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First Edition Web V1.0 2016


by Jennifer L. Armstrong

I could bear this new world if there was something familiar here, something to make me think of home . . .

But here, it's all fire and longing. The longing is the worst part. Unfulfilled longing is something I remember from my former life but I could drown it in a pint, a rugby match on the pub telly and a mate to share it with. Here, there are no distractions from the longing.

Ironically, I have a sense that if I had cleared my life of distractions before I ended up here, I would have had a better life both then and now.

Animals. Strangely, I miss animals.

I had a kitten that I found in the alleyway behind the house, attracted to the garbage bins, no doubt. Sweet little thing. I wasn't much for animals, but I took her in and we became good friends. She had fleas. I minded that bit, but my sister (who liked to interfere with every part of my life) took her to the vet and got her a shot that made the fleas die off. I think about my sister a lot here. She was the right sort. At the time, I thought of her as the biggest nuisance in my life, but now I see that she just cared. A bit opinionated but she did care about things and I'm guessing if she ends up here, she passes through pretty quickly. She was just the sort to give her last five pounds to a bum on the street. I was the sort to take my last five pounds to the pub. At the time, it seemed like the right sort of philosophy: take good care of yourself because no one else will.

I wonder what happened to that cat. Bella, I named her. No doubt my sister took her. She didn't have many years left. Bella, not my sister. My sister was never in good health, severe allergies, but the last time I saw her, she was alive and looking over me in the hospital bed. In her opinionated way she was telling the doctor she didn't think I would want my leg amputated and making a forceful case that I used my leg and without it, my life would consist of sitting in a chair watching the telly. The doctor was assuring her that many people without a leg had gone on to live a normal life, with a proper job and a full and rewarding life.

My sister knew me better than the doctor.

In the end, though, the injuries to my head got me before the leg could get taken off.

I wish that I had gone to Mass more. I know it wouldn't have bought me a ticket out of this place, but it might have made me think a bit more about things that matter. My old mum used to go to Mass nearly every day. I thought she was balmy, running away from life. But now I see that she was really running to life. It's all so clear in a place like this. I've asked around here, if anyone remembers an Edith Brown passing through this place and no one does.

I wish that I had done more instead of buying a motorcycle. I bought the motorcycle thinking I was doing something, making a dream come true. Instead, I just ended up here. If someone had suggested to me that I give the two thousand quid to an orphanage, or something, I would have told them to mind their own righteous business. But it would have been good advice. I haven't met any people here who were regular donors to orphanages.

It's always the same story here. People say they would have done some good if they'd had more time. Or that they had thought about giving money. Or even that they did give twenty quid to earthquake victims once. Some said they had planned to take up praying the Rosary when they had a little more time, like when they were older. But the older ones here say they never did end up having more time.

I think I get a clear picture of how it all played out for them, because it's how it all played out for me. I must have passed at least three homeless bums on my way to work every day and I always thought, "Get a job." I could have said a thousand Hail Marys over the years just waiting in the dentist's office, instead I flipped through a thousand magazines. I never thought of myself as a bad person. I never hurt anyone, as far as I know. But I was never really a good person either. I don't think I ever actually helped anyone. My sister was a good person, always baking cookies for the parish bake sale or coming over and cleaning up my place. I don't think I ever said thank you to her.

I know she's somewhere praying for me now. I have no doubt of that. Next time I see her, I'm going to thank her.


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