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CONVERSATION ON A CHRISTMAS EVE

 

(A true story about a young nurse who risked the wrath of Nell Muldowney* in a busy hospital ward on a Christmas Eve)

 

 

The old lady opened her weary eyes

 

“Nell, it’s only me”

 

“Ah, it’s you nurse; I hoped ‘twas St Peter

 

What time is it now?” “Just 3:

 

You asked me to call you before I left...

 

Maybe you’d rather the rest

 

But I’m off duty now till St Stephen’s Day

 

Popped in to wish you the best”

 

------

 

“What time are they going to open me up?”

 

“You’re going down to the theatre at 5”

 

“Bringing a surgeon in on Christmas Eve...

 

...And for what? To keep me alive”

 

“Nell, you’re an awful woman to be talking like that

 

I think you’re a special lady”

 

“I’m a crusty ould sod ...and you know it

 

So less of the charm Miss Sarah”

 

-----

 

“Sarah? Why do you call me Sarah, Nell?”

 

“Do I?” “All the time:

 

I don’t mind; it’s just that I wonder...”

 

“Ah, Sarah was a beautiful child

 

If only I had my mother then

 

But she died when I was 2

 

But you have more to be doing than listening to me

 

So quickly now...be off with you”

 

----

 

“Let me be the best judge of where I want to be

 

I’ll call it my good deed for the day

 

And even though you’re cross and contrary now

 

And don’t want me here ...I’ll stay”

 

(PAUSE)

 

“Is there no-one at all to visit you, Nell

 

(SILENCE) “Ok; I’ll leave you alone

 

I’ll light a candle in Our Lady’s Church

 

And maybe later on, I’ll phone” (GOES TO LEAVE)

 

----

 

“No, child, come back; I’d like you to stay

 

If you’re sure you can spare the time

 

I’m sorry I am the way that I am...

 

No, there’s no family, but that’s just fine…

 

They’d be only slobbering and doddering over me

 

And waiting for me to die

 

And wondering what I left to who...

 

From my fortune! (soft laugh) And pigs might fly!”

 

----

 

 “There’s a lot of sadness in you Nell

 

In your face, it’s plain to see

 

If you’d like to talk to someone

 

Your secret is safe with me”

 

(PAUSE BEFORE NELL CONTINUES)

 

“I remember my Confirmation Day

 

I walked 5 miles to the Chapel...alone

 

Me poor father couldn’t get the time off

 

From that tyrant Major Lamont...

 

----

 

...If he’s not rotting in Hell, there’s no such place

 

…I’m sorry child; go home

 

And not be listening to an old lady prattling...

 

(SILENCE) “God, I felt so alone...

 

(PAUSE)

 

...I went working for him at 18 years

 

There was nowhere else to go

 

At 19, I was carrying his child

 

Of course he didn’t want to know

 

----

 

My child was taken away from me

 

I would never see her again

 

My heart broke into a thousand pieces

 

Fr Flynn said it was just penance for my sin

 

But the Major and that “Holy” Priest

 

Went hunting every Sunday

 

While I scrubbed floors and kitchen doors

 

The same again on Monday”

 

----

 

“Did you ever try to find Sarah, Nell?”

 

“Oh aye; but the Priest said I wasn’t well

 

So everywhere I went for help

 

A frightening silence fell

 

I’ll never forget the voice of that nun

 

“We have placed her in a very good home

 

So for God’s sake, forget this silly nonsense

 

And learn to live with what you’ve done!

 

(soft cry) Forget little Sarah ...as if I could”

 

----

 

“Nell, were you ever in love?”

 

“Oh, aye; I was 25

 

One of the Major’s hands be the name of Jack

 

For once, I felt so alive...

 

We went everywhere together

 

Going to marry in the Spring

 

Oh, a handsome lad with freckles

 

I thought the world of him...

 

----

 

...But the Major found out and sacked him

 

And told him about little Sarah

 

The poor lad said he needed to go away for a while

 

“You’ll be back?” I asked; he said “….maybe”

 

(sad now) ...but he never did...(SHE CRIES)

 

After that, nothing mattered

 

My life just ebbed away

 

One lousy year after another

 

And this is what’s left today…

 

----

 

“Would you like to get confession Nell?

 

If you like, I’ll get Father Breen”

 

“No child; I’ll take my chances with God

 

I think He’ll be fairer than men

 

But thank you for listening to my dreary tale

 

Now quickly be on your way

 

There must be a thousand things you have to do

 

Isn’t tomorrow Christmas Day?”

 

----

 

At that, Nell became very quiet

 

And the young nurse decided to go

 

She’d come back maybe later...

 

For she was not to know

 

That poor Nell had told her story

 

For the first and only time

 

It was to be her final act in life…

 

…a life that was far from kind

 

----

 

There was no-one at her funeral

 

Just that nurse and couple of friends

 

What could poor Nell have possibly done?

 

To deserve such a lonely end

 

As the coffin lowered on Christmas Day

 

The young nurse felt bitter sorrow

 

And wondered how many more Nells there might be

 

In this great Island of Saints and Scholars

 

 

 

========================

 

 

 

Willie Egan: Christmas 2019

 *The names have been changed

 

 

 





 

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