Where Old Ghosts Meet

Growing up in the poverty of 1940s Dublin 10 Year old Danny Flynn relates the roller coaster events of his childhood as his mother tries to hold her family of 6 children together in the face of overwhelming odds.

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14. Poor Jessie

When the Flynn’s got back to Clover Road four days later, the Gibraltar cake had petrified and Sarah was feeling very homesick for her beloved Derry.  She and Margaret had spent long happy hours recalling their childhood in the Maiden City, while the children ran free in the green fields of County Kildare and had a hot dinner every day.  It made Dublin seem a much blacker and bleaker place for all of them now.  At least there was no sign of Mrs McEniff and her fellow legionnaires and the Donore Avenue incident had ceased to be of  local interest. On the way to the bus back to Dublin Margaret had slipped £5 to Sarah so that Uncle Dan would not see. ‘It’ll keep you going till you get your allowance,’ she whispered to her sister as she gave her a hug.

The house was very chilly after their absence and Bosco was immediately sent to Pender’s for a stone of coal, a bundle of sticks and the inevitable 20 Woodbines. While she waited for him to return, Sarah scrunched up the Ireland’s Own which was still sitting on the kitchen table and placed it in the empty grate of the fireplace. She then had what she thought was a magnificent idea. She rummaged under the stairs till she unearthed her tin of Brasso and poured a liberal dose all over the crumpled Ireland’s Own magazine.  ‘That should get the fire going in a hurry,’ Sarah muttered to herself screwing the lid back on the tin of metal polish. Bosco came puffing in with the stone of coal in a metal bucket and plonked it down with a clatter on the hearth. ‘Coal’s up a penny a stone,’ he informed his mother as he handed over the sticks and the green packet of cigarettes, ‘Here’s your change Ma - I’m away out.’ Sarah took the money and put it into the pocket of her blue tattered apron, then set about placing the sticks on the impregnated paper in the grate. Five lumps of coal, chosen for their symmetrical shape, were placed carefully on top of the sticks. Vincent and Anthony were sitting at the table trying to imitate the strange Kildare accent they’d heard from their cousins in the Curragh. ‘I’ll battle ye so,’ Vincent tried a phrase much favoured by his cousin Brian, who always seemed ready for a fight. ‘And I’ll battle ye too,’ Anthony added in an equally unconvincing  accent.

The boys had felt a bit wary of Brian ever since hearing about him cutting the cat’s head off with an axe when he was only four years old. Even when Uncle Dan had tried to discipline him for the offence, Brian showed a complete disregard for his authority. ‘Big shite, big belly, big buggar,’ the four year old had shouted back at his father and then ran away to hide for several hours.  When Uncle Dan finally got hold of him he paid dearly for his rebellious words and was immediately cured of his curiosity as to how a cat might function without it’s head.

‘Come on over and see this wains,’ Sarah called to the two boys as she knelt in front of the fireplace with a box of matches in her hand about to ignite the paper, ‘watch what happens when I light the fire.’ Fire held a fascination for all young boys and Vincent and Anthony were no exceptions. They     stood just behind Sarah waiting to see what magic their mother was about to conjure up.  Sarah was expecting a fairly rapid ignition of the materials in the grate but she got a lot more than she bargained for. The lighted match had barely touched the Brasso-soaked paper when a sheet of blue flame whooshed fiercely against her face, removing her eyebrows and a sizable area of her front hair. The loud shriek brought Teresa and Josephine running in from the back garden where they had been skipping. Surprisingly she suffered no other injury but her pride had taken a bit of a blow.   Sarah knelt there feeling a growing mixture of anger and stupidity. But rather than take the blame for her own foolishness she preferred to blame Mrs Hennessy instead for praying prayers on her in revenge for their recent altercation. ‘That aul bitch next door must have put a curse on me,’ she fumed and struggled to her feet.  The children stood open mouthed, not knowing what to do. Sarah looked into the mirror above the fireplace and was horrified at the half bald woman with the flushed face who looked back at her. ‘What are yous all gawping at?’ she shouted angrily at the four astonished children around her, ‘Go on clear off outside and play yourselves.’

