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.


8. Burgled

‘They’re making a picture in O Connell Street,’ Teresa announced with great excitement a few days later. She had just returned from the city with her pal Bridie Winters. The two girls were at the stage of ‘looking for fellas’ and had recently struck up a romantic friendship with one of the bus conductors on the 81 route from Sun Drive to O Connell Street. He repaid their affection with free bus journeys to and from the city centre. That day as they crossed O Connell’s bridge for the fourth time they spotted a man looking through the lens of a movie camera. The intention of the unknown cameraman might have been anything , but Teresa and Bridie decided there and then that he was involved in the production of a Hollywood spectacular, and it wouldn’t surprise them if Maureen O Hara was the star of the yet to be named movie. ‘Calm yourself down,’ Sarah cautioned the gushing Teresa, ‘ you’ll bring on an attack of your asthma.’ ‘But Ma they’re making a picture right here in Dublin we saw the camera and all!’ ‘On O Connell bridge,’ Bridie added in support of the local miracle. ‘I’ll probably be a picture about Ireland,’ Teresa came back, still hopeful of meeting Maureen O Hara. Despite herself Sarah became infected by the girls’ enthusiasm. It was not often that something interesting happened in their dull lives.  ‘Maybe they’ll be looking for extras,’ she speculated spotting a possible new source of money. The idea seemed a perfectly reasonable one to her and she went into the kitchen to peel the potatoes and consider the matter further.

Teresa and Bridie sat down to decide what they would say to Maureen O Hara if the opportunity ever presented itself. Should they address her as Miss O Hara or take the liberty of calling her Maureen? ‘What's extras?’ Josephine demanded looking up from her line of paper dolls spread out on the floor. ‘Is that what the paper boys call out?’ No it’s not stupid,’ Vincent admonished her, priding himself in his superior knowledge of the world, ‘it’s when you want the milkman to leave more milk.’ ‘Don’t be a dope, ‘ Bosco intervened using the Hollywood idiom he had learned from his many trips to the Tivoli cinema. ‘Extras are just ordinary people walking past in a picture. The get paid a few quid for doing it.’ ‘Well it’s milk as well, isn’t it Anthony? ’  Vincent defended himself. Anthony ignored the question and seemed more interested in the phenomenon of people being paid for the simple act of walking. ‘They pay you for just walking? ‘ he asked in a voice full of wonder, ‘Sure we could do that.’ ‘Why not?, Bosco declared as though it had been his idea all along, ‘It’s just ordinary people and sure we’re ordinary enough.’ Through a series of hopeful leaps the Flynn children elected themselves to be extras in Maureen O Hara’s new picture about Ireland. They could even see beyond the humble beginnings to bigger and better parts. It would mean having to change their names of course. Nobody would pay good money to watch someone called Bosco Flynn.

