Source : https://www.derrynow.com/news/short-story-hugh-gallagher-theres-no-harm-sure/158623
“Please come up and tell us a story. Please Grandad!” pleaded little Jimmy Coyle as he was ushered off to bed.
“We love your stories about the war,” said his older brother, Patrick.
Old John Coyle rubbed his chin and settled back into his rocking chair beside the roaring fire. His
daughter-in-law Mary shooed the boys away.
“Come on now. Leave you grandad alone. He’s too tired for that tonight!” she said.
“Now, say good-night like good boys! Off to bed with you!”
The old man smiled at the children and kissed each one on the forehead in turn.
“I’ll be up later,” he whispered to Jimmy, the youngest, as he clambered down from his knees.
He was three-years-old, Patrick was five. The boys were the love of his live. They were a great source of strength and consolation to him since that fateful day almost a year ago, when his wife Margaret had passed away and he had moved in with his only son, Patrick.
Mary Boyle didn’t wholly approve of the presence of her husband’s father in their house. It wasn’t that she disliked the old man. Most of the time they get along harmoniously. It was the lack of
privacy she didn’t like and those stories. God, how she detested those war stories. There were plenty of fairy stories and other reading material in the boys room but he ignored it all. Instead he reminisced about his war experiences. The children lapped it up, night after night. She hadn’t actually forbidden him to tell them yet but she had dropped the odd hint now and again. When she returned from the bedroom she began to tidy their toys away. The old man lit his pipe.
“You don’t mind, Mary?” he said, trying to stoke up a conversation.
“No. Not at all,” she said. “Sure I like the smell of tobacco smoke!”
It was about 9pm when Patrick Coyle came in from work. He was a bus driver in the city.
“God, it’s perishing cold outside. Brrr!” he said, kissing his wife on the cheek. She was standing at the bottom of the stairs listening intently.
“Shush!” she said, backing into the living room. “Your dinner’s on the kitchen table!”
“What’s wrong, love?” he enquired, smiling.
“You know rightly. It’s your father!” she replied.
“What do you mean, Mary?” asked Patrick. “Is he sick or something?”
“Don’t you play the innocent with me, Patrick Coyle,” said Mary angrily.
“He’s at it again. Filling the boys heads full of them war stories. Listen to him. The bloody war’s been over for donkeys’ years. You’ll have to tackle him about it to-night. I can’t stick it any longer!”
“All right,” said Patrick. “You’re right. I should have done it a long time ago. Wait till I get me dinner in me first, please?”
Young Jimmy Coyle had stayed awake, waiting patiently for his grandfather to come into his bedroom. Patrick was fast asleep, snoring loudly.
“Finish the story, grandad. Finish the story,” the boy shouted, as the old man sat down on the edge of his bed.
“Now, where did I get to?” he asked.
The boy became agitated. “The bit when your tank was hit and you had to get out,” he cried.
“Aw, aye! I remember now,” said his grand-dad.
“Well! I opened the turret and looked all around me. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was beating down on my face. A bullet whined just past my left ear. It was fired by a German sniper from an upstairs window of a three storey house. I was the only survivor from our tank. I grabbed a Tommy-gun and a pistol and a few grenades. When I thought it was safe I scrambled out of the tank and slid down unto the ground and ran for cover. Bullets fizzed all around me. I could see them striking the dust as I made it to the safety of a house.
“Were you shot?” asked Jimmy, mouth wide open.
“Where?” Show me!” said Jimmy, standing up on his bed.
“Just there,” said the old man, pointing at a spot above his eyebrow.
“But, it’s long gone. You can’t even see the scar anymore. It takes more than a German sniper to down a Coyle, eh!”
The young boy examined his head and then retreated under the bed clothes. “Did ye get him?” he asked.
“Well now, that wasn’t easy,” said his grandad.
“I had to wait until I could pinpoint his position.
He had moved to the ground floor. When he opened up again I was ready for him. I sprayed the building with my Tommy-gun, hurled a grenade, and ran down the street to a building closer to him. I got him with my trusty pistol as he tried to run away. One shot — straight through the head!”
“You won granda. You won!” cried Jimmy, clapping his hands.
“Naw! Not yet,” said his grand-father.
“Another German opened fire on me. He was using a machine gun mounted on the back of a lorry and.”
