My Father is the last one on the right, front row
“Steven’s Preparing To Leave” Part 2 (Tom in the morning) © Pierce Turner 2017
The seagulls began the new day with their usual tiffing over slop from the Dutch coal boats , they were my pre alarm. I was well used to their baying, they appeared to have little or no effect, other than to introduce the day, and prepare my ears for the official wake up call.
“Pee-arce!! It’s twenty a past eight”
I dreaded leaving my cosy bed for the cold linoleum floor. Ten minutes later my Mother called again, this time closer and softer over the rattling of delph on its way to the sitting room for Toms breakfast.
“PIERCE, this is my LAST time calling you mind” Her strong sinuous voice travelled like an arrow even when she was restrained, she was now only one floor away by the sitting room, the nearer she got, the more trouble I was in.
“That shop needs opening!!”
This one carried a warning tone with it. I opened the shop at nine, regardless of the fact that there were no customers until ten at the earliest. Sometimes the Band would have gigs hours away, and I wouldn’t get to bed until seven or so, it didn’t matter, I was expected to open the Record shop on time. My Mother didn’t fool around with this kind of stuff, her Father had been an entrepreneur, owning a Hotel and Bar on the South Main Street, apparently he was undisciplined about how he ran it, way too soft hearted with staff and the customers. The result was a well – loved man that ran his business into the ground because of unpaid credit, flexible time keeping and a one way till – the wrong way!
I never knew what was best to start with, once the pajamas were removed, the preferred thing would be to somehow put all my clothes on at once, but failing that impossibility, I usually went for the socks and underpants first, with the phrase “balls naked” always horrifying in the imagination; it was best to expel that image first. The under shirt, the shirt and the jumper will have stayed dressed within themselves on the chair, they would go on next with arms stretched high to avoid tearing. Shivering then with crocodile skin, the trousers and shoes got fitted while skipping towards the door in an effort to get away from that God forsaken ice box as quick as possible. Down that stairs I’d bolt two to three steps at a time, swinging around the bannisters, to the smell of heat and tea in the comfort of the brightly lit kitchen
My Mother was in the back Kitchen having brought the house to life.
“Good mornING” she exaggerated, glancing sideways with a glint of sarcasm”
I cut a large wedge off the Kelly’s Loaf and covered it with creamery butter, sat at the table with a cup of tea from the massive pot drawing on the Jubilee, a fair size wedge of sharp Wexford cheddar often sat in the centre of the table and the combination of a chunk of it sat upon the bread , washed down with the scalding hot tea was a very pleasing combination. My brother Paddy sat across from me having the same breakfast, we had little to say as we sat there in a pleasant enough daydream listening to the radio from the back kitchen. Normally we would have been out the night before playing in the Travellers, a semi professional band that we were in, but the gig had been cancelled because someone died at the Hall, so we were fresher than usual, he after his date, me after a good nights sleep. My Sister’s Breda and Bernie rushed around in their black cardigans and skirts putting on make-up in readiness for their shop assistance job at Healy and Collins, – one of Wexford’s large female clothing establishments. – And chatting about last nights dance. My Mother turned to me for assistance, being the youngest and in family employment.
“I’d say the heart is going crossway in Tom up there waiting for more tea, you might bring him a fresh pot Pierce will you?”
Tom sat at the good dining room table by the window, someone had pulled the lace curtains across so that he could have the view of the harbour, it wasn’t too sunny, a typical limbo day, not raining, not shining, but there was a Saturday bustle on the Quay, and looking down upon it from the second floor through the bay window entertained away the weather’s shortcomings. From there it felt like you could almost touch the cranes unloading coal while the Sailors shouted directives in Dutch, Tom was mesmerized. It was certainly not a dull view while eating breakfast. The Cat seemed to have taken to him too; she sat patiently by his feet watching what he watched. He had opted for boiled eggs and soldiers for breakfast, the cat was partial to boiled eggs and was hoping that Tom would read her mind and accommodate that pleasure, she was an expert at exerting pressure with inaction; she’d put Mahatma Gandhi to shame.
“Morning Tom, I’ve brought you a fresh pot of tea” He turned stiffly in my direction.
“Good man, thank you kindly”
He seemed quieter than the night before, maybe he wasn’t a morning person?
“Are you ok for everything now?”
(What? no “young man” or “good Sir.” Hmm!)
I took the empty teapot back to the kitchen where my Mother was voicing a complaint to me Da as he sat at the table eating his late Saturday breakfast, reading the Irish Independent.
“Well there was no mention of it last night, and none this morning either”
He crackled the paper and looked up from under his ill-fitting glasses – gripped to his head above his ears. He was studying form! He backed the horses on Saturday, was probably figuring out how to back three or four horses on a four shilling bet, a frugal weekend extravagance. He would often run me up to the bookie office with the ticket, a very complex cross plot, if the first horse won, the winnings would go on the second, if that horse won it would all go on to the third, and so on, the chances of them all co-operating with each other were slim. I don’t recall any big winnings. It really didn’t matter. He was working off whispered tips from his mates. The whole experience of it, win or lose, fed into their conversation during the post-Mass Sunday pint.
