Geese And Swans

Entry by: Tauren

14th April 2017
There`s a lough a stroll away from my house, at least it was before the accident. Now with my left leg two inches shorter than my right it is more of a hobbling trek. “The accident” as the police insist on calling it, happened last May. I`m a runner, or I used to be. Not for a living you understand, I was an architect; nobody you`d have heard of, I never designed anything famous, one off houses mostly, but it was a good living. I say all that in the past tense, because since “the accident” I`m getting by on a disability pension, but back to running.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning, cool, only a slight breeze, and I was on the last mile of an eighteen miler when a car coming towards me accelerated, swerved hard left onto the footpath and hit me head on. Perhaps if I hadn’t been so tired I might have been able to leap out of the way, who knows. What I can tell you with absolute certainty was the look on the drivers face just before the car hit me, what I saw was rage; rage and intent.

The police say that there is no way a seventy two year old retired accountant would have deliberately driven into me like that, that he`d told them he`d blacked out momentarily, that he didn’t even remember “the accident,” but I know better.

I remember everything right up to the point I landed on the concrete face first. I remember the pain, so suddenly awful, the sound of my bones snapping, first my left leg, then my right, in such rapid succession that it sounded like a god had stepped on a patch of dried twigs. The sensation of being flung backwards, my arms flailing as I spun, the ground rushing up to meet me….. then blissful nothingness.

I won’t bore you with recounting the many surgeries, or the long hours of physiotherapy; people who think dentists are sadists should spend an hour or two with Mercy, (he laughingly swore it was his given name) my physio. A six foot two Nigerian, who`d move here in the noughties, and discovered he`d an aptitude for hurting people…..legally.

I`m too ashamed to recount the names I called him, as he stretched and bent muscles and limbs that had no intention of co-operating. If you`d asked me before we`d met, I would have insisted I was no racist, but excruciating pain it seems, brings out our basest natures.
He`d laugh at each curse I flung at him. “Go on,” he`d say, in that distinct lyrical accent of his, as he flexed my left leg until the calf touched the thigh, “Call me a black bastard again Jack,” grinning as he said it.

Through all the surgeries and the rehab, Susan was there, holding my hand, encouraging me, pushing me to get well. And when I did, when I could finally walk from one end of the hall to the other unaided, she left me, said she`d only stuck around long enough to see me on my feet, but that she hadn’t signed up for a life with a cripple.

So now I hobble to the lough each day around twelve, ease myself slowly onto what I like to call, “my bench” and watch the world go by.

The lough is man-made, the path that circumnavigates it a full mile, and at its centre a small island, maybe thirty feet across, overgrown with small bushes, the nesting place of the swans.
There are eighteen in total, they swim serenely to and fro, all perfect white poise and majesty; overfed by the kids that chuck bread at them as they sail by.

The day the geese arrived, announcing their presence with loud honks as they touched down, was the day I first met Eileen, and the day of the battle royale.

The swans, most of whom had been on the lough`s small slipway, incensed by these invaders charged into the water, braying and flapping their wings. A woman I didn’t recognise, stopping in front of me to watch, blocking my view.

“Excuse me,” I had to shout to be heard over the noise of the birds. She turned, “Do you mind,” I said, waving at her to move aside, then realising how rude I was being said, “you can sit here if you like?” patting the empty seat beside me, and was surprised when she took me up on my offer.

I have always sat alone, not out of choice, but because other people avoid me. When you look like one of doctor Frankenstein’s rejects, people tend to steer clear. When I connected with the footpath face first, most of the skin on the right side of my face was torn away. They reconstructed what they could, grafting skin from my nether regions; which in one way is quite handy, I haven’t had to shave that side of my face since. However after seven o`clock in the evening, when one side of my face is smooth and the other stubbled, I tend to look a bit like a before and after picture in a shaving commercial.

The battle lasted for maybe fifteen minutes, the geese winning by dint of superior numbers, the swans retiring to their island to lick their very real wounds.

“I`m Eileen,” she said, thrusting out a hand, I shook it in surprise, “Jack,” I managed.

It turned out she was a nurse, home from Australia, her mother was in Marymount, where she`d been for the last five weeks.

“Sorry to hear that,” I said, “Cancer?”

She nodded, “Started in the lung, but now it`s everywhere.”

There are questions you simply cannot ask, “How long has your mother got?” is very high on the list. She solved my dilemma by saying, “She probably won`t last the week.”

Eileen was staying in her mother`s house, one of the row that faced onto the lough, “I grew up there,” she said, pointing it out to me, “Dad used to love the garden…” she faltered into silence.

“My parents died in the old Marymount,” I said, desperate to fill the void, “I hear the new place is very high tech?”

