The two men had just finished signing their discharge papers. It had been a longer stay than usual this time. But it was always a dam good rest into the bargain. They had both felt invigorated
after their little break , and were full on bonhomie until they were in turn each called into the new administrators office .
The matron was in the foyer ; all the fallen angels – resurrected
She was like a delightful butterfly all aflutter and dazzled for choice in a bed of roses.
She saw them come in the drink horrors ; their torment , the raging hallucinations . Their unleashed demons like bats in a cave squealing at the dawn- then she would huddle near and embrace them in the wings of prayer like an elegant swan; A sort of pious Leda seducing the weakened sinners .
Neither Mr Lynch nor Mr Brennan lived in what either would describe as opulence. Neither did either live in anything approximating frugality.
They occupied a status somewhere in between and lived in a comfort bestowed upon them by family and position. Neither could it be said either established or earned his own place in society , nor was either destined for an illustrious place in the history of the slowly changing economic climate of their town.
They resided on the hill in the most fashionable address in a town which had as yet to have an established and well defined class between the working and the owner manager class.
Both were successful businessmen to use the term loosely ; but to firm up on that same term they both just about kept the ship afloat. They were aware of their limited entrepreneurship , but the town was still in a state of enforced economic slumber after the war , and there was as yet little realistic competition to either’s enterprise.
But inwardly both would concede that had either been left to manage the business -they would in all probability have squandered away the industry of three generations quite happily in one ; by middle age.
They both had wives who were ostensibly frail little things , but were domestic giants.
They saw to it that both husbands attended the services regularly ; that they visited the Poor Clare’s twice a year and donated what was known in genteel circles as a generous sum., and ensured that this was duly noted in the local newspaper which was in any event a subsidiary of Mr Lynch’s modest empire.
It had be at least as generous as the nouveau crowd starting up in town.. But not much more so. Extravagance was something which only aroused suspicion after the privations which the war had inflicted and still clung to the psyche of the city .
Despite this the city’s new struggling entrepreneurs sought to divest themselves of this and the many other vestiges of the past which only severed as a stigma which belonged not to them , but to the stifled older class , who still lived on the hill .
In fact both these formidable creatures rather resented the charity if the new moneyed class; it was not really charity at all in the traditional sense , but rather more an effort breach the gap between them and their social betters.
Mr Lynch and Mr Brennan had more than a nodding acquaintance with St Jude’s having been admitted there regularly in the past. They attended together for the most part , which was an unfortunate consequence of their friendship.
They were familiar with the routine and the nuns knew them both quite well.
They were generous to the sisters and their donations were received with much gratitude.
They were accepted by the little community who had come to the realisation that without their patronage , the healthy bank statements which the hospital enjoyed might not have been quite so robust
Due to the individual nature and often unpredictable course of their individual convalescences , which varied from five to ten days , both Mr Lynch and Mr Brennan had devised a well considered contrivance to signal when they were ready for conviviality.
Mr Brenan ‘s negative signal was if he was seen to be reading the Financial Times with his back to the door ; That meant a no no. Mr Lynch on the other hand choose his apparel to indicate his disposition ; if he was wearing his slippers and his red dressing gown , he sought no unnecessary discourse.- His blue dressing gown signified a glowing cordiality
Consequently , having spent the best part of a fortnight in St Jude’s there had been much to catch up on as both men had each experienced a more protracted period this time to emerge from the rather low esteem.
Usually , on discharge day the mood way light , and the conversation animated . They discussed the business of who was who, and who’d fallen again ; the small tyrannies of the staff ; the odd business of standing in front of a group of strangers saying again - my name is Martin and I’m an alcoholic , when in fact some of the group were almost as regulars as themselves. But that was how it was played and who were either of them , they asked , to question the practice of their coveted retreat ..
Mr Lynch was waiting in the car when his colleague emerged from the new administrators office .He’d had his interview just some minutes previously, and was feeling more than a little miffed .
Everything all right ? - asked Mr Lynch as Brennan got into the passenger’s seat
-Oh yes - Yes Yes game ball Game ball !– said the other.
Mr Lynch studied him with a concerned eye as they proceeded down the long avenue now canopied with chestnut trees which were at their most exuberant, and drooped across the avenue in autumnal splendor.
