Monday, April 18, 2011

George.



Their coming together was a clumsy thing, all passion and desire, and when they fell away from the heat that was forged from their union, they were still unwilling to relinquish, the tether of an outstretched arm. Inside Maura, unknown to her, (though she would say years later that she had known it all along), the struggle to come together continued, and a new life was made. This was to be their second son, George, after Maura’s grandfather. 

When George was born he was a happy child, much easier than Freddie to amuse. With a face that always lit up, at the sight of either of his parents approach, there was a new reason for Pat to come home from work, and there was nothing better than to get down and play on the floor with his two sons, while Maura pretended to look on with disapproval as her ‘three boys’ made another mess for her to clean up. It was on a winter’s evening like this, after the curtains had been drawn against the outside world, and the fire dappled the wall and ceiling with many playful things, that Pat and George discovered their new game.

“Come on George, sit up,” Pat teased, as he pulled the infant towards him with his forefingers. – This kid had a great grip, much stronger than Freddie at the same age. “Come on George. Upsy-daisy!” He pulled the child towards him, and George sat up, full of giggles and smiles, a bundle of fun-puppies, topped of with a radiant head of blonde curly hair. Pat let the smiling bundle go, and as if to mock him, and say ‘I’ll do it when I want to, not when I can’, young George fell straight back, laughing all the time, daring the adult’s will to match his own resolution, not to cooperate.

“Here let me have a go.” Maura came over to take charge, and George grabbed tight on to her two ringed fingers, all the time laughing straight into her eyes, and then he sat up, only to immediately flop back down again when she let go; mocking her efforts. “Now George, there’s a good boy. I said. Sit up!” And she tried again, and again, wishing with every ounce of her will, while he laughed, and never seemed to tire of his new game.

“He has your measure Maura, and he’s not going to be coddled,” Pat had said.

“Ah will you ever go away. I’ll get him to do it, don’t you worry. Sure Freddie was sitting up after four months.” She had extracted her fingers from his grip, and putting one hand at the small of his back for support, she leaned back to let Pat see her handiwork, but yet again, George managed to melt away out of her grip, and now lay laughing back up at her.

“He’ll do it when his ready. Did you ever feel a grip like that from a child so young? I was able to lift him up completely yesterday with just my two fingers, and he, holding on like a tiger. Would-not-let-go. He’s going to be some strong young fellow when he gets going.”

Pat mused as to what skill this newly recognised attribute could lead to. He was secretly proud that his son would not be manipulated by his mother into doing anything, that he would not do for his father first. The proud father looked anew at his son appreciatively.

“The little rascal,” Maura squeezed George’s belly playfully, the way he liked it. “This little rascal has a mind and a timetable all of his own.” 

Despite what she said, there was a worry in her voice that Pat recognised, and he felt the need to comfort her. Maura looked down again at her son, giving him her fingers to hold on to, “Come on now George. Sit up!” Now there was a new sense of urgency.

“Here let me take him for a while,” Pat intervened. Maura willingly handed him over, her eyes averted; a sense of guilt, or even inadequacy, beginning to displace her instincts to nurture and grow. This new life had come from her, and she would always feel responsible for it. George went to his father with a delighted grin, oblivious to her frustration. 








And so it was, that father and son could be seen driving about the village, as Pat went about his daily business. They were recognised by their smiles. George was an unusually good looking child, for a boy, with his mop of unruly blonde curls, and his mother was always slow to have them cut, since it made him look so much older. 








When the Community nurse called, on what was to be her final visit in the routine postnatal care program, she found that Pat and Maura, had improvised a system, to strap George into his high chair at mealtimes. This was to keep him from diving, face first, into his dinner bowl. George was almost two years old, and she noted that Maura was still feeding him by spoon. She knew that something was clearly not right.

“And you say he hasn’t sat up on his own yet?” she queried Maura accusingly, “not even once?”

