lived in Portstewart, one of the small villages on the coast. .
a small room at the top of an old damp two-storey Victorian terrace
The house was the last one in the terrace and from its window I could
look out on the grey, ever-restless ocean.
I can still remember the view from the window
and the constant changes in the sea.The
weather in that part of the North of Ireland was never the kindest,
though when the summer came the landscape around us, the easy access to
Donegal and to the remoter parts of the North gave the area its own
An old retired couple who owned the house lived in two rooms on the
Mr Paul was in his eighties and I remember him going for his nightly
walk accompanied by his walking stick and a small dog.His
bent figure would brave even Portstewart's weather as he walked along
the sea front. I never saw the old man at any other time apart from
him occasionally in his own room.
His wife, his second,
would sit quietly in the kitchen beside the fire constantly knitting and
offering us cups of tea as we came in from the pub or back from
studying. She never bothered us much, was always friendly and enjoyed a
cup of tea with those of us who would sit and chat with her.
Mr Paul became ill very suddenly.We were
not surprised, aware even then that age can be cruel. But what moved me
most was his rapid worsening, the fact that I never again saw him
walking bent double against the wind, and the sight of his walking stick
always lying in the hall. It became a strange kind of symbol.
into the night I could hear him coughing. The
fact that we were only aware of this old man's illness through his
rasping cough and his wife's nursing him gave the house an air of heavy
One evening, I came in from the cold and went straight to the kitchen to
heat myself at the fire. Mrs Paul sat alone. There was a silence I
couldn't understand. I recall now that her knitting needles were for
once not in evidence. . Neither
was there any steam coming out of the old kettle normally kept hot by
the fire. Her face was very still.
It took her some time to acknowledge me coming into the room.
you like a cup of tea?', I asked. She looked up slowly and I
remember her old, lined but still quite beautiful face as she said
calmly and without emotion: 'My husband is dead.'