They drove on over the bog road heading west and an uncomfortable somberness had descended between them.
Mr Lynch was a more than a little disconcerted,. He knew by his countenance that the other was aware that he was being less than truthful. He decided to take the bold initiative.
- Do you know what I’m going to tell you .. Well to be honest.. you know ..Well for my self you know.. Well.. Well to be honest ,Jack, I didn’t think it was quite the same as usual you know ..?
Mr Brennan considered this but said nothing.
.-. Yes , Well I didn’t’t like that new fellows attitude , continued .Mr Lynch.
-Really ..said the other , his eyebrows raised in expectation.
-A bit ..a bit ahead of himself like .. didn’t you think ?
-ahead of himself ? . Hmmm. A bit dam ..well insubordinate if you ask me. Insubordinate - said Mr Brennan
-Out of order - he added , unnecessarily
-Yes I was thinking the same but I said nothing.- said Mr Lynch
- I was very tempted - he added.
- No No you couldn’t .You couldn’t say anything,
-You’d have to consider the community and the matron ,
They drove on in silence for a few miles , passing the little inviting villages with their warm hostelries .A little flicker of ache flared in the throat as they passed, but their fortitude was solid.
-How did he put it to you , said Mr Brennan after some time .
- Well he had me fooled at first , I mean I didn’t Know what it was all about and so I was as polite and so on and ..well the next thinsi I’me getting a bloddy dresssing down , if you don’t mind … I mean to say I was caught off guard I can tell you..And then I thought .. The impertinence of this little git.
Bloddy impertinence !!sheer bloddy impertinence agreed My Lynch , a smoldering vexation now glowing in his eyes.
-I was going to give him a ticking off you know-..He affirmed .
-But you didn’t ?
No No No I thought the better of it..the matron and the staff . Couldn’t do it .
- Ahh No ..God No! ..you could not .But it cant be let go at the same time , said Mr Brennan , and his petulance was more evident ..
No No.. said the other nodding - It souldnt be ledt at that .
-It should not Sir! It dam well should not ! Tell me , how did he put it to you , said Mr Lynch a little timidly.
- Well I mean he says to me .. Like this and that you know and so on like that and then he says ‘’ we’re not a home for chronic cases ‘’ -that’s what he says.! I was shocked !
- Shocked !
-I got the same .said Mr Lynch , and his reaction to that same suden rebuke sweept through his like a flame.
- I mean ..coming from that upstart like that and we going in there all the years.!!I mean to say God dam it ,..I mean to say .. What !.
That’s what I thought too.. Over the top - that’s what it was - over the bloddy top.. The cheek of him .. The dam cheek of him !!
‘ Chronic cases ‘– what does he think we are – two old fogies in Zimmer frames.!!= sai Mr Lynch
-Oh he gave me all this baloney about coming in there for a rest , you know and using good hospital beds ,and bla bla about when more needy patients required them.-Mr Lynch continued warming to an even boil.
-He said that he had little sympathy for people -he authors of their misfortune - he says .. How do you like that ..
-Did he say that to you too . Well by God ! Said Mr Brennan.
-He did , Drinkers are their own worst enemies - he says – and when a client comes in here ohh several times a year ..well they were going to put a stop to it. Then he had the audacity to tell me how many times I’d been in there in the past five years . If you don’t mind !!
-I got the same.. and I was thinking of saying to him that was bloody confidential information .. You know between a doctor and …well that bucko is no doctor and anyway if it wasn’t for the likes of us well .. well they were dam glad to have us at times.
-And , he mightn’t’t have a job for himself if we didn’t’t continue our….our patronage , said Mr Brennan-.
-It a wonder the matron let him get away with it.-said Mr Lynch , and both sat again in silence wondering.
The car sped over the bog road and passed every homely little village and their inviting hostelries . Neither man flinched but each held a longing which was simply inexpressible at this point . The temptation to reflect openly on happy days drinking in any one of them was perilous and each man persevered in the awkward silence.
Into this silence there drifted a blizzard of electrons and the telepathy was almost palpable.
After much self reproach for even considering the suggestion of stopping Mr.Lynch said by way of a diversion from the conversation which they had both avoided , but had nonetheless passed silently between them in the now thick ether of the car.
