He could hear the rain on the roof. It had kept him awake for a while now, not quite knowing how long. At first it was a light dripping but just now it fell heavily. He could visualise drops hitting and bouncing up again, merging and being split on the upward escape.
John’s mind wandered from the destroyed drops. He could not move his thoughts away from what lay ahead. In a few short hours, after breakfast, he would drive to the old house where his mum lived. She would be expecting him at ten. Every Tuesday this was his routine, and Catherine came to expect it too. They both looked forward to good coffee, fruit scones and some carefully-selected catching up.
As he turned and twisted, his mind became oblivious to the constant sound of the rain. They had decided last week that she must be told. Moreover, it fell to him to deliver the blow. Now, as dawn approached, his doubts returned. His tortured mind controlled him. He could feel it in his stomach.
About one thing, there was absolutely no doubt. He had been given the short straw. His brother and two sisters had managed to wriggle their way out of the situation. Being the eldest, he was left alone to tell her. They said it would be for the best.
“She’ll take it better from you”, said Peter. On the other hand, Patricia did offer, and it was a very genuine offer.
“We’re right behind you,” said Carmel, “and if there’s anything we can do to help, just holler.” Liar, he thought. Hollering at Carmel was like trying to keep the tide out.
“I’ve no problem telling her,” she informed everyone. “It’s just that, well, I think she might just flip. Wouldn’t it be better coming from you, John?”
He wanted to say no. No, it wouldn’t be better. How the hell could she think that? What way does her mind work? In the end, he gave up and he gave in.
“That’s a first for you.”, she said quietly.
“What?”, he wondered. His mind was racing and didn’t need interruptions.
“Every Tuesday you have the scone with your coffee, but I’ve never seen you to have jam on it.” She was smirking at me, as if she knew what was coming.
“I’m beginning to wonder if something is bothering you, because here’s another thing…. there’s not much escapes your poor oul mother… I was at the shop during the week and Mary Dunford says to me that she saw the whole lot of ye coming out of McCarthy’s across the road the day before.”
Mam stopped in her tracks, put the half scone back on her plate, and looked at the family picture on the wall. Her puzzled look was enough to make me realise she wasn’t quite finished.
“I’d say it’s years and years since ye were all together in the one place! Not since yourself and Carmel had that big huha.”
“The truth of it is that I have a bit of news for you, mam.” He figured that there was no point in delaying any longer. She’s as cute as the bees, he reminded himself.
“I’m going to stop you right there, because I have some myself. And, you know how forgetful I am… if I don’t tell you now, I’ll have it all forgotten. Anyways, it’s only right for your mother to go first.”
His phone beeped a shrill musical note and automatically he went to check.
“Have you told her?” It was Peter on the group WhatsApp. “Ring me. Urgent.”
“I promised I’d get the money for you, and I did. I have it for you now, so you’ll be able to keep the house. It’s yours, but don’t say a word to them. If you do, I swear I’ll take every penny back.”
She took out her worn blue cheque book, ripped off the top one and handed it to him. He knew immediately that if he lifted the cup to his lips she would see the shake in his hand.
Another message from the group. This time Carmel.
“Change of plan. Don’t say a word. In case you don’t see this message, I’ll ring you straight away.”
“Where did the money come from, mam?”, he needed to know. “Eighty thousand just doesn’t appear overnight.”
John’s mind was racing once more.
“Well, I might be heading towards sixty, but a bit of Romance Scamming works both ways. Poor fella is coming to Dublin next month to see me. The operation is very expensive, but he forked up. Now, it’s yours. I’ve also signed the deeds of this house to you. Not much good to me anymore.”
As she put away the cheque book, she looked at John.
“Another scone, love?”
On his way to the car, Carmel rang. First time he could ever remember a call from her, but before he picked up, he knew exactly what to say. She was frantic.
“For Christ sake. Why didn’t you answer our messages? Did you tell her? Don’t tell her. It’ll kill her.”
“Yes. It’s done. She took it all very well. Surprisingly well, to be honest. I’m glad we decided to tell her the truth.”
“John, it’s a fucking mess. She’s not dying. Doctor Murphy’s secretary rang to say they had her test results mixed up with some other wan from up the road in Fermoy. There’s no cancer.”