“No. He won’t stay sitting up unless you prop him on all sides with pillows, — and even then, he usually manages to slip away . . . somehow.”  Maura was embarrassed for her son and herself. There was nothing like this with Freddie, his older brother. With George , every spoonful of food had to be fought over, and he hadn’t even tried to talk yet, never mind walk; just very basic sounds that she understood intuitively, but made little sense to anyone outside the family. She remembered how proud Pat had been with Freddie, and how he had boasted to all his friends that the first recognisable words had been ‘Dada’ and not ‘Mama’. This time she would not have cared, and would have even welcomed a ‘Dada’, but it never came. George was holding a secret to himself, that he would not share.

“We’ll we will have to have some tests done so,” the nurse concluded finally, after she had ticked her boxes, and repeatedly clucked, and moved her head from side to side disapprovingly. “I’ll get in touch with your GP. That is Dr McCarran, isn’t it?” Maura nodded, her hands unconsciously dry washing each other; the same way her mother used to do whenever there was a crisis at home.

“Well that’s that for now,” the nurse said, packing away her notes. And then she was gone. Maura’s hands resumed their worrying of each other, until she looked down and realised what she was doing. She burst into tears. On the floor, George giggled delightedly to himself, at the antics of a little centipede, that he had spotted scuttling across the kitchen tiles. He frowned when it disappeared under the kitchen sink, but hoped that it would return later, maybe, when his mother wasn’t about. Sometimes,  she could be a little scary!

                                       ***

George learned early in life, that if you smiled, most people were nice and smiled back. He also learned that if you screamed, and made angry noises, these same people would back away quickly, and have nothing more to do with you.

This screaming, worked with everybody eventually, — everybody that is, except Mammy and Daddy. If Daddy caught him screaming, he picked him up, and then would squeeze him really, really tight. When George felt that they were squeezed almost into one person, instead of two, he would let go of his screams.  They got smaller and smaller, until they finally petered out, and George and his Daddy would both feel warm and safe together.

With Mammy it was different. When he screamed, she would look severe. The same way she looked at Daddy, when they were pretending to ignore each other. Then it did not matter whether you screamed or smiled, she would just tell you what to do, and expect that you to do it. There was NO MESSING allowed.

He went to school when he was the same years as his whole hand. It was not the same school as Freddie. It was a more grown up school. At first it was strange and different, but then he found that that most of the kids were good fun. None of them needed words to talk to you, and to George it seemed that they shared the same parallel world, that he had thought, was his alone.  Some of the people in charge were stupid, and often they had to shout, or roar at them. Or even pretend to cry.

Everything for these people was something they were doing to you, or for you, and George wondered what they did, when everybody went to sleep. They would have nobody to boss around then, and talk down to. They never seemed to do anything for each other, just for George and his friends.

At seven years of age, he was smart enough to understand everything the talk-talk people said, (this is what he, and his friends, called them). That didn’t mean, of course, that he saw any need to acknowledge that he understood. After all, there was an advantage in being able to pretend you did not understand, when you had no interest in what they had to say. They tried to make you walk upright, and make strange sounds, over and over again. They said you were good, if you were able to make the same stupid sound that they did.  Everything he tried to say, or communicate, had first to be changed, or repeated. In the end, he could not see the point,so he would just give up and roll his eyes up to heaven. For some reason, they always found this funny, which was really annoying because all George wanted was that they would understand, like he could.

Apart from when he was with his Dad in the car, the best time was bath time. This was magic! In the water, awkward stupid legs, just got . . .  lighter. They floated! Skinny legs got bigger, and looked really strong and useful. He could sit contentedly for hours in the bath, kicking about, and making splashing sounds. He could kick his floating toys, and they did not disappear, out of reach, across the floor.   He was quick to discover that you couldn’t break the water, no matter how hard you hit it. You could  get it to jump over the side of the bath, but Mammy didn’t like this. Mammy didn't like the bath, and always tried to get him into the shower instead. There she would make him hold tight on to the wall, and rain down on him, with water that was always too hot or too cold. He got to hate it so much that even the sound of rain from outside, was enough to start him screaming.

And so Daddy started to take him to the bath before Mammy came home, or whenever Mammy was out. One day, she discovered what they were doing. She was angry and said that it all had to stop.

