She’s here to walk me around the corridor’ I have no mind for walking today, but she’s having none of it. As she is helping me down the corridor I seem to be dragging a half mile of cable with me.

“You are doing very well Henry” her accent is clipped and precise.

I respond by pushing on that little bit faster.

“Hold, hold everything there or you will run away from your attachments”

I, getting out of breath and the physio parks me in a chair in the corridor, with a promise to return in ten minutes. It suddenly dawns on me that I’m on display here like an old statue – I’m an object of curiosity to these bloody visitors passing through the corridor. They look at me and my harness and nod sympathetically in my direction.

The minutes are passing very slowly; I wish that physio would hurry up.

My watch is telling me that the ten minutes have elapsed – not waiting another second. I gather my harness, rise to my feet and start to head back.

Suddenly I’m dizzy..... my head is spinning...... I’m spinning round... and round... can anyone stop me.... tumbling.

The ice is melting on my forehead and trickling on to my face but it’s cooling the massive lump on my forehead. The ward sister was angry, said her piece and left.

The Philippine nurse continues to wipe my forehead with a sponge and with a rue smile asks me if the start I saw when I hit my head were black and white. Perhaps she says playfully, it’s the Lord’s way of trying to knock a bit of sense into your head, now that he has healed your heart. She gives my forehead one final rub of the sponge, her eyes light up into a wonderful smile, she flicks back her dark hair and almost floats down the room and away.
I lay back against the pillows again as the evening light surrenders. The silence now is blissful almost spiritual, where time is visible in the quarter-second. Outside my room the tall oak tree stands strong, it’s arms outstretched to the world.
It’s another Autumn day long since past that I can see again – I’m attending the Sunday Benedictions at St Mary’s Dominican Church.

Rosie and my daughter Carol are there.

Rosie is just a slip of a girl, hardly nineteen – far too young to be a wife, she is all muffled up against the easterly breeze howling outside, her eyes shining, her face beautiful. Carol is just two, she keeps loking up into my face and pointing out the dancing shadows on my face.

From high up in the gallery a young girl begins to sing “Tatum Ergo”. Her plaintive voice clear as a mountain stream. I feel a shiver creeping down my spine as a calmness descends on me. From somewhere a tear wells up, gathers in the corner of my eye and trickles down my face. The smoking incense is perfuming the air and the blue and gold colours of the stained glass windows are casting spells.

Nothing mattered but the moment then – just like now.

Strange how feelings change us.

Strange too how someone takes your heart and repairs it.


HIPPOCRATIC OATH ...short story

The illustrious medical consultant Mr. Dominick McWilliams rushes into the ward; hands flying in all directions as if he was conducting the universe. I was sneaking a look at Johnny McGrath’s medical chart at the time. You see I’m a curious little bastard. My mother tells the neighbours in the flats that I’m the nosiest eighteen year old on the face of the earth. I tell my mother the reason I’m nosy is because I’m an intelligent little fucker. McWilliams beckons me over to the bed where he is about to examine a patient. I sense trouble ahead. To put you further into the picture I’m in my final quarter of a community employment programme and rejoicing in the title as assistant to the ward orderly. But the ward orderly is absent on a two year pissup which means I do all the work. To be honest I’m the dogsbody of the outfit; I hate to be seen with that fucking brush in my hands. I can read faces.

But sometimes my mates down at the boozer cheer me up when they remark that I have the striking appearance of an army officer. Sometimes like in the army I’m called upon to perform special duties - like when Mickie Murphy pisses on the floor prior to a consultant’s visit or when some poor bastard has had enough of this place and decides to pop off to more salubrious surroundings in the sky. But to get back to McWilliams who by now is moving at turbo speed; his staccato hands raising the blood pressure levels of everyone within eye distance. I drop Johnny’s medical chart on his bed; I feel sure old eagle-eye has spotted me breaking the golden rule. Jesus I could kick myself for being caught by that old geezer; I make it my business to be well out of sight when these old consultant farts are doing their rounds. For one flashing moment I see myself being arse-kicked out the front door of the hospital and left without a penny in my pocket. But the electric eel is full of surprises. He beckons me into his aura. I change my demeanor and throw a smile at him as if I have just recognised that he is the single most important person on the planet. He ushers me in front of him without uttering a single word. In no time he has me feeling Slasher Reilly’s big toe.

“What is it ……… What is it”

I hesitate to tell him it’s a toe for fear he would explode.

“Come on young man....look at the symptoms.”

McWilliams rabbits on.

“The symptoms are classical” his tanned face now contorting; his patience about to snap.

The bell rings...... the penny drops! The old geezer thinks I’m one of those medical students that infest this place.

“Classical gout” I spout out much to the doctor’s relief. “Splendid” says he, and we hastily leave Slasher’s bed and proceed to our next patient. I sneak a look over my right shoulder at Slasher who just lies there like a beached whale, pondering the farcical scenario that has just been acted out before his very eyes.

