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”
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”
“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”