Midwife to the Fairies

by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne

We were looking at the "Late Late." It wasn’t much good this night, there was a fellow from Russia, a film star or an actor or something —I’d never heard of him — and some young one from America who was after setting up a prostitute’s hotel or call–service or something. God, what Gay wants with that kind I don’t know.All done up really snazzy, mind you, like a model or a television announcer or something. And she made a mint out of it, writing a book about her experiences if you don’t mind. I do have to laugh!

I don’t enjoy it as much of a Friday. It was much better of a Saturday. After the day’s work and getting a bit of dinner ready for myself and Joe, sure I’m barely ready to sit down when it’s on. It’s not as relaxing like.I don’t know, I do be all het up somehow on Fridays on account of it being such a busy day at the hospital and all, with all the cuts you really have to earn your keep there nowadays! Saturday is busy too of course — we have to go into Bray and do the bit of shopping like, and do the bitof hoovering and washing. But it’s not the same, I feel more relaxed. I suppose it’s on account of not being at work really. Not that I’d want to change that or anything. No way. Sixteen years of being at home was more than enough for me. That’s not to say, of course, that I minded it at the time. I didn’t go half–cracked the way some of them do, or let on to do. Mind you, I’ve no belief inthat pre–menstrual tension and post–natal depression and what have you. I come across it often enough, I needn’t tell you, or I used to, I should say in thecourse of my duty. Now with the maternity unit gone of course all that’s changed. It’s an ill wind, as they say. I’ll say one thing for male patients, there’s none of this depression carry–on with them.Of course they all think they’re dying, oh dying, of sore toes and colds in the heads and anything at all, but it’s easier to put up with than the post–natals. I’m telling no lie.

Well, anyway, we were watching Gaybo and I was out in the kitchen wetting a cup of tea, which we like to have around ten or so of a Friday. Most nights we wait till it’s nearer bedtime, but on Fridays I usuallydo have some little treat I get on the way home from work in The Hot Bread Shop there on the corner of Corbawn Lane, in the new shopping centre. Some little extra, a few Danish pastries or doughnuts, some little treat like that. For a change more than anything. This nightI’d a few Napoleons — you know, them cream slices with icing on top.

I was only after taking out the plug when the bell went. Joe answered it of course and I could hear him talking to whoever it was and I wondered who it could be at that hour. All the stories you hear about burglars and people being murdered in their own homes. . .there was a woman over in Dalkeynot six months ago, hacked to pieces at ten o’clock in the morning. God help her! . . .I do be worried. Naturally. Though I keep the chain on all the time and I think that’s the most important thing.Well, anyway, I could hear them talking and I didn’t go out. And after a few minutes I could hear him taking the chain off and letting whoever it was in. And then Joe come in to me and he says:

"There’s a fellow here looking for you, Mary. He says it’s urgent."

"What is it he wants? Sure I’m off duty now anyway, amn’t I?"

I felt annoyed, I really did. The way people make use of you! You’d think there was no doctors or something. I’m supposed to be a nurse’s aide, to work nine to five, Monday to Friday, except when I’m on nights. But do you think the crowd around here can get that into their heads? No way.

"I think you better have a word with him yourself, Mary. He says it’s urgent like. He’s in the hall."

I knew of course. I knew before I seen him or heard what he had to say. And so I took off my apron and ran my comb through my hair to be ready. I made up my own mindthat I’d have to go out with him in the cold and the dark and miss the end of the "Late Late." But I didn’t let on of course.

There was a handywoman in this part of the country and she used to be called out at all times of the day and night. But one night a knock came to her door. The woman got up at once and got ready to go out. There was a man standing at the door with a mare.

He was a young fellow with black hair, hardly more than eighteen or nineteen.

"Well," says I, "what’s your trouble?"

"It’s my wife," he said, embarrassed like. He’d already told Joe, I don’t know what he had to be embarrassed about. Usually you’d get used to a thing like that. But anyway he was, or let on to be.

"She’s expecting. She says it’s on the way."

"And who might you be?"

"I’m her husband."

"I see," says I. And I did. I didn’t come down in the last shower. And with all the carry–on that goes on around here you’d want to be thick orsomething not to get this particular message straight away. But I didn’t want to be too sure of myself. Just in case. Because, after all, you can never be too sure of anything in life. "And why?" says I to him then. "Why isn’t she in a hospital, where she should be?"

"There isn’t time," he said, bold as brass. See what I mean about getting used to it?

"Well," says I then, "closing the maternity wards won’t stop them having babies." I laughed, trying to be a bit friendly like. But he didn’t see the joke. So, says I, "And where do you and your wife live?"

"We live on this side of Annamoe," he said, "and if you’re coming we’d better be going. It’s on the way, she said."

"I’ll come," I said. What else could I say? A call like that has to be answered. My mother did it before me and her mother before her, and they never let anyone down. And my mother said that her mother had never lost a child. Not one. Her corporate works of mercy, she called it.You get indulgence. And anyway I pitied him, he was only a young fellow and he was nice–looking, too, he had a country look to him. But of course I was under no obligation, none whatever, so I said, "Not that I should come really. I’m off duty, you know, and anyway what you need is a doctor."

"We’d rather have you," he said.

"Well, just this time."

"Let’s go then!"

"Hold on a minute, I’ll get the keys of the car from Joe."

"Oh, sure I’ll run you down and back, don’t bother about your own car."

"Thank you very much," I said. "But I’d rather take my own, if it’s all the same to you. I’ll follow on behind you." You can’t be too careful.

So I went out to start the car. But lo and behold, it wouldn’t go! Don’t ask me why, that car is nearly new. We got it last winter from Mike Byrne, my cousin that has a garage outside Greystones. There’s less than thirty thousand miles on her and she wasserviced there only a month before Christmas. But it must have been the cold or something. I tried, and he tried, and Joe, of course, tried, and none of us could get a budge out of her. So in the heel of the hunt I’d go with him.Joe didn’t want me to, and then he wanted to come himself, and your man. . .Sean O’Toole, he said his name was. . .said OK, OK, but come on quick. So I told Joe to get back inside to the fire and I went with him. He’d an old Cortina, a real old banger, a real farmer’s car.

"Do not be afraid!" said the rider to her. "I will bring you home to your own doorstep tomorrow morning!"

She got up behind him on the mare.