Once started I decide to take McWilliams on a right old ride now. The world and his mother knows Slasher’s complaint, for he spends most of the day ranting and raving about how painful his bloody gout is; especially when the nurses forget to give him his medication. And so it went on, from one startled patient to the next, McWilliams and me completing our morning visitations. It was a piece of piss for me, after-all I was more than familiar with each patient’s ailment; having listened to each and every one of them giving me intimate details as I went about my work in the ward over the past few months. I was more than ready to rattle off each of my diagnosis with the assured confidence as if I had come straight from Harley Street. McWilliams was suitably impressed by the brilliance of his young prodigy. Fully confident about my medical competency, the Old Boy dismisses me and decides to take his genius to another ward, but not before he gave me a rewarding pat on the head as if I were a giant Labrador. Because I was now centre stage I delivered the final punch line to the audience knowing full well that McWilliams was well and truly out of earshot. I called after him that I’d be willing to give him a dig out if ever he had trouble getting his sailing ships into glass bottles. That did it. The audience erupted. The patients could not contain themselves any longer. Their hilarity sped like a miniature Mexican Wave; this lark with McWilliams was more therapeutic than a surprise visit from Sharon Stone. Fellows who hadn’t smiled since Ray Houghton put the ball in the Italian net in Giants Stadium were hysterical and calling for yours truly to come forward to acknowledge the acclaim. The nurses welcomed the morning distraction and joined the fun. This was not the time for taking blood pressures.

My sheer neck and audacity in making such a prick of McWilliams in front of a packed audience won me new respect in the ward; and for those few precious moments I basked in my new found status. With my adrenalin pumping at fever pitch tempo I took the bull by the horns. I put my two hands round Nurse Maddox’s waist feeling her huge tits as I did so. ‘Mortal Sin’ herself did not object....I was away for slates.

It was well after lunch before the ward got back to something resembling normality. As the visitors began to arrive they each in turn were given the complete load-down on the happenings of the morning. Over the next couple of days the story found it’s way to ‘The Flats’ and from there to my local boozer. In no time my mates were referring to me as ‘The Mop Doc.’ Anto said I must have balls of steel for making the consultant geezer look like a total gobshite. My head was swelling by the day. My standing in the ward and amongst my mates was at an all time high. There was a new bounce in my step: I felt I could take on the world for the first time in my life and I worshipped the admiration that was coming my way. No longer just the bloke from the Flats; I was the clown who played rings round the medics. The mother took a dim view of the whole affair and said it would end up in disaster if authorities got wind of my antics.

For the first time in my life I enjoyed going to work. The patients had got a taste of fun and were not about to let it go, in fact they demanded more and more crazy antics from me. They too began to call me ‘Doc’ and jokingly would ask me to examine them while I was fiddling round the ward with my brush. Often when the coast was clear I would grab a white coat and stethoscope from the press and proceed on mock visitations. The patients looked forward to these little diversions, for many it was the highlight of the day.

It was Tuesday morning - my day off - when the big fat brown envelops was pushed through the letterbox. Shock...horror a mole had been to work. The hospital authorities had taken a dim view of my behaviour and said I had shown shocking lack of respect for Mr McWilliams who had given such sterling service to St.Lukes for over thirty years. The letter went on to say how my behaviour with the patients could be potentially damaging to them. A full medical investigation was in progress at present and depending on the outcome the hospital authorities may refer the whole situation to the Gardai.

Included with the letter was my finishing cheque and my marching orders in the form of a P45. My medical career was over as quickly as it began. It began to rain as I stood in the dole queue on Friday morning waiting for the labour to open.

But things could be bleaker..... ‘Mortal Sin’ is picking me up in her car at eight tonight.


Alliance Francaise Paris 1974

Who is the good looking fellow at back right?



I display my taste for life by realising that I live in the

Greatest Museum ever created ....the bewildering dome of the

great sky, the oceans singing their way round our earth, and

the land itself - rich in variation of plains and mountains

and lakes and rivers and flowers and trees and birds and

fish and animals of all sizes and description,

I open my eyes to the magnificent array of colours and

smells and sights and tastes and look up at night at the

galaxy of stars that reflect in the shimmering sea before me

and realise that between the stars and their reflectons I am

privileged to spend my life.

And I cannot be bored!

For I can dream of the thousands of other galaxies out

there, and ponder on all this creation resting on a tiny


And if all gets a little too much for me I can lie back

and listen to the haunting music of Mozart.


