The Clear Light Of Day

Author: Mike Healy

‘Will you turn down that television, I can’t hear myself think,‘ Sarah said from behind the hardback she was reading. I pretended not to hear her so she closed the book with a snap and turned her head in my direction. I could feel the blast of her stare but I held my nerve and concentrated on the action as Jack made a splint for his busted leg out of an old wooden pallet and a piece of oily rope.

Goes without saying, Jack Bauer was in trouble again. Compromised by a mole at the White House he was trapped in a deserted warehouse somewhere near the docks in what looked like downtown Chicago. Surrounded by a dozen FBI agents who mistakenly believed that he was a traitor, unarmed and with a fractured leg, he looked around desperately for a way out. He had less than twenty minutes to escape and get in touch with the President. If he didn’t warn her in time the entire population of a small African island nation would be wiped out by the rebels.

Sarah turned back to her book, flicking through it impatiently, searching for her page. She reads a lot lately, sitting with her long legs folded under her in the ‘Land of Leather’ armchair facing the big bay window, and with her back to the alcove that now looks like a section of the local library, since her brother Frank Devine had one of his carpenters put in shelving, light oak, from floor to ceiling.

Sometimes she will sit, book open on her lap, not reading, motionless. At those times it‘s hard to tell if she is even breathing. Anyway; Jack had found an old file under a workbench and with that otherwise everyday implement he had killed three of the so-called special agents. Armed now with one of their guns and mad as hell, he would be particularly dangerous.

‘I said, will you turn the TV down, please!’’

I aimed the remote at the screen and brought the volume down just a fraction. A fraction sometimes does it. And if not, at least it leaves room for negotiation.

‘That didn’t hurt now did it? I don’t know why you have to have it so loud, do you think maybe you should have your ears checked?’

‘Sorry,’ I looked at her innocently, ‘did you say something?

‘Oh that’s hilarious, am I supposed to laugh now.’

The inflection gave me cause for hope. I thought I discerned a softening but her body stiffened with the strain of avoiding eye contact and she returned to the refuge of her book.

’I think I’ll take Kerouac for a walk,’ I said.

‘Ok, you do that, switch off the TV before you go.’

I shouted ‘walk, walk,’ and the dog came running out of the bedroom that he shares with his mistress, my wife, and bounded up the hall. He spends most of his time lying on the end of Sarah’s bed facing out through the open door, watchdog bark at the ready, for whenever I pass. Outside of the bedroom he’s all waggy-tailed and the embodiment of man’s best friend, but once inside their shared domain he is only too willing to display another side of his true schizoid personality.

Strictly speaking, I suppose, the dog belongs to Sarah but she works really hard these days and I am presently unemployed so I have taken on the responsibility of exercising the little mutt.

* * *

Last October I got word that Clancy’s, the garage where I worked, was closing down, so I jumped the queue and took redundancy. I’d been working there for twelve years; since I left school in fact. Top salesman in the last two years, so at least I came out of it with a tidy sum. Only this week I read on the Indo that the liquidator had been called in and that a sister business on the north side was in trouble.

Confident at first, my CV impressing even me, I cherry-picked the garages around Dublin I would like to work for. Needless to say I’ve lowered my expectations somewhat since then. Out of work for almost ten weeks now I’m starting to worry, but I have to admit that just now it’s not my most pressing problem. Meanwhile I’m busy adding to my record-breaking pile of ’current economic climate’ rejections.

As I said, the Jack Russell belongs to Sarah and she has every right to name the misfortunate creature Kerouac, but when we’re alone, myself and the dog that is, I call him Jack. Yes, it is confusing, but also funny, because whenever he’s in the sitting-room and somebody calls Jack on the TV, which can be fairly often, he jumps up and dances around in front of the box in whirling dervish mode.

I sometimes take Jack to the corner shop in the mornings when I go for the Indo but I always save the long walks for the evening when Sarah gets in. She needs a lot of space now and in the circumstances it’s only to be expected. On top of everything else her job at the Department Of Social Services has become even more demanding and she has to work late most evenings.

* * *

I first met Sarah under the West Stand at Murrayfield. I was in Edinburgh for the match with six of the lads from the garage. Three of us got to see the actual game which was about par for the course. I was squeezing myself away from the bar through the crowd, carrying three pints of lager, half-litres, polystyrene! I ask you, when I dropped one on her foot. She gave me a pitying look that said it all and I looked around in desperation for somebody to blame. Taller than me, and I’m five ten, she was wearing a soft tweed cap at an angle with beautiful auburn hair to her shoulders and a Munster jersey tucked into her expensive-looking jeans.

I stared at this vision and offered a silent ‘thank you God.’

‘You Big Fat Clumsy Jackeen, look what you’re after doing,’ she said through clenched perfectly formed teeth.

Well, you couldn’t blame her really.

’I am so sorry,‘ I said, and I know I’m clumsy, but do think you could qualify that remark.’

‘Which word upsets you the most, ’she replied, wiping her Denims with my scarf, ‘fat or jackeen?’

I knew then that I was already forgiven and I wanted to thank her for even talking to me.

