I wrote a story last February, which was published in ‘The little book of Love’ anthology. It is, to date, the story I have enjoyed writing most, and the one whose characters I continue to think of. I’ve decided to share it here with you tonight. I hope you enjoy it.
Sitting beside Jimmy’s bed in the half light of morning, I listened to his shallow breathing, each breath a gasp, followed by a pause. I could hear the rattle in his chest as he exhaled. The tick of the clock marked each second of the long night, which thankfully was drawing to a close. Outside I could hear the ward waking up. The breakfast trolley would be appearing shortly and the quiet corridor busy once more. My family would be calling, checking on their Dad, and giving out I’d stayed the night. Truth be told it was easier to stay, because I couldn’t sleep without him. I smiled as I recalled our parting each night; he kissing me on the top of my head saying,
“Goodnight me darlin”, and with a cheeky wink, hot water bottle tucked under his arm, he’d add, “I’ll keep the bed warm for ye”.
“I’ll be up shortly” I’d reply.
Grasping the arms of the chair I leaned forward struggling to stand up, glad the children weren’t around to notice what an effort it was. Slowly I uncoiled, working against gravity and age to straighten myself. Catching sight of my reflection in the mirror I was taken aback. The state of me! I looked every day of my eighty four years… at least I think I’m eighty four. I noticed how stooped I look despite the fact I was now standing. I was glad of the poor light. There is little worse than looking in the mirror barely recognising the wrinkled old woman looking back at you.
I turned to look at Jimmy. God love him he looked a right state. He was the colour of the bed sheets, a waxy white, and his mouth was half open. He had lost so much weight over the past few months his face was shrunken, his cheek bones clearly defined.
I reached out to stroke his cheek, and felt the stubble of the previous day’s growth, like sandpaper against my skin. He would not be happy about that. Jimmy liked to be clean shaven. Reaching for his hand beneath the sheet I noticed his fingers were long and bent. They too had lost weight. I never knew fingers could lose weight. I took his hand in mine and stood there, watching him.
I thought back to the days when we first met. I was twenty one, and a bit of catch if I do say so myself. Jimmy was only a young fella of seventeen, with a mop of black hair which was cut short at the back but long on top. Whenever a gust of wind blew, it would catch the hair and hold it up. I smiled, it’s many a photo we had of his hair standing on the top of his head.
At twenty four we were married, a joint wedding with our two best friends. We were living over in England in those days and our parents couldn’t make it, as it was too expensive. We sent them on a few photos, and Jimmy had written to his own Mam a couple of weeks beforehand, hoping the letter would arrive on the day of the wedding so she wouldn’t feel quite so bad that she was missing it. God he was an awful softie!
Not long afterwards the children began to arrive, Margaret, Frances, John, Madeline, Josephine, James, Peter and little Charles. After Frances we moved back to Ireland, Gods own country, back to my roots, to Ringsend in Dublin, and the extended family. I sighed, those were happy days.
“Do you remember when we moved into number forty two Jimmy?” I said breaking the silence.
I knew he wouldn’t reply, but they say the hearing is the last thing to go, although that would be a miracle because his hearing went about four years ago.
“Ah Jimmy do you remember the excitement? The kids were all running around bagsin’ bedrooms and running up and down the stairs, and you hittin’ them a clatter trying to calm them down. We thought we were made didn’t we? Them were great days alright weren’t they Jimmy? We were happy there the whole gang of us”
The door opened and two nurses came in. One was the friendly blonde one, the other I didn’t know. She looked like a student nurse.
“Hi Mary, we are just going to do Jimmy’s checks”
“No bother nurse, he’s definitely breathin’ anyway”. They kindly laughed at my lame joke.
I stood back and watched as they took Jimmy’s temperature and blood pressure, fixed his pillows and propped him up, all without a peep from Jimmy. If he was in the whole of his health he’d have made great sport of their attention. He was a real charmer was Jimmy in his day, always trying to impress the ladies.
After they left I sat back down in the big chair by his bed. It was meant for Jimmy, but I couldn’t see him ever sitting on it again. Imagine that? My Jimmy was dying. I may be old but I’m not stupid, I knew we hadn’t long left together.