- Well , would’nt you feel great after the rest all the same
-Oh Like a new man .-said Mr Brennan with a sudden vigor.
Ahh ! Yes. !!
In the pause that followed Mr Lynch said-
- what did you make of that new fellow at the sessions
- the black fellow you mean ?
- well yes - but he wasn’t a black
- No Id say maybe an Arabian type
-I thought he was a bit you know..
- forward like ?
- didn’t you think so..?
- I noticed that all right., for a first timer . He was , you’re right there Jack.
- A well we were all first timers once .
- I suppose !
-But there was no shyness in him mind you .
- No , and I wondered was it his first time . Maybe he did a stint somewhere else.
-Oh that’s possible too.. Very possible . It would account for his .. Well ,he was too open about things,
_ Oh Id say that boy did a stint somewhere all right- I heard someone saying he was a doctor.
-Is that a fact . Is that a fact - well maybe that might account for it.
The car passed another little village and each man felt a sense of sadness passing as they swept by . It seemed almost discourteous .
To expunge the creeping temptation Mr Lynch felt it better to keep the banter going . They both needed the distraction and any source of displeasure to both could act as a verbal kabala .Another inmate served that purpose admirably.
-It was her ladyship that bothered me . - said Mr Lynch
- Oh by God ! -that one ; wasn’t she just .. A bit of a madam I’m telling you .
- I wonder do they put it on , how much they were taking or how bad they were
- well be god if we were half as bad , wouldn’t we be dead long ago.!!
- aha !! I was thinking the very same . You know listening to those two you were know we were angles ...Saints !
- Did I hear somewhere ,- Mr Lynch said vaguely which didn’t escape Mr Brennan because he knew he hadn’t spoken to a soul for the full ten days
- yes I did hear somewhere .. You know that there was a bit of hows -your father going on between the two of them.
- It occurred to me too . I wonder
- There must be some truth in it .. No smoke ..as they say.
- it wouldn’t surprise me one bit.. Not one bit - Mr Brennan said solemnly. Adding
- they’d be well suited ..
-Well suited is right.
The open road was stretching out before them and the thought of returning to the humdrum of life was pressing like a vice on each parched soul.
A bleakness lay ahead which both dreaded as much as the horrors. The return home - having nothing to do: the family going to absurd lengths to avert temptation.
Even vinegar was not allowed on the Brennan dinner table , and Mrs Lynch would have had one of those ornate antique chains installed on the drinks cabinet on top of which there would be a spare bottle of Antabuze tablets . Sobriety and its incessant and unrelenting demands pressed further , and the vice tightened - more like a garrote-.
The last stretch of road was within five miles of home.
It was the last opportunity either had to break the five mile rule,.
This sacrosanct observation held that if you didn’t take a drink within the greater city area well that want really breaking the pledge. It was an arrangement they had, and which no one else understood. But it was something they had held to with implacable propriety,
The thing made dam good sense.
The blizzard of electrons filed the ether again.
They were cured .
They were new men
They weren’t half as bad as some of them.
Without even considering the need to mention anything Mr Lynch drew up the car t in the middle of the little village.
- I think if we might park up here … there’ d be less comment.
Exactly s!! said Mr Brennan.
They drove up a little lane leading from the street and pulled into a yard , whose walls were stacked with beer kegs.
- I see herself is within -
- Ah fine Fine ! Tom wont mind me parking here , he’s only gone into town for the afternoon.
- should we..- Mr Brennan said .
Ring ?? .. No No . we wont be long here at all and that’s for sure !
- God no !
We’ll just say hello !
We mightn’t see them before the Christmas.
- No No ..we couldn’t pass them just like that - They’d hear about it for sure. No reason to cause offense- Mr Lynch said reasonably.
As they were going in the back door of O Connors lounge bar a liver and white pointer came lunging out of a kennel barking fiercely ; was arrested by the sudden drag on his chain and fell back into the yard with a yelp.
Mr Lynch gave a start .
- Ohh!! Will you look at herself .. Its Sparksy ..Whats on ye Sparks girl .. Quite down there..There girl.. that’s the girl..
The dog feeling foolish at the soothing familiar voice cowered its head and became coy.
-Ahh!! many’s the bird she put up for me
- oh she’s a hum dinger - Mr Lynch affirmed.
