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Old Folks by Roddy Doyle

Last update - Sunday, July 1, 2012, 14:37 By Roddy Doyle

Old Folks by Roddy Doyle

Chapter 6

Dariya walked down the hall towards the kitchen. ‘Hello?’ She walked quickly past the room where the TV was – and stopped.
‘Mr O’Rourke?’
He was in there, and he was still standing in front of the TV, pointing the useless remote control at it. My God, she thought, he has been like that for two days. And she was to blame. She had been in too big a hurry to help him change the batteries.
‘Mr O’Rourke?’
He didn’t look at her.
‘You have been in here for two days?’
Just then, the picture on the screen changed. The running horses became football. He’d changed the channel. The remote control was working.
‘That is very funny,’ said Dariya.
‘What’s funny?’ he asked.
She explained how she’d thought he hadn’t moved since the last time she’d seen him.
‘Isn’t it funny?’
‘No,’ he said. ‘It isn’t. It’s fuckin’ depressing.’
He was a horrible old man.
But, no, he wasn’t. She thought she knew what he meant. It was depressing to think of an old man standing, helpless, in front of the TV. It must have been even more depressing to be that old man, to be thought capable of such helplessness.
‘Mr O’Rourke? You have breakfast?’
‘Yes, I have breakfast. I pour milk on cornflakes with no help from anyone.’
He turned off the TV.
‘I’m staying away from the horses,’ he said.
What could he mean? There were no horses in the locality or, as far as she knew, the garden.
He walked past Dariya.
‘I suppose you’ll be wanting a cup of tea,’ he said.
Was he offering her tea or pushing her away? Did he want her to say Yes or No? It was so hard to tell.
‘Yes,’ she said – she gambled.
‘Grand,’ he said.
She was delighted, although she wasn’t sure why. She wanted to hug him. But not really – no, she didn’t. She did not want to hug Mr O’Rourke. But she did feel something, and she thought it might be gratitude. She knew: she wouldn’t dread coming to Mr O’Rourke’s house anymore. He had let her know, somehow: he liked her. Or at least he tolerated her. It was, at last, a start – a little victory.
She began to empty the dishwasher as he made tea for both of them. She looked out the kitchen window. She couldn’t see any horses out there.
‘Mr O’Rourke,’ she said. ‘You like horses? ’
‘I bloody hate them,’ he said. ‘I’d shoot every nag in the country.’
She wondered now if horse was the right word. She thought she knew what a horse was, but she couldn’t understand why Mr O’Rourke would want to shoot all of them. Perhaps he’d had an accident in his youth. But he didn’t limp, or have any scars that she could see. Perhaps a tragic accident had occurred to someone he’d loved, an accident involving a horse – falling off, being trampled, all of the images she recalled from the American movies. Mrs O’Rourke – the smiling lady in the photograph in the hall. Or a son, or a daughter. As she drank her tea, Dariya kept seeing all of them, falling backwards off rampaging, snarling horses.
‘Mr O’Rourke,’ she said. ‘This tea is lovely.’
It wasn’t.
‘It’s only tea,’ said Mr O’Rourke.
That was certainly true.
It was later, as she walked home with her son, Bogdan, after she had collected him from school, that Mr O’Rourke’s hatred of horses became less tragic and mysterious. Bogdan was teaching her the day’s new word.
Dariya already knew this word. She put her hand on Bogdan’s neck.
‘Yes,’ said Bogdan.
‘Not new,’ said Dariya.
‘But teacher said that Seamus is a pain in the neck,’ said Bogdan. ‘That is new.’
‘Pain in the neck.’
‘It means annoying,’ said Bogdan.
‘Ah,’ said Dariya. ‘Very useful.’
It described so many things.
They were walking past the row of shops, the pharmacy, the Chinese takeaway, when an angry man charged out of the betting shop and almost crashed into Dariya. She hopped out of his way just in time, and they watched him continue his charge, down the road.
‘He was a pain in the neck?’
‘Yes,’ said her son.
She looked at the betting shop window – the pictures of the footballers and – Aha! - the horses. She pointed.
‘That is a horse?’
‘Poor Mr O’Rourke,’ said Darya. ‘Horses are pain in the necks.’
She’d tell Mrs Touhy about Mr O’Rourke and bad luck with the horses. Mrs Touhy would laugh. It was good to have something like this to look forward to, something small, a little story, or a joke. Dariya had started to love her job.
The next day she opened Mrs Touhy’s door.
‘Mrs Touhy?’
She knew immediately: something was very wrong.

© Roddy Doyle 2012

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