By Patrick WIllis
One night, a throw-away remark in a pub sparks a violent reaction
Daniel Murphy was one of the quietest men in the local neighbourhood of Loughenmore. He was sociable enough but rarely voiced his opinions, choosing instead to just sit quietly listening to all that was being said. That was the way he had always been and the way it seemed that he would always remain seeing as he had just passed seventy years of age.
He reckoned that sometimes people say very hurtful things when they speak without thought and he had no desire to harm anyone. He was sure most of their harmful jibes were meant with no malice, but Daniel believed that you never really knew what some people were suffering and you never could be sure what harm you could do to someone’s self esteem without meaning to.
He knew full well that some folks thought that he was an oddball for having nothing to say but Daniel had long since stopped concerning himself about what others thought of him. When pushed by his brother, John, on how he was so unconcerned about this, he always gave the same answer.
“Sure, it’s none of my business what others are thinking,” he would say, before going back to his pipe smoking.
Daniel looked relatively youthful for his years. He had always kept himself well groomed and even following the tragic death of his wife, Joan, seven years before in a car accident, he had maintained this dignified approach to life.
Now, he sat in his little front room reflecting back on yesterday. It had been a normal day with the usual few chores then out to get a bite to eat and a drop into McGinty’s bar for a pint or two before he would go home.
This is where he would meet up with the usual set of well meaning, but highly opinionated, men.
Sean Donnelly was the most vociferous, followed closely by Marty McStay. The rest would input little bits here and there whilst Daniel remained silent, enjoying his pint and occasionally glancing up at the television set behind the bar.
At first, it had been the usual chatter about the hurling and football matches, and then it had moved on to the Formula 1 motor racing.
Daniel wasn’t much of a sports fan so, even if he had wanted to, there was not much he could offer in the way of conversation on these topics.
Things were ticking along nicely until Sean Donnelly had offered up his opinions on drink driving law changes which were coming in to force very soon. Of course, Sean had to be heard as was his normal behaviour.
“You’d think them gardaí boys would have more to do with their time than chase after a man who has had a few drinks of a night,” he said loudly, “there’s plenty going on around Dublin that they should be sorting,” he continued.
As was the usual case, most of the men nodded in agreement.
“You’re right there Sean,” Marty McStay added.
Suddenly, Daniel rose from his bar stool. The men looked in astonishment as he headed towards Sean Donnelly and drawing his fist he had knocked Sean flying across the floor.
“You’ve no idea what you are talking about,” he spat out with real venom towards Sean Donnelly, who was looking totally bewildered.
“You and your big mouth, never know when to keep it shut, that’s your trouble Donnelly,” Daniel had shouted.
There was a moment of silence in the bar room as the men gathered there tried to work out what they had just witnessed. It was Paul Flynn, the bar owner who broke the silence.
“Sorry Daniel, but I have no choice but to bar your from here,” he said.
Daniel glared at him, his face still red from the anger that was burning inside him.
“It’s just a pity that you didn’t bar Joey Wilkinson from your bar before he smashed his car in to my Joan and him full of your drink,” he roared at Paul before grabbing his jacket and exiting the bar.
Daniel had made his way home, the tears stinging his eyes as he walked and once inside he had locked all the doors and sat silently weeping for his dead wife.
He had seen Paul Flynn approach his door and knock but he had decided to ignore the rapping at the door. Paul had opened the letter box and called out for Daniel asking him to allow him in for a minute. Daniel had no intention of speaking with Paul Flynn or any of the other men for the foreseeable future so he had sat there and said nothing.
Paul had persisted with his conversation through the letter box.
“Sean Donnelly told me to say he was sorry,” he called out.
“There was no harm meant. He just never thought of what he was saying,” Paul continued.
Daniel had refused to engage in conversation and never budged from his position on the settee.
He knew it was probably true that Sean had not thought about it, but that in itself was part of the problem for him. It was as though Joan wasn’t important enough for others to realise that she still mattered.
Daniel had lain awake through the small hours turning over and over in his mind how people could be so totally insensitive.
As morning had dawned, Daniel had picked himself up from the settee where he had spent the entire night and made himself some breakfast. He had found that he really had not much of an appetite and settled for the two small rounds of wholemeal toast and gave the porridge a bye. He had spent the rest of the day trying to occupy himself with a few chores around the home. They really had not needed doing but it had passed the time for him.
Paul Flynn had called again this time with Sean Donnelly and Marty McStay in tow. Daniel was still too angry to speak to any of them so he had ignored they knocking of the door and the calling out. Eventually they got the message and he had seen Paul’s car pull out of the small laneway and head back towards town.