“Are you trying to undermine me again Pat?" She said, standing in the doorway, her hand on her hip. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, the doctors said he has to stand  . . . and anyway it’s easier,” she concluded.

“I know love. It’s just that he enjoys it so much. You know he’s afraid of the shower, — for whatever reason — sure it does no harm.” 

“Does no harm! Would you listen to him! And how would you know, or for that matter how would any of us know what will do him harm or good?  God love him, isn’t it bad enough that our eight-year-old son can’t walk or talk yet, and probably never will.”







And so it was, that father and son could be seen driving about the village, as Pat went about his daily business. They were recognised by their smiles. George was an unusually good looking child, for a boy, with his mop of unruly blonde curls, and his mother was always slow to have them cut, since it made him look so much older. 

When the Community nurse called, on what was to be her final visit in the routine postnatal care program, she found that Pat and Maura, had improvised a system, to strap George into his high chair at mealtimes. This was to keep him from diving, face first, into his dinner bowl. George was almost two years old, and she noted that Maura was still feeding him by spoon. She knew that something was clearly not right.

“And you say he hasn’t sat up on his own yet?” she queried Maura accusingly, “not even once?”

“No. He won’t stay sitting up unless you prop him on all sides with pillows, — and even then, he usually manages to slip away . . . somehow.”  Maura was embarrassed for her son and herself. There was nothing like this with Freddie, his older brother. With George , every spoonful of food had to be fought over, and he hadn’t even tried to talk yet, never mind walk; just very basic sounds that she understood intuitively, but made little sense to anyone outside the family. She remembered how proud Pat had been with Freddie, and how he had boasted to all his friends that the first recognisable words had been ‘Dada’ and not ‘Mama’. This time she would not have cared, and would have even welcomed a ‘Dada’, but it never came. George was holding a secret to himself, that he would not share.

“We’ll we will have to have some tests done so,” the nurse concluded finally, after she had ticked her boxes, and repeatedly clucked, and moved her head from side to side disapprovingly. “I’ll get in touch with your GP. That is Dr McCarran, isn’t it?” Maura nodded, her hands unconsciously dry washing each other; the same way her mother used to do whenever there was a crisis at home.

“Well that’s that for now,” the nurse said, packing away her notes. And then she was gone. Maura’s hands resumed their worrying of each other, until she looked down and realised what she was doing. She burst into tears. On the floor, George giggled delightedly to himself, at the antics of a little centipede, that he had spotted scuttling across the kitchen tiles. He frowned when it disappeared under the kitchen sink, but hoped that it would return later, maybe, when his mother wasn’t about. Sometimes,  she could be a little scary!

                                       ***

George learned early in life, that if you smiled, most people were nice and smiled back. He also learned that if you screamed, and made angry noises, these same people would back away quickly, and have nothing more to do with you.

This screaming, worked with everybody eventually, — everybody that is, except Mammy and Daddy. If Daddy caught him screaming, he picked him up, and then would squeeze him really, really tight. When George felt that they were squeezed almost into one person, instead of two, he would let go of his screams.  They got smaller and smaller, until they finally petered out, and George and his Daddy would both feel warm and safe together.

With Mammy it was different. When he screamed, she would look severe. The same way she looked at Daddy, when they were pretending to ignore each other. Then it did not matter whether you screamed or smiled, she would just tell you what to do, and expect that you to do it. There was NO MESSING allowed.

He went to school when he was the same years as his whole hand. It was not the same school as Freddie. It was a more grown up school. At first it was strange and different, but then he found that that most of the kids were good fun. None of them needed words to talk to you, and to George it seemed that they shared the same parallel world, that he had thought, was his alone.  Some of the people in charge were stupid, and often they had to shout, or roar at them. Or even pretend to cry.

Everything for these people was something they were doing to you, or for you, and George wondered what they did, when everybody went to sleep. They would have nobody to boss around then, and talk down to. They never seemed to do anything for each other, just for George and his friends.

