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Authors: Alice; Taylor

House of Memories

BOOK: House of Memories
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To Diarmuid, in memory of a day in West Cork

D
ANNY HAD NEVER
been in a bank. He stood outside the Bank of Ireland in Ross with a knot of fear in his gut. Behind that impressive façade and heavy doors was a world about which he knew absolutely nothing. Although the thought of going in there and asking a complete stranger for a loan crippled him with anxiety, he forced himself up the limestone steps. Looking in through the heavy glass door, he tried to figure out where exactly he should go when he got in there. He was tempted to turn back. A thin woman in a fur coat marched out and gave him a disapproving look. His throat tightened with nervousness, and he felt the sweat in his armpits. Finally he grasped the brass handle and pushed, but even the heavy door seemed reluctant to let him in.

High arched ceilings and glossy mahogany counters gleaming with brass rails caused him to blink in awe. The sound of drawers opening and closing, the clinking of coins and the voices of people who belonged in this world swam around him.
He was a child in school again with a spiteful voice whispering in his ear “yella belly”. His heart was pounding and he swallowed hard. Which way now? He was so nervous that his eyes could not focus properly. To steady himself he looked down at the floor, and words engraved in the limestone flag danced up at him: “Bank of Ireland … Founded in 1812”. An oak floor shining in front of him like a dark brown sea looked as if nobody had ever walked on it. He glanced down uncertainly at his heavy boots, but as he dithered with indecision the door was pushed in behind him by a burly, impatient man, and he had no choice but to move forward. Feeling that his legs could be taken from under him, he stepped on to the glossy floor and heard his tipped boots clatter noisily. He felt eyes turn in his direction. In here the men were all dressed in Sunday suits and the women in good shoes. Nana Molly had always said that her shoes told a lot about a woman. If his grandmother was right, there were a lot of rich women in here. In his working pants and darned jumper, he felt shabby and wondered if he smelt of the farmyard. He should have changed his clothes before coming, but he had made the snap decision this morning as he let the cows out after milking. He had not thought about clothes or appearances, and if he had he would have thought that they did not matter. Now he was not so sure.

But what the hell! He was here and there was nothing wrong with his darned jumper. He looked around with determination. In front of the openings in the frosted glass panels, people waited to be served. At one opening was a little woman in a long black coat who did not look as intimidating as some of the others. He might feel more comfortable behind her. She looked like a country woman. He lined up behind her and was amazed to
see, over her shoulder, that she was pulling rolls of red twenty pound notes out from inside her long coat and was pushing them in to the girl behind the counter. God, he thought, it’s hard to know who has money in here. He wondered if he was in the right place to ask to see the manager. He looked around to know if there was anybody who might tell him, but everybody seemed preoccupied with their own business. A man with a peaked cap looked at him curiously, but he felt too intimidated to ask him, and when the little woman moved, a slim girl with long blonde hair looked out at him with mild curiosity.

“Can I see the manager?” he gasped nervously.

“Have you got an appointment?” she asked briskly.

“No,” he gulped.

“Will I set one up for you?” she inquired pleasantly.

“No, I want to see him now,” he insisted.

“That may not be possible,” she told him.

“I can wait,” he persisted.

Danny was determined that he was not going to leave this bank without seeing the manager or whoever needed to be consulted about getting the loan, because if he went home now he might never work up the courage to come back again. He had agonised long and hard about coming to the bank in the first place, and now that he was here, he was resolved to see it through. All his instincts had warned him against asking for a loan, because it was an old bank loan that had caused all the problems in the family. As a result of it, his father fought all his life with the Phelans and would have nothing to do with the bank. But his father had let everything run down so that the whole place was on the brink of ruin when he died. Now Danny was determined to turn everything around and had a
long-term plan. Today was the first step. His mother would be flabbergasted if she knew what he was doing, but then his mother had no spirit left after years of living with his father. It was up to him to get the whole mess sorted out and get things moving.

