Vincent Holmes was born in Dublin and has been living in Galway since 1978. He worked for the Department of Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht for more than 30 years. Vincent earned a Master’s Degree from National University of Ireland, Galway. Over the years he has written short stories in Irish that featured on Raidió na Gaeltachta’s Peann agus Pár programme, Comhar the Irish literary magazine and a miscellany articles to both the Irish Times and Raidió na Gaeltachta. He is the General Administrator and an occasional contributor to The Galway Review. A Walk on the Beach is his first foray into short story writing in English.
A walk on the beach…
By Vincent Holmes
The three dogs ran on ahead in their usual exuberant manner. Their tails continuously wagged as they sniffed the sea air and all else besides on a typical cold windy February day in Rusheen Bay. After our initial greeting Frank, my close friend of more than thirty years, and I walked the uneven ground in comfortable silence our minds focussed on our footsteps across the slippery seaweed-strewn terrain. I broke the silence “Frank, I have something to tell you…” The words came hesitatingly as I struggled to find the right mots. “ I haven’t mentioned anything to herself yet…” Frank said nothing and waited patiently. He was used to my not getting to the point quickly. “ I didn’t sleep well last night and I had to get up to a call of nature at 5.30am – a bowel movement. When I looked in the the toilet bowl, as you do, there was a good deal of blood in it too..”. Frank did not respond, he waited patiently to hear the full story, sensing that I was struggling to explain something difficult. “ My first thoughts were that it was the medication I’m on for the arthritis. It’s said that anti-inflammatories and pain-killers are very hard on the lining of the stomach. They might have attacked it. You’re meant to take them with food, sometimes I don’t if the pain gets too bad. I hope it’s not anything more sinister.”
Frank, who does not mince words, stopped walking looked at me intently and said “That’s one for the Doctor, make an appointment for today, now, or you’ll be thinking about it all weekend.” We walked on.
I made the appointment for that Friday afternoon.
The waiting room’s radio blared a little loudly for my liking. Its purpose was to drown out any conversation between patient and doctor in the surgery next door. I resisted the temptation to turn the volume down. Anyway, unusually, there was no one in the waiting room but myself. It was a 4.30pm appointment, but I expected to be waiting longer and that would give me time to prepare my introduction of a topic, to say the least, that I found embarrassing. An observer would have seen me squirming in the chair in rehearsal of what I was about to explain to the doctor. Just then he appeared in the doorway and said “Come on in!”. As I walked towards the surgery door he added “You’re walking a lot better since the last time I saw you” and that was my cue to divulge my ailment.
The crunch of tyres on gravel announced the arrival of Frank’s car at Rusheen Bay. His dog Tyson did his usual hop-down from the boot and headed straight for a large boulder on which to leave his mark and then greet his dog buddies. “Well, I’m still in the land of the living!” was my greeting to Frank.
“It went well yesterday, kinda”. I knew that Frank would be too polite to ask and that he would wait for me to tell the story in my own time.
“That Doctor will turn me into a monk yet. Every time I go, and there have been lots of visits recently, I’m deprived of something else. He’s very good though, very thorough. God it was a struggle trying to get the words out to explain it to him”
“Sure Doctor’s would be well used to that sort of thing” Frank replied anticipating the detail to come.
“Eh, says I to him, there was blood in my toilet bowl this morning after I performed and eh…mm..it appeared to be on the surface of my droppings, not in it, if you get my meaning…”
“We’ll have a look below” said the Doctor nonchalantly.
“Pardon? What? You want to have a look at my bottom?” Even in the re-telling, the alarm was still in my voice.
“Hop up there on the surgery table and face the window. Slip off the pants first. It’ll just be a quick look”. This command was followed by the distinctive sound of surgical rubber gloves being snapped on.
Frank laughed loudly.
At this stage, lying on my side, my nose was firmly pressed against the cold surface of a surgery radiator.
“Bring your knees, up to your chin.”
Frank’s guffaws echoed across Rusheen Bay.
The surgery window and radiator lit up with the glare of light reflection. A glance over my shoulder confirmed that the doctor had a miner’s lamp strapped to his forehead. A feeling of doom overcame me. It was a very odd sensation to have your buttocks separated, akin to making two halves of a peeled orange.
“Anal fissures. One to the front and other at the back”. The doctor spoke matter-of-factly.
“Anal what? Pardon?” The alarm in my voice reached a new crescendo.
“Anal fissures, it’s a tear in the skin near your back passage, usually occurs with a trauma or too large a stool”. The doctor volunteered the precise information.
“Oh” a measure of calm an relief came momentarily. It was very short lived. What felt like the narrow end of a baseball bat or starter handle for a vintage car was inserted very deeply into my rectum and rotated vigorously, first in a clockwise direction then anti-clockwise. It felt like my Adam’s apple was being pushed up my oesophagus.
Frank looked like he was having a fit. He turned to a large boulder for support, with both hands pressed on its surface. His head was thrown back and the roars of laughter must have been heard in Seapoint two miles away. The three dogs stood still looking at him quizzically. Tyson, his own dog, wagged his tail animatedly sharing his Master’s good form.
“Just checking for polyps or a tumour “ the doctor explained. “ It seems all clear. You can slip the pants on again, I’ve something curious to show you.”
What? What had he found in THAT place? The slow creep of alarm welled up again. But I was mistaken he simply reached for a book on his bookshelf and took down the latest edition of MIMS the pharmaceutical catalogue that describes drugs, medical treatments and their properties.
“Look at this” he said. On page 17, his manicured finger nail pointed out a product called Rectogesic – relief of pain associated with chronic anal fissure.”
“Look what’s in it. It’s Glycerln Trinitrate. Look at the price of it, just an ointment”. He added.
“Gosh. That’s an explosive isn’t it?” I said feigning some knowledge of Chemistry.
“Yes, Nitro Glycerin, but not quite in the same quantities or application” he replied patiently.
A potential explosive on my bottom am I not through enough already, the thought flashed in my head.
“Look at the price of it! The trade price is €43.05 for 30 grammes of ointment! Wait’ ll you see this”.
He flicked the pages until he found page 65 in the Angina section of the catalogue.
“Look – Nitrolingual Spray. Look what’s in it. The same stuff Glyceryl trinitrate. Compare the price! I’m giving you a prescription for this. You wipe yourself first in the normal way. Use ordinary white tissue, the coloured variety have chemicals in them. Then wipe again with clean water and spray on this stuff, it relaxes the muscles in that area and can help healing too.”
I looked and compared. The trade price for a starter pack pump spray with 200 doses was €5.07.
I suspect Frank saw what was coming. Tears were streaming down his face. “Stop, stop no more! I can’t take it.”
As is usual with surgeries the chemist’s shop is not too far away. My relief was great after the consultation. I could look forward to a pleasant weekend without a medical Sword of Damocles hanging over me. The shop had several customers huddled around the dispensing area. A lady attended to me and I parted with the prescription. “We’re a bit busy, take a seat and we’ll be with you in a few minutes.”
I sat down on a chair, mid-shop, some distance from the huddled group. A short while later I saw the chemist disengaging from the huddle and coming in my direction in a discreet, almost conspiratorial, manner.
“Have you used this product , Nitrolingual” before?” she asked in a whispered and sympathetic tone.
“ I haven’t “ I replied as a small uncontrollable smile started to spread across my face.
“ You spray it on the underside of your tongue as required”
In the distance I could see Frank falling about like a drunk across the expanse of beach and Tyson ambling along by his side bemused at his Master’s careering behaviour. Faint strains of hoots of continuous laughter assailed my ears.
A walk on the beach…it was not.