“We’d a great life, didn’t we Jimmy?”
I looked at him sitting up and felt my heart breaking. He looked half dead. I stared at his chest as it rose and fell. The pause between breaths was getting longer. I knew I was losing him. His loss would be unbearable. I knew what that felt like, for how could I forget?
It had been a beautiful sunny Tuesday in July, when Frances and Josephine came tearing into the kitchen, roaring and shouting,
“Ma our John has had an accident. A car’s hit him. He’s bad Ma, come quickly”.
I was sitting feeding Peter at the time. He was about a year old. I ran out and lying on the road was my beautiful boy, our John. He was just lying there on the flat of his back, not a mark on him. I knelt down, calling him, shouting for him to wake up. No one came near me, not even the kids. I’d say they all knew our John was gone.
It took me a wicked long time to get over losing him. Margaret was about twelve at the time, and she was a wonder with the little ones, a real Mam to them. Jimmy was heartbroken too, but we grieved so differently. I tried to just get on, for the kids sake, but Jimmy, the old softie couldn’t cope at all. Then the work dried up and money got scarce. Oh the rows were dreadful and one night out of the blue Jimmy announced he was off to England.
So off he went and I gave him the Lord’s Prayer I can tell you, for leaving me with a gang of kids. He wrote regularly, and sent money. Did I miss him? I just got used to it, and I was too busy trying to keep my sanity. Then Tommy came along.
Looking at Jimmy I was glad he couldn’t read my thoughts. Tommy! It was a long time since I’d thought of Tommy. Jaysus he was gorgeous and a lovely fella too. Great with the kids, and… for God’s sake who am I foolin? It wasn’t his love of kids that I admired. I was still a young woman, and a lonely one at that. Tommy was good to me, and to my shame I didn’t turn him away.
I looked at Jimmy. He was barely breathing at all now. I wonder should I call the nurse… or the kids.
“Jimmy, can ye hear me?” I put my face near his.
“Jimmy are ye alright? I’m still here ye know”.
I stared at his face up close. There was no sign that he heard me. Should I say something about Tommy? Release myself from the secret I’d kept for nearly fifty years? ‘Let sleeping dogs lie’ they say, and I wanted to agree. It was all in the past now. What good would it do? I’d made my choice, and never regretted it.
I stroked his hair and bending over gently kissed him, leaving my cheek resting next to his for a time. As I did so I could feel a hot tear slowly journey down my face, and I waited for it to fall onto his cheek. Oh how I would miss spending time with him, sharing cups of tea and hours of chat. I’d miss the way he patted my hand, and called me dear and darlin’. The way he helped me with my coat, and the many happy moments we shared each day.
“Just then the nurse returned and I quickly wiped my eyes. She kindly put an arm around me and asked,
“Would you like a cup of tea?”
“Yes please nurse that would be lovely”.
Looking at Jimmy I said, “Do you think it will be much longer?”
“I can’t say for sure, she replied, but I think it would be good to get the rest of the family in. I’ll go and ring them for you if you like”.
“Thank you nurse, I said, that would be great”.
As she left the room I sat quietly once more with the clock for company, stroking his hand.
“Jimmy darlin’, I whispered, as I put his hand to my lips, I love ye me aul flower”.
A steady stream of tears began to fall, and I struggled to breathe with the pain in my chest. It was my heart breaking I suppose. He was leaving me, I could feel it. He gave one large gasp, and then there was silence. I waited. Oh God could he be gone? That fast? I held my breath but I knew. I stood up and lay across his chest, wrapping my arms around his thin, lifeless frame.
“Jimmy” I sobbed loudly not caring who may hear. “Oh Jimmy” I cried, as the enormity of his leaving took hold.
He was gone and I was left. I looked at his face. He didn’t look dead, or old, or thin. He just looked like Jimmy, my Jimmy, my pal, my love for over sixty years. Leaning over I kissed him, he was still warm as I whispered,
“Good night me darlin, warm the bed for me will ye Jimmy? I promise I’ll be up shortly”.
photo credit: Wedding via photopin (license)
If you would like to read any of the other love stories you can download The little book of love here.