By Clayton O'Driscoll

 

In a flash of inspiration one day he wrote it.

It just came to him out of the blue.

The picture had been up on Bill Taylor’s wall for years. It was one of a bunch of old family snapshots he found when he moved house. He liked this one, put it in a frame and hung it on the wall in his study.

That was eleven years ago.

One damp Tuesday afternoon he found himself doing something he seemed to be doing a lot of lately. Standing in the middle of a room wondering why he had come in. He was just about to leave again when it caught his eye. No reason. His gaze simply landed on it and, for the first time in over a decade he looked at it. Really looked at it.

It was lovely. 

Black and white, it was probably taken with a Bosley or a Mercury or another one of those gorgeous old cameras they had in the 1940’s. All chrome and black lacquer and heavy as a pint of stout. Paddy and Maureen Hughes, his grandparents on his mother’s side smiled out at him. They looked young and happy and excited to be alive on what appeared to be a baking hot summer’s day. The sun was full on their faces and they cast no shadow on the wild flowers that hid their feet and stretched off into the distance behind them.

Paddy was handsome. He stood there, legs apart, his right hand in his trouser pocket, his left arm draped over Maureen’s shoulder pulling her slightly to him as if to say “She’s my girl.”

He wore a suit (of course… he never wore anything else) and despite the apparent heat his tie, as always, was perfectly done, top button closed. The jacket was unbuttoned and rested back behind his right arm. He looked like Cary Grant.

Just visible, low on his waist was Bill’s favourite part of the picture.

Four small fingers.

The fingers of Maureen’s right hand holding Paddy close to her.

She looked straight into the lens, a daring sparkle in her eye. That sparkle that Bill knew so well. The one that was there right up to the end a few years back. She was, even in those days of women knowing their place, a match for any man. Paddy knew this, and matched her back.

She wore a simple summer dress with short sleeves. No pretention, no designer labels, just designed for comfort. And that seemed to be the essence of the picture. They looked comfortable and content in each other’s embrace.

Bill guessed it was taken around 1943 because he had a feeling it was before they were married. There wasn’t a ring in sight and they just looked like they were stepping out. Courting.

The poem came to him in a matter of minutes….

 

I like to think she can smell Sweet Afton on his suit

and it makes her heart leap.

I like to think the sun is bringing out the burnt orange in her hair

that he never knew was there.

I like to think that dress is blue.

I like to think his wages are in his pocket

and he’s going to spend them all on her.

I like to think there’s a dog barking

and a car driving past

and a woman hurrying somewhere on high heels.

I like to think there’s a hole in his sock

where his toe pokes through.

I like to think she knows

and she loves that she knows.

I like to think its Tuesday

and its morning

and they have the whole day ahead of them

and they have no plans.

I like to think of an endless moment in a wildflower garden.

I like to think.

 

He called it In A Wildflower Garden.

He had the picture reframed with the poem and hung it back on the wall. But not hidden away in the study this time. Its new home was in the hall at the foot of the stairs and it was there that he stood looking at it today.

He was curious.

He threw on a hoodie, grabbed his keys, checked the time and left. His battered corolla sat outside like an old friend who hadn’t anywhere better to be. He hopped in, and slammed the door shut with a hollow bang. Then he reached for the seatbelt and pulled.

As usual it stuck twice on the way down but in the end clicked into place. He put the key in the ignition and turned. It started … first time. Sometimes his old friend surprised him.

Traffic was quiet for a Saturday, the green lights seemed to go his way and fifteen minutes later he pulled into the car park of the Ash View nursing home. He reversed into the nearest space, turned off the engine and sat for a moment to gather his thoughts.

It wouldn’t be true to say he didn’t like coming here. But it made him sad. Sad to see faces that once had a glint in the eye or a devilish grin, now…. different. Like someone had stepped into their light. Oh sure, the glints and the grins still showed up. Often in fact. But the flames burned softer these days.

He climbed out of the car and entered the building.

At the small desk inside the door that always seemed to Bill had been put there in a hurry one day and never changed, sat the usual smiling face.

Julie. 

