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Authors: James Hanley

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BOOK: Our Time Is Gone
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‘No,' went on the voice. ‘Not that. Complete collapse.' And he was to hurry
now
.

Captain Fury let the receiver drop with a crash. Then he called a waiter, gave him a message. He left at once, hailed a taxi, directed it to the Gelton General Hospital. The taxi sped away on wheels that had been hungry all day.

So his mother had collapsed! Good Lord! He hadn't seen her for a long time. Hadn't seen any of the family for that matter. Now he supposed he would see them all. Everybody. His father. ‘Poor dad.' But was he home? Perhaps he wasn't. And Kilkey. Joe Kilkey. ‘Completely a bachelor by now,' and Maureen. Yes, Maureen! Even that old faggot from Cork. My heavens, he hoped not. And only twenty minutes ago he was seated at the table enjoying himself. Yes, it was enjoyment, no doubt about that. Life had taught him one thing anyhow. How to enjoy himself. He enjoyed this evening. And Sheila there! And everybody admiring her. The right sort of people too. It warmed far more than the wine he had drunk. What a rich bug that Dick fellow was. Rotten with money. Stinking with money. Always had had it. Even while he, Captain Fury, had been hammering wedges into the permanent way. All that time. Just imagine. Funny seeing that lawyer fellow to-night. Poor mother! Still hoping to get Peter out! Damn it, he must write Peter a letter. Poor lad! Wonder what he thought of himself now? Fooling about with women at his age, and not content with girls of his own age. Oh no! Must have other men's wives. Silly lad! But you can't blame him. No! He had argued against all that rot without avail, and somehow the word rot made him think of his mother again. Poor mother! Her idea! And now she was in …

‘Did you say General, sir?' called the driver through the window.

‘Course I said General! Hurry, will you! Hurry, blast you!'

‘Very good, sir,' and the taxi seemed to shoot forward at a bound. The General Hospital! Now where was this exactly? ‘The Gelton General. Let me see,' and he named the half-dozen hospitals of Gelton. The General must be a new one, or had changed its name.

‘Gelton General Hospital, sir.' The taxi pulled up with a jerk and Captain Fury stepped out. The gentle drizzle had now turned into fine rain.

‘How much?'

‘Three and three, sir.'

‘Here!'

‘Thank you, sir.'Night, sir.'

Desmond stood watching the taxi roll away into the darkness. And now he looked up at the tall building and a hundred lighted windows winked down at him. Somewhere behind one of those twinkling lights she lay. He said again: ‘Poor mother.' Then he looked higher, wondering if he had seen this hospital before. There was the tower, the big black-faced clock with its dull brass hands. There were the tall iron railings, the low sandstone wall. No! For the life of him he couldn't remember. Must indeed be new.

His hands gripped his belt. For some reason or other he looked right and left before he entered the gates. Then he walked quickly up the drive. He rang the bell and waited. The most uncomfortable feelings assailed him as the door opened and the beam of light picked him out, shining down on his uniform, showing up his powerful figure, his big and fleshy, though far from repulsive features. ‘Thank you,' he said and stepped inside. A horrible smell of disinfectant.

The porter asked him for particulars, gave a curt: ‘Thank you. Wait here, please,' and having seen the Captain seated, went off down the long corridor to vanish at length through a green swing door.

Desmond leaned his head against the wall, stared up at the clean white ceiling, the white walls—a white world. The silence of the place touched the heights of awe. The atmosphere made Captain Fury feel more uncomfortable than ever. He scraped his foot impatiently and a wave of hollow sound flooded the silence. He sat quiet, listening. How long would they be? Was it——? No, it wasn't! It couldn't be. He gripped his belt again. The flesh of the hand showed whiter.

When the swing door opened it revealed a nurse. She approached him on feet that seemed to make no sound at all. Captain Fury rose. He towered over the five foot two of the young nurse. He suddenly opened his mouth. He talked. He gave the nurse a number of particulars she enquired for. He asked countless questions. A mind into which was already stealing broken fragments of a past time, had suddenly become confused. He wondered how she looked. His mother. Poor mother. Was she … no … couldn't be—oh dear … Yes. He had sent her five shillings a week for a long time and a postal order for a pound during the week of the trial. But she had not written to thank him, for the simple reason that he wanted no thanks, and besides he had made it impossible by giving her no address to which to write. He had read the whole case. He had been there! Had been called as a witness. But he had always managed to avoid her. Was she lying still now? How? Where?