At seven years of age, he was smart enough to understand everything the talk-talk people said, (this is what he, and his friends, called them). That didn’t mean, of course, that he saw any need to acknowledge that he understood. After all, there was an advantage in being able to pretend you did not understand, when you had no interest in what they had to say. They tried to make you walk upright, and make strange sounds, over and over again. They said you were good, if you were able to make the same stupid sound that they did.  Everything he tried to say, or communicate, had first to be changed, or repeated. In the end, he could not see the point,so he would just give up and roll his eyes up to heaven. For some reason, they always found this funny, which was really annoying because all George wanted was that they would understand, like he could.

Apart from when he was with his Dad in the car, the best time was bath time. This was magic! In the water, awkward stupid legs, just got . . .  lighter. They floated! Skinny legs got bigger, and looked really strong and useful. He could sit contentedly for hours in the bath, kicking about, and making splashing sounds. He could kick his floating toys, and they did not disappear, out of reach, across the floor.   He was quick to discover that you couldn’t break the water, no matter how hard you hit it. You could  get it to jump over the side of the bath, but Mammy didn’t like this. Mammy didn't like the bath, and always tried to get him into the shower instead. There she would make him hold tight on to the wall, and rain down on him, with water that was always too hot or too cold. He got to hate it so much that even the sound of rain from outside, was enough to start him screaming.

And so Daddy started to take him to the bath before Mammy came home, or whenever Mammy was out. One day, she discovered what they were doing. She was angry and said that it all had to stop.

“Are you trying to undermine me again Pat?" She said, standing in the doorway, her hand on her hip. If I’ve told you once, I’ve told you a thousand times, the doctors said he has to stand  . . . and anyway it’s easier,” she concluded.

“I know love. It’s just that he enjoys it so much. You know he’s afraid of the shower, — for whatever reason — sure it does no harm.” 

“Does no harm! Would you listen to him! And how would you know, or for that matter how would any of us know what will do him harm or good?  God love him, isn’t it bad enough that our eight-year-old son can’t walk or talk yet, and probably never will.” 







Once she had the words uttered, they were out; finally they had escaped. She knew there was no reclaiming them. “And how do you think he’ll get out of a bath when he is all grown up? Well? I suppose you never though of that. Typical!” 
And it was true. Pat knew had never thought about that, and a lot of other things besides. But wasn’t the young fellow entitled to some fun? Sure he was still only a child.
That day was the last time that George had a bath, but thanks to his father, it was only the beginning of his love affair with the water. There was a swimming pool in the town, and George took to it like a fish to water. In the beginning, the instructors had been dubious but charitable, and had insisted that at all times his father remained with him when in the pool.  So many armbands and flotation devices were strapped on, that it reminded Pat of his pirate adventures in the old quarry when he was a child himself. Anything that floated, was lashed to their pallet-ships on order to stay afloat. And the battles they fought!

It was not long, before George grew tired of all these appendages, which he dispensed with himself, one by one. He discovered how to swim with his own peculiar style. This involved his whole body participating in a kind of wave that pulsed from his toes to his gritted lips. At first it was not a pretty sight, but gradually Pat noticed a kind of gracefulness that came into being, and with it, an increased efficiency that powered his son through the water, every bit as fast, as the furiously paddling, younger swimmers, that shared the pool. Nobody thought him how to do this; it seemed to just come: as most natural things do. From end to end of the pool, he raced, breathing within the rhythm of his wave, pushing away from the pool walls at either end, as if disdaining the need for any platform to support him, other than the water that he was part of. There was largely a begrudging admiration from all those who surrounded the pool, and some even took to referring to him as ‘merman’ or the ‘fish-boy’.  His father was a constant presence at the poolside urging him on,  pacing up and back, always tensed for the time he might be needed, slightly unsettled, because he never was.