The door opened and a bedraggled woman emerged from the kitchen,
Oh !! Its yer selves - she said
-I didn’t know what the commotion was … Sit Sparks good girl..
The dog was making good her error of judgment and was now rising on her hind legs to lick Mr Lynch.
- ahh sorry.. Nora never mind her ..good girl.. Ohh !! Good girl..oh.. Sit now .. Good girl!!- said Mr Lynch.. Ahh no Nora .. We were just .. Sit girl.. There’s a good .. We thought we’d..
I hope we didn’t cause any fuss . - Said Mr Brennan .
-Nor at all come in …come in.-she said.
The had settled in the snug which was commodious and perfectly confidential for their purposes. When the two large whiskeys arrived .Lynch said-
- you know ..Im still thinking about that blooming fellow.
-Mr Administrator- Mr chronic cases - said Brennan - Mr Big shot is it ?
Mr Lynch now leaned back into the chair and massaged his chin as he gave the matter his considered opinion before he went on.
- I was thinking of writing a strongly worded letter pointing out directly…..
At that his considered opinion was shattered by peals of garish laughter from the lounge.
- You will not !!!- a female voice shrieked .her laughter was hoarse and grated the ruminative ear.
- Oh Nooooo !!! - the laughter had more the quality of the chain saw than the skylark and the joviality was ragged and raucous.
The two men looked at one another and at Mrs Connors , who threw her eyes upwards and pursed lips with an abandoned rictus . She finished the two freshly poured pints and placing them gently on a mat beside the other two whiskies.
- don’t talk . .. here since lunchtime.- she shook her in a gesture of hopeless abandon.
The two men looked at one another again.
- Be God I wonder !!said Mr Lynch.
- Could be !!-said Mr Brennan.
Mr Lynch moved the chair to the separating wooden panel which stood about nine feet from the floor. He eased himself up grasping the partition , as Mr Lynch held it in place
- careful man- he urged
He peeped over the ledge as another salvo almost dispatched him from his perched position.
He steadied himself as he got down , his mouth agape , eyes bulging with startled eyebrows.
- its them - he seethed his mouth curling in a sardonic eyes
- I thought .it might be .. Well glory be !! What . Jesus what !!it …
- well would you believe- Mr Berennan whispered
- The two -well well ; Now wouldn’t you want to keep your ears open all the same..what !
Himself and the hussy !!
A peculiar conciliation seems to envelope the two men as a curious comfort sweep over them like a gentle breeze.
Their little weakness seemed trivial by comparison.
They had been tempered in another furnace.
Sometimes in a fire of incandescent raging visions .
They had endured all of this. They continued their business successfully by and large and raised their families giving them the opportunity of university education.
They were successful. They had conquered the vicissitudes of life. Most of them .
That unspoken debate which again passed between them was without any rancour at all.
Now they looked with silent scorn at wood panel as they again heard another fuselage of high gaiety erupt from the party next door.
- well . I wouldn’t give them much chance said Mr Brennan
-about 5 years .
- that’s about it
Five.- said Mr Brennan sagely . And his sagacity caused him an outward sadness , but a strange inward sense of strange jubilation
- Poor devils ! said- Mr Lynch
- What hope have they - said Mr Brennan
He signaled for another round of drinks , with a quick swirling movement of his hand , and standing up he leaned over the counter and said softly -
- Now , Nora ,I want you to have a little sherry or something with us he said .
- You will - said Mr Lynch.
we mightn’t see ye till the Christmas.
- And take for one for Tom - we might miss him- said Mr. Brennan.
He leaned back in the chair and there was something now almost regal about his poise.
Do ye know what it is - he said after some considered thought.
- I’ll have a lot more to say in that that letter to Mr administrator … he said smiling
- Chronic cases indeed !!- said Mr .Brennan
Cheers all -he said .. Drink up . We might be dead this time next year.
-And put another one down for Tom- said Mr. Lynch.
The raucous gaiety continued more uproariously than before but it didn’t seem to sear at the tender nerve at all now. There was almost something soothing in each salvo..
It was almost musical , as the glow of a good days labour spread over each of the two men.
Did I say five years - said Mr Brennan softly
- I was being generous.
- Gracious !- said Mr Lynch
- Too Gracious , Jack - Too Gracious by a mile.
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