Sarah, who had a great sense of humour, came from the kitchen to enter their make believe world.  She assigned stage names to all of the children.  Teresa was to become Joan Gable, while the unfortunate Josephine was saddled with Anna Seequa. She burst into tears and demanded a more glamorous name. ‘I want to be Limpalong Casey‘, Anthony declared after some not very original thought. While Vincent saw himself as Johnny Taylor and Columba was turned into Robert Black without his knowledge or consent. Because of his greater  knowledge of the film world, Bosco elected himself as director and began to coach the new stars in the skills they would need on O Connell bridge. ‘The main thing is not to stare into the camera,’ he began his instruction, already seeing the megaphone in his hand, ‘look straight ahead all the time like you were just out walking.’ ‘Like this,’ he showed them and began to walk around like a person just out walking. Later that evening when darkness had fallen the children were still discussing their forthcoming movie careers. Anna Seequa had been killed off to be replaced by the glamorous Jean Fitzgerald.  To gain a distinct advantage on any would-be rivals they practised walking, individual walks and group walks.  They became serious ordinary people and smiling ordinary people.  Anyone viewing the scene without the necessary background information could not have been faulted for making a diagnosis of profound insanity.  As it turned out later there may well have been unseen eyes viewing the lunatic Flynn’s that evening, their strange behaviour not deterring the criminals from what they had in mind later that night. That night Vincent had the most peculiar and frightening experience he could recall.  It was around two or three in the morning when he awoke or rather regained partial consciousness.  Vincent found himself trapped in a disturbing state halfway between sleep and being awake. While he knew he was in his own bedroom and could make out its features, the scene he viewed was unreal.  For one thing the window wasn’t its usual size. It was tiny and much closer to his bed than it ought to be. As he looked at it the room began to move like a train leaving the station. Faster and faster it went making him dizzy. Ghostly images began to appear, whistling past the black pane of glass as the room careered towards some terrible destination. The speeding scene stopped as suddenly as it had started and Vincent became aware of something even more terrifying in the room. From the corner of his eye he saw a glow in the open doorway of the bedroom. He tried not to look but felt compelled to turn his eyes towards the dim light. His blood turned cold at the sight that confronted him. Framed in the open door way and standing sideways was the figure of an old woman. Her hair was pulled back in a tight bun and she was gazing into her cupped hands. It was from her hands that the light was coming, a white light that threw her unsmiling face into sharp relief. Ripple after ripple raced down Vincent’s spine as he stared mesmerised at the ghostly image. He tried to see if there was any more of the woman below the light but there was only inky blackness.  The old woman began to float silently towards the bed still gazing intently at the white light. Vincent snatched the bedclothes and pulled them over his face turning on his side away from the horrific sight. He lay under the clothes frozen with terror, and too petrified to move. He could feel the eyes of the old woman staring into his back and expected to feel a prod from her bony finger. Vincent’s lungs came close to bursting as he fought to remain perfectly still. After what seemed an eternity his fear subsided enough to allow him to pull the clothes from his face to breath. The apparition had departed but the chill of her presence still hung in the room. Vincent closed his eyes and gulped in deep breaths to restore his deprived lungs. He tried to decide if he had really seen the old woman with the light or if it had all been a bad dream. Vincent just could not decide, it had seemed so real to him. He was dismayed to discover he had an urgent need to visit the toilet. It was a need too pressing to allow him to go back to sleep and wait for morning. How could he muster the courage to get out of bed and pass the spot where she had stood? The threat of wetting the bed finally overcame his wish to remain under the safety of the bedclothes. Heart hammering Vincent found himself standing on the bare boards of the bedroom. He hurled himself towards the toilet at the top of the landing. The light in the toilet dispelled some of his fear but he continued to shake as he stood in front of the toilet bowl. To add to his misery Vincent found that his bladder refused to be hurried and seemed to be in protest at his recent denial of its emergency call. At the end of the painful process he heard a distinct noise followed by a deep voice from somewhere at the bottom of the dark staircase. Vincent knew that he was fully awake now and there was no mistaking what he had just heard. With the call of nature still incomplete he fled back to the bedroom leaving a trail of wetness in his panicked exit. Trembling once again he listened from beneath the bedclothes. there it was again. Someone was moving about down stairs. ‘Oh my God, don’t let them come up here!’cautious prods into Bosco’s back produced nothing better than a grunt of protest. Vincent had no other option but to sweat it out and pray that whoever was downstairs had no intention of hanging around. Eventually he fell  into a welcome sleep.

The sound that woke him the next morning was the shrieking of his mother from downstairs.  Vincent, Anthony and Bosco thundered down the stairs and into the kitchen where the unearthly noise was coming from. It was a scene of devastation. Their mother stood stupefied looking at the trail of muddy footprints marching across the kitchen floor and out the back door. Broken glass lay strewn underneath the window where the intruder had come in. Vincent tried to wake Bosco without advertising the fact that someone was awake upstairs.  Every cupboard had been ransacked, their contents lying everywhere. The back door was still lying open where they had made their exit. The happy scene of the previous evening had become one of confused misery. Mrs Flynn shook her head in silent dismay and bent down to pick up some broken glass The children followed her lead clearing the floor of dangerous debris.

Apart from Bosco’s welfare boots there didn’t seem to be anything of worth the intruders could have found. Sarah never had any money and she always kept her pension book with her even when she was sleeping. As she made a mental inventory of her few possessions she suddenly remembered the thick bundle of pawn tickets she kept in the press, always hopeful she might be able to redeem them some day. ‘The pawn tickets!,’ she exclaimed, ‘look for the pawn tickets.’ Everyone closed in on the table to search for the hidden assets. They lifted bits of paper and peered into containers. Two trawls of the assembled items heaped on the table turned up nothing and it was obvious the pawn tickets had been taken. The missing dockets represented the only items of any commercial value to the family.  When not required for the use they were intended for, the valuables could be used to raise cash. Sarah tired to remember the things she still had languishing in Goldstein’s.  There was the green two piece costume she had worn when she got married and every Sunday since. Josephine’s coat with the brown velvet collar bought with money she had borrowed from Mr Rubenstein. Mr Flynn’s three piece suit had followed the same path after his death and was waiting for Bosco to grow into it, and ‘Oh my God!’ Sarah remembered, ‘ Auntie Margaret’s twin set she left behind on her last visit and would be asking about on her next visit.’  She wondered if she went to Mr Goldstein if he would have a record of her transactions and give her duplicate tickets.Sarah recalled how her mother used to say that every cloud had a silver lining and as she looked out into the cold dark morning couldn’t see how this particular cloud might have one.  

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