“Would you like to sit over there?” the blonde girl asked him, pointing to a bench in the far corner. “I’ll see what I can do.”

“Do your best,” he implored her, and she looked momentarily startled by his desperation.

“Your name?” she inquired

“Danny Conway.”

As he sat on the glossy wooden bench, he took a few deep breaths to try to stop his heart from thumping. He felt that he might skid on to the floor if he moved suddenly on this smooth bench. He remembered how Fr Brady always told them to breathe deeply if they were nervous before a match. If only that was all he had to worry about now! At least before a game all the lads were nervous together. In here he was on his own and he was the odd man out. Everyone else seemed to know what they were about. Customers came in and made a beeline for different sections, exchanged pleasantries with the staff, did their transactions quickly and were gone. Drawers opened and closed, and a soft hum of conversation wove in and out behind the counters.

There was nobody waiting in his corner. Was this where they put you if you were asking for a loan? Was he the only one looking for money? Did everybody know that if you were sitting here that’s what you wanted? Hopefully no one from Kilmeen would come in and see him waiting like a beggar.
He looked up at the ceiling. Apart from the church, it had the highest ceiling that he had ever seen. Normally he would have been very impressed with a place like this, but today it unnerved him. He looked over at the granite slab inside the front door. The inscription on that slab read 1812 and it was now 1962, so this bank was one hundred and fifty years old. It had to be in through this very door that his grandfather Rory Conway had come with his friend Edward Phelan and got the loan that was later to cause such bitterness between them. It made him feel that he was stepping back into the shadow of his grandfather, and the very thought chilled him. Maybe the two of them had sat waiting on this very bench. It looked solid and shiny enough to have seated hundreds of people waiting over the years. Had they chatted as they waited? They probably had because they were friends, but they had no idea then what trouble their visit to this bank was going to cause. On that day they had set in motion a chain of events that had poisoned their own lives and ignited a feud that had smouldered between their two families for years. The shadow of that old loan had moved like a threatening monster in and out through his own childhood. He swallowed hard as a wave of foreboding swept over him. Maybe it would be better to get out now. Shades of all that had gone before him were gathering back to unnerve him.

“Mr Harvey will see you now.” The blonde girl broke into his thoughts and led him towards the far end of the counter where she lifted a flap and led him across an open area of yet more glossy floor. As he followed the slim, suited figure, he could feel a cold lump of apprehension in the pit of his stomach. He had to get this right, but he had no idea how to go about it. Desperation had driven him in here. Over the last year
he had worked day and night to improve things on the farm, but now he could go no further without money. He had gone to the shops and priced everything that he needed and had added up the total costs in a little notebook. The shop people had been helpful, but his father had never done business with any of them, and the Conway name did not inspire respect or confidence. He also knew that they felt he was too young and inexperienced to be trusted with much credit. He just had to convince this man that he could pay off the money when he had got things going well.

“Well, Mr Conway, what can we do for you?” The large, dome-faced man behind the wide, green-leather-topped desk gazed at him speculatively.

“I want to get a loan of a thousand pounds,” Danny blurted out.

“It’s not quite as simple as that,” the pale man who filled the swivel chair told him as his fingers played piano notes on the desk. His hands were soft and white.

“I have all the details here,” Danny told him, eagerly pushing his little notebook across the counter. It was dog-eared from being carried around in his pocket. Mr Harvey picked it up and gazed curiously at the rows of figures.

“These are all outgoing,” he said. “The bank is more interested in returns and security for our loan.”

“I have no security,” Danny told him bluntly.

“Then we are both wasting our time,” Mr Harvey said evenly.

“But I need the money to get the farm going,” Danny pleaded desperately.

“Where is this farm?” Mr Harvey asked.

“Over in Kilmeen,” Danny told him.

“Oh,” he said thoughtfully, and Danny sensed that he was recalling something that he had heard about the name Conway and Kilmeen.