As the day had progressed, Daniel had became more and more agitated. He felt a surge of loneliness stronger than at any time since Joan had died. He watched the clock and even found himself wondering about what was going on in McGinty’s. He was slowly realising how big a factor it was playing in helping him deal with his grief. Now he sat here, alone reflecting on the events with a great deal of sadness.
The lost sleep of the previous night was overwhelming him and he found himself drifting into a slumber. Several times, he tried to force himself to stay awake but it was a useless exercise and he let sleep overcome him.
As he lay there, he suddenly became aware of what felt like a presence in the room. He found himself remaining strangely calm as if he knew that this event was not about to cause any harm to him.
Daniel could hear a voice speaking to him but was unable to see anyone. It took him several minutes to work out that this sounded like Joan’s voice, but he was unable to make out what she was saying. He was not in any way afraid and in fact, felt some comfort in hearing her again.
“Joan,” he called out, “I know you are here but I cannot see you.”
He waited and suddenly he could hear Joan’s voice clearly.
“Daniel,” she began, “of course I am here. I am just in a different form now. I am always here with you and part of you. That will never change. Now time to address this awful mess that has happened,” she concluded.
Daniel tried to put forward the summary of what had happened and why he had became so angry. Joan was not easily convinced, he found.
“I know all of that,” she said, “but, it is no excuse for you leaving yourself in this position, alone, lonely and unhappy. Of course I know you were angry. That’s natural, but it wasn’t just Sean Donnelly’s remarks that annoyed you so much, was it?”
Daniel paused for a moment and then explained that Joan was right. He went on to say how much he had been hurt by the fact that it had seemed to him that for the others Joan no longer mattered. It had seemed like she had never existed.
He knew in his heart that Sean Donnelly had not deliberately set out to hurt him but it still felt like Joan had been forgotten.
Joan replied back with great clarity.
“Sean Donnelly is many things but malicious isn’t one of them,” she said.
“Daniel people do forget,” she continued, “You have to accept that. Their own lives are busy and they have so much going on that mostly they just never think. It is not that they have forgotten me, but that at some times they just forgot to remember me. It is human nature, Daniel, and now time for you to get out there again and get on with life”.
Daniel protested that he missed her so much and found that really difficult. Joan, though, was having none of it.
“I have told you already, Daniel, that I am still here with you,” she said soothingly. “It is just different now. But I would never want you to be alone and unhappy. It is ok to miss me but talk to me anyway. Remember me not only for who I was but also for who I still am. Live a life that makes you happy and makes me proud of you. I have to go now but I am never far away. I am just out of sight for now.”
Daniel awoke with a start. His eyes desperately searching the room for any sign of what he had just experienced. He called out Joan’s name but there was no answer.
Slowly, he arose from the settee. He was unsure of how he really felt. He questioned if this had really happened or if he had just dreamt the entire thing. Joan’s words run round and round in his head.
He knew he had to go back to the bar and apologise.
Daniel changed his clothes and headed up the hill towards McGinty’s. He was thinking over and over about what he was going to say. As he drew closer to the pub, he almost lost his nerve and wanted to go back home. Joan’s voice, though, kept playing over and over in his head. It kept telling him that he needed to live his life.
He pushed open the bar door and as was the usual practice, everyone turned to see who was entering. Luckily, there was not many in the bar but Daniel noticed Sean Donnelly was there but oddly, he was seated quietly in a corner along with Marty McStay and a few of the others. One or two of the usual crowd were missing. Paul Flynn stood as always behind the bar serving the drinks.
Daniel made straight towards him and once Paul had served the customer, Daniel asked to have a word. He apologised to Paul and gave a guarantee he would never repeat his behaviour of the previous day. Paul accepted the apology immediately and told Daniel that he totally understood why he had struck out. He explained that a few of the group had been unhappy with Sean Donnelly as well and had stayed away for the night at least.
Sean Donnelly saw Daniel and approached with a look of remorse on his face.
“I am so sorry,” he said offering his hand, “I was just stupid and insensitive but there was nothing hurtful meant,” he continued.
Daniel reached out and accepted his hand and shook it. He told Sean he would like to stay but he was exhausted after the events and he would be back the following night and hopefully things would return to normal then. With that he left the bar.
Going home Daniel felt lighter as though a weight had lifted from him. As he entered his little home he noticed an object that was sitting on the table. He was certain that it hadn’t been there when he had left.
He went over and could see clearly it was a bracelet he had bought Joan shortly before they had married almost forty years ago. He had not seen this bracelet for years. Daniel suddenly felt a strange feeling of contentment. He lifted the bracelet and turned it over. ‘For Always and Forever’ the inscription read. Daniel allowed a smile to form on his lips.
He knew that he would never feel alone again.