I sat by my window and waited for the dark shadow man to appear. Calling him Mr. Squiggles hadn’t really helped that much. I will have secured my victory, returning home, unscathed – well more or less, certainly not in any way that really matters. But I cannot get Mr. Squiggles out of my head. He was real for me I know, creeping outside my window, stopping even if only briefly to glance over his shoulder through the gap in the curtain, checking me as I lay there in my hospital bed.
That he came each morning at the same time made no sense, but he came nonetheless and his timing was the least of his nonsense. I felt the chill of him, even through the glass in the light of the half moon. He knew me and somehow I knew him, my dark shadowy visitor.
Home is a word that entices and delights. Home is love. Home is everything. I have yet to see the sun come up over Orion, but I have been exposed to the wonders of nature, the dangling exposed nads of a sixty year old north-sider as he struggles to clamber into a wheelchair, the sound that a tea trolley makes from over a quarter a mile away, the smell of antiseptic ingrained on the lining of my nose and the discomfort of a cannula that you think has become part of your body for ever more.
Institutionalised in the blink of an eye, there is still little I will miss about my hospital bed. I will take some fond memories. Siobhan (Shiv- awn) the Nurses aid who was madder than a bag of ferrets for example. At night, she patrolled the halls, tackling the sneaky smokers or the vascular patients sprinkled with the demons of dementia.
Each night she would come in and chat. Her Mother’s brother’s half sister Eileen and her cousin from Leighlin that had cerebral palsy were just the beginning of it. She had a sister who she was fond of but up herself, a brother who opened a bar in Tipperary…Tipperary!! And they from Kilkenny! Was he mad? The granny wouldn’t step foot in it and her mother’s sisters little fella was ill. He’d tell the granny to “shut up and smoke your fag Granny” he was the only one who’d get away with talkin’ to her like that. The brother with the pub in Tipp had moved to New Zealand.. hadn’t she mentioned that?…and the brother…well he had a new girlfriend. She reckoned he was hidin’ her from the family! Then sure didn’t the mammy meet them down the town…well!
I swear to God I couldn’t keep up. Each night she’d continue on about her extremely elaborate past, her massively extended family on a timeline only she kept track of and she just dipped in where she had left off, as if I had a brain the size of a massive NASA computer, capable of collating all the data that she threw at me. It was enormously entertaining despite my confusion.
We watched Dublin beat Kerry in the All Ireland semi- final in the common room, as that had a big flat screen TV and as the only Dub in the room, I was the subject of some wonderfully entertaining but friendly abuse. I rounded that gathering off with a lovely joke as I had a captive audience.
Siobhan came in and start talking about foxes at half time. I have no idea why. So I asked her if she ever heard the tale of the fox in the chicken house. She hadn’t. For those unfamiliar it’s a great visual gag. The farmer catches the fox in his hen house and points a shotgun at him. The fox has his cheeks puffed out as though he has a mouth full of something. I acted out both parts.
“Did you eat one of my chickens?” I asked this while I mimed holding the shotgun. I then mimed the fox with a full mouth, shaking his head innocently as if to say me… nooooo. This gets repeated three or four times, the farmer getting increasingly angry until he eventually pokes the fox in the stomach with the shotgun. Throughout I kept coughing and covering my mouth with my closed fist and on the poke in the belly, I coughed-blew and opened my hand, blasting a billow of small torn up pieces of white tissue paper that I had concealed there all along. It looked like the fox spluttering out a cloud of chicken feathers and caught all by surprise.
They laughed so much that two nurses came running into the room. Like me, they were all on telemetry monitoring their hearts and three of them went off the charts. I nearly killed them with the laughter! Those were the sane moments, the saviours of my spirit. My loved ones and friends were there when I needed them and my fellow inmates gave me moments to cherish. But I could never quite shake Mr. Squiggles, even when it was all over.
So on my last morning at 4.35 precisely, I figured as I had come through everything without the close call I had on my last visit, that my shadow man, my Mr. Squiggles would not return. I watched and waited and nothing. Perhaps I had dreamed him after all, a figment of my imagination prospecting my fear for a nugget of doubt, trying to undo me and drive me down. As I tried to recall what he looked like, I suddenly realised he was quite similar to the almost hidden shadowy figure on the cover of my Darkly Wood only smaller and more sinister. Maybe it was all in my mind.
Then as I was about to turn away, I saw him on a ledge across on the other wing of the hospital. He was moving fast with leaps and bounds, disappearing at times in the early morning half-light. He was oblivious to me, now a forgotten soul as far as he was concerned and his concentration lay elsewhere. I turned to go back to my bed, disappointed almost for no reason that made sense, when my blood ran cold.
There, not three feet away on the other side of the glass, perched another dark shadow man. He was featureless just like Mr. Squiggles but he looked at me and then through me to the part of me that mattered. Something passed between us, before he turned, slowly dropped from the ledge and left me rooted to the spot, staring at a vacant space on the window ledge, knowing that although I was leaving that place, a new, darker shadow man had found me and he was coming home with me…
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