HER television viewing was pretty straightforward these days, Loose Women, Murder She Wrote and then Deal or No Deal.
It was the gap between saying goodbye to Deal or No Deal host Noel Edmonds and the evening news that wasn’t so easy to fill. She wasn’t one for quizzes, never needed much brains to be a dinner lady.
Bridie, grey-haired and tiny, dressed in the navy blue cardie and plain green dress that she’d bought from Primark eight years ago, lifted her withered frame out of the comfy armchair and stretched down to pick up the Radio Times from the newspaper rack below the TV with its bulbous rear end that Sean’s youngest Siobhan described as ‘so last year nana’.
As she slumped back into the chair, Bridie muttered: ‘See Jack, didn’t need the walking stick.’
But Jack wasn’t around any more, he died 10 years ago and Bridie’s two sons, Sean and Ryan, lived miles away with their families in smart semi-detached homes with central heating, garage and precise patios. How proud she was of them.
Bridie desperately missed her sons but would never let them know that, they had their own lives to live now, their own families to nurture, just like she and Jack had done.
Bridie knew that talking to yourself wasn’t the done thing but she had no choice, especially after her budgie Cyril keeled over and dropped dead last Christmas Day, half way through the Queen’s Message.
In a corner of the compact living room of the warden controlled bungalow was a glass-fronted cabinet, populated by souvenirs from places she had never visited but the boys had – a plate from Palma Nova, mug from Benidorm, glassware from Ibiza. Treasured items and treasured memories of when they popped in to see her on their return, sun-tanned, relaxed and full of tales of beaches, bars and beauties.
The family used to live near to Birmingham Airport where Bridie’s husband had worked for 35 years but she was always too scared to fly despite Jack’s badgering. So they used to go back to Ireland every year by train to Holyhead and then ferry to Dun Laoghaire. But not any more, not without Jack.
Three years ago, Bridie had been persuaded to move into the bungalow as mobility became more and more of a problem for her. It was for the best, the boys had said, but it meant they were even further away from her.
She let the Radio Times flop onto her knee and her eyes wandered down to below the cabinet and a dust-covered Dansette Minor record player with its bright red lid. They’d bought it for Ryan after he’d come home one day with a copy of Frank Ifield’s I Remember You. She liked Frank Ifield, always used to sing his songs when she cooked stew for Jack and the boys, and what a handsome man he was.
‘It’s Number One in the charts mum,’ Ryan had said excitedly. Funny how she could remember the name of a record from all those years ago yet needed the days of the week marked out to remind her when to take her tablets.
Just one record left in her possession now, a Dubliners LP which Bridie had won in an Irish Centre raffle. Long while since it had been played but now the time was right.
Her knees screamed ‘no’ as Bridie bent down to wipe the dust off the ancient record player. Arthritic fingers squealed as she took the vinyl out of its cover and placed the spindle through the centre.
There was only one track she wanted to hear. ‘Shush Jack, cover your ears now,’ whispered Bridie as she gingerly swung the arm across and dropped the needle down.
Gently closing her eyes, Bridie took in a deep breath and as she did the sound of her chest rattling disturbed the peaceful silence of the room.
She could almost taste the fresh, morning Galway air and there he was, Rory, big beautiful Rory, so full of life and with a voice to match.
Oh what a vision, her first love, well over six foot tall, with broad shoulders, neck like an ox, fiery red hair and the widest, cheekiest grin in the whole of Ireland, leaning on the sturdy stone wall next to Charlie O’Hagan’s rutted field where the village staged its hurling matches, serenading her with his favourite song.
The evening sun suddenly sprang into life, invading the room and lighting up Bridie’s face as she sung along quietly:
‘Ah Rory, you were a charmer my lad, too charming by half,’ chuckled Bridie.
For a moment, a pin prick of a moment in her long life, she pondered over what might have happened to Rory – was he still alive, did her remember her?
Then the sun disappeared as fast as it had come and the room darkened as rain clouds muscled in high above.
‘Time to go now Rory, bye my love, Jack’s calling,’ said Bridie, her words barely audible as the rattle in her chest got louder.
Bridie smiled, a final, contented smile and then her eyes shot wide open.
© Patrick O’Connor 2011