Reflections on a Dublin Funeral
By Jack Connor.
They both listen intently in the half-light at the foot of the stairs, holding their breadth and straining their ears. On the upstairs landing, a roar of a cry is let out from behind a bedroom door.
“Oh God take me! Sweet Jesus take me now”
I sit in the kitchen half afraid to move. I see their shadows through the mottled pane of glass that makes up the upper half of the kitchen door and hear their whispers. I dare not go out to them, though I am paining with curiosity. Finally, I think of an excuse. I tip toe cautiously from the chair on which I have been sitting, fidgeting for a half hour, cross the room and easing down on the creaking door handle, which only serves to break their concentration and begin to open the door ever so slowly. I barely have the door open when it’s pushed in on me by my mother who ushers me back into the room. “I told you to stay in the kitchen”, she snaps. “Sit there (pointing at the chair I was previously glued to) and be still. You’ll only upset your father”. With that, my father comes into the kitchen with a hung drawn look about him. “He’s quiet now”, he says, as if some peace had finally come with the night. Sitting down at the kitchen table he stairs at his empty tea cup muttering in a lowly voice; “Is there any more tea in the pot?” but my mother is already standing over him about to fill it up.
My mother’s attendance to him in this way is instinctive. She always pre-empts his need for tea, like keeping an eye on an oil gauge so that the machine runs efficiently delivering the tasks it was designed for once fuelled with tea. Even when he is doing odd jobs around the house, come mid-morning or mid-afternoon, the tea arrives. Even when he's on his feet all day working as a barber, the flask of tea (sugared and milked) is provided to get him through the day. But it will take a lot more than tea to settle him this time. His gaze now seams to peer into a place only he knows, perhaps to an event in the distant past when he was my age and going through the same experience. His hand covers his mouth as he gently moves it to and fro across his lips leaning his elbow on the table. His mannerisms reinforce the tension in the room. Only the sound of the tea pouring into the cup is heard; the clinking of the spoon after delivering the sugar followed by the dollop of milk, a consistent ritual at every meal.
Even at such a young age, one knows instinctively when to keep silent, a feat of enormous restraint for the hyper active child that I am. He lights a cigarette and sits back into the chair yearning to relax but no sooner has he secured a position of apparent comfort than he leans forward again, leaning his elbows on the table and cupping his hand over his mouth as he inhaling deeply into the cigarette. There is no respite for him here tonight. He is troubled, distressed, forlorn and tense.
“I’ll go up to him now so”, says my mother having filled a hot water bottle and wrapped it in an old cardigan. With a stern glance directed at me she commands; “Bed time for you”, knowing there will be no protest this night. She switches on the light at the foot of the landing and I clamber up the half lit stairs in front of her towards the top landing and the roaring bedroom. “Shush! Go easy!” she says, as I miss a step and stumble with a thud. As we near the landing above, the light bulb brightens, flickers and dies suddenly and we are left in the dark. With that, another roar of a cry is let out from behind the bed room door and I nearly jump out of my skin.
“Go on now, don’t be silly” she says scolding me, as I clutch at her skirt. “Go on now quickly, into bed with you, I’ll be in to you in a minute”. Reluctantly, I release my hold on her skirt and turn the corner of the stairs on the landing, dashing off to the end of the corridor to my bedroom while she makes directly for the roaring door. As I enter the bedroom, I feel for and find the light switch...
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