The winner of the 2014 annual Aindreas McEntee Short Story Competition was announced at a recent meeting of Irish Medical Writers Society. Irish Medical Times is delighted to publish the winning entry, from GP Dr Pat Harrold.
The English are a wonderful people, but they have very uncivilised funerals,” said Seamus. The voice spoke in Paddy’s head as clearly as if Seamus were sitting in the pew beside him, and not lying in the coffin at the top of the crematorium church.
“He would hate this,” whispered Áine. It was a sparse crowd; a priest who had obviously never met Seamus, his widow, the doctors and staff from the practice and a handful of people who Paddy did not know at all.
The priest seemed to be enjoying himself, filling the church with his deep voice.
“Dr Seamus O’Meara had a brilliant career. He came to Much Middleton 30 years ago when he was the only general practitioner in the town. He became a trainer.”
The priest paused, unsure of what a trainer was. He then continued: “He led the way in building the health centre, founded the co-op, and represented the district of the College of General Practitioners. He was responsible in part for the practice growing to the nine-doctor successful business it is today.”
“Josh wrote that anyway,” hissed Áine. ”Pretentious git.” She never could keep quiet at Mass.
“He lectured generations of medical students in Bath University and will be long remembered by them.”
“Why aren’t they here then,“ enquired Seamus’ voice. “Ungrateful bastards.”
“He was respected by his colleagues and his patients alike,” Áine was muttering the words along with the priest as he recited them. The same words were intoned at every doctor’s funeral.
“But of course he was an Irishman!” The priest paused with a coy smile.
“And we will now play a piece of music from his homeland.”
The sound of a violin filled the bare chapel.
“‘An Chulainn’. Not bad,” said Áine. “He always told me that he wanted ‘I wish I was on the N17’ as they carried him out of the church.”
The sound of the slow air seemed to have no affect on the mourners. Most of them took the opportunity to slyly check their mobiles, but Paddy was swept back to the time he first met his best friend as he was interviewed by him.
The bushy eyebrows descended as Seamus fiddled with the pipe.
“You’re welcome to start here if you want,“ he said. “The place is growing. It’s what I want, but is it what you want?” When he got to know Seamus better Paddy realised that the pipe was one of his many ruses to shrewdly watch you while pretending not to.
“I think I’ll fit in,” said Paddy.
“You’ll fit all right but look at you! You’re a hurler, and you speak Irish. Áine plays Irish music. Life here suits me, I’m ambitious and I like to keep busy. And I’m single.You might be better off in Ireland. We’ll give it a year.”
The year turned into 20. Paddy got to know the famous Dr O’Meara better than anyone. He saw the incredible kindness and charm, the hard work, the vision for the future and the sense of humour. And the bushy eyebrows.
For the first time since he had heard of the death Paddy felt his eyes fill with tears. He immediately lifted his hand to stop them. Why would eyebrows, of all things, make you cry?
He couldn’t be seen like this. “Why not, for God’s sake — if you can’t cry at a funeral where can you cry?” said Seamus’ voice.
No Seamus, thought Paddy. Not at this funeral, and he looked at the bored faces around him. Not a wet eye in the house apart from mine.
“That’s the difference between you and me,” said Seamus’ voice. “You try to fit in. I was always myself.”
Seamus’ widow stepped up to the microphone. She was dressed as if she was going to a wedding, and she had a broad smile on her pretty face.
“Bitch,” said Áine.
“Thank you all so much for coming to celebrate my husband’s brilliant career.”
“And mourn his passing, you cow. What time is your horse running at?”
Áine had always disliked the young woman who Seamus had suddenly married just before his retirement.
“I was always full of surprises,” said the voice.
Then they were all standing and the coffin was spirited behind the curtains.
They filed out into the sunshine. The partners were checking their mobiles, calling back, walking away. The next funeral was pulling in. Suddenly the Widow O’Meara, as Áine had decided to call her, appeared in front of them. She was still smiling.
“Patrick! Ánne! How good of you to come! James wanted you to have his ashes.”
Paddy realised that his mouth had dropped open and he was gaping foolishly. “His ashes? Why? I mean what should I do with them?”
The Widow O’Meara’s smile vanished.
“Well I don’t know. What does one do? I think he wanted you to throw them somewhere. In Ireland, presumably. There’s Josh, must run.”
And everybody went on their way.
The ashes arrived a few days later. It seems a bit unhygienic to put them on the kitchen table, said Áine, so she put them on her piano. They sat and looked at the neat little box. ‘Dr James O’Meara’ was written on a tiny plaque. “She could never pronounce Seamus, the bitch.” They opened a bottle of wine. “It’s the only drink spilt in his honour,” she said.
“Let’s go to Ireland,” said Paddy.
“Right,” said Áine. “Where do we sprinkle them? He was from Galway. The Prom? Connemara? A pub in Quay Street?”
“All good suggestions. But I mean go home. Altogether.”
Áine’s eyes were bright.
“I thought all the doctors were leaving Ireland?”“All the more chance of getting a job somewhere.”
“What about your brilliant career?”
“Never mind that. I want…” He stopped. “I want a funeral packed with my patients, and drug reps and politicians and all the local GPs and consultants and a hotel bar jammed with people telling stories about me until all hours.”
“So we’re going home so you can have an Irish funeral?”
“I suppose. Are you on?”
“I’ve been on for 20 years. Just didn’t like to get in the way of your great job.”
“What about your book club?”
“They’ll survive. They might have book clubs in Ireland at this stage. And I could get the fiddle out again.”
“So we’ll do it so?”
“Of course. And we’ll bring Seamus with us. It’s what he would have wanted.”
“You can drop me off on the N17,” said the voice.
•The Aindreas McEntee Prize for an original piece of writing is awarded in honour of the memory of the late Aindreas McEntee, former editor of Irish Medical Times, and is supported by an educational grant from Boehringer Ingelheim.