The swimming baths echoed to the sound of screeching children in the shallow end, and George ignored all around him, and concentrated on threading his body through the water with an ever-increasing fluidity.
“Fair dues Pat. He’s a great swimmer isn’t he?”
“He is for sure Mick.”
“What do you think his chances might be in the up and coming community games? Do you think he’s fast enough?”
Mick stroked his chin for a moment absentmindedly, “He looks fast enough . . . Have you never timed him then, you know, even with the auld mobile phone stopwatch?”
“No. I never thought of it,” and Pat knew the only reason he hadn’t done it was that he did not want be caught, and thought foolish, by the others.
Mick pulled the phone from, his back pocket, “Sure I’ve got mine handy. Now he is coming up to the turn again...right! Now we’ll see. Jaysus look at him go!” 
It was as if George knew of their special interest in his performance this time, because he put on a burst that would have shamed Fungi, the Dingle dolphin. What they didn’t realise was that he always kept and eye on the big clock at the end of the pool, and counted the number of lengths he could complete in a five-minute interval. He had been doing this for weeks.
Pat was almost jogging beside him. “Come on George, “Swim, swim…go for it!” He didn’t care who was watching now. There were three of them. George stretched further and deeper until it seemed that he was never coming up to breath. He threw himself at the end wall, and began the return journey down the pool, with only the briefest of glances at the big clock. He was going to do it!
“Wow. Would you look at that time” Mick cried as he met Pat at the mid point on his return journey.
“Thirty six seconds? Is that good?”
“Well it’s faster than any of my lads can do, and they are at it for years. I even paid for extra coaching lessons, last year.”
“Go away!” said Pat, and he was genuinely impressed. Everybody knew that Mick and the family took sport very seriously. On the other hand, despite their expertise, they had never been known to actually excel at anything . . . more ‘the hurler on the ditch, than the full forward’, as Maura would say.
“You have to enter him, Pat, you know. With a performance like that, he could sweep the boards!”
“I don’t know.” Pat spoke hesitantly. “I’ll have to talk to Maura first . . . see if it’s all right, you know. Where would I get an entry form anyway?” He asked the question, to his own surprise, but almost immediately began to hedge his bets. “I’m not saying . . . But if she does agree . . . And if the young fellow was up for it . . . ” His voice faded away, unsure as to how his uneasiness could be put in to words.
Mick didn’t give him a chance to rise up any more obstacles. “Don’t you worry about that, I’ll arrange it all.  Don’t I know most of the committee?”
“No. Don’t do anything yet. Just wait until I talk to Maura first. OK?”
The journey home was even more quiet than usual, and one tense, unspoken communication, coloured the air between father and son. Every time Pat glanced across, he found George was looking back, and his thoughts recoiled, instantly. It was not a comfortable ride home.
Pat closed the hall door behind them, and called out, “were home!” The reply that came from the kitchen was far from comforting, he thought wryly.
“Right Pat . . . Well I hope that you didn’t expect a dinner waiting on the table, coming back at this hour. Where were you anyway?”
“We were down at the Pool . . . the Tuesday session.  Swimming, you know”, he added irrelevantly. 
He knew Maura was well aware of where they disappeared to every Tuesday night, but they had never spoken about it before, and he always felt that with Maura, well,    you left, well enough, alone.
From the busy silence in the kitchen, he knew she was gathering up her response. He took the reprieve to take off George’s coat, and lower him gently back on to the floor. He was happier down there. They had got a wheelchair for him to use, but he had never really taken to it, and anyway, he just didn’t look right in a wheelchair, did he? It was so, final and concessionary. As a result, neither Pat, nor Maura, had really encouraged him in its use, and the wheels spent most of their time, folded up neatly under the stairs. Pat looked after him sadly, as George disappeared around the corner, — in search of the television no doubt. With the television, it didn’t seem to matter what age they were. They all watched too much of it anyway.

The silence still threatened from the kitchen, so he went in, to ‘face the music’. “You know he’s coming on well with the swimming”. No response.  “Everybody says so.”
“Everybody? And who’s everybody?” Maura demanded. “Who have you been talking now?”
“Well, Mick for one.” 

“And what would Mick McGuire know about anything? Sure he’d only tell you what you want to hear. Isn’t he a friend of yours, for ever?” She made the combination of friend, and yours, sound like two mutually exclusive diseases.
“Mmmm,” was the expected sound. That was his only response, and that was the end of the conversation, for that night.





