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Portraits of the Past

Portraits of the Past

Автором Michael Whelton

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Portraits of the Past

Автором Michael Whelton

130 pages
1 hour
Jun 6, 2019


"She caressed the faded ribbon and thought of returning it to the secret drawer. Realising that this would only perpetuate the dream, she tenderly dropped it. The love knot burned, closing an unfulfilled chapter in her life."
Life, death and all things in between, including the decisions that we make, or have thrust upon us and how we face the consequences; how we allow those consequences to shape our destinies. These are among the poignant moments and personal epiphanies captured in a skilfully blended collection of bittersweet tales, told with honesty, candour, plenty of humour and never a dull moment, though the characters in these stories often seem to dwell in a certain twilight.
Written with keen observation and rare insight, these are moments that are meant to be captured, revealing as they do, the intensity of living in this world and the understanding of what it means to be alive within it.
A collection of short stories and flash fiction that travel to many places, far and wide. Some of them read like Joycean narratives set in the author's native Cork during the post-war period. The author, Michael Whelton, is a retired medical doctor who also has dedicated his life to art and literary pursuits.

Jun 6, 2019

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Michael Whelton is a retired medical doctor who has also dedicated himself to art and literary pursuits. He is the author of 'Portraits of the Past' (published 2018), which is a collection of short stories and flash fiction and 'Through the Pages of History: an art music and medical miscellany', a collection of essays published in 2019. He is also the author of a forthcoming volume of memoirs entitled 'No Plough Stops' (coming soon). His work has also appeared in publications such as The Consultant, Irish Medical Times as well as being broadcast on RTÉ’s Sunday Miscellany radio programme.

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Portraits of the Past - Michael Whelton



Another round of Beckett – feck it!

Bring on some cheer; I cannot take it.

Godot and Krapp, they have their place

But please, not up front in my face.

No man, no time, no plot unfolds.

Bleak nothings happen, only words.

Contempt seems meaningless but wait,

Are there primeval feelings – hate?

Yes, love, hate and loneliness are here

But only to the trained, discerning ear.

I take back what I said to start:

Beckett, at times you touch my heart.

New Year Dissolution

On December 31st, she had reached six months and twelve days. Congratulatory cards from others in the fellowship competed with those for Christmas on the bedroom mantelpiece. Bob leaned over and kissed her.

Thank you for last night, he said, and for being so understanding when I had to defer the promised break until the New Year, adding, I will be off now but will be back within the hour.

How things had changed. While it was hard going initially, she now wondered how she had liked the taste. It was good that all the empty bottles, hidden with increasing carelessness were in the past. Bob had also kept his pact to match her abstinence with renewed marital fidelity, which cannot have been easy when he travelled so much. Now, in casual clothes, he revved the car. Gravel crunched as he left to do his routine security check at the office. She picked up his suit jacket from the bergère chair and hung it in the walk-in wardrobe. As she left the bedroom, she was startled by a ringtone behind her. Realising he had left his mobile phone in the jacket and retrieving it, she saw it was a call from an unidentified number. Accepting the call, she heard a male voice asking, Could I speak to Mr. McGrath please?

I am afraid he is out at the moment, can I help? This is his wife.

Oh, how nice to talk to you again Mrs. McGrath, this is the manager from the Royal. I do hope you enjoyed your mid-week break with us – one of the cleaners found a Colibri lighter in the bedside locker and we wondered if it is your husbands?

Keeping her voice steady she asked, is it engraved ROB?

Yes, he replied.

That is his, she said. I bought it for him in San Marino on our honeymoon. Could you forward it to him please?"

Her knees were unsteady. Her face reddened. Decision reached, she stood and walked to the drinks cabinet and poured a large vodka. She could not miss the biro mark which indicated the level of spirit. Just the one, she said as she downed it. She then opened the safe and took out the service Webley revolver. Inserting bullets, she closed the breech, sat at the console in the hallway to await his return. She fingered the trigger.

Just the two, just the two, she said.

Fobbed Off

I was looking forward to going home to Ireland, after a year in the USA. In that pre-internet era, my only contact with home was by letter. My mother sent me the weekly Cork Examiner by surface mail. Even though it was out of date when it got to me, I read it from cover to cover – even sections on livestock prices.

I was delighted to find a letter from my mother awaiting me, when I arrived at my aunt’s house, forty-eight hours before I was due to fly home. It was full of news about the family, local events and sporting results. To my surprise, she ended by making a request. Her friend, Madge, had been left a fob watch by her uncle in New York. This was being held by an attorney in downtown New York. When Madge heard I was passing through New York, she immediately asked mother to send me a message to collect the watch.

My socks were damp. The cotton T-shirt stuck to my back. The humidity was brutal in Manhattan that July day. Though I had carefully studied my map of New York on the Long Island train, I found it hard to pinpoint the exact location of Goldstein, Goldstein and Clarke attorneys at law. I had spoken to Mr. Goldstein’s secretary and explained my position. When I asked for directions, she had said, Head for the Battery. We are between 5th and 29th, hanging up abruptly.

At Grand Central, I took a yellow cab. Steam swirled up from gratings on the street. I gave directions to the cabbie.

Wheech way ees dat? he asked.

Head for the Battery. Are you long in the job?

Two weeks. I Imry Paap from Hungary. I wait three years for visa to leave. My cousin, Boleslav, in New York, he go surety for me.

We engaged in a long discussion about the Hungarian Uprising. He expressed surprise at the extent of my knowledge about the uprising and its bloody suppression. I explained that I had been on standby as a first aid worker but in the event, the West had decided Hungary was outside its sphere of influence.

He suddenly pulled over to the sidewalk, bumping hard into the fenders of a parked car.

We near enough, he said.

I walked half a block to get my bearings, without success. Disorientated, I walked into a delicatessen.

Whaddyyouwant? said the owner.

I was hoping you could give me directions to an attorney’s office, I said.

Does dis look like an information booth, he grumbled, adding, who are you looking for?

Goldstein, Goldstein and Clarke.

Two blocks south, a brownstone building. Watch your back: this is a rough area.

Despite the heat, I sprinted the two blocks. Identifying the attorneys’ building, I was buzzed in. The elevator reached the eighth floor and I was in the foyer of the office. The secretary remembered my call and ten minutes later, an elderly man, balding and with a pronounced stoop came towards me, holding out his hand.

Glad to meet you, Mr. Goldstein, I said.

Call me Abe. Come into my office. Normally my partner, Kevin Clarke, deals with Gentile business but he is on vacation in Provincetown. What relation are you to Mrs. McGrath?

She is a friend of my mother and has asked me to collect the watch her uncle left her.

His heavy eyebrows twitched. I produced my passport.

A bit unusual but you have an honest face, he said.

There was a creaking sound as he swivelled his chair to face the safe behind him.

Sure as hell hope that noise came from the chair and not my back, he said.

He spun the combination lock and took out a manila envelope, got a stick of red wax and lit a cigarette lighter under it. He dripped wax onto the flap and stamped it with a seal.

Put your John Handcock on this release form and we are done, he said.

I jammed the envelope into my trouser pocket and kept my hand on it all the way back to Long Island.

When I landed in Shannon, my mother’s first words were Did you get Madge’s watch?

I did.

"Merciful hour. Thank God. She has us tormented about it.

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