Vincent and Anthony decided it might be wiser to let things to settle a while before facing their enraged mother again and sat on the wall outside discussing where they might go. Anthony suggested a walk to Harold’s Cross park.  There might be game of cowboys and Indians going on and it would lift their drooping spirits at being back in bleak Dublin after the excitement of running the open fields of the Curragh. They sat for a few minutes watching the driver of an 81 bus to O Connell Street changing the destination sign of his bus with a small winder just above his windscreen.  The bus was empty except for an old woman who glared down at the two boys from the upper deck. Anthony stuck his tongue out at her and was rewarded with a knock of her bony fist on the glass and the words ‘Cheeky scut‘.  Jessie Lynch came out of her house eating a piece of bread and waved over to Vincent. She was wearing her usual green snot. Vincent pretended not to see her and hoped she wouldn’t come over to them. They waited till Jessie was some way down the road before getting down from the wall and proceeding with their journey. At the same time the driver of the 81 climbed back into his cab and drove off.

 

They had almost reached Sally’s bridge when they heard the loud screech of brakes and saw the green double-decker bus suddenly swerve across Clover Street. It crashed violently into a garden wall sending broken brick and glass skittering across the road and footpath. Like the other bystanders, Vincent and Anthony rushed to the scene of the crash. They pushed their way through the growing circle of on lookers for a better view.    The bus driver had come through the windscreen and was lying unconscious in the garden of the house, blood pouring from his head. It wasn’t for a few minutes that Vincent noticed the little girl lying in the road. Even though she had her back to them he recognised Jessie’s green patched cardigan and pink dress.  The piece of bread she had been eating was lying a few feet away from her. Jessie wasn’t moving ‘It’s Jessie Lynch Anthony,’ Vincent said in a voice that seemed to belong to someone else. Anthony didn’t reply but just kept staring at the small figure in the road.  

 

An elderly woman walked over to Jessie and put her coat over her.  She bent over, blessed herself and whispered something into the ear of the injured girl. A few minutes later the siren of an ambulance could be heard approaching from the direction of South Circular Road, and almost at the same time a large uniformed Garda officer appeared and began to move the onlookers to make a path for the vehicle. ‘Come on now - move back - make way for the ambulance. Move away now - move away.’ The crowd melted back to make a passageway for the ambulance which screeched to a halt a few yards from where Jessie and the bus driver lay.  Vincent watched as one of the ambulance men ran into the garden and knelt down beside the bus driver.  He looked back towards his colleagues and shook his head. Despite his young age, Vincent knew instinctively that the man in the garden was dead.  Jessie was lifted gently by two ambulance men onto a stretcher and carried to the waiting ambulance. ‘Come on Anthony let’s go home and tell our Ma what happened.’ Vincent said almost in tears and took Anthony by the arm back to the house. At eight o clock that evening news that Jessie had died in hospital reached the street and people wept openly. Jessie had been a feature of Clover Road ever since Vincent could remember. She was always there, mostly on her own, and caused no offence to anyone.  Teresa and Josephine, when they wanted to annoy him, ragged Vincent about being in love with Jessie. While Jessie could be a bit of a pest at times Vincent couldn’t imagine Clover Road without her and felt a real and deep sense of loss, even more than when his father died. He wanted to cry and tell someone how he felt, but Jessie wasn’t part of his family and he believed he had no right to be grieving for her.

 

The following morning at eleven o clock Jessie’s remains were brought home to Clover Road.  The whole street stood outside their houses to see the little white coffin being taken from the hearse and carried into her house. Her mother and father looked stupefied as they walked slowly up the path behind their little girl’s remains.  The street was deeply silent, nobody spoke, no traffic passed, no children played. The only sound was the footsteps of Jessie’s family filing into the house behind her coffin. Vincent looked at the curtains drawn as a mark of respect in every house in the street. The Flynn’s and the Hennessey's stood together outside their houses in an uneasy and unspoken truce. It was Teresa who suggested that they should go over to the Lynch’s as a family to pay    their respects and to see little Jessie for the last time.  They waited till three in the afternoon before walking across the road and knocking on the door of the wake house. After a few minutes a red eyed Mrs Lynch came to the door and invited them in with a nod of her head. ‘Sorry for your trouble,’ Sarah said on behalf of all of them and waited to be shown into the room where Jessie had been laid out.  The Flynn’s filed past the small open coffin, each spending a few moments in silent reflection before moving to one of the empty chairs placed around the room and given a cup of tea. Vincent was the fourth in line and when his turn came, stood and looked down at poor Jessie.  He hardly recognised the clean face. Gone was Jessie’s trademark green snot and her red hair had been brushed till it shone like gold.  Her eyes were closed, hiding forever her terrible squint. She was dressed in a dark brown shroud and clutched a small blue rosary in her white hands. Vincent fought to hold back the tears welling up inside him.   He pretended to clear his throat and walked away to let Anthony take his turn at the coffin.  

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