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I like to write and I like to party, but mostly just the writing. Disclaimer: A lot of these stories are true ones. The memory of growing-up in and around Killybegs. When you hold a mirror up to small communities, sometimes there are those who don't like the reflection. Capote knew this only too well. If you find the refraction just a little too much and would like the angle of incidence changed in your favor, please email me at georgevial@hotmail.com and I will be happy to make a name change here or there.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

The Short Obituary of Angela O’Hara Coyle

“Mum, where’s my bag, I can’t find my bag, where’d you put it, can’t find it anywhere?”
“Ar-rah, Davey, it’s where you threw it when you came back from college a month a go! Do I have to go and get it for you? I’m trying to get all the ironing done before we go, your Dad will be home soon with Frankie from the bus, can’t you find it yourself?”
“I’ve looked, it’s nowhere.”

Angela put down her iron, lifted herself out of the corner she’d worked her way into and laboriously shuffled her forty-five-year-old body up stairs, to one of the back bedrooms, bent down, until she was on her hands and knees and blindly shoved her hand under the bed Davey had been sleeping in for a month now and when she pulled her hand out the bag he’d been looking for was in it.

“There you go Davey, there’s your bag.”
“You’re the best Mum” he gives her a kiss on the cheek, “football’s about to start, would ya get me a cup of tea?” And before she could answer he was off down the stair “cheers, thanks.”

Angela went down the stairs, not so sprightly as her son, and went back into her kitchen. The ironing was in two piles; finished and unfinished. The finished pile was dwarfed by the unfinished, she just sighed at the sight of it. Anyway she needed a cup of tea herself.

By ten o’clock that night the last of the clothes were ironed and bags had begun to be packed. Frank had come home with wee Frankie, her eldest boy, and Jack her youngest was in the kitchen helping her carry the clothes up to the various bedrooms. The packing was going to take at least another four hours and they had to be up at five to hit the road early and to be at the airport in good time to make the flight.

Frankie and Davey were watching the highlights of the football game and Frank had gone back down town to get the car filled and the oil checked for the trip.

“Boys, will you start packing your things, we’re never going to be ready in time, come on.”
“Just five more minutes Mum, this is nearly over, just five minutes, all right” replied Davey.
The night was a struggle, she ended up packing nearly all the bags herself and she knew when they arrived at the hotel and something was not there that she would be to blame for it; she’d forgotten another pair of shorts for Davey, forgotten Frank’s shaving gear, Jack’s snorkel and Frankie’s glasses. Yes, it’d be her fault, after all it was her who was packing the bags.

Sleep didn’t come to Angela when it did to all the rest in the house. She was too anxious about going to the airport. She’d grown up on one of the islands off Donegal until she was fifteen, then she’d gone to Scotland with the other young ones from the island, to find work or at least an escape from her father’s overbearing, alcoholic eye. It was there in Edinburgh that’s she’d meet Frank Coyle. They’d worked in the same hotel, he was a cook, and it was not long until they fell in love marrying at a young age. They returned to Ireland within a few years. But other than that Angela had never travelled outside of the British Isles.

The four-hour plane journey to Tenerife was the cause of the knot in her stomach. Once they’d taken the plane from Belfast to Edinburgh to see Frank’s mother when the ferries couldn’t go in the bad weather. That journey, all fifty minutes of it, had nearly killed her, she had to go have a drink to put her to sleep and Angela never drank. How was she going to survive four hours, she did not know.

Around four in the morning light was beginning to illuminate the curtains from the outside, the room filled with a bluish hue that was only known to Angela, many times she’d lain awake in this room when her husband Frank was out fishing, her not knowing if he was safe or the boat doing alright. In those times the boys use to get into the bed beside her and curl up. They did this well into their teens, now they either lived away or had a girl of their own to go to bed with. She missed them, them growing up and needing her less. But this night, Frank lay soundlessly asleep beside her and that made her feel secure. Then it occurred to her and she nudged him awake.

