Chapter 24. Disaster.
Police descended on St John’s Stone House, with blue lights flashing and the battering ram or the enforcer, the ‘big red key’ as they liked to say. Actually they probably didn’t need it but as time was of the essence this was likely to be the quickest way of getting in. No one really believed that Adam was being held, the general view was that he might have gone to have a butcher and got stuck inside. That was reasonable. There was that embarrassing incident earlier in the year when a policeman got stuck in the toilet and his colleagues had used a battering ram to get him out. At least this time it was a member of the public. And it was urgent.
They smashed their way in. Heaps of debris were blocking the doorway. The reason the building was derelict was abundantly clear. The fire had almost completely destroyed the first floor, most of which had collapsed onto the ground floor. They could smell stale urine and cold ash. Once fully inside they could see the rat tracks, and nests made by the occasional rough sleeper along with discarded plastic milk bottles still with traces of congealed sour milk and the telltale marks of drug use. No one had been inside this building in months if not years. Tim set to ridiculing Steve. Many of the rank and file thought it had been a reasonable call but they weren’t going to side with a detective over one of their own. Steve had known this was a risk but it was a risk worth taking if it saved a life. Now his name was mud, and Tim would make sure that everyone knew it. Frustrated and angry, Steve said nothing.
Given the situation for Adam, they didn’t have time to dwell on it now, Steve knew the mocking would be relentless over the next weeks and months, but right now they needed to get back on track. Clearly talking to the dead was not going to help. Let’s refocus on traditional policing methods, he thought. Get the volunteer search underway. Tim would get one team on the campus first. Thinking wider he reflected that they probably needed to start looking at the rivers, this was more for a body than a living person, but as time passed, that would be the more likely outcome. Before he could get on with the real police business, Steve had to speak to Maeve.
Steve didn’t mean to be cruel, but he was. Maeve was completely crushed. Steve hadn’t been able to vent his frustration to his colleagues, so Maeve got it all, both barrels.
Up to that moment, Maeve had been on such a high, she had a strong sense of purpose, she knew how she could save the world, this bit had been the test. Now in one short phone call it all came crashing down. Ada had heard Maeve’s side of the call, followed by the silence and then the sobbing; which she guessed were tears of anger, frustration combined with a dose of self pity. Coming into the sitting room with two mugs of hot tea, Ada shut the door behind her so that they wouldn’t be disturbed.
First Ada handed Maeve the box of mansize tissues, with a “do they think women have less tears,” which brought the drift of a smile across Maeve’s face as she pulled out a tissue, blew her nose and wiped her eyes, then Ada handed her the tea saying nothing. Maeve caught her breath, hiccuping subsided, all the while Ada was sipping her tea watching her.
Eventually Ada started talking, “This may not be the perfect moment but it’s time I told you a thing or two. Then we can talk about your gift. I know ever since you were a little girl you have tried to find answers and I have always avoided or evaded telling you anything substantial. Well, it's only a week since I nearly died, and while I was in the hospital I made the decision that if I lived, I owed you an explanation. I promised myself I would tell you everything but only once, never to be mentioned again. This is the time. Here goes.” Maeve had been completely flattened, she had no strength left to say anything, so she sat back, both hands wrapped around her mug, grateful for the comfort of the hot drink.
Ada went on, “Many years ago back in Ireland, I wasn’t long married, when joy of joys I found out I was pregnant. My God, I was so ignorant. I knew nothing about having a baby. I was convinced everything was going to be wonderful. The priest was delighted for us. The doctors were on hand. Sure, what did I have to worry about? I got through morning sickness, tough but fine. The middle trimester was great, I was full of beans, enjoying feeling the baby kick and the bump grow.”
Ada paused, gathering her courage to tell this story that she had buried for over forty years, and not knowing quite how to get it out. “At the time we lived in Co. Louth and our local hospital was Our Lady of Lourdes. It was 1979, and rural Ireland was a different place then. The Catholic Church had great power over our lives. I didn’t know it but they were against the procedure of the Caesarean section. Although this was common in many hospitals there were those doctors with strong Catholic convictions who wanted something more ‘natural’, something they thought would help women get pregnant again and have big families. Well, as I am sure you have guessed by now, you were a large baby.” She stopped again, this time when Maeve turned to look at Ada she could see the tears flowing down her cheeks. No sobbing, just tears, and Ada was looking straight ahead as she said, “If I look at you now, I won’t be able to finish the story, so look away, please. I need to say this once and that will be that.”
