We kick off on a dangerous high. Sitting outside a pub on the day we arrive, surrounded by a deep blue cloudless sky, the sun belting down singeing fragile skin, I pinch myself. I offer to pinch others too. We are here, like actual tourists, taking the sun for granted. This is not something we’ve ever been able to do. Not really. Usually on the day of arrival, if the weather is half decent we hot-tail it off to the beach. Lest we don’t see the like again for the whole holiday. Today we sit, taking our time, confident that there is more of this to come. The silver metal chairs scorch holiday makers bums and legs. We prattle proudly to all around, the dog drawing Americans and French and English towards us as we declare our nationality, and yes that this is our beautiful land, bask and enjoy as we will these coming weeks.
‘I can’t believe it’ I say, over and over. Having not actually had a sun holiday since the year after we married, and we’re heaving up to the big 20 on that front, my pinch is one of smug satisfaction. All good things to those who wait.
The pinching is beginning to hurt. The first beach day surpasses anything we could have dreamt up. Devoid of tourists. Turquoise swims. Barbecues. Frisbee. Boules. Cold dry cider. Marque 1 snaps us, the happy couple out on the rocks, imbibing this foreign land. Sun set is full on Greek island style. ‘You see?’ we keep chanting. Or maybe it’s just me. ‘You see how bloody lucky we are?’ I know this is a dangerous way to think, and really these thoughts ought to be silent. But I just can’t help it. We have all the bases covered for a holiday of a life-time. One during which our children will become remorseful for ever heavily hinting that we must abandon this great beauty for a week in another land.
Day three, we just arrive at the beach and the luminous yellow super flying frisbee is cast expertly by marque 4, taking off like a space-ship climbing high into the sky before sailing out across the ocean and landing. Within reach. We think. Marque 2 strips down to the boxers and runs. I strip down to something or other and run. There’s a history to this frisbee thing you see. A birthday present for marque 4, the original one had been cast by marque 3 into a garden we have no access to. He felt rotten and stopped off in Galway city to buy a replacement out of his pocket money. €15. A better one, we all agree, than the original. It turns out that marque 2 and I make a good frisbee saving team. I spot it. He dives and retrieves. Claps and whooshes resound. The day continues. A cousin joins the boys. Laughter. Merriment. A thousand swims. The day ends with a frisbee throwing game in the water. The wind takes it and deposits it beyond reach. Oh well.
Day four, we shop and pack for the beach, arriving to a crystal clear water, better than yesterday.
‘Perhaps we’ll be able to spot it from the rocks today’ I say, beginning to unpack. Some of them take off to look. He takes the dog along too. The kids arrive back at the car announcing the lack of joy at spotting it. We begin to strip. We’ve timed full tide perfectly and can’t wait a second longer. Then a shrill whistle hits our ears. A whistle he uses to gather the troops. I look over and see his hat and head peeping above the rocks, an arm motioning, waving. A little odd.
‘He must’ve found it’ I announce, sending them scarpering back towards their father. I fiddle with straps, wondering if I’ll be swimming off out to it, imagining their delight as I emerge victorious once again.
Marque 2 is back at my side, talking in a calm even way, whispering almost. Tempering me.
‘Dad has fallen and hit his head and he can’t move his ankle’. We run together over to the rocks and clamber down to him where he sits, dazed and grazed in a pool of water. I rub his head and ask some questions which I’ve heard the medics asking my father after a fall.
To ascertain whether something precipitated the tumble. A systemic event is ruled out by this non- medic. Phew. But what happened remains a mystery. I scan around hoping for clues, wondering how the hell we’re going to get him up from here. The car is a dot over the hill. The beach is, as ever, devoid of lovely helpful tourists. While I wonder, marque 2 and 3 switch into action. Being the same height as one another and only a short inch off him, they shoulder crutch him, slowly, beautifully, back to relative safety.
‘I thought we’d be doing this when you’re 80’ one of them announces, cheering us all up.
It’s over to the other adult to make some serious decisions and somehow, once we’re back at the car and the leg is usefully propped and perched, it all seems kind of okay. He’s happy with it, letting on he is anyway. He says nothing is broken, that he’d know. It’s probably the calf muscle he reckons. Which sounds pretty manageable to me.
‘Should we go ahead and barbecue and see how it is in a while?’ I ask, but it’s not a real question.
‘Sure’ he says, but it’s not a real answer.
‘Cider?’ I ask, now that we’re all back on track and the day will go on.
‘No thanks’ he says, wincing.
I flip the chicken burgers merrily as the kids swim. Sure it will probably just correct itself, I think, or possibly announce. Just a little pulled muscle. Bloody rocks. Bloody frisbee. But sure, no real harm done on this, the holiday of a life-time. We can call into a GP and get it strapped, if needs be, later on – if we get back from the beach on time.
He’s not quite joining in though. The appetite’s not great, it seems.
Marque 3 takes me aside. He fixes me with a look that reminds me very much of my father. A serious sort of piercing intelligent look.
