Sam Maliko's Extra Good Times.
He wondered what he would say to the nursing staff if they asked about the cumbersome package he’d left the day before. They’d almost certainly be talking about it; it would probably be on their list of the strangest things ever brought in for someone in oncology. Had the old man explained it? Would he even remember what they were? The phone crackled through to the ward.
‘Whole lot better today, Mr. Maliko. Bit of a bumpy old night but sleeping like a baby now.’
He accepted the nurse’s familiar tone with the family now. They all had to. Her low, pastoral voice was now more important than any other in their lives. In just a few weeks she’d become a crucial branch in their wilting family tree, gently bringing them closer to the truth that autumn that year would be impossible to escape.
‘Has he opened the package I left for him yesterday?’
‘Oh, let me see.’ She shuffled down the corridor with the cordless phone, pulling the odd curtain back along the way, saying ‘how ya doin’ my lovely?’ to some of those desperate for her comfort. She never apologised for taking her time. ‘People ought to go forth in life with the conviction of someone who has all the time in the world,’ she’d once told the family.
As he waited, blowing out perfect circles of blue smoke, he wondered if he should ask for the latest results.
She came back on the line and chuckled. ‘Not even opened it yet, honey. Still all wrapped up in that dull grey paper you brought it in. You want me to rip it open?’
‘No, no … leave it like it is. He’ll open it when he wakes.’
* * *
They stayed up until just before midnight creating the labels, trying to see if they could match the style of those on real soda bottles. The father and son could be noisy and rash when mother was out of town, spreading their mess out into several rooms. They could even sit on the floor of the parlour in paper hats, singing Indian songs at the top of their voices, their shirts not tucked in, free of their shoes and socks.
Young Sam had his favourite colour poised. ‘What are we going to call it?’
‘Whatever you want. These are your very own bottles.’
‘OK then … Sam Maliko’s Soda!’ he roared, standing up straight to inspect the dozen brown bottles that surrounded him.
His father laughed, quickly grabbing hold of his pipe as it fell from between his teeth. ‘But these aren’t for soda, my boy. These are special, for filling up with extra good times. We need to make sure you’ve got some spare for later in life when you might need them.’
‘But what about the soda?’
‘Don’t you worry, there’ll be plenty of soda.’ He flicked a match and then sucked in as he relit his pipe. He then spat out several times, trying to dislodge a small piece of tobacco stuck on his lip. ‘But good times? Now that’s something very easy to run out of. Once we’ve got these filled up we can store them in the garage, so they’re always there if you need them.’
Young Sam stood there in deep thought, eyeing the labels, as his father put down his pipe and measured out some shiny silver paper.
‘It needs to be catchy, son. Something you’ll remember.’
After a minute or two of silence Sam burst out, ‘I’ve got it! Sam Maliko’s Extra Good Times!’
‘Perfect,’ said his father, winking as he nodded. ‘You just never know when you might need them.’
© Copyright, 2007. Seamus Kearney.