All my stories are true. They are memories I have. Be it coincidence or something more. This one, I call “Of Danny Boy”.
These things happen when you least expect it. And I feel this is why it calls attention to itself. Such was the day in late October , seven years ago, as my close friend Paula and I took advantage of the cool fall weather and walked into town. It was a a little over a mile, downhill, and through a neighborhood of well manicured, craftsman homes. Paula was in a sad mood that day, and i had taken it upon myself to treat her to a cup of coffee and croissant at her favorite bakery. A french bakery in the down town, run by an ornery Frenchmen who served overpriced croissants and coffee served in porcelain teacups.
Paula was not her normal self that day as we desended into town. The normally talkative and Jocose woman was solemn and quiet. Her parents had died a year earlier, and although she had grieved them, she found herself deep in their memories that morning.
“My father died and never forgave me for leaving.” was all she said.
I knew the story. Paula had left North Carolina , at a young age, against his wishes. She would marry and move into New York, and although she visited from time to time, he was never able to wrap his head around her departure. Mourning her absence as if she had taken her last breath the day she left. Sadly, dementia ravaged his brain in his later years. Her most recent visits were unremarkable. He didn’t recognize her and it was if she weren’t there at all. It saddened her.
On his death bed she returned for a final visit. As she entered his hospital room she was amazed to find him lucid, remembering not only her name but their shared history. It was an eerie moment, lasting no more than a quarter hour, as if talking to a ghost who was allowed to enter the living world. But then he disappeared as if called back into the dark recesses of his mind where he was hidden for so many years. His last words, “You shouldn’t have left.”
He died an hour later. That had been a year earlier.
So here I was , as we walked into the overpriced French bakery and the nasty man who tended the coffee press, rolled his eyes. I placed our orders as Paula sat at our table. I reluctantly paid the bill before sitting at her side on a round table covered in a white flowery table cloth .
Its hard to know what to say, when you see your friend in pain. Why her father had invaded her mind that day was unclear. Why she carried him down the hill was hard to say. She said, he was just in her thoughts. So we ate quietly. My presence, not conversation, was all she needed .
But the chime of a bell called my attention to the fancy french doors, lined with lace curtains, as an old woman entered. Older that God it seemed, she could barely walk, relying on a third leg in the shape of a cane. She set her slate blue eyes on our table and stared at us. Her jacket in pastel pink, appeared disheveled. She wore orthopedic sneakers, stained, but her white hair was well coiffed and shimmered of blue.
She ordered a small cup of espresso and sat at a table nearby. I smiled at her, and that was enough.An invitation, she immediately stood up and walked to our table.
“Good morning.” Her accent a thick Irish brogue. She smiled as her eyes disappeared in a wrinkle.
Paula smiled back and then an odd moment of silence before she addressed my friend.
“Dear, i hope you don’t mind, but you look so sad. I feel you may need a hug?”
Paula looked up, allowing the woman to come into her space. She leaned over and hugged her.
“There there.” As she patted her back. “It’ll be OK.”
She pulled away, her eyes now wide open and sharp.
“I want to sing you a song. To cheer you up.”
The words, dripped out of Paula’s mouth.
The old woman stood up strait and began,
“Oh, Danny boy, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side.”
And then something odd happened. Paula laughed, but her tears cascaded painfully down her face as the woman continued, the entire song,
“The summer’s gone, and all the roses falling,
It’s you, it’s you must go and I must bide.”
She finished the song, as Paula laughed and cried, and when done, she grabbed her bag,
“Did that cheer you up my dear?”
Paula merely nodded.
“I felt I needed to sing that.”
“Thank you.” Paula replied. And with that, the woman clutched her cane and waltzed out. Never having taken a sip of her coffee. Still hot , i watched as steam swirled into the air.
Paula picked up her coffee cup, took a sip, closed her eyes as I watched the pain subside, now replaced with a sense of calm. She looked at me, smiled,
“My father use to sing me that song every night before i went to bed.” She took my hand, “He sang it to me the day he died.”
I squeezed her hand. We finished our coffee