“We forgot about the dog, who’s gonna look after Sam?”
Frank woke with a fright, he’d been off in some dream, he could see his wife but her words were muffled, he shook his head and they became coherent.
“The dog? Don’t worry, Paul called his friend Bill from out the road, he’s going to come in everyday and look after him, now go back to sleep woman.” And she did for almost a full half hour before the alarms starting going off and she was up making tea and breakfast for everyone.

Every bag and contents were double checked by Angela as the men ate their full breakfast of sausage, bacon, egg (each with their own preference) toast and pudding. She just had tea and toast herself, that was enough.

Standing over by the kitchen sink she could see them all at the table. Davey was getting taller than Frankie now, his blond hair was up to Frankie’s ears, even though there was a five year difference in age. Jack would probably be just a tall, but he had brown hair like Paul. Paul wasn’t sitting at the table, he’d meet them at the airport in Dublin, his job had him up there all the time and he never came home and when he did he always took his uniforms home to be cleaned and ironed just the way only Angela could do. Christ, she mothered those boys, she did her best and her life was for them and Frank. Five men and just her, a daughter would have been nice, but she didn’t think she would know what to do with one of those. Men were easier, just keep them fed and well looked after and they were fine, babies that got bigger, but never grew up.

All her boys enjoyed a drink and she would go out with them to the pub and have the craic, but never took any herself. It scared her and so far none of her boys were mad on it yet, she wished it would stay that way, cause when men go mad on drink they are not babies anymore, they are something else and that is not good.

By a quarter to seven, the car was loaded and the house locked, everything had been checked twice and now the Coyles were good to go. Frank drove and the boys squashed into the back of the car, Frank had been doing good at the fishing and they had a new car, that was why they were taking a foreign holiday too; times were good for the Coyles. Angela was comfortable in the front passenger seat and as the car pulled out of their drive she let her eyelids fall. She could tell where they were from the sounds the car made on the road and moved with the corners. They had to get through the town before they got on the road that would take them all the way to Dublin and when they were all the way through Angela let herself drift off to sleep.
She woke dry mouthed and hot. The radio was on too loud to keep sleeping and the boys and their father were arguing about who was the best in last night’s game.

“Where are we now Frank?”
“Just outside Navan, be at the airport in about an hour or so. Go on back to sleep, I’ll wake you there.”
“Can we stop, for a cup of tea?”
“Ah, Mum” came Jack’s voice “we’re nearly there.”
“Yeah, come on you’ll be alright” chimed in Frankie.
Out voted, she sat up in her seat and stared out the window at all the fields and houses flashing by as they sped along. After moving back to Ireland and before settling in Donegal, Angela and Frank had lived in Dublin for a few years. They were happy, carefree times and she remembered them fondly now. She looked behind her at the three boys in the back seat. Davey was sleeping but the other two were wide-awake like it was eight in the evening and not eight in the morning. They were still talking to Frank about what was important to them.

They’d moved back to Donegal when she became pregnant with wee Frankie. He was a hard child to deliver and raise, but the rest came easier, it is true, she often thought, you do get better with practice.

She hadn’t seen Paul in over a month and she was looking forward to seeing him, he was the second eldest and the most independent. If she had to pick a favourite it would have to be him, but that is only if she had to. She nurtured them equally as much, Frank included, they were all her babies and she did what she could for them.

In the airport Paul was waiting at the check-in desk. He had already checked in his bags and was waiting on the rest. When Angela saw him she rushed over to him and gave him a hug.

“Come on Paul, I’m dying for a cup.”
“Same as meself. Dad, we’ll be up there in the Café,” he pointed as he said this.
“Right we’ll join you when we’ve these all checked in.”
“So, how’ve ya been Mum? Sorry I haven’t come home in ages, but work is so busy and Catriona doesn’t get much time off, you know.”
“No need to apologise, I understand, it’s just great to see you Paul. Can you believe this our first family holiday, away somewhere hot?”
“Yeah, it’s gonna be great. Have to get a good tan or Catriona will kill me. She doesn’t want me in the pub with the boys drinking all the time.”
“And you won’t be either” she gave him a little punch on the arm.
They had another hour before they were to board and the time was spent in the Café. The whole family was together and Angela could see the pride in Frank’s face of having four fine sons around him. Paul and Jack looked a lot like their father with the brown hair, the other two were a mix of her side and his, but those two, they were all Coyle.