I’d like to be able to say I scored at Murrayfield, but it wasn’t to be. Of course I insisted on buying her a drink, and she graciously accepted. Drinks actually; a small bottle of red for herself plus a Jack Daniels for her brother and a pint each for his two well-heeled friends. I didn’t mind really, last of the big spenders, that‘s me. I would have bought them drinks all day just to be in her company, but the roar from overhead signalled the start of the second half. I apologised again just to hold on to her for a few seconds and I got the impression she was of like mind so I suggested meeting later on in town but she said she no that wouldn‘t be possible, they were flying back to Cork immediately after the game.

‘But,’ she added, ‘it so happens I’ll be moving to Dublin in a few months, all going to plan, and you can buy me dinner. It won’t make up for the boots but it might help to ease your conscience.’

So I gave her my number and she promised to look me up whenever.

Right up to the final whistle as ‘Flower Of Scotland’ was rising to a deafening triumphalist roar I searched the crowd in vain for a sight of her. A year went by before I saw Sarah again.

* * *

Elena passed through my life in May, a few months after I met Sarah in Edinburgh.

I knew her from the deli counter in Country Cuisine at the shopping centre and we were already on first name terms when I bumped into her at the Castle one Saturday night.

I liked Elena, she was small and delicate and always cheerful with tight bright red hair. Well, it was red most of the time. When she started working at the Deli it was a scary blue, and for a few weeks before Christmas it was an orange that was a little hard on the eyes. But I mostly remember the red. She had name-dropped her boyfriend, at home in Belarus, into the conversation a few times. Serving cautionary notice, I rightly reckoned. He was training to be a mechanic and he would be coming over to join her as soon as he finished College.

I managed to steer her away from her friends and we finished up in a quiet corner of the bar where she told me all about her wonderful Valeriy while I filled her in on the missed chance that was Sarah. Well, we both got self-pityingly drunk and I, chivalry personified that‘s me, walked her back to her bed-sit in Fairview. Still thirsty, we drained a bottle of vodka that she kept locked in a suitcase under the bed, one thing lead to another, and I ended up staying the night.

I sneaked out the next morning while she slept and walked towards town, trying to shake the feeling that I had let Sarah down. At first I didn’t recognise the unfamiliar sensation, not having experienced guilt before. When I called to ‘Country Cuisine’ the following week Elena’s embarrassment was so obvious that I thought it best to say nothing.

I avoided the deli counter after that for a while and some months must have passed before I missed her. In the end I tracked down Charlie the assistant manager.

‘Oh Elena left about two weeks ago,‘ he said. ‘She may have gone home, I don’t really know. The girls reckon she’s pregnant, but I couldn’t say for sure, you know how rumours start. They say she was inquiring about clinics, someone mentioned London, but as I said..…’

* * *

The following November I got a call from Sarah to say she was in Dublin and I raced into town to meet her. After a few happy easy-going hours in her company I knew I would never be so sure of anything in my life and I pushed the worries of Elena to the back of my mind.

We got married in April 2004. I had Sarah’s Munster jersey framed and I hung it, generously I might say, over the fireplace in the sitting-room, all the while trying to convince her that Leinster was in the ascendant. We honeymooned in France, a golden fortnight in a quiet romantic backwater called Guerrard, so Sarah could brush up on her French and where she tried without success to teach me a few words.

We returned to the same village every summer for the following four years, and last September when we discovered that Sarah was pregnant we short-listed the names for the baby down to fourteen. All French.

* * *

When the call came to the office saying that Sarah had taken a fall at work I dashed to the hospital expecting to find her in A & E with a bruised knee. Or maybe she would be sitting in the waiting-room impatiently leafing through a magazine and I would take her home getting in a dig about the clumsy fat Cork woman. I would make her laugh, that was always easy. But when she came home from the hospital three days later the world was a different, darker place.

We held together as best we could and two weeks later after extensive examinations and x-rays her doctor had even worse news. Sarah would never be able to have children.

* * *

Just as things seemed to be returning to normal the sword hanging over my head became too heavy for the flimsy thread. On that memorable black Monday afternoon only two months ago Sarah came home from work early to ask the question that I must have known would come up someday but, in my unbelievable stupidity, had chosen to ignore.

She closed the front door and walked down the hall without a word.

I felt so sick as I followed her into the kitchen that I wasn’t sure if I wanted to run or throw my arms around her and beg forgiveness. Like a useless fool I did neither, waiting instead for her to speak.

‘I’m only going to ask you this once, and you better give me a straight answer.’

But I knew I had no fitting answer. I knew it would take more than shallow words to save me now.

I pulled out two chairs from the kitchen table but she turned away from me and leaned on the sink looking out into the garden, waiting for me to sit down before she spoke.

‘Ok, what’s this I hear about some girl called Elena? And please don’t lie to me.’

* * *

As Jack steered me by way of the short cut through the shopping centre to the park, the Polish saxophone player spotted us coming and switched from a scat version of ‘When The Saints Go Marching In’ to a scat version of ‘Somewhere Over The Rainbow‘. I threw a few coins into the sax case and he stopped playing, courteous as ever, to thank me.

I crossed the busy road and I took the leash off the madcap dog.

I always let him run free in the park and no matter what distractions he finds he looks back every so often to check on me. The children in the small playground are not afraid of Jack, they know him by his street name. I like to watch them playing with him. Until I get a reproving look from an anxious mother, then we slink off.

I checked my watch and whistled for Jack. Must get a move on, ‘Silent Witness’ starts at eight. Maybe there’ll be a half decent film on later.

I’m becoming a night owl now that I don’t have to be up in the mornings, and most nights, long before

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