Departure Lounge, a short story by Shirley Keegan
Shirley Keegan is a self-employed Holistic Therapist living in the picturesque village of Kilworth in North Cork. She changed career in 2012 after working for 25 years in the fast paced corporate world. She now enjoys life at a much slower pace, less stress and more time to do the things she enjoys. Her family is her great love; she has a daughter and two beautiful granddaughters who she adores. Shirley has always been an avid reader and is a member of her local book club. She has written poetry since her teens but until now has kept all of her writings private. In 2017 she did a six week online creative writing course which unlocked her passion. She found the words falling easily onto the page and it ignited an interest to her in the most mundane tasks as she began to observe things from a different perspective.
Brigid lay on the beach viewing the sparkling water through her newly polished toenails. The sun shone brightly and the white powdery sand moulded softly to her shape under her colourful towel. As she looked up at the cloudless sky she considered hiring out a sunbed and parasol to protect her fair skin. She could easily afford it now. She had to continually remind herself there was no longer any need to be frugal, however, as her dear departed mother often said “old habits die hard.”
After much deliberation she had booked a posh hotel for this trip, she nearly had to pinch herself to believe it, Brigid Lynch the old spinster living it up in Spain. “Who’d have thought” she said out loud just to hear her own voice so she would know it was real and no longer a dream. This wasn’t her first time away from home, she had been abroad once before with her mother for a funeral in England. She had been so excited getting on the Ferry with her mother all those years ago. Her father hadn’t wanted her to go, he feared she was too young to be exposed to death but Brigid was oblivious to the reason. She was untouched by the sadness of the visit back then, upon reflection she thought that was more likely because of her personality and nothing to do with her young age at the time. During the visit she was so careful not to dirty her good dress and warm winter coat. The excitement of wearing her good clothes midweek and eating such delicious food were embedded in her memory, it was a joyous occasion for her, when she spoke of it she always referred to it as her first holiday.
Thinking back highlighted how different this new life would be to her, she didn’t have the confidence yet to match her new found money. She had always observed ‘monied people’ from a distance, they had an air of confidence and expectation about them and she knew she had to work on this. She could spot a ‘monied’ person anywhere, despite their attire. They exuded confidence and a sense of entitlement and this was what she would aim for. She was mindful not to appear vulnerable in this new country, she had read lots of stories about holiday romance in her weekly magazines and she knew there would be plenty of people to take advantage of a woman on her own and even more so if they knew she was wealthy. Of course her pasty white skin was enough to make her stand out. She could hear other Irish accents on the beach but no one was as white as she was. She felt a little exposed despite her sensible swim costume. There would be no revealing bikini for Brigid; she had solid standards instilled in her.
Brigid had little experience in romance, it was not deliberate on her part but she had never found herself being pursued. She was shy, she was plain and she didn’t like to dance. When she was younger, she did dream of the white wedding, her own home and children. She would doodle and sketch how her dress would look, until her mother found it and told her not to be silly; she was not the marrying kind. It was a regret for her, she would have liked to have had children. She hated being referred to as a spinster, of course no one said it to her face but she knew people whispered behind her back. She got knowing nods which made her feel she wasn’t even worthy of the words of greeting. No benefit in saluting the spinster.
Feeling the intense heat of the sun on her skin Brigid rolled over on to her belly which allowed her the opportunity to have a better look around. She would observe and wait patiently, she was good at that. Today she would lie on her towel to see what others were doing so she could blend in. Blending in was a way of life for Brigid, with her mousy brown hair and beige clothes she was used to melting into the background. In essence she was a loner, her friends if you could call them that were the old people she cared for. The ones who had no one else and were so glad to see her for the few hours that was allocated to them so they could remain in their own homes for another while longer. It was the first time in her life anyone was truly happy to see her and Brigid really enjoyed her work.
Over time she became immune to the rancid smells of people lying in their own waste. When she first started in this job she would often have to run to the bathroom or out the back to empty the contents of her stomach, now she didn’t even dry retch from the smell. She had become numb to the sad failing lives, like society in general already had. When she started her work she really believed she could make a difference for these vulnerable people and she felt in the end she had. At first she worked over and beyond her paid hours, meagre pay for the work involved. She made many calls and often lost sleep worrying but nothing made the situation better for these people. They were the forgotten and marginalised, existing more than living but so glad to be home, in their own homes. It was a comment she heard many times from those she worked with, “I just want to stay in my own home.”