The following Tuesday, found young George and Pat, back at the Pool. George pushing an almost constant wave in front of his determined head, while Pat paced up and down, beside him. It was on one of these turns, that Pat spotted Mick at the entrance to the changing rooms. He waved, and tried to get his attention, but somebody else must have called him from inside, because Mick disappeared into the back room. Pat shrugged his shoulders, but at the time, he didn’t really make anything of it. Mick and him, went back a long way. Hadn’t they learned to swim together as kids in the river, back even before the town Swimming Pool was built?
When the session was over, Pat helped George out of the water, and walked him slowly to the changing rooms, just how they had shown him to do in the clinic. They walked as if they were strapped together from the waist down, with Pat providing the push for George’s legs and holding him rigidly against him. There was still no sign of Mick, — not even in the dressing room. In the car park he strapped the young fellow into his seat, and closed the passenger door. He spotted Mick coming out with his brood, so he hurried across to meet him. Mick looked uncomfortable as he approached, and when he saw that there was no avoiding the meeting, handed the keys of the car over to young Jimmy, telling him to go wait with the rest of them in the car, and to behave themselves, or else . . .
“Well Mick, how’s it going?”
“Not bad Pat. How are things?”
“Grand, grand. I didn’t see you earlier,” Pat lied.  “I was looking out for you, but . . . ” He left room for Mick, because they went back a long way, and well, it’s harder to make a true friend than break one, he thought.
“Just had some business on the phone. You know how it is. You can’t hear anything in there with all the noise, so I had to go outside to hear myself think.  Anything new?” 
“Neer a bit.  Young Jimmy was swimming well tonight.” He made the complement, but did not wait for an acknowledgement. “It reminded me of the two of us, and that summer we went for the lessons down in the river. Sure we must have been mad. Remember, you had to be able to swim the breath of the river and back again, and if you couldn’t, then you didn’t pass the test.”
“That’s right”, Mick agreed, “and if you couldn’t do it, there was no turning back. You either drowned or had a five-mile walk to get back to your own side of the river. Great training, what!” 
They were both silent with their memories for a moment before Pat finally got to why he had come across in the first place. “You know what you were saying last week about the competition?” 
Mick wasn’t saying anything, still seemed to be struggling back across the river. He  knew he wouldn’t have done it that first day, only for Pat. He still remembered the fear when he almost ‘bottled’ it half way back.
“The Community Games”, he heard as Pat prompted him.
“Oh that,” Mick shifted on his feet uneasily, “I’ve been up to my neck in it all week, and didn’t get a chance to do anything. You weren’t still thinking of entering the young fellow, were you?”
“Well I don’t know. Why not?” 
“Well its just that I kind of mentioned it to Mags, and she was saying there probably would be rules or something, and that it might be better to leave well enough alone. Didn’t you say you’d have to have a word with ‘The Boss’ anyway, before there was any decision made?” 
“What do you mean, leave well enough alone?”
“Well you know . . . with George being different. You know, — special. It wouldn’t be fair on him . . . or on all the other kids, for that matter. It just wouldn’t be fair.”
“What so you mean fair?”  There was an edge on Pat’s voice now that Mick knew meant he was getting angry. “It wouldn’t be fair if George beat the whole god-dammed lot of them, or it wouldn’t be fair if he was beaten? Isn’t that what a competition is. COMP-PET-TITION, – where people compete! What the fuck!” He shook his head in disgust and walked away. He ignored Mick’s efforts to call him back. “I thought more of you,” before slamming the car door, and driving out of the car park.
Pat knew what was behind Mick’s vacillation, and refusal to say exactly what was on his mind. He wanted to say George was different. Yeah. Different. But not that other word they used, that meant less than everybody else. You know that symbol the teachers showed them in school. The ‘less than’ sign. The one that pointed. The one sign that Pat could never figure out which way it was meant to point. That had meant a lot of poor results, he remembered, and his Maths teacher had eventually sent him to the back of the class. When people talked about his son, this was the sign they used in their heads, and they pointed at him, and Maura as well, – ‘the poor parents”.
