Visit to old home ensures more misery for Vinny


AGAINST THE ODDS:As he sat at the foot of the stairs, his potato-shaped head in his bandaged hands, shaking with anguish, Vinny had never felt so alone and useless.

AS HE shuffled slowly down Causeway Avenue on a glorious golden October Sunday, Vinny Fitzpatrick sensed the squinting windows and twitching curtains of the nosy neighbours. He was certain Mrs Duignan in number 11 had spotted him and could imagine her on the blower to her friends, nattering away with a lofty air.

“The Fitzpatrick boy is back, he looks terrible, both hands bandaged. If only his mother could see him now. As for the house, don’t get me going on the house . . ”

Vinny was almost there now, at number three, tucked away at the end of the avenue, close by the dividing wall into Clontarf bus garage, over which he used to shimmy in and out of work. He wouldn’t be doing that again.

From the outside, thought Vinny, the gaff didn’t look too bad. The windows were neatly boarded over, up and down, the hall door too.

But then from the outside, he didn’t look too shabby either. Inside, however, he was a burnt-out shell. He paused at the door, when the thought struck him that this may be the last time he would darken the doorstep of his old family home. As he nudged a shoulder against the temporary door, he wiped a snotty tear away with a sleeve.

Inside was dark, charred and silent. As he stood in the hall and sniffed the air of a house that once lived, Vinny thought of the five rooms in the old Fitzpatrick household; each one held a memory.

The living room was always his Da’s domain, one he generously shared with his only son; the big couch, the big telly, the sneaky drop of the cratur when he was just 16.

“It’ll make a man of you son,” grinned Finbarr Fitzpatrick, a lovable rogue.

In the kitchen, he thought of his Ma and how, no matter what time he rolled in, she always had something kept by, usually a cut of beef, or leg of chicken.

“Ye spoiled me, Ma” said Vinny, touching what was left of the old scorched stove.

Although upstairs had been fenced off by the fire brigade for safety reasons, Vinny thought about inching his way up for a peep around but his bandaged hands lacked grip and he knew he couldn’t do it. Curiously, he had rarely visited his parents’ bedroom, apart from the crazy night he snuck in, half-cut from Foley’s and borrowed his Da’s car keys to drive to Skerries for a party with Fran.

As he looked upstairs, memories of the recent fateful night stirred inside him, and he shivered. He recalled re-entering the house and skipping up the stairs as flamed licked at his feet. He’d found Maireád unconscious under a bed in his sisters’ room and dragged her towards the front of the house. After that, he couldn’t remember much apart from the smell and the heat and the smoke.

He had suffered first degree burns to his hands, his eyebrows and eyelashes were singed, but it was his lungs which had gone through the worst, through smoke inhalation.

It explained why he was kept attached to a breathing apparatus in Beaumont Hospital for ten days. Even now, to cough was to invite a spasm of pain. As he stood in the tiny hall of the old Fitzpatrick home, Vinny felt like he’d let his folks down, and his sisters too. He had been responsible for the post All-Ireland party, and equally irresponsible for allowing it get out of control.

For 50 years Fitzpatricks had lived in this house. First the father and wife, then the kids, lastly Vinny on his own until he met Angie and had rented it out. What a landlord he turned out to be. There was that incident with the kept women where he’d been duped by a Scouse scally, Spud Murphy, and got thrown in the clink.

As his eyes welled up, he felt a tsunami of depression wash over him. “What a walking disaster I am,” he thought. He couldn’t take care of his health, his house, or even his job where he had been almost permanently marked ‘as lathair’ – which was outrageous for someone who’d won ‘Driver of the Year’ in the bus garage a record five times,.

Vinny knew he drank too much, ate rubbish, hardly ever exercised and gambled more of his spare cash than he should. He codded himself that he wagered little – a tenner here, a score there – but his ledger account showed he was down a hefty four-figure sum on the year.

All the time, he made things difficult for his loving wife, his stepdaughter and the twins, who were nearly three yet hardly saw their Pop from the moment they were dropped off at the crèche until they were put to bed.

It was time for a new beginning. The first thing he would do when he got back to Mount Prospect Avenue would be put number 3, Causeway Avenue, up for sale. It held more happy memories than sad, but it was time to let go. He wouldn’t get much for it, he knew, but with the insurance, there’d be enough to take Angie away on a holiday – she loved Las Vegas. As he thought of The Strip, the shows, the roll of the dice, something was nagging him. What was it? Oh, yes, the insurance.

The insurance!

Angie reminded him a few weeks back that the insurance in Causeway Avenue was up in mid-September and he’d better renew it.

He had snapped back that he would get around to it only he hadn’t. He had allowed the cover run out. ‘Oh japers, no,’ he groaned aloud. As he sat at the foot of the stairs, his potato-shaped head in his bandaged hands, shaking with anguish, Vinny had never felt so alone and useless.

“He couldn’t take care of his health, his house, or even his job where he had been almost permanently marked ‘as láthair’ – which was outrageous for someone who’d won ‘Driver of the Year’ in the bus garage five times

Bets of the Week

3pts Mick McCarthy to be next Bolton Wanderers manager (6/5, Paddy Power)

1pt each-way Thorbjorn Olesen in Portugal Masters (22/1, Stan James)

Vinny's Bismarck

1pt Lay Germany to lead half-time and full-time against Ireland (7/2, Coral, liability 3.5pts)

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