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Aroma Memory

‘I’m getting gooseberry,’ said the lecturer, sniffing deeply from the glass. He looked up, enjoying the moment, closed his eyes and was lost in contemplation of the swirling wine. The class was busy as we sniffed our glasses, following his lead, trying to understand the wonderful aromas filling our nostrils. Mumbles of agreement soon filled the room as we began to understand the beauty and power of the smells that we were experiencing. It was a moment to remember, but nothing like one that I had experienced some years before.

It was Christmas Eve, and I was on my way home with the last of my shopping, when I passed the front door of my old school. It had been many years since I had left the place and in all that time I had never darkened its doorway. ‘Why not?’ I thought, and skipped up the steps and knocked on the large, carved door. The sound echoed in the hallway behind, and seconds later I heard footsteps approaching.

I introduced myself to the Christian Brother who opened the door, and I could see that he was intrigued as much at my presence as I was at being ‘in school’.

For whom the school bell tolls...

For whom the school bell tolls…

‘Come in, come in,’ he said and we shook hands warmly. ‘This is a real surprise, and Happy Christmas,’ he added and I could only smile and agree.

We chatted as we walked down the hall and he told me about teachers who had passed on since I was a pupil. He pointed to lines of dusty, class photographs many of which were fading and showing the unmistakeable yellowish hue of old age. Times past indeed, I thought, when my guide asked if I would like to see the ‘old place’. Considering that ten minutes before I hadn’t even thought about this, I was now looking forward to a walk down memory lane.

The place had changed somewhat since my time, that was to be expected, with rooms altered and corridors painted in bright colours. The stairs were smoother than I remembered, and the view of the local church from the top of the building was unchanged, except that acid rain had added to its aging beauty.

Desks were tiny and the blackboards not nearly as massive as they once appeared, where algebra, Latin verbs, dates of famous battles and hand-drawn maps of foreign places had once held my attention.

I was really enjoying the unplanned visit and was unprepared for what happened next.

As I pushed open the door to my old classroom I was suddenly stopped in my tracks. The smell of the place hit me like a slap in the face and I was instantly transported back to those carefree days. There was no doubt about the images that filled my mind, and I could see all the desks and my former classmates. They hadn’t changed, and I slowly looked about the small room where coats and jackets hung from crowded hooks. And schoolbags lay on the floor.

The teacher was at the front of the class writing neatly on the blackboard, as tiny flecks of white chalk drifted away. I saw where I used sit and felt a nervous shiver run up my back.

It was a very, real sensation that was only broken when my guide walked past, the loud creaking of the old floorboards breaking my dreamy connection.

‘Are you okay?’ he asked, noting my bemused look.

‘Yes, thanks,’ I replied and took a last, deep breath before leaving the room. Up until that moment I had never thought much about the sense of smell, but since then I have come to view it differently, and especially its power to stimulate and rekindle memories that I thought were gone forever.

Desk life

Desk life

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, short stories

Festive Fun!

'Tis the season to be...

‘Tis the season to be…

Approaching Christmas, one of the things that we always looked forward to was the sale of work in the local girls’ school. It was a great opportunity to buy small presents, have a laugh and, of course, meet some girls. Such opportunities were important to a lad who was studying for his Leaving Cert and keen to meet members of the fairer sex. And hopefully get a few invitations to parties over the festive season.

On a cold and windy Saturday in early December Eddie, Paul and I made our way to the school where we queued under swaying lights, surrounded by lively chatter. The nervous tension was palpable, as we shuffled towards the door from where seasonal music and mirth drifted. The smell of fresh popcorn that floated past was teasing and inviting.

Hoopla

Hoopla

The sports hall was decorated in a rainbow of colourful hangings and flashing lights. It was alive with people of all ages pushing this way and that as White Christmas blasted from a dodgy stereo. There were stalls selling books, cakes, small paintings and knitted gloves and scarves. But nobody was winning on the Hoopla stall and Eddie had to give it a go.

‘Watch this,’ he said, and we gave him room.

‘You show him,’ I said, laughing.

‘Dead-eyed Ed,’ Paul urged.

A small crowd gathered and cheered each near-miss. Eddie’s last throw was close, but not close enough.

‘Bad luck,’ said the stallholder, giving a little shrug.

‘It’s rigged, it’s rigged I know it is,’ Eddie said convincing nobody, and we laughed harder the more he went on.

‘Here, have some of these,’ I said, offering him my bag of piping hot popcorn.

When we were finished I bought two books and the lads got some bits and pieces for Christmas presents. We hung around for a while and then we decided to leave.

As we were heading for the door Eddie’s sister, Marie, ran over with a look of panic on her face. She and two friends blurted out in unison that they needed our help – and that we could not refuse – dare not refuse. We found out that that Santa Claus had taken ill, and a replacement was needed.

Now!

It was too silly for words but the girls didn’t think so.

‘You’ve got to help,’ Marie said firmly, her words allowing for no argument.

We knew we had to help, as life would not be worth living otherwise. Gobsmacked, we looked at each other, before one of the girls said. ‘Well?’

I still don’t know where it came from but I heard myself say ‘Yes, I’ll do it.’

Eddie and Paul looked at me wide-eyed while the girls relaxed and took me by the arm, leading me like a condemned man through the noisy crowd. We went to a small room at the back of the stage where all sorts of junk seemed to have ended up. I hoped that this wasn’t the sign of my immediate future, quickly slipping off my jacket and scarf.

‘It’s really great that you’re doing this,’ Margaret said, breathing a huge sigh of relief. Marie and Adrienne smiled, joyously echoing her words.

‘No problem,’ I said, with no idea what I had got myself into and no chance of escape.

Rudolf and friends

Rudolf and friends

I was dressed hurriedly in a Santa Claus suit a few sizes too big and, after some tricky and ticklish attempts, managed to keep the long white beard on. The girls showed me to my throne where I was immediately involved in greeting a small girl who was not happy waiting for the old man dressed in an ill-fitting red suit. I explained that one of my reindeers, Rudolf, was not feeling well and we had to go slowly. I was sorry, and told her that her special wish would definitely be granted and my faithful assistant, Margaret, smiled and gave her a present. I did this for the next hour or so, and after a headful of wishes and promises to be good next year, I was finished, literally.

The lads laughed at my Santa routine, but not as loud as I did over the Festive Season when Margaret invited me to a party in her house, and a few others as well. It was the best Christmas present I could have wished for, and better than anything Santa Claus could have arranged. Ho, ho, ho!

The man with all the gifts!

The man with all the gifts!

 

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Filed under Dublin, Ireland, short stories