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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.


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