Dad Person has gone home and I had to insist on that, and I have moved to a different ward. There are four beds in this room and two patients are already here. Both are old men. They heard about me, it seems, and they are delighted that I join them. And, I mean, really delighted, and they don’t hide their big smiles as I get wheeled in.
‘It’s great to get you here, young fellow,’ Old Grey next to me says, not bothering to mask his pleasure at my arrival. ‘It’s great to get you here.’
Old Bald across from me is nodding and smiling.
‘Thanks,’ I answer. ‘But I’d much rather be out kicking ball,’ and then I add a little spice to the admission, ‘and chasing women.’
‘And do you do that often?’ Old Grey asks.
‘Almost every day.’
‘Be-god,’ he says, ‘that’s a lot of women.’
And Old Bald across nods along.
‘Are we missing someone?’ I ask, pointing to the empty bed by the window.
‘Peadar’s bed,’ Old Grey says.
‘Has he gone home?’ I ask
‘You could say that,’ he says, he too looking across to the empty bed. ‘He’s dead.’
I say nothing.
‘We’re running two to one here,’ Old Grey continues. ‘I have been here some time and I’ve been keeping score, and one in three hasn’t made it.’
I look around, well, I don’t need to be Andrew Wiles to do the maths; and Old Bald across is watching me and he is nodding and, weirdly, he is smiling. Man, I think to myself, I have landed with two goofballs. Some things never change.
Girlish Boy and Boyish Girl arrive for the evening parley. Boyish Girl acknowledges the two other occupants with a faint flick of her head. Girlish Boy introduces himself to each, asking their names, shaking their hands, checking if they need for anything, pouring their water; everything except puffing their pillows and tucking them in.
‘You should be a nurse,’ I say to him.
‘I should, shouldn’t I?’ he answers with a roll of his shoulders. ‘How would I look in the uniform?’
‘Very pretty,’ I tell him, knowing that’s the most desirable answer and he adds a rocking to the rolling shoulders.
Boyish Girl lifts her eyes to the gods. ‘Jaysus,’ is all she says.
I look about the room and note the old men absorb every move and word of the arrivals.
‘That’s as interesting a two yolks as your likely to come across,’ Old Grey releases, again not finding it necessary to curb his opinion with sensitivity. ‘Where in the name of God did you gather those?’
‘I gathered them in school,’ I tell him. ‘I felt sorry for them.’ And both visitors roll their eyes.
Dad Person arrives.
‘I told you to stay at home,’ I tell him. ‘I’m fine now. Honest.’
‘I’ll only rest an hour,’ he says. ‘All right, Jack? All right, Jane?’ he asks the two amigos. He sometimes calls them that for no solid reason at all. He’s that kind of a dad.
‘Jack and Jane?’ Old Grey says. ‘This gets better by the minute.’
‘That’s not their real names,’ I tell him, and now he starts nodding and smiling, but with something of a question carried in that smile.
‘Jack and Jane,’ he repeats. ‘Which is which?’ And then he laughs, but laughs too quick, the laugh breaking into a choking cough.
‘Be careful there,’ I tell him. ‘I’d hate to lose you already. Mind you,’ and I give a thumbs up to Old Bald, ‘it would put us two in the clear.’ Old Bald returns the salute with a smile and a nodding head. Girlish Boy rises and gives my coughing neighbour a glass of water and the old man thanks him and settles down to listening.
‘Any word on Sunlight?’ I ask.
‘No word, Son,’ Dad Person answers, pulling his mouth tight and shaking his head. ‘No word at all.’
‘We might never find her,’ Boyish Girl says. ‘Whoever she is, she is gone.’
‘Don’t say that,’ Girlish Boy protests. ‘We’ll find her. We will. Whatever it takes. She can’t have disappeared into nowhere. She must be somewhere.’
‘I checked above in the barracks,’ Dad Person says. ‘But no joy. The guards say she could be anybody and at that time of year there’d be a lot passing through; tourists and that, and many stopping for a break on the way to somewhere else, many stop at the park for a picnic or a stretch of the legs. She may have stopped with her family and wandered over to the football field for a walk. She could have come from anywhere and be gone to anywhere, there’s just no way to know.’