CHARLIE WHITE IS LEAVING HOME   ...    short story

Six A.M. in Dublin and the water is bubbling in the kettle; outside the swans are just about lifting their heads and stretching their snowy white necks to the brightening sky. The canal is calm and peaceful this August day. Soon the scalding water will be poured into the blue mug and a thick spoonful of gooey black Bovril will be added. Charlie loves his Bovril first thing every day – the bull is in he tells everyone. The tiny living room is soon overcome with the pungent smell, and the fumes instantly lodge in Mary’s lungs. Mary is an old forty five year old married daughter of Charlie who possesses brown teeth and has two lungs like filters that you would only find in a grain store.

“How in Christ’s name could anyone drink that stuff” she addresses Charlie as she lights up another cigarette. Mary takes one long greedy pull on the fag and blows the smoke towards the single sixty watt bulb hanging from the ceiling and immediately starts to coughs into her polka dot hanky. Tommy continues with his task and hands the steaming mug to his Da who by now is sitting in his favourite armchair. Charlie looks up at calendar on the wall – 9 August 2010. Like First Communion or Confirmation days, this is an important day in Charlie’s life - and at the age of seventy five he is apprehensive…..Very apprehensive!

The morning light by now is poking its head through the dirty-grey glass window and showing up a carpet with its glory days well behind it.

Charlie is thinking.

“And now emerging from the dugout is the Dublin team led by its captain Charlie White “

Micheal O Hehir goes on.

“This Dublin team today are looking for their second All-Ireland in a row and are raging favourites to do so – it would be a brave man who would oppose them.”

As Mary settles from her bout of coughing she turns to Charlie.

“Da I feel awful that I am not able to keep your cat – you know that no animals are allowed in our apartments”

“Mary, for Gods sake don’t mention the cat again I understand very well – Mrs Reilly promised to look after him.”

“And now we stand for Amhran Na Bhfiann”

O’ Hehir continues.

“My God I haven’t been up this early since I buried your mother God rest her”

“Now Da this is hard enough without bringing up Ma at this time”

Charlie retreats back into his chair as the memories come flooding.

“And the ball is thrown in and the game is on – Charlie White reaches for the clouds and grabs the ball and sends it straight into the Galway square”

Charlie is growing anxious and feels awkward in his chair.

“And what time is Tony’s taxi coming over”

He calls out to Mary as she busies herself collecting odds and ends from around the house that have not been packed for Charlie.

“You know that this is best for you especially after the heart attack; Dr Saunders says there is terrific care there.”

Tommy is explaining for the umpteenth time. But Charlie’s eyes are glazing over as he surveys the familiar off cream wallpaper in the room. He breaths in the familiar smell – fifty odd years under one roof is a long time. The first time he crossed the canal and planted his eyes on this house he believed that he was the luckiest man on the planet. Herself was there of course – bold, brash and beautiful. As they both entered the house with their little bag of salt and their half peck of coal – all good luck omens – they knew they were blessed with good fortune. Charlie was thinking how quickly time passes when Sam his beloved old cat pokes his nose round the door.

“The crafty little devil knows there is something up”

Says Tommy.

Sam leaps onto Charlie’s lap and immediately buries his head in Charlie’s woollen jumper.

“The ball is cleared by the Galway full back out to the half back line where it is added to by Paddy Connolly but only into the lap of Charlie White who seems to be everywhere for the first five minutes of this game.”

The cat is hiding - Charlie is hiding.

If only he could call off the whole lot he would manage alright. Suddenly he has a rush of blood and he bursts forward in his chair.

“Tommy cancel the car I am not going anywhere; I’ve changed my mind.”

“For Christ sake Da, you know that all the arrangements have been made ... The bloody house is sold and you are too sick to live on your own”

“I am not leaving here - and I am not leaving Sam”

Mary is looking on in astonishment.

“Listen Da” she says

“We all understand how you feel, but you will be fine when you settle in - look they even have sky sports there now.”

“More like a hotel than a nursing home”

“This Galway team is putting it up to Dublin and at this stage they are three points ahead … as the ball is kicked out by the Dublin goalkeeper it is grabbed in the air by Charlie White …… oh what a fantastic leap, he turns and runs towards the Galway goal and with his left foot he kicks it straight between the posts… this man is on fire today”

“More like a hotel than a nursing home” repeats Charlie.

“But I don’t want to live in a hotel; I want to live in my home.

“This is fecking awful” Tommy cuts in

“We have been down this shaggin road a hundred times and you let us believe that this is what you wanted – what the hell can we do and the house already sold”

“Tell the Wilsons I have changed my mind and I want to cancel”

“Listen Da you are really losing it now … you know that is it is impossible to cancel a sale once the bookwork is completed”

“The Galway team are pulling ahead in this game”

The pressure is building on Charlie. Tommy and Mary are lining up; the taxi is on the way. By now the morning light has fully broken through into the living room and the silver cups on the dresser reflect the light straight into Charlie’s face. Mary, not sure what to do or say, pulls the blind down to half way on the window and resumes her place next to Tommy.

