Friday 19 April 2024

Healing the Wound by Rob Molan, double brandy

‘We always have a good craic when you come over, Terry.’  I finish my tea and wipe my mouth with a tissue.


‘I’ve never known anyone who tells jokes like you do, except that Frank Carson bloke who was on the telly years ago. What was his catch phrase?’


‘It’s the way I tell them.’ I chuckle. ‘Remember the one about two men eating sandwiches in the pub and the landlord telling them ‘you can’t eat your own food in here’ and the men swapping their sandwiches?’


I hear Terry choking with laughter. I imagine him as a ruddy faced man with a double chin and curly grey hair. I can only go on fading memories to construct images of people.


‘I’m off to the little boys’ room.’ His chair scrapes on the lino as he gets up.


The grandfather clock ticks as I cast my mind back to last night’s dream which was in glorious technicolour, walking down the Royal Avenue in sunshine without my stick, greeting people who are now long gone: Dad, the neighbour who lived opposite and my favourite teacher.


My reverie is disturbed by the front door being opened and closed.


‘It’s only me, Patrick,’ says my sister announcing her arrival. I regret giving her a key. I’d prefer it if she knocked on the door like other folk. I’m capable of making it down the hallway on my own to let visitors in.


There’s a whiff of mothballs from whatever she’s wearing as she comes close.


‘How are you, Agnes?’


`           ‘I’m grand. I see you’ve got company.’ Her timing couldn’t have been worse.


I hear Terry descending the stairs and the smell of his cologne marks his re-entrance.


‘What in the name of God is he doing here?’ Her voice rises. ‘You are not welcome here, mister.’  I can imagine her head swivelling round as she spits this out at him.


‘Terry is always welcome here when he comes to Belfast.’ My blood pressure is rising.


‘I was about to go anyway. I’ll see myself out.’  Terry is, as ever, the diplomat.


‘That’s a pity. But I’ll see you at noon tomorrow as arranged.’ We could have had a beer if she hadn’t appeared.


‘You can count on me. Goodbye, Agnes.’ She doesn’t have the good grace to reply.


He’s barely out the front door before she starts.


‘It turns my stomach every time I see you with him. It’s just not right.’


‘You just have to accept things as they are. I don’t want to fall out with you.’


We’ve had this conversation many times. I know it’s hard for her but I wish she would respect my wishes.


‘I’ll wash these up.’ She picks up the cups and retreats to the kitchen.



The heady aromas whet my appetite. Coriander and cumin are there and maybe a touch of fennel.


‘Can I get you a drink?’  The waitress has a lovely lilt in her voice.


‘Just a bottle of still water, please.’ It’s tempting to order wine but I need to keep my head clear.


There don’t appear to be many other customers in today but one woman’s shrill voice sounds familiar but I can’t put a name to it.


I feel some movement to my left and a hand grips my left shoulder.


‘Afternoon, young man.’ He’s got a different after shave on today.


‘There must be something wrong with your sight too.’ I’ll be drawing my pension next year.


‘You should take any compliment you can get at our age. Let’s order.’


I hear Terry pulling up a chair. Once he’s settled, he takes me through the menu and we both decide to order a lamb bhuna. The waitress is informed of this and he asks for a beer.


‘Are you’re still up for this afternoon?’ he asks.


“Definitely. Remember, I won’t have to look at my ugly mug when it’s broadcast.”


‘Viewers will be drawn to the sight of the handsome man beside you.’


We both laugh.


‘Seriously though, events are best described by those who lived through them and the programme will hopefully put people right on a few things. We don’t have to be prisoners of our pasts.’


‘You have a nice way of putting things, Patrick.’


The drinks arrive and Terry clicks his bottle against my glass.


‘Here’s to friendship.’ 


‘Seconded.’ I take a drink of crisp, cool water.


‘I still don’t understand though why they want to go over some of the facts again before filming. The researcher should have captured everything.’ He starts drumming his fingers on the table.


‘I was told the interviewer wanted to put us at ease by having a dry run with some of his questions. It’s nothing to get het up about.’


‘Fair enough. Changing the subject, I suggest we make an early start tomorrow.’


‘Dead on. I’ll be packed. Where’s the magical mystery tour headed for this year?’


Terry drives the two of us around the province and we stop off at level spots on the coast and in the countryside where we can go walking. It will be our fourth such trip and I look forward to getting away from the city and breathing the bouquet of wild flowers, primroses, bluebells and honeysuckle, and enjoying sea breezes


‘We’ll start with the Glens of Antrim. It’s a beautiful area.’


‘That’ll be smashing. I think Mum and Dad took us there when we were wee.’ I wish I could visualise it but the memory might return.


‘Oh, good the food’s coming,’ Terry says.


A waft of enticing spices marks the arrival of the plates and my mouth starts watering.




I feel the strength in Keith’s hand as he shakes mine. I imagine he’s a well built chap.


‘Good to meet you, Patrick. Let me help you to your chair.’ He gently takes my left elbow.


‘I’ll ask you both a few questions to break the ice before the filming begins. Is that okay?’ He’s soft spoken which is reassuring in the circumstances.


‘No problem,’ says Terry as I nod.


‘I’ll start with you, Patrick. How old were you when you lost your sight?’


‘I was twelve, just out of short trousers.’


‘What do you remember of that moment.’


I swallow hard.


‘One minute I was horsing about with my pals and the next minute bang! I recall the impact and the terrible pain, followed by flashes of light in my eyes and then falling to the ground. My sister - who is three years older than me - was standing nearby and started screaming.’


I sip some water.


‘I seemed to be on the ground for ages before the ambulance came. I was bewildered about what was happening to me and the pain was getting worse and worse. My Dad arrived just when they were putting me on the stretcher and sat with me during the journey to the hospital.’


‘Turning to you, Terry, can you describe your part in the events.’


‘I was a raw, nineteen year old squaddie on my first posting. Petrol bombs had been thrown at my battalion the night before and we were on duty, all on a knife edge, scanning streets and buildings for any sign of trouble. Suddenly, I saw a man running across the wasteland carrying what appeared to be a rifle. I shouted ‘stop’ but he kept going and I fired a plastic bullet at him. But I missed and saw a boy who was part of a group playing in some rubble go down.’


A catch in his throat stops his flow. He clears it and continues.


‘I leaned over the wall beside me feeling like I was going to retch and an older colleague put his arm around my shoulder and told me to jump in the nearest jeep. Once I was on board, it sped away to our camp and on arrival the doctor gave me a sedative, and I slept for ages afterwards. A week later I was sent to the mainland. No action was taken against me and I left the Army as soon as I could.’


‘Going back to you Patrick, how did you two meet?’


‘Someone said life is the sum of the decisions we make. I resolved long ago not to be bitter and make the best of the opportunities available to me and, when I heard about a scheme promoting reconciliation between our community and Army veterans, I decided to participate. Our first encounter was five years ago. We met three times in person and talked a lot on the phone, finding we had much in common, both having a love for walking, David Bowie and Indian food. More importantly, we managed to strike up a rapport which helped us to talk about difficult matters.’


‘What did you feel about meeting up, Terry?’


‘Nervous but I believed it was the right thing to do. I wasn’t seeking forgiveness but I wanted to see whether it would be possible to build bridges while we were both still alive. It’s worked out better than I could possibly have imagined.’


‘It’s a remarkable tale, gentlemen. Let’s have a cuppa before shooting starts and you can tell me the full story.” 

About the author


Rob lives in Edinburgh and started writing short stories during the pandemic. A number of his tales have been published in anthologies and on websites. He loves the challenge of identifying an idea for a tale and turning it into a narrative which engages readers 

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