His mind became flooded by the very weight of these fragments. There followed only a mist. He thought of nothing. He simply followed the nurse, his eyes fastened upon those tiny fairy feet, the attraction of them a momentary relief. And he
was
fascinated by the way they skipped over the parquet flooring. Twice he had nearly slipped and she had turned, saying softly: ‘Ssh! Quiet please. Careful! Careful!' At that point Captain Fury had decided to remove his hat. He swung it in his hand.

They had passed through the green doors, and were now climbing white steps. He suddenly put out a hand and touched the nurse's shoulder. ‘Please,' he said. She turned and looked him full in the face. The eyes were full open upon her. Big eyes. The face was rather frightening to her, but the eyes were honest.

‘I'm rather frightened,' he stammered, and she knew this set the seal upon his honesty. He swung his hat more violently, pulled continuously at his belt.

‘Of what, sir?' she asked; and turning on her heel beckoned him on. There was something imperious, authoritative, something dignified, trusting and consoling in her very attitude. She heard him following. They stopped at a door. Was this it? His mother! He wondered, but it wasn't, and they ascended yet another flight of steps. At this height even the breathing sounded cavernous below. He stopped again. The nurse went on. He called to her in a low voice.

‘This way, please.'

Her voice was cold, impersonal. She ignored his frightened humanity. And then there came yet another white door. This was it. So it seemed to Desmond, for she had now put a hand on the brightly polished knob.

‘Is she—it's my mother! D'you think she——Was she … I … Is it——'

‘Quietly. This way, please.' She turned the knob, swung back the door, stepped aside for the Captain to enter. She stared down at the floor, looking at his big feet as he passed. A big man. Well, here big men were no better than little men. And captains no better than beggars. And fear no better than shame. Here all things were levelled and cries as well as laughs made the arches under which the hours, slow or swift, moved on like the waters of a river.

Desmond Fury looked down into a long dimly lit ward. At first sight it gave him the impression of a railway tunnel, but a very queer railway tunnel. There were long lines of beds on either side. And in the centre a great stove, tables, many flowers. Bare walls, excepting for the charts of patients, and over each bed the now extinguished lights under their cupped hoods. He looked up. Enormous height, and three lights glimmering down. The air alive with breathings. The very air itself seemed to have a voice, burdened as it was by these monotonous breaths. Then a hand touched his arm.

‘This way, please.'

When he looked down he saw that the first nurse had gone. This one looked like a sister, or was it the matron? They had gone about three yards down the ward, he on tiptoe and finding it difficult without making a deal of noise, the nurse in front with finger raised. It seemed the occupants of the ward were all asleep. She spoke softly to him.

‘Your mother is seriously ill. I think you should know.'

‘They told me on the'phone,' he said, and his words were leaden, falling so from a tongue that was now swelling inside his mouth. He felt it was choking him.

‘Seriously ill. I thought you had better know.' These words went round and round the Captain's mind. Poor mother! It
was
a long time since he had seen her. When he felt shame creeping over him like some repulsive unwanted skin, he balanced himself, he balanced the scales evenly by reflecting now that it was she who had made them, and not only made them, but driven them from her, and from each other! When at last the nurse stopped he saw, and realized at last.

The bed was screened. Captain Fury stopped dead. He looked at the nurse. Was he simply imagining all this? Was it the effects of all that wine? That high chatter, that … and then the same hand touched him again and the voice said: ‘This way. Very quietly.' She led him round the screen and at last he saw her.

‘Mother! Poor mother!' he said.

The nurse vanished He knelt down at the bed and looked into her face. When he placed his hands on the bed he realized something else.

His mother was strapped down to the bed. And in the far corner, almost half behind and half in front of the screen, a figure sat, head in hands, and was motionless But Captain Fury had not noticed. He saw nothing at this moment except the prone figure in the bed. The white face, the closed and sunken eyes, the slightly fallen chin, the fine nose, the lined forehead, the straggling unruly hair, now greying fast.

