This is the opening of Bonzo, one of the stories in my recent collection, Borderlines.
Bonzo stood out. His face looked a cross between Woody Allen and Harry Potter, but he was much plumper than Woody, and taller too. There was a reserved, almost studious air about him and no matter what the circumstances or situation, Bonzo never seemed out of place. He blended in at parish weddings and opera galas, local funerals and rugby matches. He was a man for all capers.
Nobody was sure what he did for a living, or if he did anything. He grew up in the parish, the only child of a small farmer and his wife. A gifted student, Bonzo won a scholarship to some prestigious college when he was twelve and left the village. The next time they saw him, he was a young man with a bookish look. His mother said he had a big job in Berlin, but someone else said he was working in Boston.
When his father passed away, he returned to Ireland and got a job in Dublin. Every weekend he came to visit his mother and when she died suddenly, he took to the booze for a few weeks and announced that he might become a hippy. From then on, he lived in the home thatched cottage and let twenty acres of land go wild around him. He came and went a few times a week in a yellow VW camper van with a surfboard-rack on the roof.
Some nights he walked down to Cleary’s pub in the village to listen to the music and have a few pints. Once in a while he got drunk and danced alone to jigs and reels, to the glee of the drinkers. Crumpled and cockeyed, he would shake hands with everyone and whisper that they were always welcome in his house.
“I mean it,” he’d say, squeezing their hands.
Sometimes after the pub closed, a small crowd went back to Bonzo’s cottage with packs of beer and bottles of spirits. When musicians came, there was a rollicking session. The parties took place in the old country living room, decorated with pictures of saints and a red Sacred Heart lamp. Books overflowed from shelves to the floor and people built them into seats and sat on them. There was an open fire, a couch and a few sugán armchairs, which were given over to the musicians. He was a welcoming host and cooked up plates of charred sausages and sardines on toast. On those nights, Bonzo got really spaced and was often first to hit the floor.
His land stretched down along the sea road, from the edge of the village to a ruined castle once occupied by his ancestors. It was prime development land and Bonzo let it be. Every few months a hippy named Guy came with horses and grazed the place for him, but other than that the land was idle, left to itself. When he was drunk one night in Cleary’s pub, Bonzo said he was going to ‘plant it, plant it with trees. Broadleaves, native trees.’ It was good for the planet, he said and a few drinkers cheered, “Good man Bonzo!”
Backpackers knocked on his door once and a while asking if they could camp in his fields and he gave them permission. One Dutch girl stayed for two weeks and slept with him a few times. An American woman with a lemon Citron van pitched there every May and again in late summer. She was a photographer and took the picture of Bonzo and the cat that hung in Cleary’s Bar.
The first time Kiki McFadden met Bonzo, he was backing the camper van out to the road, being directed by Guy the hippie. She stopped her silver jeep, got out and approached him.
“Hitting away for the weekend,” she smiled, noticing sleeping bags and backpacks in the van.
Bonzo nodded and Guy hopped in beside him and began rolling a smoke.
“Are you going to the Electric Picnic?” she asked, smiling broader.
“You got it,” nodded Bonzo and Guy chuckled.
“You lucky things, you,” she sighed, “God, but it’s well for ye and some of us slaving away to try and make a living.”
“You’re keeping us all going,” smiled Bonzo.
“Listen,” she said, “I’ve been meaning to talk to you. Will you give me a call when you get back, I’d really appreciate it. God, I should introduce myself, I’m Kiki McFadden from Round Tower Real Estate in Ballygale.”
They shook hands and he said,
“Hi, I’m James, James Callahan.”
She gave him her business card and said,“God that’s gas, you have the same name as a cousin of mine in Mayo. I know you to see as Bonzo.”
He put her card on the dashboard and said,“Nice meeting you, Kiwi.”
“Kiki,” she corrected.
“Of course,” he smiled, “Kiki”
The VW pulled away slowly and Bonzo scoped her out in the wing mirror as she went back to her jeep, taking a call on her mobile. She had a full figure, tight power suit and sexy swagger.
