Sins of the father

14 Aug

Raindrops scud across the windscreen, like shoal after shoal of startled cobalt fish, shying away from the strobing lights. They spit and crackle as the wipers fight them, and subside, hissing around the wheels on the wet road. I’m running without sirens, just the growl of the engine as I plough through the puddles. Elderly male, query collapse, off Marlborough Road. A red call, requiring an eight minute response, but no house address at this time of night is never a good sign. Another drunk, peacefully asleep at a bus stop? A frequent flyer, feigning another improbable malady in the hope of a dry trolly bed for a few hours and a swig of hand gel from A&E? Or an empty road, with a crowd of sniggering kids? I plough on through the deluge.

“Did you call for an ambulance?” I peer grudgingly through the rain at the bedraggled youth, clutching an open can of cider and weaving gently.

“It’s the vicar. He won’t get up”. He chews on a filthy sleeve, beckoning me across the road towards the bypass.

“The vicar?” This place hasn’t seen a well-meaning dog collar in a long time; the soup runs don’t make it this far out of town.

“He won’t get up, he won’t talk, didn’t even say anything when old Morrin stole all the smokes from his bag. Just lays there, shaking, and shaking, for hours”. He gnaws, anxiously, avoiding eye contact except the little glances needed to make sure I’m still following. A seizure? I quicken my pace. A couple of hours is a long time to be fitting. We duck into the shelter of the flyover, watched by a snaggle of wary eyes.

“Oi vicar! Vic! Look who the kid has brought you”. I step sideways as a a languid sideswipe lobs a beer bottle across my path. The shards clatter away into the darkness, and elicit a muffled curse from a heap of plastic bags and rag.  Further across, I see a pair of holed shoes, poking out the bottom of a greasy blanket, and the kid tugs wordlessly on my arm.

“Hello there, I’m from the ambulance”. I pull a box closer to preserve what is left of his privacy, and guard against the next salvo from Morrin. “Can you hear me? I need you to open your eyes for me, sir”. As I move closer, I see he isn’t seizing, but sobbing. Not the great, wracking, rolling sobs of cathartic release, but the gentle shuddering of inured despair. A scrunched fist, clenched to his chest. The tears have scrawled tracks through the dust on his face; his eyes, when they drag open, are yellowed, underneath the puffy red.

“Can you tell me what’s happened, sir? Are you injured, at all, or feeling unwell?” He blinks wordless incomprehension.  “I’m Simon. What should I call you? Are you Vic?”. A little shake of the head, through the silent sobs. I try again. “The chap who rang for us, he called you the vicar?”. Another weary shake of the head, and then a croaky whisper.

“I was, once. A long time, now”. The tears roll onward, accompanied by the soft gargling of water in the choked culvert. “Malcolm”. The fist loosens, slightly, and offers me a scrap of damp newspaper from within. I peel the soggy folds apart. Collins, Mary, of Jeremiah Street, passed on last week after a short illness. Fondly remembered by brothers Geoffrey and William. Funeral arrangements on request to Fitch and Sons.

“Mary. You knew her?” Fresh tears bud at the corners of his eyes.

“My Mary”, he whispers, half to himself. “My Mary”. And then, slowly, through the sobs, “She left me. I had my pride, my high ideas, my right and wrong “. The words are mingled with another wave of sobs. “The things I said to her, such hurtful things. My Mary. What did right and wrong matter, without my Mary? I saw too late. I thought I’d win her back. Too late. And now it is”. He lets his eyes slide shut, and lowers his head back onto the concrete. A gust blows in under the flyover, flinging another torrent across our backs.


One Response to “Sins of the father”

  1. ingridf August 14, 2012 at 10:12 pm #

    Incredibly beautiful. Wonderful.

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