Like the care assistants before her she became immune to what she couldn’t change and she focused on doing the best she could for those in her care. She knew only too well what it was like to be alone. She wouldn’t fail them in their final years. Brigid was proud of all people she had helped; she never felt bad taking the extra money they offered her. She cared about these people and they appreciated it. It made her realise that money was only beneficial if you could spend it, keeping it under the mattress as many of her charges did was such a waste. In the end, the sad fact was they had little quality of life. Yes, they got to stay within the bricks and mortar they loved with the memories of happier days and photos in every room cataloguing their lives. Yet all this money they had worked so hard for provided them with little ease or joy in their final years alone and frail.
Before she left for her holiday she had gone to great lengths to ensure her remaining ladies were being well looked while she was away. She didn’t want anything to happen to them in her absence, they were important to her. They would have the best of care with outsiders who didn’t know her, the area or the people they were looking after. She liked to keep it casual so no new relationships could be established. She hired them privately and paid them well. This gave her a sense of importance, which she really liked. After all her years on the side-lines she was not letting anyone take her place now.
She briefly recalled all the others she had cared for in the last five years, since she had moved into this career, who’d have thought this work would be so lucrative, she certainly didn’t. She had worked in the local funeral home for the previous twenty five years and moved jobs because she was tired of dealing with the dead. She respected the dead and took good care of them during her time there. She had enjoyed her job once but since her parents died she longed for human contact and interaction. This care assistant job was perfect for her and she often wondered why she hadn’t thought of making the move sooner.
She was proud of her ability to help these people, the very people she felt everyone else had cast aside. She gave them great care while they could afford the extra service and then the demise of each was dependent on their shrinking stash under the mattress. She reasoned this wasn’t calculated and cold, this was done for their own benefit. They wanted to die at home and when they could no longer afford her comfort she was only too glad to fulfil their wish. This was how Brigid saw it.
She had been very careful with her extra money over the years, it was low paid work and spending lavishly would be noticed among her neighbours. It was still a case of everyone minding everyone else’s business where she lived. They would often ask her if she was lonely rattling around in the big old farmhouse on her own. So she had taken her time, waited patiently. It was three years since her first casualty as she called it and this was her first big spend. The first time it happened she had accidently given too much medication but when she saw the peaceful death she realised this was how she could really serve these people and make a difference to all of their lives. Some had months in her care and some had years; she made sure of their comfort and gave them much joy. All of their exits were peaceful. Brigid had a good relationship with the local Doctor, who repeatedly reminded her, he had brought her into this world. He said “most girls left this job after a year or two as the work was too demanding, but not Brigid, she was a saint to see after all these people with such great care when no one else bothered with them”.
The last old lady she helped to move from the departure lounge to her final destination as she liked to think of it, had been very difficult and contrary, Brigid thought it was no wonder she was estranged from her children. Normally she would take the time to build a relationship and friendship with those in her care, so she could feel she had improved their lives so they left this world with dignity. She loved the attention at the funeral when people would tell her how lucky the person was to have had her in their lives; most of these old dears had no immediate family. This time however, she didn’t have the patience to wait; she was pushing on herself and beginning to think of her own retirement, one where she would enjoy her ill begotten gains, even though she avoided thinking of it like that. She knew nothing she could do would make this bitter woman happy so it was an ease to the both of them when she was gone. She was certainly the most wealthy Brigid had cared for and it allowed her a way out finally.
Once her remaining charges were sorted, Brigid would re-invent her life full of colour in a different country, maybe Spain where she was now, but not before trying others first. Feeling the intense heat of the midday sun on her back she turned over using the chance to admire the beautiful scenery briefly before lying down again. Breathing deeply Brigid smiled thinking of the luxury she would live in. She could adjust quickly to this new life; she deserved it and had paid her dues. Pulling her floppy sunhat over her face, she relaxed back into the warm sand, thinking how nice it would be spending her days in such comfort. With a satisfied smirk plastered across her face she never noticed the armed policeman and policewoman purposely approaching her from the left.
© Shirley Keegan