“My father is dead and I’m running the farm now.” Danny knew that he was gabbling, but he felt that if he kept talking he might say something to help his case before this smug man would dismiss him.

“Do you own this farm?”

“Well, I kinda do, in a way.”

“You either do or you don’t,” the man behind the desk told him briskly.

“Well, it belongs to my mother and the rest of us.”

“That’s not a great position to be in.”

“But it will be mine when we get it all sorted out,” Danny assured him.

“Does your mother and the rest of them know that you are looking for a loan?” he asked. “And when you say the rest of us, who exactly are you talking about?”

“Two sisters and three brothers,” Danny told him.

“And where are they?”

‘My two sisters are in Dublin.”

“What are they doing?”

“Well, Mary, the eldest, is teaching, and Kitty is still in school.”

“In school in Dublin?” the bank man said in surprise.

“It’s a long story,” Danny said abruptly, wishing to God he would stop asking awkward questions.

“And your brothers?”

“One working in England and two in America.”

“So they would all have a claim on the farm, as well as your
mother, of course.”

“They would but …”

“So you are in no position to give the deeds of the farm as security for the loan,” the bank man cut in.

“No,” Danny admitted.

“Then how did you expect to get a loan?” Mr Harvey asked in a puzzled voice.

“I was never in a bank before,” Danny admitted, feeling his face go red.

“Oh,” the bank man said thoughtfully, “and how old are you?”

“Twenty-one,” Danny told him.

“A bit young to be running a farm on your own.”

“Well, I’m the only one left at home since my father died last year. My mother is with me, but she spends some of her time in Dublin with my sisters. I have improved things a lot on the farm, but now I cannot go any further without money to repair the buildings.” Danny knew that he was gabbling again. He wanted desperately to convince this bank man that he was down to the wire, but he was beginning to think that he might be grasping at straws.

“I understand your position,” the man said not unkindly, “but the bank cannot give out money without security.”

“But I’m honest and I work hard and I would pay it back,” Danny pleaded.

“I can appreciate all that,” the man said quietly, “but my hands are tied.”

“So it’s no good coming in here looking for money?” Danny said in despair.

“Without security, I’m afraid not.”

“So no matter how hard-working or honest I am, it makes no difference to the bank,” Danny protested, feeling angry and frustrated at the injustice of it all. The man across the desk nodded in agreement.

So his grandmother was right. Her words winged back over the years: “Danny boyeen, when you are in the arsehole of the world, it is very hard to get out of it.”

She had it all figured out, and nothing had changed since her day. He looked at the well-dressed man behind the large desk and felt an unbridgeable gap between them. This man knew nothing about sagging roofs and cows that could go hungry in the winter.

As he walked down the street he felt physically sick with disappointment. Desperation had driven him into the bank. It had been his last hope, but now that hope was shattered. There was no other avenue open to him, and he could not survive another winter without money. Some of the farm buildings were in dire need of repair, and the barn had to be resheeted before the winter or the hay would rot. What the hell was he going to do? He was so immersed in his misery that he was impervious to the street around him.

Normally when he came into Ross he enjoyed wandering around and looking at the shop windows, especially those of the hardware shops. Sometimes when he came to the end of the main street, he would look back at the different shop fronts. He liked fine buildings and was always impressed by the tall, three-storey houses that stood shoulder to shoulder along both sides of the street. Back in Kilmeen there was just one shop that sold a bit of everything, but here there were different shops specialising in clothes, furniture and things that he would never
be buying. But he enjoyed looking, and for him the hardware stores were like Aladdin’s caves. In there were the tools and everything that he would need to fix up Furze Hill. The last time that he had come to Ross, pricing things that he would need and making a list of all the expenses in his little notebook had given him great satisfaction and brought the realisation of his dream a little closer. That day, at the back of his mind, the plan to visit the bank for a loan came into being. The loan was going to be the gateway into his plan of bringing the farm right. The thought of it had filled him with a warm glow of anticipation.

BOOK: House of Memories
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