For a long time he looked into her face. Then he raised his hand to touch her cheek. She must be deeply asleep, he thought. ‘Oh poor, poor mother.'

Collapsed! Where? Where? How? He wanted to stroke her face. But suddenly he withdrew his hand as though the face were flame, for soft spoken words came round the screen and Captain Fury gave a little jump and looked up at once.

‘Don't touch, please!' the voice said.

Captain Fury rested his head on the sheets. So this was his mother. Strapped to the bed. He should have seen her more often. He should have done more. He should have tried to be——‘Good God!' he muttered under his breath. He touched her hand. He ran his finger up and down upon her fingers. Then he lowered his head. He really wanted to cry. He felt unutterably sad.

When he looked up again he stared not at the screen, not at his mother, but into the eyes of his father; for that silent huddled figure had sat up, had moved nearer to the bed. They looked at each other in silence. Captain Fury could not speak. Not across that figure in the bed. He rose to his feet, went round to the other side of the bed, gripped his father's hand.

‘Dad!' then he paused, ‘I'm so sorry.'

The man's hand hung loosely in his own. The hard gnarled hand he knew so well, the tattooed hand, the hand that had worked for them all, and sometimes cuffed. He said again: ‘Dad! I'm so sorry. I——'

‘Are you?'

A silence followed. Suddenly the nurse was speaking over the screen top. They must go now.

‘Yes,' she said, coming round to them, ‘you must go
now
.'

Desmond Fury did not move, did not hear. He just went on staring into his father's face. How white and drawn, how terribly, terribly old he looked. He saw the lips tremble, the hands, the clumsy hands pulling continuously and distractedly at the seams of his trousers, then pulling at his vest. Poor mother! Poor dad! And whilst he stared he wondered about the others. Had they been? Anthony? Was
he
home? Had Maureen been? And Mr. Kilkey? Perhaps. But did they know? Lord! How frail she looked in the bed. How sorry he was for his father! Peter would never know. Should he tell Sheila? Had his father told Aunt Brigid? Had there been a priest?

His mind rocked under the thoughts that tossed and sank and rose again and finally left him sick, bewildered, afraid and wondering. Wondering. Here it was staring him in the face. The end of things when all he had been thinking of this last hour or so had been the beginning, the hopes, the desires, the urging, compelling desire to leave Gelton! To finish with it for good. He had always hated it, hated it still! It was dreadful. This seeing her here, like that, and dad standing there helpless, afraid like himself. He turned and looked at her again. She lay quite still, breathing deeply. They had strapped her down. His mother! Helpless. Like that. Why …?

‘Please! You must go now. This way, please! You can come again any time. Or ring.'

That was final. And father and son went off down the ward and when they came to the door both looked back, and Captain Fury looked hard at the screen and the quietness about him, the loneliness and desolation of the place chilled him. The nurse was gone. They found themselves standing facing each other in the long cool corridor. A nurse passed. A door opened. A doctor came out, and passing quickly hardly glanced at them. A porter whistled somewhere in the depths. They both wondered why. The place seemed to grow around them, rise higher, spread out and out, until suddenly it was pressing upon them both, smothering them.

‘Come, Dad.'

Captain Fury put an arm through his father's. The old man said no word. Like a child he allowed himself to be led out of the hospital. When they got outside it was pouring rain. Desmond could feel his father trembling. ‘Hell!' he said to himself. ‘Hell! It's just rotten! Rotten! Lousy! Lousy!'

Where did his father live? In the same house, of course! By himself now. But he, Captain Fury, lived in Repton Park Road, and Sheila had gone on home and would be waiting for him. Should he take his father home? Should he go with
him
. Or——They must do something. Get Maureen. But Mr. Kilkey. Yes. He was the one. Dad could go there! Just the place. Mr. Fury all this time was staring up at his son. Not at his face, not into his eyes, but at his uniform, his belt, his leggings, his polished boots. And then to the son's surprise the old man took hold of his coat and felt the texture of it. Then he ran his hand down the cloth from shoulder to hip. The action amazed Desmond. He was trying to make up his mind too. But it was so funny to see his father doing this sort of thing. Mr. Fury gripped the belt, the brightly polished Sam Browne belt, and pulled at it, then suddenly let it go.

BOOK: Our Time Is Gone
4.69Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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