‘Thanks, I tell him. ‘It was good of you to go to the police. They must have thought you were mad, with a story like that.’
‘I wasn’t the first to ask,’ he says, as he glances at Boyish Girl. ‘Someone else is bullying them to keep the search going. Isn’t that right, sweetheart?’
Only Dad Person would salute Boyish Girl as sweetheart. And only from him does she allow that kind of softness. But he has called her that from the start, from the day the three of us met and became friends, the day Dad became Dad Person.
It was a sunny day, I remember that. It was a bright day and in bright days all things are possible and the world travels easy. Dad Person had me well prepared, had built the thing up slowly over a long time, had put on a happy show though I know now that must have been hard for him, had been upbeat and encouraging about what he called the new adventure and so I went to my first day at school ready for great things. I remember I was the only child who didn’t walk through the gate holding a mother’s hand. Some of the other children and mothers knew each other and gathered in clusters in the school yard. Three children stood apart near the school door as if the unknown on the inside would be a relief from the awkwardness of the wait in the yard. It took a while for the school to get things together that morning, checking names to lists and all that, and so by the time we were called the three of us had, in the commonality of our lonely stand, formed a bond and so we entered together, sat together, and have been together ever since. Three goofballs we began. Three goofballs we remain. I wouldn’t, in the regular evaluation of such things, really qualify for that definition, I’m normal enough in most ways. The distinction was won only by association. Until now that is. Until the day I saw Sunlight. Until the day I fell to the ground and at sixteen years of age had a cardiac arrest and the thing being such an odd event that the whole place knows of it and will speak of it, so that I do now legitimately qualify as a fully certified goofball. Well, ill winds and silver linings and all that.
Sister Marie-Therese was our teacher that first year at school and she rewarded our learning with yellow stars that she stuck on a wall chart, and she issued fruit sweets from a round tin that she kept in her desk. We all got a star and a sweet on the first day just for showing up. I guess she wanted to start us on a positive curve; she was that kind of a nun, a good one. At the end of the first day she took my hand and held me back as the other boys and girls ran to their mothers who waited with anxious faces in the yard.
‘And you, Kyle?’ she asked, hunkering down and gently pushing my hair back on my four year old forehead. ‘What person is coming for you?’
She knew about Dear Departed Mother. Everyone did. In small places everyone knows everything.
I looked through the open door into the bright yard. And there he stood, tall, and with happy expectant eyes looking at me. I lifted my arm and pointed. ‘Dad Person,’ I told her. And he has been Dad Person since.
We have been in places over the years, restaurants and such like, where staff have heard me address him and they took to calling him Mr Person. Mr Person, like, how funny is that? And we never corrected them and we held on to the laughter until we got outside and then we let it go and spill and fall all over us. Mr Person, I love it.
Mavis Davis and Dr Dan are hovering about me again. Tightened faces and pushed mouths read through my charts.
‘You are very ill,’ Dr Dan tells me. ‘Your heart may be damaged beyond . . . . Well, we need to look at options.’
Options? I thought I was doing great.
Mavis Davis shifts in her heavy stance. ‘Do you understand, Kyle?’
‘Tell me, Mavis,’ I ask. ‘Have you ever passed a field with cattle stood there, lost to their own thoughts, gazing out into the yonder as they chew the cud and the pulled grass? Well, I wonder. What do cows think of?’
‘Their thoughts are limited by their own perceptions,’ Dr Dan replies immediately, like real quick, no delay at all, very impressive. ‘They probably don’t think much beyond the search for fodder, and, in the case of a bull, mating.’
‘Thought limited by perception,’ I say, ‘that’s very good Doctor Dan. Very philosophical. Then let’s extrapolate on this. Have you ever seen an arsehole sleep? I mean a real arsehole, not a biological one; you guys would see loads of them in your business. No, I mean a badass, a twat, that type of an arsehole. Well, they look as good and innocent as anyone, when they’re asleep. But they aren’t. I mean, they’re not good and innocent. So I wonder. What do arseholes dream of? Do they dream of hope and fear and funny little things like the rest of us? Or do they dream of being arseholes and doing arsehole stuff?’
Dr Dan and Mavis Davis lean from foot to foot and glance at each other, but I don’t get an answer. Seems I dried them out on the cow business. Oh, well.