“Oh yeah, they have everything,” she glanced at her watch, “I`d better get back, she`ll be awake soon,” and stood abruptly.

“Well,” I said, “I`m here every day, if you want to talk?” she nodded, thanked me and walked away. I thought, well I`ll never see her again, but I was wrong.

She was already there the next day, sitting on my bench as I hobbled up at twelve thirty. Turned out, most days her mother slept between eleven and two, giving Eileen a break from her vigil.

“How`s your mother?” I asked, as I eased myself onto the bench beside her.

She shrugged, “A little worse.”

“They got her on the box yet?”

“Box?” she asked, her brows knitting into a puzzled frown.

“Sorry; local slang for the morphine pump,” I grinned in spite of the seriousness of the conversation.

“No,” she said, “Just on the drip; and liquid Oxy for the breakthrough pain.”

I was more than familiar with Oxycontin, or hillbilly heroin as they call it in the states. “That shits pretty powerful,” I said.

She shrugged, “keeps the pain at bay, though she`s having these weird hallucinations. She swore that dad had visited her last night, that they`d had one hell of a…….” she trailed off, realising she was perhaps saying too much.

I grinned, “I used to have some pretty wild fantasies myself,” I said.

And that’s how it went, for the next three days we`d sit on the bench and trade life stories. I told her about my accident and how Susan left me, which elicited a “Bitch,” from Eileen.

She told me about her family in Brisbane, her kids Josh and Katy, and of course her husband Nick. She`d talk him up, what a good father he was, how hard working he was, but everytime he cropped up she`d worry her wedding ring, twisting it round and round on her finger, I don’t think he was aware she was doing it.

On an impulse, or maybe it was a premonition, I don’t know, I don’t believe in that stuff, I gave her my mobile number, “In case you need……” I couldn’t think what on earth she`d need from a cripple like me, so I left the sentence unfinished.

In the early hours of the following morning my phone burred into life. Still half asleep I groped for it, glanced at the unfamiliar number and swiped to answer, “Hello?” I croaked, the clock read 5:03.


I snapped awake, “Eileen, is everything alright?”

“It`s mum…. She…..I….”

“I`ll be right there,” I said, rolling out of bed, stifling the groan that threatened to erupt from my throat as pain flared from my left hip.

“Oh Jack I…..”

“It`s okay,” I assured her, “I`m on my way.”

Whilst I waited for the taxi I made a cappuccino, I don’t drink them myself, there were some sachets left over from when Susan used to live here. I threw the concoction into a travel mug, added three spoons of sugar, and made it to the front door just as the taxi drew up.

The new hospice was a steel and glass wonder, with none of the charm and warmth of its predecessor. “Hegarty?” I asked the receptionist, and was directed to the first floor.

The room was low lit and had the familiar smell of death, if you`ve ever been there you know what it is; like mothballs, only sharper, with an underlying musky smell.

The woman in the bed was a cadaverous mirror of Eileen, who was bedside, holding her mother`s hand, she looked like she had been crying recently, she ignored the proffered mug so I pulled up a chair and sat beside her.

It`s strange how easily you fall into the familiar rituals, counting the seconds between breaths. Five seconds becomes eight, eight becomes twelve, twelve becomes fifteen. At twenty five I stopped counting, surprised to find my face wet with tears, rubbing Eileen`s back as she sobbed.

I desperately wanted to blow my nose, but a memory of my father’s death; the shriek my mother let out when he`d taken his last breath, startling him, if only briefly, back to life, stayed me.

The rosary and removal were the following night and a blur; the funeral on Friday, a perfectly miserable overcast day, and with no-one to hoist the coffin, that chore fell to the undertakers.

Afterwards, back at her mother`s house, what few friends she had bid their goodbyes before seven, and we were alone.

“Take me home Jack,” she said.

Confused, I said, “But you are home.”

“Your home,” she said.

She led me to my own bedroom, helped me undress and climbed into bed beside me. I`d like to tell you it was a mad passionate night, but in truth we were more like fumbling virginal teenagers. After it was done, she rested her head on my chest and wept, and I was too much a coward to ask her why.

The following morning I awoke alone, the clock read 7:18.

By the time I reached her mother`s house she was gone, gone back to her family and Nick. I limped over to my bench and slumped there, and realised the geese had likewise flown.

That was five days ago. I would have done this sooner, but I was nearly out of pills, sorry about that. I posted a letter to my G.P. but you already know that; I hope I`m not too ripe.

Tell Susan I`m sorry, tell her to forgive herself, I already have. Tell her there simply isn’t enough sunshine in my world anymore.

Jack O`Sullivan