“Do men read books?” her tongue lightly layered her faint moustache with saliva at the prospect of having someone new to talk about.
“My youngest lad has the head forever stuck in between the pages of a book”. Bridie in her new flannel gown replied gently straightening the fabric over her knees and admiring the swirling pattern of the fresh material, which felt refreshing and smooth against her wrinkling skin.
“Is he the unusual one?” The moustache was getting wetter as their voices travelled throughout the room, their flat accents coming alive as the conversation changed from the mundane to gossip.
“He isn’t unusual, he is just a bit different”. Bridie’s eyes went to the floor, avoiding the feel of the intense eye contact from her best friend Gretha. There lay the problem with growing up in the same town with someone from infancy to old age, they ended up knowing more about you than you knew yourself. She promised herself she would stand up to her for once, if the auld codger mentioned anything about the disappointment of Old Tommy and his rejection of Young Tommy. It wasn’t the young lad’s fault that he couldn’t meet the responsibility of been the namesake son.
“Did he ever find a girl for himself?” Gretha pushed the knife of bitterness in a bit deeper, she couldn’t help it. She had been raised by a cruel bitch of a woman and more of it had rubbed off on her, than had been buried in the auld woman’s grave.
“No Gretha, he hasn’t got a woman for himself. It isn’t women that takes his fancy and its well you know it, wasn’t it yourself who told the whole town about him when I told you in the strictest confidence, he had come out to us” Bridie wouldn’t be letting the auld bitch get away with taking the mick out of her son.
“Ah now Bridie that wasn’t me, I didn’t mention it to anyone.” Gretha insisted
“You were the only one who knew apart from me and Tommy senior. Don’t be denying something now when I know it’s true.”
“Everyone knew, sure you only had to look at the young fella to know he was queer in his ways. Anyway would you look your man, he still hasn’t made a move. He will need to put on his pyjamas soon, he can’t be sitting there reading a book in a pair of jeans all night. He will have to get into the bed at some stage.” The topic was changed, the chance lost and Bridie was left with that familiar bitter taste in her mouth once more.
“You sound mad interested in seeing him undress. Have you taken a bit of a shine to him? He isn’t a bad looking chap for a big lad” Bridie teased.
“I most certainly am not, I never have watched a man undress in my whole life.” Gretha blessed her-self, relishing in the feel of the lovely new material pressing against her skin, where the Son and the Holy Ghost had just lay their mark.
“What about poor Jimmy? You must have seen him in his nothingness at some stage over the forty years of marriage.”
“I never took much notice.”
“No wonder he was always wondering around with the head bent low like a man lost in a field.”
“That was just him saying his prayers.” Gretha mumbled, not enjoying the way this was going, she was used to having the upper hand. It was none of that Bridie O’Shea’s business about her and her Jimmy. She would want to mind her manners or she would put her in her place. That husband of hers was like a wondering bull with the local women before the consumption took all the energy from his drive.
“More’s the pity you hadn’t a stallion of a man to fill your minds, then you pair might mind your own business a bit more. You should be grateful for the thrill, if you happened to come upon something half decent buck naked in front of you. It would give you both something to think about rather than the lives of others”. Two sets of ageing but still sharp eyes pierced into the back of the nurse, who passed by the ladies, without looking or waiting for a venomous reply to her comment.
“The cheek of that one and she one of those half casts. She probably came out of some decent white woman been put upon by one of them darkies” Gretha said even louder, this time aware everyone within shooting distance could hear her. Yet her skin didn’t flush or her body shake, she was too used to anger and hatred for her body to rise to even the most extreme of her emotions.
“You can’t be saying things like that Gretha, it’s not politically correct. She is from Kerry however they managed to find one of her type among that pile of sheep herders.”
“What the Jaysus does politics have to do with anything, such a load of auld cods wallop. She is what she is and no one is telling me I can’t say something out loud. Look your man has pulled the curtains around himself. Would you listen to the noises he is making, he must be going at himself, have a peek inside the curtain’s Bridie and see what’s going on”
“I most certainly will not, I am a descent widowed woman.” Bridie replied staring at the curtain and running her tongue between her moistened lips.
“Whist up, here comes the posse.” Gretha said giving Bridie the nod to go back to her own bed.
“Mr Reilly” the doctor, with a confident look about him and a suit with a price tag capable of feeding for a year the village he came from, said, as the gaggle of surgeons pushed in through the curtains causing the temperature of the newly formed cloth room to rise rapidly.
“Yes that’s me” Patsy replied squeezing his book on to the chest of drawers alongside the bottle of 7up, the roll of wine gums , the packet of digestives and his Walkman.
“We apologise for having to put you in the female ward but we are waiting for a bed in neuro surgery and this was the only one available.”
“That’s okay I have been getting acquainted with the habitat of the local population”
“I’m sorry?” Mr Hashit asked, Patsy couldn’t help look at him trying to figure out what it was that was so queer looking. The odour of the peppermint on his breath couldn’t hide the smell of curry and his suit looked way too expensive for work in a hospital, but it was something else, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on.
(c) Francie McGivney 03.06.15