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Danny Finn’s Dream
Ominous black clouds had dominated the sky since early morning. By lunchtime, the snow had arrived. A light flurry at first, that quickly transformed into an intense blizzard. Strong winds blew the powder into deep drifts, bringing traffic in the town to a halt.
Danny Finn’s bar had been deserted since early afternoon, save for a handful of regulars. Tom Fox, as usual, sat at the end of the bar, nursing a pint of stout, with a whiskey chaser. The Sweeney twins, Pat and Billy, practised on the pool table, in preparation for that nights inter-pub Super League competition. Jack Trotter and Joe Connors were playing chess beside the big log fire. Danny always set the grate at the first sign of cold weather. The only other customer in the bar, Old George Young, had his nose buried in a paperback book.
The phone rang at four thirty. It was Gerry ‘Goose’ Butler, captain of the Black Heart Inn’s pool team. The road from Ballyragger was closed , due to the drifting snow and he needed to postpone that nights match.
Danny hung up the phone with a sigh and called out to the Sweeney brothers.
“Sorry lads, no competition tonight. The road from Ballyragger is impassable, what with the weather and all.”
“Not to worry, Dan. I half expected them to cry off tonight anyway,” said Billy, “I think me and Pat should head home ourselves. Otherwise we’ll wind up stuck here for the night.”
“That might not be such a bad Idea, Billy.” said Pat. “How about a lock-in Danny?”
“Are ye mad or what?” interjected Billy, “Me aul wan would have me guts for garters if I stay the night here.”
“Ye should stand up for yourself, brother, that old battleaxe has you rightly under her thumb.”
“Shut up about me Missus, or you'll be sleeping on the street tonight. Bad and all as she is, she lets ye live in our gaff for nothin’. Sure wouldn't you be homeless without her.”
Danny left the brothers to their bickering and went out to the back room. He pulled two trays, piled high with sandwiches, from the fridge. He had prepared them earlier to feed the competing pool teams. Rather than let them go to waste, he laid them out on the bar counter.
“Help yourselves to some snacks lads. They’ll only go in the bin if you don’t eat them...and take any leftovers home with ye for supper.”
The day dragged on. Old George was the last to leave, his book in one hand and half a dozen ham and cheese sandwiches in the other, as he braved the elements just before eight o’clock. The log fire flickered in the gloom as Danny locked up for the night and headed upstairs to say goodnight to his children and to send Mrs. Potter, his housekeeper and part time barmaid, home.
Around two in the morning, Danny woke from a restless sleep. He reached over in the bed for his wife Ann. Still only half awake, he realized that her side of the bed was empty. He guessed that she had gone down for a glass of water and lay back on his pillow. It was then that the awful truth came back to him. Ann was gone. He was on his own, except for the children, Danny Junior, Heather and little Harry. The never ending grief and horror washed all over him once again, and he cried out in despair “Why? Why Ann? Why?” His face wet with tears, he pulled himself up from the bed and made his way downstairs and into the bar.
He reached up to a shelf and pulled down a bottle of “Black Bush” and stumbled back upstairs to what had been Ann’s old study. The room, once warm and comfortable, with old furniture lovingly restored by Ann was now sparse and cold. Danny had donated much of the contents to charity and given the rest away to friends and family. And yet the room still held her essence, her soul, the smell of her. Her perfume clung to the walls. Here, she lived in Danny’s mind. Here, he talked with her, night after night.
Her ‘writing’ chair stood solitary guard before the empty hearth, now devoid of warming flames and her grandmother's old coffee-table lay upside down in the corner, kicked over in a drunken rage the night before. Danny righted the table and set it down beside the chair. He picked up a glass and an ashtray from the floor and placed them on the table along with his whiskey and cigarettes.
He poured a generous measure into the unwashed glass. A King-size Pall Mall in one hand and drink in the other, his tears subsided as he switched on the stereo.
“God, would he ever know peace again?”
The soothing sound of Vivaldi calmed him, as the whiskey started to take effect. Danny knew that without his drink and smokes, nothing could prevent him from joining Ann in oblivion. Lord Jesus, how he missed her. Images of her dead body on the bed, one leg on the floor, the empty prescription bottle beside her, paramedics working frantically to revive her, the God awful funeral, with the children clutching onto him. Condolences from people, no matter how sincere, did nothing to ease the pain conspiring to destroy his soul.
