By Sarah Flynn, Scoil Mhuire, Ennistymon
Second place senior Clare Champion Short Story Competition
HE worried at a scab on his hand until a small dot of blood came to the surface. He looked up as a woman approached. She merely nodded politely and kept walking.
He continued to wait. His attention turned back to his hand and he patted at the scar. He noticed a fly buzz around his nose until it perched beside him on the seat of the bench.
It was a warm summer’s day in 1954. The paint on the bench peeled and hung limply in parts. He looked at his watch. Quarter past two. Not much longer now. He looked down at his shoes….how strange; he had come out in his slippers. He chuckled to himself at his foolishness and lifted his legs out in front of him. He had odd socks on.
He should have worn his Marine uniform. Nancy always likes how he looked in that. She says it makes him look dashing and full of honour. She likes to fuss over him, polishing the buttons on the cuffs and brushing away imagined fluff from his shoulders. He must have changed earlier and left it at home. No doubt it was neatly pressed and hanging in his wardrobe by now.
He suddenly remembered himself and brought in his feet together, tucking them in neatly and he sat up straight as they were always instructed to in the Marines. Nancy is on her way and he has to look his best.
It had only been a few months ago when he went with her to her college ball. It was during a break in service and he had received special permission to get one-week leave. Now his service was up. He was 22 and she was 19. She had told all her friends that she was taking a Marine to the dance and they were suitably impressed. The morning of the dance, he came home and rented a dress suit. His father had given him just enough to cover the cost of renting it. It was a black suit with a red dickey bow and although it had looked worn and slightly tired on the hanger, once he had it on, his mother said he looked rather handsome. And he did.
“Watch now Johnny, all the ladies will be after you at this dance” his father said giving him a wink. His mother tugged at his jacket and tried to fix his collar.
“Don’t be silly Sean; Johnny is only there for Nancy. Isn’t that right?” his mother beamed.
When the suit had been paid for, Johnny really didn’t have much money left over. He had some coins he had saved since he was 10-years-old and once he counted it all up, it was just enough for one thing. On the way to the florists his pockets were heavy. Inside, he looked at all the different corsages and tried to see which one to choose for Nancy. It had to be special and it had to be worthy of her beauty. There were pinks and blues and purple ones, but Johnny really didn’t know much about flowers. Then he saw one that had a simple white lily on it. There were some cream pearls around the band. It was simple but elegant. It also happened to be the most expensive one in the shop.
“Just my luck that I’d want this one, eh?” Johnny smiled putting his money on the counter. “Well she is a very lucky girl. It’ll look beautiful,” the florist smiled. Johnny left with his pockets lighter. His childhood piggy bank savings were gone but she was worth it.
There was a nervous sensation in his stomach as he went to collect Nancy for the dance. Her father stared him down and warned him of the dangers of breaking his daughter’s heart. Johnny vowed to look after her for the night. When Nancy came down the stairs she wore a baby blue gown that fell gracefully to mid-calf and had a sweetheart neckline. She had a timeless glamour and Johnny felt honoured to be the one to escort her. He placed the corsage he had bought on her wrist and they made their way to the ball. His father had even allowed him to borrow the car for the night.
They danced all night to the sounds of Elvis and Sinatra. When the music slowed Nancy danced in close to him, leaning her head on his chest. That was when he knew he loved Nancy. That was when he knew she would be the girl he would marry.
Johnny was so engrossed in his thoughts that he had forgotten himself. He was still sitting on the bench in the hot sun. When he thought about the secret memories that only he and Nancy shared he smiled to himself.
“Johnny?” A woman in a clean white uniform approached him.
He started and looked up, irritated that his train of thought had been interrupted.
“Johnny, you have a visitor,” she said gently. Johnny frowned in confusion. He just sat there as he saw a woman, who was standing behind the nurse, smile at him. She came over to him and bent down beside him. She had Nancy’s eyes and she rested her hand gently on his knee.
“Hi Dad,” she smiled. He blinked and placed his own hand on hers almost like a reflex. Her eyes were pleading, hoping for any hint of recognition. Her bottom lip quivered. He made no sign of acknowledging her. “I brought Laura with me, today, she wanted to see her grandad,” she said, her voice breaking. She nodded for a little girl to come forward. The little girl hopped happily onto Johnny’s lap and threw her arms around his neck, planting a wet kiss on his cheek. “Gran-daddy!” Johnny merely raised his hand to the spot she had kissed and retained his confused frown.
“Nancy will be here soon,” he insisted.
“Sometimes it’s best to not contradict or question him,” the nurse told the woman with Nancy’s eyes. “Let’s get you inside Johnny,” she said, as she helped him gently from the seat. “It’s easier not to shatter the illusion. Let him live in his memories for another day.”
More stories to follow.