A little before three in the morning, on the corridor of Anne Young ward, Austin and I had gone for a stroll. He and I both got a little more life about us late in the evening, and had to escape the ward to let the other patients sleep in peace. Sometimes you’d get the impression that we were only pretending to be sick men, but the powers that be had seen fit to incarcerate us in the infirmary – so we must have been sick. Nurses don’t mind what time of the day or night patients go a-wandering, so long as they keep the noise down and stay out of their hair. Plus getting out for a walk was better than listening to John and Paddy snoring.

Austin was looking forward to getting out every bit as much as I was. Rare indeed is the person who enjoys being in a hospital bed. He asked if I had plans for when I got out. Yes, I told him, and gave a stock and pallid answer about a good meal, a night out, and a couple of quite pints. Now I wish that I had given a better answer; a better account of myself. I wish I had told him about the big stuff. You never know, he was a granddad – he might have had some brilliant advice. I’ll never know.

“What will you do?” I asked.

“Open the drinks cabinet,” he said, “and pour myself a whiskey.”

His wife called me today to let me know he had passed away last night. What a difficult phone call that must have been for her, and how rotten it is that people have to go through the business of phone calls and arrangements when grief is on the heart. Such a close family, and I am so sorry for them; for their loss, and I am sorry that Austin never got that whiskey.


That’s my plan now for the weekend. I’m going to have his whiskey, and wish him all the very best for the rest of his journey. It was a long road he was on when we met, and his companionship – for however brief a spell – was a privilege I will treasure.

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