“She’s a smooth operator,” he said.
“They’re on to you, man,” warned Guy.
He didn’t call Kiki McFadden when he got back from the Electric Picnic. The outing lasted longer than he had planned. On the way home he made a detour to West Cork with two English women and stayed with them for three days. Then Kiki’s business card disappeared from the dashboard and he forgot all about her.
Autumn arrived and he was away a lot. There was no VW parked beside the cottage when Kiki passed and after a few weeks, she slid a note under his door.
“I heard the Picnic was great. Hope you enjoyed it. Give me a call for lunch sometime when you’re free — All the Best, Kiki.”
Bonzo put the note beside the phone and it got covered with piles of mail. Guy came over with horses and they went to a Christy Moore gig in Lisdoonvarna. Then Bonzo disappeared and nobody saw him for weeks.
Kiki’s head turned when she noticed the camper van tucked behind the cottage. She parked the jeep and knocked on Bonzo’s front door. It was Sunday and he was having a snooze by the fire, a weekend radio talk show chattering away unheeded. Her knock woke him. Dang! Bet they have heard the radio, I’d better see who it is, he thought.
“Hello Bonzo,” Kiki, greeted and he was startled. For a second he didn’t recognize her, she was dressed for heavy weather in an Australian outback raincoat and broad brimmed hat.
“It’s Kiki, remember?”
“Of course, of course, Kiki.”
“Is this a good time to call on you? I know it’s the weekend, but I can never seem to get you at home during the week. How’re things anyway?”
“Fine, fine, great. Yeah, come in. Please, you’re welcome. The place is a bit of a mess.”
“Arrah it’s fine, what are you talking about. You should see my place! God this is grand, Bonzo, lovely and cosy.”
“Thanks. Would you like coffee.”
“God I’d love a cup, d’you know that? This is a lovely spot, and you have the open fire and all. God but I’d love a place like this…”
“Milk and sugar?”
“No sugar thanks. I s’pose you don’t have soy milk?”
“I’m afraid not. Sorry.”
“Arrah, it’s grand…just black is fine.”
They made small talk about the weather and she asked about the Electric Picnic.
“I’d love to go there next year. You’ll have to remind me when tickets come on sale. God but you have a very interesting life Bonzo. And d’you mind me asking, what do you do for a living?”
“Nothing very exciting, pen and paper work,” he said vaguely.
“I bet you’re a writer,” she smiled, “you have that look. Do you write poetry?”
“On occasion,” he replied, “but I wouldn’t consider myself a poet.”
“I would,” she said, “and I bet you’re very good. A lot of great artists didn’t consider themselves as good as they were. D’you know what I mean? Like Van Gogh, like.”
“Poor Vincent,” sighed Bonzo.
“Yeah, he cut off his ear, didn’t he? But listen,” she said, slowing her voice a gear, “we have a client who is very interested in buying some land from you.”
“Yes, I can’t say who it is at the moment, but it’s a serious player. They’d be interested in buying as much as you’d sell them along the road.”
“For development, I presume. It’s not somebody who wants it to farm.”
“Yes, for development. As I said, they’re serious. And they would make a sizable offer.”
Bonzo looked into the fire and Kiki bantered on about the holy pictures, chipped statues of Jesus and family photos that stared at her from every wall. She said she envied his lifestyle and longed to give up the rat race and retreat to an island and write poetry. Or just meditate. Kiki sipped her coffee and silence seeped around them.
“Well,” she said, “will you think about it anyway. The offer would be in the region of 300K an acre. Say, 5 to 6 million for the whole place.”
“Jesus, that’s a lot.”
“Of course it would be conditional on planning but the client is well connected and thinks that wouldn’t be a problem…”
Bonzo’s head swirled and he felt dizzy….
Borderlines is 3 long stories by Eddie Stack — Carnival Cop; Bonzo; One for the Rover. The stories are set in the West of Ireland. Kindle edition costs $0.99. Download here
Books by Eddie Stack on Amazon