“Look at ya, look at the state of ya. I’m surprised you can even fit in the door, the size of
The whip of embarrassment from his cruel words almost caused me to drop my cup of coffee
all over my lap. I debated whether or not I should apologise to the poor nurse on his behalf.
“Sorry about that”, I said after a few moments and smiled up awkwardly at her.
“Don’t you fuckin’ apologise to her Jim”, he said tapping me on the arm with his
forefinger, scolding me. “Sure it’s her own fault. Too many KitKats. Fuckin’ KitKats. Two
packs for a euro in that Tesco they are nowadays, sure it’s no wonder they’re all fuckin’
huge”, he spluttered.
“Thanks Sean, you always say the nicest things”, she muttered through pursed lips as she
flicked over pages on the clipboard attached to his bed.
He would never have uttered such things to another person years ago, not even that referee
who done us in the 2000 Championship final with the soft penalty. The old Sean had been a
polite gentleman that wouldn’t stand up to his own shadow or cause a scene unless it was to
maybe try and pay for something for you in a shop. Yet, here he was, coughing obscenities at
a young woman who was merely trying to do her job and care for him. The brain is a
terrifyingly fascinating thing in how it can so quickly metamorphose. How can something in
there just burst and allow something else to worm its way in to the very fibres of a person’s
being to suffocate and turn inside out their personality with such perfunctory ease? The nurse
took his temperature as he glared at her with hatred billowing from his pupils.
“When is the baby due?” He asked smugly.
“I’m not pregnant Sean”.
“What?” He growled. “But the fuckin’ size of ya”.
I almost choked on my breath as it came rushing to the back of my throat. The girl was mildly
overweight, chubby even and here he was suggesting that she was King Kong obese, ready to
hang from skyscrapers and throw over parked cars as she walked.
“I told you yesterday I wasn’t pregnant but you don’t listen Sean”.
“Ah listen.”, he said mockingly. “Listen, listen, the cat’s pissin’. Where where? Under the
chair. Run, run, get the gun and fire it quick before she’s done”.
I swallowed the laughter that rose inside.
“Right so, I’ll be back in an hour with your tea Sean. See you later”, she said.
She smiled at me as she left as if to say it was alright and that she didn’t desire my pity. I
don’t know how she would be able to continue to look after him after the ridiculously hurtful
I’d heard him spout. He was cruising for some arsenic to fall in to his tea.
“Anyway Jim you were saying about the football, how come they put Martin Denahy on sure he’s a useless cunt and then why at half time would they bring in Owen Hamilton in
place of Nally? Sure that fucker couldn’t kick snow off a rope even if there was a fuckin’
He loved to hear about the football matches. I tried to remember who had played well and
what had happened in scrupulous detail. Of course I had to tell him that his own son Rory had
been man of the match even if he had been hopeless or subbed. It was funny how he could be
so unpleasant and cutting to strangers yet treat certain members of his family and me with
such regular kindness and dignity. It was as if in the throngs of trauma, his brain had
constructed a good box and a bad box, a bit like Santa Clause’s naughty and nice list.
Everyone was sorted, categorised and then communicated with according to their category. I
was in the good box for sure. If those boxes undergo an audit and a shuffle around some day,
I could be in trouble though.
Every time I came to visit, I was greeted with the same smile as if we were still two
neighbours chatting over the garden wall. We lived next door to each other for thirty years.
We had watched each others kids grow up. His kids and my kids had spent all of their
childhood between our two homes kicking balls, climbing trees, hiding and seeking, pulling
and dragging, teenage mutant ninja’ing. I remember well the time his Rory and my Stephen
thought it would be a good idea to pour water on to the back patio to make an ice rink in
winter and didn’t Mairead, his poor wife break her ankle after on the way to get coal for the
fire. There was no more ice hockey after that.
Sean was one of those men that was always outside. Rootin’ as my wife used to call it. He was always outside rootin’ with vegetables or flowers and the grass. He used to cut our grass
too most of the time because I was too busy in the office to get round to it. Wouldn’t take
anything for it neither, didn’t want chocolate, didn’t want wine. “Sure I’m out doing me own
anyway, it’s no bother”, he’d say. It was sad that someone so active was now rendered almost
completely immobile. Days confined to rectangular prisons of chairs and beds and chairs and
beds and then repeat. He could move his left arm and lift his left leg up ever so slightly now
and again. Everything about it filled me such a profound feeling of despondency that was
hard to shake afterwards. Sixty seven and ungraciously returned to the world of nappies and
talcum powder. It was sinfully wrong. He liked to show me the nappy every time I called too.
He’d pull back the thin, cream sheet on his rickety bed to reveal it. His legs were like match
sticks, muscle wasting away with each passing week. Images of oversized nappies and
emaciated legs perforated my dreams after the first sighting.
“Look at this yoke they have on me hah? Look at it. What dya think of that? The fat
bitches in here has to change it and it does smell awful. Awful”, he’d say. “And they rip it off and it pulls at me hairs and me goulies, I need to get Rory or someone up to trim them some
I had looked out the window to distract myself from the thoughts of that. He didn’t realise he
was being vulgar or inappropriate and the stroke had made him dirty in other ways too. I
don’t think in the thirty years I’d known him that he ever referred to anything even remotely
sexual but now even though he was hardly fit to move, he was like a hound in heat.
“Jaysus what about that Joan Reilly one hah? I’d give her a good go I tell ya.”
“You’re married Sean”.
“Married yeah, to that bitch. Yeah. Mairead. Nuisance of a woman. Feck her anyway, I
should’ve never’ve married her you know.”
Mairead had gotten the bad box.
“You know when I was on me way to meet Mairead for our first date, I bumped into Joan
Reilly on the road. We chatted for a bit and me on the bike. I should’ve never cycled on. I
should’ve taken her to the Ceili instead of Mairead.”
“Ah stop Sean, you loved Mairead”.
“Ah I did in me arse!”
It was always hard to say goodbye. He had a sixth sense for when you were about to suggest
you were leaving. He’d start fake coughing and asking for more cushions or water. He’d pose
endless questions about the football and the government until he eventually tired himself in to
acceptance. Each time I walk out of that sterile, yellow building, I wonder why God takes
away some of us and replaces us with parts of someone else in this way? The good parts
concealed in shadows of murky waters. Is it some sort of penance for a wrongdoing in the
past? Is it random? Just part of life? One of those things? Every day I pray that if I’m to be
left a randy dormant in a hospital bed to just bring me on to meet my maker. But then again maybe it won’t be up to me. Maybe I too will have to atone for the terrible thing I did a long
time ago, the terrible thing that still makes all my dreams a nightmare.