Barry Laverty—Doctor Barry Laverty—heard the clattering of a frying pan on a stove and smelled bacon frying. Mrs. “Kinky” Kincaid, Doctor O’Reilly’s housekeeper, had breakfast on, and Barry realized he was ravenous.
Feet thumped down the stairs, and a deep voice said, “Morning, Kinky.”
“Morning yourself, Doctor dear.”
“Young Laverty up yet?” Despite the fact that half the village of Ballybucklebo, County Down, Northern Ireland, had been partying in his back garden for much of the night, Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly, Laverty’s senior colleague, was up and doing.
“I heard him moving about, so.”
Barry’s head was a little woozy, but he smiled as he left his small attic bedroom. He found the Cork woman’s habit of tacking “so” to the ends of most of her sentences endearing and less grating than the “so it is” or “so I will” added for emphasis by the folks from his native province of Ulster.
In the bathroom he washed the sleep from his blue eyes, which in the shaving mirror blinked at him from an oval face under fair hair, a cowlick sticking up from the crown.
He finished dressing and went downstairs to the dining room, passing as he did the ground-floor parlour that Doctor O’Reilly used as his surgery, which Barry knew an American doctor would have called his “office.” He hoped to be spending a lot of time here in the future. He paused to glimpse inside the by now familiar room.
“Don’t stand there with both legs the same length,” O’Reilly growled from the dining room opposite. “Come on in and let Kinky feed us.”
“Coming.” Barry went into the dining room, blinking at the August sunlight streaming in through the bay windows.
“Morning, Barry.” O’Reilly, wearing a collarless striped shirt and red braces to hold up his tweed trousers, sat at the head of a large mahogany table, a teacup held in one big hand.
“Morning, Fingal.” Barry sat and poured himself a cup. “Grand day.”
“I could agree,” said O’Reilly, “if I didn’t have a bit of a strong weakness.” He yawned and massaged one temple, his bushy eyebrows moving closer as he spoke. Barry could see tiny veins in the whites of O’Reilly’s brown eyes. The big man’s craggy face with its cauliflower ears and listing-to-port nose broke into a grin. “When I was in the navy it’s what we used to call ‘a self-inflicted injury.’ It was quite the ta-ta-ta-ra yesterday.”
Barry laughed and wondered how many pints of Guinness his mentor had sunk the previous night. Ordinarily drink would have as much effect on O’Reilly as a teaspoon of water on a forest fire. Barry still wasn’t sure if the man’s magnanimous offer, made in the middle of what had seemed to be the hooley to end all hooleys, had been the Guinness talking or whether O’Reilly was serious. When he’d first woken he’d thought he might’ve dreamed the whole thing, but now he clearly remembered that he’d vowed before laying his head on the pillow to muster the courage this morning to ask O’Reilly if he had meant it.
He knew he could let the hare sit, wait for O’Reilly to repeat the offer under more professional circumstances, but damn it all, this was important. Barry glanced down at the table, then back straight into O’Reilly’s eyes. “Fingal,” he said putting down his cup.
“You were serious, weren’t you, about offering me a full-time assistantship for one year and then a partnership in your practice?”
O’Reilly’s cup stopped halfway to his lips. His hairline moved lower and rumpled the skin of his forehead. Pallor appeared at the tip of his bent nose.
Barry involuntarily turned one shoulder towards the big man, as a pistol duellist of old might have done in order to present his enemy with a smaller target. The pale nose was a sure sign that fires smouldering beneath O’Reilly’s crust were about to break through the surface.
“Was I what?” O’Reilly slammed his cup into his saucer. “Was I what?”
Barry swallowed. “I only meant—”
“Holy thundering mother of Jesus Christ Almighty I know what you meant. Why the hell would you think I wasn’t serious?”
“Well . . .” Barry struggled desperately to find diplomatic words. “You . . . that is, we . . . we’d had a fair bit to drink.”
O’Reilly pushed his chair away from the table, cocked his head to one side, stared at Barry—and began to laugh, great throaty rumbles.
Barry looked expectantly into O’Reilly’s face. His nose tip had returned to its usually florid state. The laugh lines at the corners of the big man’s eyes had deepened.
“Yes, Doctor Barry Laverty, I was serious. Of course I was bloody well serious. I’d like you to stay.”
“Don’t thank me. Thank yourself. I’d not have made you the offer if I didn’t think you were fitting in here in Ballybucklebo, and if the customers hadn’t taken a shine to you.”
“You just keep it up. You hear me?”
O’Reilly stood and started to walk round the table until he stood over Barry. O’Reilly stretched out his right hand. “If we were a couple of horse traders we’d spit on our hands before we sealed the contract, but I think maybe a couple of GPs should forgo that in favour of a simple handshake.”
Barry rose and accepted O’Reilly’s clasp, relieved to find it wasn’t the man’s usual knuckle-crushing version of a handshake. “Thanks, Fingal,” he said. “Thanks a lot and I will try to—”
“I’m sure you will,” said O’Reilly, releasing Barry’s hand, “but all this serious conversation has me famished, and I’m like a bull with a headache until I get my breakfast. Where the hell’s Kinky?” He turned and started to amble back to his chair.
Barry heard a loud rumbling from O’Reilly’s stomach. He did not say, “Excuse me.” Barry had learned that the man never apologized; indeed his confession of being short-tempered in the morning was the closest Barry knew O’Reilly would get to expressing regret for having roared at Barry moments earlier. The man rarely explained himself and seemed to live entirely by his own set of rules, the first being “Never, never, never let the patients get the upper hand.”
