John B Keane: Good news is bad news in some eyes

I REMEMBER, as if it were yesterday, a female neighbour who knew more about my business than she did about her own. I do not hold this against her. Indeed, I commend her for it as I firmly believe that no family should be absolved from frequent inspection by outside observers.

I REMEMBER, as if it were yesterday, a female neighbour who knew more about my business than she did about her own. I do not hold this against her. Indeed, I commend her for it as I firmly believe that no family should be absolved from frequent inspection by outside observers.

It is good both for the family and for the observers and if neither side is satisfied as a result it is well to remember that nobody is above reproach. But where was I? Ah, yes!

This female neighbour was not a bad oul’ skin at heart, When you were down she wouldn’t dance on you and to give her nothing but honest due she never reneged on an underdog regardless of his nationality or religious persuasion. It was this that endeared her to one and all.

Like all women and indeed like all men she was not entirely free of fault. She never overlooked her religious duties and if there was a collection for the black babies or the Propagation of the Faith her name was always near the top of the list.

To pass a blind or a lame beggar would, in her eyes, be unthinkable. To give offence to those of lesser means or lesser station would be unforgivable. It was often said of her that she would give you the bite she’d be eating, that is to say if you had a stomach for it.

What then was the creature’s fault? I’ll tell you. She could not and would not accept and under no circumstances be “party to” or “agent for” the reception of good news. For instance, if her best friend got an account of increased fortune or a win on the sweep or anything whatever that improved the outlook, she deserted that best friend at once and never looked at her again until all the fortune was squandered.

In other words she was with you only when you were down or, if you like, she was with you or only when you were equal to her or below her but never when you were above her. In this respect she was like most neighbours. You are acceptable only as long as you remain like them. Fall behind them by all means but if you forge ahead you have committed the unforgivable sin of outstripping the field. In their eyes you have then left the fold.

But to return to our friend. In illness it must be said of her that she was as constant in her ministrations as the Northern star. I recall a case in point which may be of some future use to the student.

In the street it was winter. That is say it was cold and windy and no place for a man in bathing togs. Anyhow as I said earlier it was winter and the old corpsemaker Death was hovering in desolate places waiting to do his work. A number of old people as the saying goes were swept away but these were no great loss and it was generally taken for granted that if they didn’t go during that particular winter, they would go for sure in the next one.

As the cold intensified funerals became the commonplace. Since I never like to write about things which are too common I will not dwell too much on death.

People passed on and others grew ill. One of the latter was a middle-aged woman who lived alone. There wasn’t much hope for her and there was talk of shifting her to hospital but then the neighbour who hated good news intervened and volunteered to nurse the patient.

Night and day she sat by the bedside of the sick woman leaving the sickroom only to heat broth or look out the door to see if anybody else was dying.

The days passed and there was no change in the state of the parties. Eventually the woman who hated good news or rather good news relating to others became ill herself and collapsed while attending to her duties. She was carted away to a hospital. Her patient was carted away likewise.

Time passed and the nip began to leave the air. A number of enterprising daffodils appeared out of doors. The blackbird and thrush sang cheerily.

In other words, it was spring. The woman who hated good news was on her feet and doing well. The woman who brought about her collapse was also doing well. So well was she doing that she ventured out to Mass wearing a new fur coat which had been mailed to her from America by a Monsignor who was a relation to her. When the woman who hated good news saw her through her front window she reddened with ire. After reddening she thought of the injustice of it all. Here was this fur-coated monster alive and well when she should be dead as mutton. The woman who hated good news collapsed and passed on. What else could she do under the circumstances?