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The Claddagh Brooch

By David Gardiner

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Claddagh Brooch

Not many people get to live right in the middle of a big city. It's all going on down there, never stops. Sometimes at night I just sit here in the dark by the window and watch all the lights. The cars are like a disco light show on the street below, a kind of river of lights moving east to west because it's one way and then you've got all the other lights on the streets and the tall buildings stretching away to the horizon. It's like being in a space ship looking out the window and the lights are the stars, all around you.
       You don't see much of the real stars of course, the city lights drown them out. It's incredibly beautiful all the same. I would defy anybody to say that it isn't. I've been here since I retired, seventeen or eighteen years it's been now.
       I was in the electronics industry. It was before computers we used to make things like transistor radios and reel-to-reel tape recorders. Colour television had only started at the end of my time, most of them were still black-and-white.
       I was the foreman. My job was to keep everything running smoothly. Still is, really. The job I've got now isn't difficult, not heavy or anything like that. The office cleaners come in at night to do all the heavy stuff. I just make sure they do it right, and that homeless people don't sleep in the doorway, and drunks don't pee on the steps. Keep a general eye from nine thirty at night to eight in the morning, that's all I have to do.
       And with the cameras and the screens, it's pretty easy. I don't have to go down myself. If there's people prowling around or making a nuisance, I just lift the telephone. That's what the police are there for, no point in a man of my age putting himself at risk.
       In return for what I do, I get a place to live. This flat. Do you have any idea what it would cost to rent a flat in this area? No, neither have I. A king's ransom, that's for sure. But here I am, and there's nobody going to shift me. I do my job and the Company looks after me.
       I've never had a place of my own. Lived in rented rooms all my time in England. Well, I was on my own, didn't have a wife or a family or anything like that, so there didn't seem much point. Didn't have too many friends either, come to that. I suppose the foreman's not the person you'd pick as a mate, is he?
       So I suppose I just jogged along. Went down the pub if I wanted a bit of company, always left on my own, came home, watched a bit of television, went to bed. It wasn't much of a life, really, looking back. But I always told myself it would get better, things would look up in a few months or a few years.
       They never did though. Not really. I wasn't anybody's first choice you see. Any woman, I mean. There was a little girl named Kimmy on the No 6 Production Line that I had a serious crush on. I used to walk up to her and watch her for maybe an hour at a time, until she would say: 'Am I doing it wrong, Mr Kelly?' I used to ask her to call me by my first name but she never would.
       I never gathered the courage to say anything to her. Except to reassure her that she wasn't doing it wrong. But we ... exchanged glances, you know. Affectionate glances. She must have known I had feelings for her. Couldn't have not known. Everybody else knew.
       Then she married an ignorant little Scot who drove one of the fork lift trucks down in Despatch. That was doing it wrong.
       But it was my own fault, for never saying anything to her. Not that she would have wanted me, I suppose. Not at first anyway, before she got to know me. I was a lot older than her and no oil painting, even back then. But I was earning a lot more than a fork lift driver. And I would have treated her like a queen.
       I never told anybody, but the day she said she was leaving to get married was the exact day that I had planned to say something. I had bought this brooch for her a Claddagh brooch. It was real silver, two little hands inside a ring, reaching out and holding a heart between them. The ancient Celtic symbol of love and loyalty. I put it away in a drawer when I got home that day and it was there for years afterwards, coming with me every time I moved to new digs. I never found another use for it after that.
       I nearly did though. Just a couple of years before I retired, I got to know this divorced woman who helped out in the canteen at lunch time. She wasn't young or lively or pretty like Kimmy, but she had a kind face and she seemed to be interested in me drew me out a bit, asked me questions about my life, about coming over from Ireland when I was a teenager, that kind of thing.
       She started asking me to come over for dinner at the weekends, or to watch a film on the TV together, things like that. We didn't go out like you're supposed to, we just met up for the evening at her house, and I think it took me so long to make any kind of move, to treat her like a woman as she put it, that I missed my chance again. I shouldn't have talked about Kimmy either, that was a bad move.
       It just fizzled out in the end. I never heard what happened to her. But I used to dream about Kimmy for years afterwards. Even when I was retired and living here. I would dream that somebody had rung the secret bell high up on the front door, and I would go down in the lift to see who it was, and it would be Kimmy a bit older of course, but not that much, and she would say she'd left her fork lift driver and needed a shoulder to cry on. Then I would take her in my arms and hold her for a while, and then I would give her the Claddagh brooch in the box. Or maybe I would dream that I was sitting on a bus and I would realise that it was Kimmy beside me, and we'd start to talk about old times, and how we never gave it a chance... anyway, you can imagine the kind of thing.
       I always used to wake up if things got too intimate if we kissed or anything. I suppose there's too much of the scared little Roman Catholic schoolboy in me to want to take the dream any further. I think that's always been my trouble. One of them anyway.
       It's not impossible, you know. You often read in the newspapers about that kind of thing happening. The ones with the big headlines and the small pages. Childhood sweethearts from forty or fifty years back meet up by accident and re-kindle the old flame. And maybe now that she's seen a bit of life she might be better able to appreciate what a mature man has to offer. And if I gave her the brooch straight away, she'd maybe understand what I was feeling, the things I've always found it so difficult to talk about. That was what I used to think.
       I stopped having the dreams quite recently. Just a few months ago in fact. I came across the brooch again in its little box. I hadn't seen it for years. The box looked crushed, it must have suffered a bit of damage some time with all the house moves, so I opened it up to take a look. The brooch was bent and the heart had come away from the hands. It had slipped out of their grasp and got stuck in the corner.
       I put the remains of the brooch away again, in its crushed box, in the bottom drawer. I haven't had any more dreams since that.



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