‘So this was what it is going to be like for the rest of our lives,’ he concluded, ‘a handicapped, less than, disabled son’. He looked over at George. His son was no longer looking at the road. He was staring intently at his father, as if trying to decipher what was going on in his head. There was something wrong. The freedom of the water had been wonderful, yet again, and he was happy that his time he had completed nearly six lengths in the five minute slot. The big clock at the end of the pool had become the centre of his life, a great sword that swept across the face of the white marked disc relentlessly, with intent and direction. It marked not only time, but also progress, and because he had linked his progress with its passage, it had become his friend. George realised that his Daddy did not see it the same way. For him it was only a signal for him to call, ‘time up!’
Daddy was really angry. George held up his hand, fingers rigid at first, and began to move them rhythmically, up and down,  miming his oscillating movement through the water. Daddy said, “I know. I know.” He then pointed to himself, and repeated the movement with his hand. He pointed to the clock on the dashboard . But Daddy still did not understand. George wanted to tell him about the six lengths he had done. He cried out his frustration through gritted teeth. Why could Daddy not understand his simple thing; now when it was so important for somebody, anybody to understand how good he felt to be able to complete six lengths. It was a strange, primitive, and determined groan, that issued from his clenched jaw and gritted teeth. 
Pat pulled over the car to the side of the road, and took his son’s hand in his. “I know. I know, but there is nothing we can do” He tried to stroke George’s hand into submission, but once he let go, the child insisted on returning to his mime of the swim, stopping every now and then to point at the clock. And all the time, the confined space of the car, was filled with that terrible sound of determination and willfulness. The need to communicate.
Eventually, the distressed father released the child’s straps, and gathered him with his parent’s arms, in a vain attempt to crush both their feelings, into submission. A tear rolled down his cheek, and then another, and another, until their tears were mixed. Finally, Pat put an end to it. “We’ll see what we can do.”
Once that was said you could see a new determination in the set of his jaw. He drove the rest of the way home, eyes fixed on the journey, but seeing none of the road immediately ahead. He was completely unaware, of the smile that broadened his son’s face, as he sat proudly, beside his Dad.
***
Three weeks later, at the Swimming Pool, the klaxon sounded not once, but twice, and when its last echo was lost high up among the rusting girders, and moldy glass roof, the spectators went silent.  There was an expectant hush, as everybody waited for the commencement of the prize giving ceremonies. The swimming competitions were over.
At the klaxon control stood Mick, standing defiantly with a glint in his eye. He dared anybody to come and try take his position. On the starter block stood George, supported by his father, stripped down to his togs and swimming hat. He wore a new set of goggles, — the most expensive, and up to date pair, they could find in McGonigle’s Sports Store. The klaxon sounded a final time, and George exploded from his father’s arms, before disappearing into the pool in a full-stretch dive. Mick cursed; he had forgotten to start the clock. He started it now. The shocked crowd held their breath as George pulsed his way under the water, not surfacing once until he came to the 25-meter mark. Then he raised his head momentarily to gulp a quick breath of air, before resuming his hypnotic progress. His advance was silent, except whenever he breached the surface to breath. He came to the end of the pool, and threw himself back off the wall, shunning its immobility as if he scorched by its touch. Down he went again, this time, staying under till the half way mark. When he surfaced, Mick’s son Jimmy, let out an involuntary shout of ‘Come on George!’ The child’s voice echoed clearly around the hollows of the hall, but it was not taken up.
George completed the four lengths as he had seen the others do, and when he stopped, he turned to look at the big clock at the end of the pool. He saw the black hand of the clock was now resting once more, so he memorised where it pointed, so he could do it better,  — next time. 
Every length he swam, or walked, or spoke, was going to be a new record attempt; the true measurement of his achievements, would always be the limits that were set, and exceeded, by George himself.



 



Copyright rests with Niall OConnor


Illustration borrowed from Web












1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing, Niall. I enjoyed the nuances between father and son and how well the father understood his son - which was what mattered in the end. Shauna

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