An Ordinary Day  Edward Mc Whinney



I walk up the steepest hill in town, Patrick's Hill, to my new job every day, she said, very upbeat tone, as though she was describing something really pleasurable.


When I asked did she mind the climb, you know with her bag and all, her reply was a very positive no. And she said that all the others working in the office groan about it, groan and moan but not her, she feels so lucky to have this job and to be working right there in the middle of town. Patrick's Hill has lovely trees on it and when you step out the office door after a day's work you're looking directly down onto Bridge Street and the Bridge and on into Patrick Street.


We were talking in Mrs. Moore's, beautiful spring day. I was telling Paddy about an encounter I'd had with my beautiful niece, Aisling, outside The Savoy while she was on her lunch break.


It's the nature of the beast Paddy said, leaping on board with his penny's worth of bar-room philosophy, women are far more positive than men.


There was a man in an antiquated looking suit leaning on the bar nearby. He kept staring at us. He stared right at me making me lower my voice a little. The bar is a public place. Paddy paid no heed to the man. He wouldn't lower his voice for anyone.


It's not really in their nature to moan and groan to the same extent as men. Then suddenly out of the blue spring day Paddy asked; What is it you do? What do you do?


You mean what do I do? You know what I do Paddy.


No, I mean what do you do?


I felt like I was back all those years along the line in the Christian Brothers under sudden alarmingly abrupt interrogation about something I may or may not have done wrong. I knew Paddy for as long as I could remember. He was the boy suspended for posting his photo on a notice board, a photo with I Want to be Adored printed under it and a crown of thorns superimposed upon his head. 


The scar on the side of his temple, more of a big dent than a scar, was very prominent under the light that poured in the open doors and through the big, high windows that St. Bridget's Day. I've known Paddy since before he got that dent while we were horsing around on the railway line in the old days. I've known him all that time and still he can come up with these remarkable existential questions.


I took in a deep breath and too conscious of the man in the suit tried to rise to the occasion, my throw-out reply drifting up like a soap bubble that floated out of the sink where the filthy rags were soaking; I make an art of imperfection because imperfection is an art. Show me the perfect woman or horse. You see, I continued, warming to my tune, the soap bubbles drifting out the wide open doors onto the three corners of Cornmarket Street, Paul Street and Daunt's Square, what funny times we live in, all these philosophers expounding on the imperfections of the world, these factions of perfectionists quibbling over minor semantic slip ups – You mean the politically correct brigade, Paddy interposed? Precisely, I said, taking a glance along at the man in the suit, it's mind boggling I continued, they'll fight to the death over the interpretation of a slogan, say that one up on the billboards at the moment that's causing a riot, Fat is as Fat Ass , while the rest of the planet is crashing around their ears in a rollicking round of carnage. Yes, indeed, said Paddy, but you are not answering my question. I forget what it is I said, touching the side of my glass with an indolent hand. I mean are you happy hanging around all these days like this, head off for a pint, back a few horses, can that be all there is? Well you know now Paddy, there's much more to it than that. I was too conscious of the man in the suit. I felt that he was hanging on my every word. I suddenly shut up. After a pause Paddy trumpeted; Yes, but no matter how you dress things up, doesn't it all amount to nothing in the end? At that moment the man left the bar. He stared right at me as he went. And Paddy said that he'd better hop over to O'Donovan's for a pound of tripe and drisheen before they closed. If he arrived home without that he'd be killed. Hold your hour and have another, I felt like saying but Paddy had already drained his pint and was wiping his mouth dry with the back of his hand.


When Paddy asked me that question about what did I do, I think he meant how did I pass the time between jobs? Later as I took a bit of air in Bishop Lucey Park I recalled the question. I began to think it over. If the county final was on at the weekend I'd stroll away down to see it or maybe I'd take herself to a film or the circus if there was one in town, last year she had me at a show by dancers from the Bolshoi Ballet in the Opera House. There was more than enough on my agenda. I wish I'd thought of something like that in Mrs. Moore's for Paddy and your man instead of the stupid nonsense I'd come up with. I was thinking along these lines when an old salmon sat beside me on the park bench and began cutting up a big lump of cheese she extracted from a raggy looking bag. The smell made me move.


The screeching of gulls rising up from the river drew my attention. What is it I do? How many more days can there be?


I rambled along the Grand Parade towards the bus stop. Time to get home for a feed. I have reached that stage of life… I have reached that stage of life… Somehow that sentence stuck in my head and rolled around like an old song. The days were lengthening. And the days for leaping off cattle wagons and then running them down the shunting line to crash into the steel buffers were gone. I recalled for no particular reason only that it must be the smell of the spring evening the day Paddy fell and burst his head against the rails and had to be lifted down the bank into an ambulance. I recalled how later on I went back to the scene of the accident and upon close scrutiny noted how strangely crimson his blood remained even as it coagulated in the grass and dust and upon the sleepers and I noted for the first time how viscous it is, this life supporting liquid and felt it thundering through my veins with alarming speed.


The bus came along and I stepped up with my package of meat and her tablets, checking to see if the prescription was put back in the bag because if I came home without it again I'd better not come home at all. The lurching movement of the bus started the words flowing behind that phrase that had stuck on me earlier; I have reached that stage of life where the backdrops that were once full of real meaning are far removed, people without whom life was possible, gone, places that existed to obscure the reality that lay inevitably ahead, like the captain who can't see the snags for the river, gone. I felt like the captain suddenly staring at a dried up river.


There was a lovely smell of onions cooking when I stepped in the door. Herself was shuffling around preparing a stew. Did you get the meat, she said, and where's my tablets? I placed the parcel of meat and the bag of tablets on the kitchen table.


Do you know who I met in town today I said, my niece Aisling, and do you know what, it did me really good to talk her, she's like a breath of fresh air you know and seems so happy in her new job. Isn't it great?




Conversations in the Tax Office >