“Hiya Bill.” she said, “How are you? Stopped raining for a while!”

Bill smiled back.

“Howya Julie.”

He pointed with his thumb into the day room. 

“He in here?”

“No actually.” said Julie, “He’s in his room. He’s a bit tired today. Said he wasn’t in the humour for bullshit.”

She blushed. 

Bill didn’t mind. That sounded like him alright. 

“Oooh….! I better not piss him off so!” he replied, letting her know she could relax.

He turned, walked down the short corridor and stopped at the second door on the left.

He entered without knocking.

The room was small. A wardrobe the size of an upright coffin stood behind the door to the right. There was also a chair, a bedside locker and a table with a tiny television. The blind on the window was up and light flooded in making everything look like it was in a spotlight.

The huge orthopaedic bed dominated the room. It almost filled it. A young nurse was standing in the middle of the floor (the only place you could stand) writing.

She glanced up, smiled and left.

Bill looked down at the chair.

His grandfather was sitting in it like he’d been dropped from a height. 

“Howya Paddy.” said Bill.

Bill had always called his grandfather by his first name. Paddy insisted on it. 

Granddad is for oul’ fellas he used to say. Paddy looked at him, thought for a second and then smiled.

Sort of.

Paddy had a way of smiling with his eyes and not with his mouth. Only those who knew him well knew it was there.

Bill knew. 

“Sit.” said Paddy.

Bill sat the only place he could. On the bed. 

“So…” said Bill, “Julie tells me you’re a bit tired today?”

Paddy grunted. It sounded like a response in the positive. Bill studied him. He looked tired. No, wrong word. He looked... melancholy. This was a man that Bill had admired and respected his whole life. Tough, strong, handsome. All the things the young Bill wanted to be when he grew up.

Maureen was equally formidable. Maybe even more so. They were the strongest, coolest, most unstoppable couple he had ever known. They stuck two fingers up at the world and they didn’t give a damn what anyone thought of them.

Maureen’s death had hit Paddy hard. It knocked the life out of him for a while but after a couple of months he seemed to recover. Most people thought so.

Those who were closest to him however, knew better. 

“How are you boy?” said Paddy. His voice sounded weak. It didn’t have the same interest as usual. Paddy wasn’t a man, as Julie knew, for bullshit. He only asked a question if he wanted to know the answer. 

“I’m good Paddy. Do you want a cup of tea or anything?”

Paddy shook his head, lowered it.

Bill decided his questions about the photo, about that day, that time... could wait. Today wasn’t the day. He could see that.

The next quarter of an hour or so was just the type of crap that Paddy usually wouldn’t put up with. Smalltalk.

Dismissive answers followed pointless questions. After it got too much even for Bill, he stood up, faked a stretch and a yawn and did the whole Well, I’d better be going thing. He knew Paddy didn’t fall for it but he also knew he just wanted peace.

Bill stopped at the desk on the way out.

Julie had been replaced by Fiona.

Fiona was, Bill assumed, the boss. He didn’t know that for sure. He just got that impression from her. He caught her eye and nodded towards Paddy’s door. 

“Form’s not the best in there.”

“No, poor divil.” said Fiona. “Ah well, he’s allowed that today.”

Something inside Bill fell on its side. 

“What do you mean?”

Fiona looked at him, blankly. 

“Your grandmother? Isn’t today her anniversary? Three years I think your sister said the other day.”

He couldn’t believe it. He knew it was soon but… today?

He thought of the picture.

The sun on their hair, the smiles, the excitement of youth and love and the whole day ahead of them.

Their whole lives ahead of them.

Then he thought of another picture.

One his mother had in her living room. Paddy and Maureen again but many years later. A lifetime later. It was taken about a year before Maureen died. A family wedding somewhere.

They sat smiling, side by side.

Holding hands. Their heads touching.

Age had caught up certainly. But not in their eyes.

They sparkled with that beautiful old defiance.

Two fingers.

Bill turned and walked slowly back to Paddy’s room. He knocked gently and opened the door. Paddy looked up at him. Bill got down and took the old man’s hand. 

“Granddad.” he whispered. 

“I love you.”