“There is a word for it now, it's called symphysiotomy. For Chrit’s sake, I trusted these people and they did this to me.” Ada was struggling with the anger she felt while trying to actually tell what had happened, “I was in labour, in the hospital and they explained that due to the size of the baby they were going to carry out a procedure. They didn’t ask permission, they didn’t explain what it was. Your father wasn’t there, men weren’t in those days. Then they showed me the saw. I said no, there must be a mistake, that couldn’t be for me. They told me to be quiet and said I had no choice, I shouted for help but no one came. They held me down and with a local anaesthetic they sawed the pelvis, through the bone.” Ada paused for a breath, “Thank God, that saw didn’t touch you. Others weren’t so lucky. After that I don’t remember much, it was over very quickly and there you were, wonderful, perfect, wrapped up and handed to me. You were the prize. Then after that horror, I was treated like all the other new mothers. Get up and walk, they said. The sooner you get back to normal the better. This was cruel, sadistic. The pain. I don’t think that there are words to describe it. And all alone. Get back to normal, they said.” At this Ada was rocking herself back and forth, the tears continuing to flow. Maeve couldn’t bear it, she filled her hands with tissues and wrapped her arms around Ada, love, tears and pain all merged.
Ada accepted the embrace but wouldn’t look at Maeve, determined to finish she went on, “I promised myself that I would never speak of it again. Also that I would never have another child. Your father never fully understood what had happened. He still dreamed of his precious son. Well time is a healer, I recovered, but as you know I am not the most athletic.” Ada gave a short laugh, “yes, ‘not athletic’ is what I used to say. In reality I learned to live with the pain, I haven’t had a day pain free since then. We moved to England. And to Middlesex, that was for the hospital, your father thought ‘something could be done’. I was prepared to talk to the doctors because I was looking for pain relief. But I was never, ever, going through another birth, when he realised that, we grew apart. Of course he blamed you for his lost son. It became a habit to blame you for everything. His resentment made him mean to you. If I tried to help that made it worse. So I had to pretend I didn’t care. My escape was my gift to be able to talk to the dead. All the flamboyance was because I was damned if I was going to be defined by those cruel people. I needed to shine brighter. That was my pathetic way to prove that they couldn’t take my life away from me. Sadly, you too had a high price to pay, and I could say nothing. By the time I could, the words wouldn’t come. I had clenched my teeth for so long they just wouldn’t open. I tried a few times but nothing happened.” This time Ada turned to Maeve before going on, “I am so, so sorry, for your lost childhood. You were the only thing that made life worth living.” This time the hugs were two sided, they had really found each other. “This heart attack made me realise that you have to know, I can’t let this destroy your life too.” Ada stopped talking and they just hugged each other in silence.
It was Orla who came in first. She had prepared a pasta bake with fresh basil, mozzarella and tomato sauce. Marieanne and Orla had seen the closed door, caught the tone of the conversation and kept out until there was silence. Knowing that Ada and Maeve would talk to them when they were ready, the two girls came in with steaming bowls of food. Orla said, “I know you need time, but this guy Adam doesn’t have time so Marieanne and I need to eat before joining the search party on the campus. We think you should eat too.”
It was the break Ada and Maeve needed, Ada smiled as she looked at Maeve and said, “Haven’t you got two wonderful daughters! And don’t I have one too.” Now the girls knew they had been right to keep out of it, they had never seen such affection between their mother and grandmother. As they ate Marieanne explained that the school had been in touch looking for volunteers in the area so long as they had parental approval. The aim was to create a campus wide line to walk through the grounds in case he had collapsed and was in a coma just not visible. As Marieanne finished talking, Orla took the plates into the dishwasher, grabbed their jackets and was standing by the door shouting “hurry up! Let’s go.”
With that they left Maeve and Ada still sitting much where they had been when they came in with the food. Maeve made herself and Ada some fresh tea and said, “I feel like my stomach has been hollowed out. What a shit daughter I have been, I never even tried to see things from your side. Never tried to guess that things might not actually be the way they seemed on the surface.” Ada replied, “Ah now, don’t do that to yourself. You were trying to get your father’s approval. He pushed me out and you had to do that too, just to survive. It’s all in the past now. We are here, we are alive.”
It had been so emotionally draining that Ada needed to change the subject, “What about this young lad? Did one of the spirits lead you astray? They can be bastards!” Maeve, gave a heavy sigh, “yes, Kevin, I think he was on his own crusade. I didn’t trust him, but there was nothing else to go on.” With that Maeve put her head in her hands, “Mum, I don’t know if I can do this. All those unhappy spirits looking for closure. What if this happens again? If I get it wrong again, I am not as strong as you, I don’t think I can keep going.” “Don’t be ridiculous of course you are! Sure aren’t you the one that always stood up for your friends at school? Ms champion of justice, coming home to ask what a trade union was and could you form one. It’s one of the wonderful things about you Maeve, you will always go into battle for the underdog. Now let’s pull ourselves together and see what we can do. Take a 10minute break in the garden, breathe some fresh air, then come back and we will make a plan together.” Having something to do gave Ada the spark she needed to get back on track. Actually, she felt a lot lighter, a weight had been lifted.
She had one more key piece of information to give Maeve, and she didn’t think they had the time to leave it for another day.