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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2. Goodbye Sgt Flynn

   Vincent closed his eyes and remembered another cold December way back in 1949. Although he was only 10 years old at the time he could recall the events of that sad month with great clarity.  The chest pains his father suffered from were becoming more frequent and more severe. He would suddenly clutch at his chest and make the most frightening  noises as he suffered another attack. It was almost as if Vincent was back in that small terraced house in Clover Road in the south side of Dublin on the day his father walked out never to come back again.  

‘For Christ’s sake stop fussing woman,’ John Flynn scolded his wife, holding up an elbow to stop her coming near him, ‘I’ll be all right in a minute ........it’s just a touch of indigestion.’ He had little faith in the medical profession and stubbornly refused all Sarah’s attempts to get him to see a doctor. She stood looking helplessly at her husband and silently cursed his obstinate manner. John Flynn knew only too well that this was something more serious than indigestion, but still he refused to seek help. Her husband had been a sergeant in the Irish army. Both he and Sarah were from the north of Ireland, he from Donegal and she from Derry, but his military duties had seen him posted to Portobello Barracks in Dublin where the children had been born.

John Flynn was a stern humourless man and his marriage to Sarah had been loveless and a disaster from the outset. They seldom spoke to each other and when they did it was only to bicker about something. Vincent could recall the few occasions his father had ever seen fit to address him, and even on those rare moments he had chosen to speak in Irish. Vincent could almost smell the Guinness on his father’s breath and hear him put the familiar question, ‘Cad is ainm dhuit?’ and his obedient reply ‘Vincent is ainm damh’

‘Let me get the doctor for you Johnny,’ Sarah pleaded again. ‘just to be on the safe side.’ Vincent and Anthony, who were always together, hovered outside the living room looking in nervously. Their faces were white with fear as they viewed the scene of terror unfolding before them. Johnny opened his mouth to reply to his wife’s request when another attack turned his words into a scream. He clawed at the front of his immaculate blue shirt ripping open the buttons. ‘Oh dear Jesus,’ Sarah cried out rushing to stop her husband falling from the chair, ‘Somebody help me!’ The two boys rushed into the room to help their mother who was struggling to keep her husband from crashing to  the floor. 

Even now Vincent could recall his terror watching his father’s eyes roll in his head as he tugged to keep him upright in the chair. Sarah and her two sons somehow managed to restore Mister Flynn to a sitting position and he appeared to recover slightly from the attack. His colour reduced to a sickly grey and his breathing became laboured. Small beads of sweat broke on his top lip and forehead. Mrs Flynn had collected her wits sufficiently to take some action in the sudden crisis. Still holding her husband’s shirt she turned to Vincent and Anthony.

‘Vincent,’ she spoke in slow measured words so that he would not misunderstand her instruction, ‘ run as fast as you can down to Corrigan’s shop ....tell Mr Corrigan to phone for an ambulance to come to 370 Clover Road ...Do you understand ? ...370 Clover Road ...Tell him your father has took a heart attack and the ambulance has to come right away ...Do you hear me Vincent?  ..right away!’ At each juncture in his mother’s message Vincent nodded to indicate his complete understanding.

The tone of her voice conveyed to him the importance for speed and accuracy in carrying out her instructions. As Vincent and Anthony thundered out through the hallway and down the front path on their way to Corrigan’s shop, they saw Bosco across the street playing in Simpson’s garden. The boys did not stop but called out a brief summary of the terrible event to their older brother and then disappeared down the length of Clover Road.

Some twenty minutes later the whole Flynn family was gathered around their father in the sparse living room. The worst of the attack seemed to have passed and he was sitting up unsupported. Mrs Flynn kept going to the window to look for any sight of the ambulance and sighed each time she looked out on an empty street.

From his chair Mr Flynn looked at the worried faces of his  children. It was not a look that Vincent could ever remember seeing on his father’s face; a deep pensive expression as he scanned each young face. It was as though he was trying desperately to get to know and remember each of them before he had to leave. When his gaze fell on Vincent there was a small tear forming in the corner of his eye. Vincent had to look away, embarrassed at the unexpected show of affection. ‘Johnny the ambulance is coming,’ Sarah called from the window, and lifted the old brown suitcase to carry it into the hallway. He made a move to get up from his chair but was quickly rebuked by his wife.  ‘Don’t ...Don’t get up...they’ll bring a stretcher in for you.’ ‘I’m going in no bloody stretcher woman,’ he retorted in an angry voice, adding in a much softer one, ‘I’m not that bad.’ Sarah opened her mouth to reply but then thought the better of it when she saw the determined look on his sick face.

While she went to answer the ambulance men's urgent knock on the door, her husband called Josephine to bring him his hat and coat from the hall. With slow deliberation he struggled into the grey tweed coat he had bought on his discharge from the army, and walked slowly to the mirror above the fireplace to put on his brown trilby hat. Mr Flynn, a dark handsome man with deep set piercing eyes, had always been meticulous over his appearance and even now, took great care to ensure that his hat was at the correct angle. He adjusted it this way and that until he was satisfied with the result. In Vincent’s mind there was always something that disturbed him over his father’s last act before he walked out to the waiting ambulance never to return to his family. Even now he could not resolve the nagging feeling at the back of his mind as he relived that moment. It was like a puzzle with a piece missing and could never be put together.

Mr Flynn turned from the mirror to  face his waiting wife and children. He didn’t speak but just stood staring at them. They waited unsure how to act at this sudden and unexpected farewell. The front door was lying open and Vincent listened to the ambulance motor purring softly  in the street outside. He felt the icy draught blowing down the hall and into the living room. John Flynn reached into the pocket of his overcoat and took out a handful of copper coins. He walked first to Teresa, his eldest child, and gave her two of the coins, then bent and gave her a light kiss on her cheek. In turn he came to each of the children. Two coins and a kiss were given to each. No words were spoken during the farewell and whatever message was in his dark staring eyes remained unspoken for all time. John Flynn painfully made his way down the narrow hallway not bothering to turn and look back.  

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