“Can I…can I have a wee word with you downstairs, da?” asked Patrick Coyle, suddenly appearing at the bedroom door.
“Aye, surely, son,” said his father, tucking the boy in.
“No sweat! Go to sleep like a good lad. I’ll tell you another story tomorrow night!” r
“Give me a kiss, daddy!” shouted Jimmy. His father kissed him and switched off the bedside lamp.
“Night, night!” shouted Jimmy.
“Listen da, I have something serious to say to you,” said Patrick, when they had seated themselves in the sitting room. Mary stood by the fire, a worried expression on her face.
“What’s wrong?” asked the old man.
“It’s…God. I don’t know how to put this,” began Patrick. He stopped and looked at his wife. She had taken a seat at the dining room table and was drumming her fingers on the polished surface.
“I’ll tell you what it is, Mr Coyle!” she said.
“It’s about them war stories you’ve been telling the children.”
The old man was close to tears. “Sure, I didn’t mean no harm,” he pleaded.
“I know that, da!” said Patrick. “But, do you have to include all that shooting and killing. You weren’t even in the war, for God’s sake! Were ye?”
The old man turned and looked deep into the fire. “Do you want me to leave. Is that it?” he said.
“Ah, God, no!” cried Mary, putting her hand on her forehead. “I didn’t think you’d take it like this.
I only want you to tell them something different.”
“Like what?” said the old man, angrily. “Sure, didn’t I tell our Patrick here the exact same stories when he was a wee nipper and Devil the bit of harm it did him. Did it?”
“I want it to stop. Stop! Do I make myself clear?” cried Mary, rushing out to the kitchen. Patrick hurried after her and closed the glass panelled door behind him. The old man got up quickly and went upstairs to his room.
It wasn’t until his son had left for work the next day that John Coyle ventured downstairs. He had pretended to be sick all morning, complaining of pains in his cheat. The children were out in the back garden playing. Mary was stoking up the fire and washing the grate. He startled her when he came into the room.
“Oh! It’s you, Mr Coyle,” she said.
“Are you feeling better now? Have a seat ad I’ll get you a nice cup of hot tea.”
The old man sat in his rocking chair. “Can I have a word?” he asked. “I… I want to apologise!”
Mary felt uncomfortable. “Look!” she said. “There’s no need. Patrick and I talked it over last night!”
“Naw, but you were right, love,” he said. “And I’d like you to call me John from now on! I’ve been very happy here. I don’t want to lose that!”
Mary smiled and went to the kitchen to make the tea.
“Why don’t you read some of those stories from all them books up in the room, Mr Coyle. I mean, John. They’d enjoy that,” she suggested.
There was no reply.
When he had received his tea John Coyle decided that he must come clean. “Did Patrick not tell you the reason why I don’t read those fairy tales you’re talking about?” he asked.
“No! Why, is there a reason?” enquired Mary.
“I can’t read,” mumbled John.
“What was that you said!” cried Mary.
“I can’t read,” repeated the old man, louder this time.
“That’s why. I just never mastered it. I can only remember things and invent stories. I never saw a real gun in my life. Well, not up close, anyway.”
There were tears trickling down his face into his moustache.
“I’m wild sorry!” said Mary. “I had no idea.”
That night Patrick and Mary Coyle sneaked up to the top of the stairs and listened carefully as their children pleaded with their grand-father to tell them a story. He was reluctant to do so at first but the boys persisted.
“Please, grandad, please. I missed it last night,” said Patrick
“Well, them old war stories are bad for ye anyway!” explained the old man.
“Would you like to hear a cowboy and Indian story instead?”
“Whoopie,” shouted Patrick. “Yes, please!”
“Well,” said their grand-father. “A long time ago there was this Indian Chief called Sitting Bull.
He escaped from the reservation and began to attack the white settlers near the towns. One of the settlers was called James Coyle!”
“Was he anything to us?” asked Patrick.
“A distant cousin, maybe!” suggested the old man.
“Anyway, he wore two white handled six shooters in his brown leather gun belt where he always kept his spare bullets. He rode a big white stallion called, Fang!”
Mary Coyle looked at her husband and they both crept downstairs into the sitting room. Patrick laughed aloud. “Sure, that’s worse,” he said, “he’ll have Sitting Bull scalping people and burning down the town tomorrow night! Wait till you see!”
“Well! At least there will be no more war stories,” said his wife.
Patrick was speechless……