Mark waited in the foyer, security guard keeping an eye on him. The clock had passed ten in the morning and he could feel a pang of nerves starting to bubble under the surface. He took a deep breath and surpressed it. Things were going to go well, he just knew it.
There was a screech of brakes as a car came to a sudden stop outside followed by the slam of a car door. Then David, Mark’s brother bustled in. He shot across the tiled floor, grabbed Mark in a hug, and said “Great to see you out again brother!” Mark was too overwhelmed to say anything, but he did return the hug, the contact helped the nerves go away.
The car down the steps was the same one that David had owned before. One of the doors had a dent that he didn’t remember but it was nice to see something familar. “I’m sorry I wasn’t there waiting for you Mark.” David said as he got into the driver’s seat “But Cathy is after bringing her new baby over from London” Mark said that he didn’t know his niece had been pregnant. Cathy had been sixteen when he last saw her. By the time they allowed vistors she had moved to England for Uni, details after that had been fragmented. “Well you’ll get to see her at the house and your new grandnephew. Oh! I tell ya! It is going to be a veritable family reunion this afternoon what with all the phone calls Marian’s been making. Everyone will be there.” then he paused for a second “Well.. Maybe not everyone. But you’ll still have a great time.”
But Mark wasn’t really paying attention to David. They had reached the gate between the towering walls and he felt a momentary fear as he saw the traffic pass by on the street. What if someone saw that he was coming out and copped what he was, even what he had done? But none of the anonymous drivers even made to look at him as they passed. Quickly; they were away from the high walls and out in suburban Dublin.
Mark’s brother had always been a talker. A conversation with him usually involved a lot of listening. Mostly it was about Cathy’s new baby “The first time he ever saw me, he smiled at me. She said he hardly ever smiles at anyone new.” and being a grandparent “It’s a great feeling being a granddad but I have to say, Marian’s a granny now too, that feels a little weird.”, and then to “So I told him, right. I told him to his face ‘These doctors, they have more brains in their little finger than you’ll ever have in your fat head and if they say it’s going to be grand then it’ll be grand.’ so then I just walked out and I haven’t had a drink there since.”
“Will Gloria be there today?” the question came out of Mark’s lips unconsciously. David stayed quiet for a minute, as if uncertain what to say. Then “You know how it is Mark, it’s been hard for her and Sally, what with what happened. We see them every now and then, not as often as we’d like, they’re doing great. But you know; they’re still nervous. Maybe the next time. Provided.. you know.” Mark knew what was being said by that pause. Provided you don’t do something. “But don’t dwell on that!” David regained his cheerfulness “You’re only out for a day. It took longer than that to build Rome.”
It took them twenty minutes to reach David’s house, there was a banner, Welcome back Mark, and bunting on the walls. There was no one outside to greet him but when David opened the door there was a chorus of welcome. Nearly everyone was there. There was Marian, David’s wife, his son, Robbie and his new fiancee, Cathy, the daughter, with her husband and their new son John, named after Mark and David’s departed father, Mark’s widowed mother , a smattering of aunts, uncles and cousins as well as a couple of friends from the neighbourhood his former workplace.
It was good to see them all again. Many had visited him over the years but this was different, happier. Everyone wanted to talk to him, the conversations ranged from from the supportive “Glad to see you’re out Mark. We knew you’d pull through.”, to the wildly inappropriate “So. What’s it like in there? Can you tell me?”, to the mildly indignant “What do you mean you can’t have a drink? Not even a shandy?” He had been arguing with that particular questioner, one of his oldest drinking buddies when the rest of the room went suddenly silent. A voice from behind, a voice he had not heard in a long time “Mark”.
He turned slowly and there she was, Gloria, a woman he had pledged to love and protect but whom he had failed miserably. She looked exactly as he remembered, save for the scar on her cheek, very faint now, it had healed up well.
Mark made a move towards her but she shrank back, fear filling her face, the kind of fear you saw a lot of inside. He stopped himself, instead saying “It’s good to see you.”
Gloria wavered for a second, as if conflicted between moving to him or running away. Marian, by then close to her side placed a hand on her shoulder, this seemed to calm Gloria and silently placed her hand over it in thanks. Her eyes were starting to glisten with tears as she said ” I’m not going to stay here long Mark. I just came to say… To say that I’m sorry. I’m sorry for not coming to see you.” She sniffed, her voice breaking, but there was a smile on her lips “They tell me you’re getting better, that, maybe, you’ll be able to come home. That’s good. It’s hard for us. You have to know that. But I wanted to tell you that if you’re back. If you’re really back then we’ll try.. For you.”
By then the tears were flowing uncontrollably and Marian had wrapped a hand around her to lead her out of the room. David at the same instant had his arm around Mark, who was also starting to cry and took him out a doorway into the back garden. When they were away from from everyone David stopped and turned Mark to look into his eyes “Did you hear that Brother? Did you hear that? You have a chance, a second chance to get it back. All you have to do is get well again. Do you think you can do that?”
Mark didn’t know. He had been a long time before he even admitted that he was sick and even then it was a long road to get just this far. “I don’t know.” He said “But I’ll try… For them.”