‘I don’t want to be the one to have to say this Mum, but I really really think we need to get Dad seen’.
‘Oh yes, we’ll see how it goes, he thinks it’s getting better, he says, but sure if not we’ll get him to a doctor later’.
As the day draws to a close they crutch him into the car for me to drive us bumpily across the headland and all the way home. Crutching him into the house is a little more stressful, steps and narrow paths, but they make it. Then I whip out my phone and try the local hospital to see if they can strap his leg. He’s invited instead to see the on-call Doctor at the hospital at 10 o’clock at night. We are delighted. The day was good. The leg will be attended to. We don’t have to go to Galway city. Yippee.
They shoulder him into the local hospital. We banter with a lovely local young man who had taken a tumble off his quad-bike. And his wife who, at 35 weeks pregnant, had slipped on some furniture polish her two year old had helpfully sprayed all over the floor. Down on her back she went, only herself and the wee helper in the house. All sorts of things flashed in slow motion before her, as they do she tells us.
‘It’s the day of great falls’ she says, laughing, which fizzes a little delight in me. We’re not the only ones.
The doc calls him and the boys shoulder him in and I stay chatting to the couple until a shriek from inside tells me that I am, actually, needed as well. The doc has him kneeling up and has just squeezed his calf muscle. He’s not happy with it. Nobody in the room is happy with it.
He calls me ‘wife’ in a jocular way to good effect.
‘Wife, can you pull his trousers off there?’
‘Wife, can you just feel here on his good leg, and then in the same place on the sore leg’.
I do as I’m told. Such a good wife. There’s a nice solid feel to his good leg and a gap where my fingers sink in on his sore leg.
‘Any difference?’ he asks and I know now that this is a game changer. We’re not getting away with it after all.
‘The Achilles’ tendon has snapped’ he announces and simultaneously the colour drains from the injured party’s face. The doctor goes into vivid detail about the ins and outs of this injury as my husband announces that he feels faint and the doc tells the wife to hold his head up, not to let him fall, while he fetches some water. He does blood injuries really well, my husband, but the idea of something being snapped, bone or otherwise, has a visceral effect, sending him waxen, ageing him temporarily before our eyes.
He pulls back from the faint precipice. The doc continues. He hasn’t made the link between his detailed descriptions and tipping the injured party over the edge.
‘Sure I had a friend, and it was the same thing, it just snapped, he heard a loud pop and’… I’m shaking my head vigorously at the doctor from behind my husband as if he’s a child that needs to be protected from the truth.
‘He wasn’t even doing anything, it just went spontaneously’, he chimes on.
‘Spontaneously?’ I feel my husband sitting up a little straighter. ‘Can it go just like that? I thought it was something I had done’, he says and the Doc’s eyes widen with concern.
‘No, no this is not your fault’ he says. My husband’s lips and face are now both sporting a normal hue. There’s no guilt allowed in this doctor’s room. Just as well. He had been feeling the burden of the fate of the holiday being drastically altered at a foolish wrong turn of his foot. Not so.
The reality begins to kick in, finally, as the kids might say. The doctor asks for details for his referral to the big hospital in the city. Date of birth. He announces it.
‘Are you serious?’ the doc says.
‘But sure that’s my date of birth, same date and year’. He pushes his chair back from the desk and beams at my husband. Then he gets up and goes over to him to shake his hand.
‘I’ve never met anyone who shares this’ he says and they laugh, these twinned-up kindred spirits. He finishes the letter and won’t take any money from us, not with that little bit of serendipity.
‘Tonight or tomorrow’ he says. ‘You can leave it until tomorrow, if you like. There might be a better team in the morning anyhow’ and he shakes all our hands, compliments the boys on the great job they’ve done today and whispers to me his parting shot.
‘Mind this lovely man’.
‘I think I deserve a pint’ he says as soon as the boys get him safely back. First though, he agrees that we need to plan for the morning. Do I drive him? 92 kilometres, an hour and twenty. If so do we bring all the kids? Or do I drive and return to the kids? Can I just leave him there? What kind of a wife would just leave him there, I think, heavily influenced by our new doctor friend. We’ve no idea how long this might take though. Does he get a taxi? Is it too late for an ambulance? I take a toilet break and return to the solution focused room. There’s a bus to the hospital at 8.15 in the morning. Marque 1 will take him. I’m to stay out here with the kids. Although I can take the two of them to the bus, to feel somewhat useful, if I like. The bus, they say is door to door, practically. They’ve done it before. The same team. A different injured party.
‘All sorted’ he says. ‘Now let’s get that pint’.
They crutch him across to the pub and we sit, this, the whole clan, pinching ourselves in another way now. The holiday will be different and we don’t know how it will all pan out. Whether he’ll need surgery or not. Whether we’ll return to Dublin instead. How long he might be in a cast or a boot and on crutches for. But it could’ve been so much worse. He could’ve hit his head and slipped away quietly down into the ocean, joining the wretched frisbee, while we changed into our togs and noticed not a thing.