On Friday nights when there was no footy nor cricket on the tele we’d gather at my place for a card night.
Now Tackas was a fierce competitor in most things but at cards he was passionate.
Woe betides anyone who tried to break a rule or play out of turn.
‘Ah ya feckin idjit, don’t you know how to fecking follow suite, are not payin’ attention you stupid feck. Now deal the feckers up and keep ya fecking mind on the fecking job.’
As I said before you couldn’t be angry with Tackas, and we’d all chuckle to ourselves as off he’d go on a tirade should one of us forget the rules and be not paying attention, though every so often I think it was deliberate just to get him going.
He was particularly savage on his playing partner and if we were playing euchre which was often the case you suddenly hear him go off: ‘Are ya feckin’ blind or what, didn’t see I led with a right bower, how can ya waste a fecking ace when I led with a fecking jack…this is the last time I partner you ya dumb feck…’ And so it would go on with some of us winking across the table as a sign it was time to set Tackas alight again
A card game could take hours, and there was never any great wager other than Tackas’ threats to sort out the next feck who played the wrong card.
‘Ya just reneged ya dumb fecker.’
And so the game would go on all night in that same way.
There were always six of us and around twelve the boys would always make their exit. Some had to work the next morning, others to just go home away from Tackas’ vitriol.
As would often happen it would be the two of us to clean up. I’ll say this for Tackas he was never shy about giving a hand, he’d wash up, put stuff away and then grab a beer and sit a the table. When he did that I knew he had something to say.
‘What is it mate?’
‘Its not a what Clancy it’s a who.’
‘Well who then.’
‘It’s me mam.’
‘Yes me mam.’
‘What about her?’
Tackas was for all his bravado a private sort of guy. He never spoke about his home back in Ireland. I knew he had a mother still there and a brother but that was all. He would just dismiss any question about them and shift the conversation to something other than his family. I never thought it was a matter of him being ashamed of them or anything but rather it was his business and he was happy for it to stay that way.
‘I got a letter from me mam.’
He then produced a scrap of paper out of his top pocket. It showed every sign of having been handled a lot; it was crinkled and greasy from the sweat off Tackas’ hands. He handed it to me, an invitation for me to read.
I am writing to you, as I have not heard a lot from you since you moved to Australia. Thank you for your last letter which has given me this address I hope this letter finds you.
My reason for this letter is to inform you that last Tuesday week I went to Doctor Chandler as I’d had I bit of a pain in me side. He did some tests and the tests tell us that I have a cancer, in my lungs as it turns out. I knew I should have given up the smoking years ago, but its too late now.
I want you to know Shaun that the doctor thinks I have six months to live. I want in that time to get my things in order and for you and your brother to work out the funeral and all that. I do want one hell of a wake, I’m telling you that now.
I know this will be a shock, and I don’t want you to be worrying too much about your old mam, as I know I’m going to a better place. But before that happens I plan on putting up a fight your dad would be proud of. Remember he was a fighter Shaun and so am I. So six months be buggered, I plan to be round a lot longer if I have any say in it.
Shaun I would like to see you before I die. Do you think you’d could come back and see me before I breath me last? Please son, come back.
The letter was dated March 17th. It was now June 4th.
‘Tackas how long have you had this letter?’
‘Since the end of March.’
‘But why haven’t you said anything or gone back?’
‘But why mate?’
‘Can’t go back a see my mam like this, all sick and dying. That’s not how I want to remember her.’
‘But Tackas mate, its your mum, you have to go back, you have to go back because that’s what she wants. ‘
Tackas looked across the table with tears streaming down his face. For a guy who was always so decisive about most things his emotions were often clearly visible.
‘When I left to come out here she said to me: “Shaun, go and have a good time, I’ll be here when you decide to come back.”
‘Now I can’t stand the thought of her not being there when I go back.’
And for the second time in my life I saw my friend sob uncontrollably. His grief was so visible and I felt I had to step in now as he was indirectly asking me for help as time he knew was slipping away for his mam.
‘Tackas, listen to me, you have to go back. You’ve wasted three months looking at that letter mate. She’s not dead yet is she?’
‘No. My brother rings me every week, gives me an earful about feckin’ responsibility, I tell him to feck off and we hang up, the next week we go at it again.’
‘So what does your brother say about her?’
‘She’s been in chemo, she’s sick but he says she’s a fighter, which she is and that’s she waiting for me return.’
‘Tackas you are going back, and if necessary I’ll come with you.’
Tackas looked at me, I think puzzled by what I had just said, then he took my hand and said, ‘Would ya Clancy lad, that’d be just grand.’
‘Tackas we’re mates, we don’t always see eye to eye but in times of crisis we stick together.’
‘T’anks Clancy, you are a good friend.’ And as I had become so used to from our time together he added his, ‘You’re a feckin’ idjit most days but I loves ya.’
With those pleasantries said I turned on the computer, time to look up airfares and flights.