The tea had settled her nerves a little and made her feel awake, but when the flight was called the knot appeared in her stomach again. If only she could sleep and wake when they touched down, like the drive to the airport.

On the walkway out to the plane, she clutched her purse tight. The ground under her didn’t feel safe, the hollow sound of all the footsteps unnerved her. Maybe the boys could go without her, maybe she’d take the car home and pick them up in twdo weeks time. No, she had to go, she had to be there for her boys.

“Good morning, welcome to flight 3456 non-stop to Tenerife” said the air-hostess as they boarded. Another showed them to row 23, seats A through F. Davey and Jack fought over A, to see who would get the window seat and Frankie intervened and took the seat himself to stop them from embarrassing the family. Paul and Frank took the seats either side of Angela to make her feel secure. They knew she was afraid to fly and initially months ago when Frank had suggested they take the trip she had protested. It took a lot to make her agree and they were glad to have her on the plane and in her seat without too much fuss.

“There now love, once we’re up in the air you’ll be grand. Millions of people fly all the time, I just read the other day, that it is more dangerous to drive your car to work than it is to fly.” Frank was trying his best to comfort her.

“Oh, don’t mind me, I’ll be fine, just let me be, I’ve said a prayer to St. Christopher and he’s never failed me yet.”

The jet engines began to vibrate the plane as it taxied out for take-off. The airhostesses did their routine and checked everybody was buckled in, the captain announced they were clear for take off and as the plane hurled itself down the runway, everybody, including Angela, were sucked into their seats with the G-force. Angela held Frank’s hand, squeezing it tight. Frank never let on either, but he hated to fly too, but no need to add to her worries.

By the time the plane began to level, Angela was asleep again. The boys were talking their football and cajoling each other about what they would do once they landed and all the drink they’d have and all the craic. Paul motioned to his father to lean forward and whispered:
“How’s she been?”
“Ah, fine, just very nervous. She slept most of the way down in the car, I don’t think she got much sleep last night, best just to leave her sleep as much of the flight as possible.”
“Grand, I know she’ll love it once we touch down and she gets her feet back on solid ground. She’ll be out looking at all those plants, ones she’d never see at home, probably have to stop her from trying to take them all back with her.”
“Suppose you’re right Paul.”
“Hey Paul” shouted Frankie “what do ya say, to a few pints once we get there?”
“Keep your voice down will ya. No bother, can’t wait.”

Angela began to dream, the gentle hum of the engines had put her to sleep shortly after they took off, it was a deep sleep and the dreams were vivid. She could see white clouds drifting in a blue sky, she was in her garden back home and Sam was sniffing about the flowerbed she was tending. The image she saw of herself was a content one, this was her paradise, she kept her family, her house and her garden, when they were all doing good, she was doing good. The sky seemed to come down upon her, not in a frightening way, but a gentle, calming way. She could feel the warmth of the sun on her face and felt her body let go and let the wisps of white cloud wrap around and carry her, higher and higher she went, towards the blue. She knew if she looked down, she’d see her house and garden far below, but she didn’t want to, it felt too good just letting go and looking up into the sun, a golden sphere, that didn’t make her squint, amongst a sky of the purest azure, she let go, let herself be carried off higher and higher, further from her garden, far, far below.

When they landed in Tenerife Frank tugged Angela’s arm gently to wake her, at the same time softly saying “We’re here, rise and shine, come on sleepy-head.”
She didn’t move, her breathing had stopped, her face bore an expression of serenity and bliss, a small smile upon her lips.
“Oh, God” gasped Frank.

The Coyles returned later that night with Angela’s body, the wake and burial were all over in a few days and about a week later, in the local newspaper there was a short obituary:

Angela O’Hara Coyle
12th May 1945-June 16th 1990
Survived by her husband Frank Coyle
And her four sons Frankie, Paul, Davey
And Jack.
“We are lost without you”

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