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.