“Is that so? I mean to say, do he know the arrangement?” He said half annoyed.
“Yes he does, I told him when I showed him the room”
My Mother made a point of speaking properly, and my Father pointedly refused to, he was a Wexford man, an ordinary one, it was important to speak like that.
He crackled the paper again, tightened his cheeks and squinted out the kitchen window to the hall as if to send his appraisal all the way up to the sitting room. He didn’t like having strangers in his house; he had come from a quiet unadventurous family on the outskirts of Town, the polar opposite to my Mothers industries roots down here in the heart of the action. But he was protective of her dreams and schemes; no one was going to make a fool of her either.
Tom’s soft footsteps were heard descending the stairs at a steady deliberate pace, my Mother rose on her toes and leaned over to look towards the sound. There was never a dull moment with my Mother, I had thought she was so enamored with Tom, now all of that was history, his charming company, his beautiful strong but sensitive touch on the piano, his apparent classiness had all become fading speculation. Our lodger’s final review would be determined by his next move. My Father still held the paper like he was reading it, but was now in a state of readiness as he scrutinized the dark hall, still squinting. The main front door had been hooked open so that the sun could brighten the hall through the secondary glass doors. But the backlight made it only harder to see who was coming in or going out. He folded the paper as he walked, quickly turning the doorknob and dipped under the coalhole to the bottom of the stairs. He let himself be known with a perfunctory giggle as he smiled at Tom who was about to land on the ground floor.
“Ha-teh , g’morning to ye I say” At times like this my Father sounded like a highway man from Robin Hood with his antiquated terminology
“aye, up and at em for the hard day ahead, ha?”
Tom curtsied with a raised hat.
“Oh yes indeed, you must be the man of the house, thank you so much for your hospitality. Please give my gratitude to your good lady”
“Oh definitely, I’m sure she’ll be delighted, Gob a man, shur, I dare say you’ll be back this way again”
Tom’s grandeur of action and speech was starting to affect me Da now too. He was opening his mouth more and broadening his words to their proper width: agAIN instead of the more Wexford, ag-IN.
“If I am, I will certainly make sure to avail of your wonderful hospitality once more”
Steadily walking towards the street he was now pressing down the handle of the glass door with one hand while he gripped his small leather suitcase with the other. My Father close behind with his glasses in one hand and paper under his arm.
“What’s this I was goING to say boss, are you okay about the tally?”
My mother and I were now standing with the kitchen door open, mouths agape, wondering how me Da was going to deal with this one, knowing that he was uncomfortable with language at the best of time, now he was talking to a master of the tongue, how long would he beat around the bush for?
“The tally? Yes everything should be in order I believe”
“Well, the Missus, that’s Mrs. Turner, siz dere’s some class of arrears to be settled”
Now me Da had abandoned the nervous giggle, aware that there was some urgency, yer man was nearly out the door!
“Oh of course, would you like my address so that you can forward me an invoice?”
“What’s this I was go-ing to say, it’d be nearly as easy to fix it up now, I suppose, ye know yerself. As they say, a bird in the hand is as good as two in the bush”
“will! The gineral policy as far I know, is to pay up before ye leave the primises like, ye know what I mean to say?”
He had gone around the bush now and was on the other side, had stopped smiling and was making it clear that this was no nonsense. Suddenly Tom seemed aware that me Da, in spite of his humility and verbal insecurity was relentless in pursuit of seeing things right. Me Da was a man of his word and usually left others to their own devices, but he wasn’t too keen on injustice, or bullshitters. Although he wasn’t easily goaded into violence, it was clear that he would be a formidable foe.
“Oh of course, dearie me, I am so sorry for the misunderstanding, what is the damage then Sir?”
‘As far as I know it’s twenty one shillins all togedder”
Tom put down the case and pulled two notes and a shilling coin from his pocket, the exact amount had been in the ready there. He counted it into my Fathers hand, shoving the crumpled money into his pocket my Father offered his hand.
“Thanks very much so boss, sure safe travels, wherever you’re off to”
Once that unpleasantness was put to one side, me Da’s soft side surfaced, he pushed his hands through his tussled Saturday hair and held his elbow high for a moment while he appeared to empathise, wondering perhaps about Tom’s destination.
“Yes indeed”said Tom
“Wherever I’m off to?”
I still wasn’t sure where he was going, his accent was not from around our area, his case was so small it suggested expediency; I had so many questions for him, but we had been so overwhelmed with the pleasure of his inquisitiveness, our curiosity had been blanked into resignation. Now we would never know, and although annoyed that he tried to skip out without paying, it seemed wrong to think of him as bad, I had a feeling that I would be a fool for his ilk for the rest of my life. And that life needed him.