He loved his children with all his heart, but for the past year he had only gone through the motions of being alive. Inside he was already dead. He woke them up in the mornings, fed them their meals, helped with homework and put them to bed at night. It took all he had just to wash and shave in the morning. Then onto autopilot behind the bar for the day, until bedtime for the children and time for him to relax with his whiskey and to wallow in self-pity.
He barely ate anything, living on coffee, sixty smokes a day and a bottle of Irish every night. Once a healthy twelve stone and full of life, he was now just a fraction over six stone and looked like a survivor of a wartime concentration camp. His friends, family, and the regulars in the pub had all tried to help him, but he preferred the isolation. All he wanted was his bottle and the numbness it brought.
Violins reached towards the climax of The Four Seasons when Danny's doorbell chimed, rousing him from his memories. He noted that it was a little after three thirty and wondered who on Earth could be calling at this hour. Probably another poor soul in need of a late night drink, or shelter from the storm still raging outside. He wanted to ignore the caller but felt compelled to go down to answer the door.
A total stranger stood in the porch, doing his best to shelter from the falling snow. “Mr. Finn? Can I come in please?” asked the man as he shook melting snowflakes from his head and shoulders. Danny looked the man up and down. He was tall, with dark hair and even darker, almost black, eyes. Other than the eyes and his rather pale skin, he appeared to be unremarkable.
“Who are you? What do you want?” Danny asked.
“I'm so sorry” replied the stranger. “I realise how late it is but I need to talk with you urgently. It's about Ann and it can't wait”
“Come in then. If you must.” Mumbled Danny, feeling unsteady from the whiskey.
Danny looked up and down the street. A few parked cars were buried under drifts, resembling moguls on a ski slope. Everything had an orange tint from the overhead street lamps. He noticed that there were no footprints in the snow and wondered how long the man had been standing outside. Strange, that he had left no tracks behind him.
He led the man up to the living room and after they were both seated across from each other, he asked what was so urgent that it couldn't wait 'til morning.
“Ann sent me to talk with you, to help you, to guide you.” replied the stranger. An incredulous Danny became incensed and shouted at the man to get out of the house. “Leave me alone you bastard! That's impossible. My wife's been dead for a year! Get out, Get out, Get out.” roared Danny as he struggled to his feet.
“She said you might react like this. She told me to show you this. She said it would help to convince you.” he said, holding out a necklace that Danny recognised. He had given it to Ann on the birth of Danny Junior and it had been buried in the coffin with her. Danny sank back into his chair and crestfallen, he looked up at the stranger.
“How can this be?” he asked.
The stranger replied that Danny would soon understand and started to talk to him about his life. How hard Danny had worked. How devoted a father and husband he had been. He also explained that Ann was so sorry for taking her own life and for all the pain it had caused. As the stranger continued with his soothing words, Danny began to realise how selfish he had been for the past year. He felt deep shame for the way he had behaved, for withdrawing himself from his friends and family and for treating his children as if they were a burden.
“But why?” he asked. “Why did she do it? We had a good life together. I loved her, I loved her so much. And the children, how could she leave them?”
“Even Ann can’t answer that, Danny. She was in a dark and lonely place. There was no reason and there is no answer. Listen to me, Danny, you are doing the same thing. You too, are in that dark and lonely place. The difference, the only difference... is that you are killing yourself in slow-motion, with alcohol and tobacco. You must abandon the past and move on. Remember Ann fondly, with love and gratitude for the good. Forgive her for what she did and forgive yourself for the things that you couldn’t do. Accept your life now, embrace it, love yourself and thus you will once again be able to enjoy the love and trust of your children. The choice is yours to make, Danny. Change your ways or within a year you will join Ann in death.”
He asked the stranger to tell Ann that he would always miss her, that he was ready to be a decent father to the children. He swore to himself that it was time for a fresh start, time to pick himself up, time to live again.
The strange pale man smiled gently and put his arms tenderly around the grieving husband.
“That’s all I wanted to hear Danny. At last Ann can rest in peace, but never forget that I will be keeping a very close eye on you from now on. Always remember, Danny, you are a good man. Be kind to yourself.”
Danny woke up back in Ann’s study. The tall man was gone. It had only been a dream after all. But, it had been so vivid; so real; so intense.
It was then that he noticed Ann’s necklace on the coffee table, right beside the empty whiskey glass.