“And with five minutes to go to half time they are now five points ahead

“Look Da you never drank your Bovril – it must be gone cold by now, let me get you another one”

Charlie just shakes his head.

Life had been tough on him these last few years - losing Nora was a bitter blow, the heart attack coming out of the blue nearly finished him off, and now he has to leave his home for ever.


“Jesus ‘tis him”

The driver had arrived.

“And now the second half has commenced and Galway still has a commanding lead in this game.. The ball now has reached Charlie White but he is surrounded and gobbled up by the Galway players… nowhere for him to go and he holds unto the ball and the ref blows for a free”

Tommy opens the door – Tony is whistling.

“Is there man here ready for delivery?” he beams out.

Charlie remains silent.

“We are having a problem Tony”

Says Tommy.

“Da is refusing to go”

“As the ball is kicked out again it is held by Charlie White … this man is refusing to give up the crown without one almighty fight - he moves forward toe to hand and heads towards the Galway goal…... he passes one man and then the other ...he is now twenty yards from the goal he lets fly and the ball has hit the back of the Galway net … the fans are going wild on the Hill…. Now the game is on”

Sam realising that the trouble is growing in the camp leaps from Charlie’s lap and scurries out the back door.

“What’s the problem Charlie” said Tony.

“Changed my mind I just cannot leave my house … I thought that I would be able to leave but I have too many memories in this house”

While Tony is pointing out the great advantages of the nursing home Mary is slipping into the back kitchen and ringing the parish priest.

“Charlie you won’t know yourself … everyone dancing attention on the famous footballer.. The best of grub… all the sports programmes.. The sing-song on Friday night … and not a single worry about safety”

Tony was trying hard but all was falling on deaf ears. All the efforts of Tommy and Mary all end up the same – Charlie is not for moving now or in the near future.

“This Dublin team is rallying under their inspirational captain.. This is one determined player...he is resolute about lifting the Sam Maguire”

Fr Clancy shows a bald head as he lifts his hat when ushered in by Mary.

“And where is the great man?”

The priest calls out just as he approaches the living room.

“In here Father”

Tommy calls out.

“For the love of God don’t tell me they brought the priest out to hunt me out of my home”

“Not at all… not at all” replied Fr Clancy.

“Just popped along to see you before you left for Judes”

The priest lied.

“But I’m not going anywhere now or in the future”

“You were always a stubborn man Charlie White – on and off the pitch”

“With ten minutes to go Galway are still two points in the lead”

Tony excuses himself – has another quick job he says - and hurries out the door promising to return if Charlie decides to change his mind.

It is now down to the Padre.

The phone rings. Mary is nearest and lifts the receiver.

She begins to mime to the audience - soon everyone is aware that it is the nursing home is enquiring when Charlie will be coming.

“Tell her I’m not coming”

Charlie calls out to Mary who is growing more embarrassed dealing with the call.

“Let me have a word” the priest is quickly on his feet.

“Just having one or two little problems” he tells the sister in charge.

“Hope to have Charlie with you in a little while”

“Two minutes to go and Dublin are still one point behind ….and here he goes again… Charlie White races up the centre of the park and shoots straight and accurate and the teams are level”

Fr Clancy not only a man of the cloth but also a man of the world remembers his late fathers advice: sell the sizzle and not the sausage.

And gently set about his task speaking glowingly about the nursing home.

“As you know Charlie as one of the chaplains in St Judes I go along every week and it occurred to me the other day that they lack one thing in that place – a captain – some one of their own that they could look up to; and no greater man than yourself.”

“You mean like a trade union official Father”

“Well a captain just like a team”

“Father you’re softening me up”

“Listen Charlie man to man I’ll make a pact with you that if you are unhappy in a month and want to return to your house I will arrange that you will return – I will talk to the Wilsons also about the sale of the house”

“What about the cat”

“I’m sure we can arrange to bring him too”

“Are you confirming to me that if for any reason I want to leave Judes you will guarantee that you will bring me home”

“Absolutely Charlie… one hundred per cent”

That sealed the deal.

The call was made and Tony was on his way back.

Tony packed Charlie and Mary and Sam in the back while Tommy placed his amble body in the front seat and they headed off. Over the canal bridge and straight out – they had hardly gone a mile when Charlie fell fast asleep – after all it had been an early day and with all the hassle it was no wonder he was played out. At last they reached the gates of St Judes …..

“It is almost full time as Charlie White collects the ball … he pretends to go right but goes left and with a monstrous boot fires the ball between the posts for the winner”

“Da we have arrived” Mary gently shook Charlie.

“Da wake up we have arrived”

She shook him even harder but there was no response.

All the efforts of the medical staff to revive Charlie were in vain and ………

later on Sam drifted home.

“And as Charlie collects the All-Ireland Football Cup he raises it high above his head and gazes into the heavens above”


The way we are






Any suggestions ... more from my garden.
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