Barry heard a noise behind him and turned to see Mrs. Kincaid standing in the doorway. He hadn’t heard her coming. For a woman of her size she was light on her feet.
“You’re ready now for your breakfast, are you, Doctors?” she said, moving into the room, setting a tray on the sideboard, lifting plates, and putting one before O’Reilly and one in front of Barry. “I didn’t want to interrupt. I know you’re discussing important things, so.” Her eyes twinkled and she winked at Barry. “But you get carried away sometimes, don’t you, Doctor O’Reilly dear? I hear that kind of thing is very bad for the blood pressure.”
“Get away with you, Kinky.” O’Reilly was grinning at her, but with the kind of look a small boy might give his mother when he knew he’d been caught out in some peccadillo.
Barry turned his attention to his breakfast. On his plate two rashers of Belfast bacon kept an orange-yolked egg company. Half a fried tomato perched on a crisp triangle of soda farl. A pork sausage, two rings of black pudding, and one of white topped off the repast. He felt himself salivate as the steam rising from the platter tickled his nostrils. If professional reasons weren’t enough to keep him here, Mrs. Kincaid’s cooking certainly tipped the scales. “Thanks, Kinky,” he said. “When I get through this, I’ll be ready to go and call the cows home.”
He saw her smile. “Eat up however little much is in it, and leave the cows to the farmers, so.” She turned to go, her silver chignon catching the sun’s rays as they slipped through the room’s bay window to sparkle in her hair and plant diamonds in the cut-glass decanters on the sideboard.
“Thanks, Kinky,” said O’Reilly, tucking a linen napkin into his shirt-neck. He waved his fork. “Begod I could eat a horse, a bloody Clydesdale, saddle and all.” He shoved most of one rasher into his mouth.
Barry swallowed a small piece of tomato.
O’Reilly speared a piece of black pudding and chewed with what appeared to be the enthusiasm of a famished crocodile feeding on a fat springbok. “I can’t face the day without my breakfast. Once I get this into me, I’ll be a new man.”
As Barry sliced his bacon he heard the front doorbell, Kinky’s footsteps, and a man’s voice. Kinky reappeared in the dining room. “It’s Archibald Auchinleck, the milkman.”
“On a Sunday morning?” O’Reilly growled through a mouthful of soda farl.
“He says he’s sorry, but—”
“All right,” O’Reilly growled, ripping the napkin from his throat. “Between you making breakfast late with your questions and the patients interrupting it,” he said, eyeing Barry, “I’ll die of starvation.” He stood and walked down past the table. Mrs. Kincaid moved up the other side. The pair of them look like partners in a slip jig, Barry thought.
“I’ll pop this back in the oven. Keep it warm, so.” She lifted O’Reilly’s plate.
Barry nodded and returned to his meal. Suddenly a roar shattered the morning.
“Do you know what bloody day it is, Archibald Auchinleck, you pathetic, primitive, primate? Do you?” O’Reilly’s shout made Barry’s teacup rattle. “Answer me, you pitiful, pinheaded parasite.”
Barry was glad he wasn’t on the receiving end. He strained but couldn’t hear the milkman’s reply.
A line echoed in Barry’s head. Never, never, never let the patients . . .
“Sunday. Well done. Pure genius. You should get a Nobel Prize for knowing that. Not Monday. Not Friday. Sunday. Now I know what it means in the good book, in Genesis chapter one, verse twenty-five, that on the fifth day God made “every thing that creepeth upon the earth. Relatives of yours, no doubt, Archibald Auchinleck. But what . . . what does it say in chapter two, verse two, about the seventh day? Tell me that.”
Muted mumbling came from across the hall.
O’Reilly continued his rant. “It says, and please correct me if I’m wrong, ‘And on the seventh day God ended his work . . . and He rested.’ And what did he do?”
Barry could just make out the reply: “And he rested, sir.”
Never, never, never let the patients
Barry could hear O’Reilly resuming his diatribe. “Yes, he rested. He bloody well rested. Now tell me, Archibald Auchinleck, if the Good Lord could put his feet up on the Sabbath, why in the hell can’t I? What in the name of Jesus H. Christ possessed you to come to annoy me today, Sunday, with a simple backache you’ve had for bloody weeks?”
. . . get the upper hand. It might be O’Reilly’s first law of practice, Barry thought, grinning widely, but the corollary, the first law to be obeyed by O’Reilly’s patients, was “Pokest thou not a rabid bull mastiff in the eye with a blunt stick.”
O’Reilly’s voice dropped in volume and seemed more placatory. “All right, Archie. All right. Enough said. I know you only get Sundays off from your milk round. It’s probably all the stooping and bending to deliver the bottles that’s giving you gyp, and having a boy in the British army must be a worry. Tell me about your back, and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
Barry mopped up some egg yolk with a piece of soda farl. That was O’Reilly in a nutshell, he thought. A temper and a tendency to erupt like a grumbling volcano, wedded to an encyclopaedic knowledge of his patients and a sense of obligation to them that made the oath of Hippocrates sound as trite as a Christmas-cracker motto.
Barry pushed his plate away, stood, and looked out through the bow window. It was a beautiful day, and as O’Reilly had said he could have today off, he was free from any responsibility to the practice.
He intended to enjoy his freedom to the full. Tomorrow would mark the start of his assistantship to Doctor Fingal Flahertie O’Reilly.
Copyright © 2008 by Patrick Taylor. All rights reserved.