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Archive for the category “Irish fiction”

Granda and Me

For the year and the month that’s in it, I thought this deserves another outing…

Granda and Me

Granda had a ‘thing’ about the church — he was excommunicated during the Irish War of Independence for carrying a gun and that turned his head. Even though Bishop Harty took him back to the fold afterwards and blessed him and everything, Granda never went back spiritually. He just went through the motions.

At Mass, I used watch his Einstein head from the choir gallery, his mind in another world, rising, kneeling and sitting with the flow of congregation. He came without prayer book or beads and sometimes fell asleep, even snored, during fire and brimstone sermons.

Granda seldom mentioned religion, which was kind of taboo in our house. If it did come up in conversation, he’d point to the picture of St. Patrick which hung above the radio in the kitchen and calmly say,
“D’you see that man up there who’s staring down at you? Your own patron saint? Well it’s that man’s followers who dug Ireland’s grave and put the stake in her heart to make sure she was dead and would never rise again.”
I saw grown men and women flee from our house in horror after hearing Granda’s revisionist theories on our patron saint and the men in black who came in his wake.

The picture of Saint Patrick was ever-present and I think it hung on the wall as a prop for Granda’s theories, sort of like a wanted poster. Sitting, eating or doing homework at the table, you couldn’t escape the Saint’s gaze as he stood on the sea-shore in bad weather, rage in his eyes, crosier raised and vestments flapping. At his feet were scores of wriggling snakes, squirming from Erin with their lives. It was a nightmarish sight.
“But what about the snakes?” I asked Granda one day.
“There were no snakes. All that snakes stuff is pure propaganda.”
Proper gander to my young ears, a polite way of saying total bullshit.

Saint Patrick came to the fore at school some months later when Brother Liston announced it was time to practise our Irish hymns, the National Holiday was coming round the bend. There was a big cheer in class, because we loved to sing. It was an easy way to pass the time and the noise we generated blocked the wind and rain and raised our tender young hearts. We could build up great steam with a hymn, belting out Latin words that meant nothing to us. When we got really cooking Brother Liston would light a few candles, put them in front of the statue of Our Lady, close his eyes and conduct the choir with a pencil. Sometimes we sang for hours, candles would expire and the smell of burning wax would bring Brother Liston back from Heaven. Then we’d finish with a rousing march that went—We stand for God, And for his Glory.

We had hymns for all season — requiems, High Mass, Benediction, Novenas, Rosaries, plain chant, hymns for the conversion of Russia, Easter specials, Christmas carols, but Saint Patrick’s melodies were the oddest. Unlike the others, they were mostly in Irish and so we understood the words. But that in turn opened another can of maggots when I deduced that one of the hymns was a plea to Saint Patrick to give us hope. I didn’t realize we were hopeless until then. It seemed something was going on that I knew nothing about. There was no point in discussing my anxiety with Brother Liston so I mentioned it to Granda one Lenten evening over a supper of kippered herrings and brown bread. He asked me to sing a snatch of the hymn, which I did:
Give us hope, Glorious Saint Patrick,
Great Liberator of Ireland,
Soul of brightness and joy,
You who vanquished the druids,
Dark hearted pagans of no good.

The song freaked Granda. He reeled from the table like he was shot. It was all wrong, he flared, it was propaganda. And what’s all this tripe about the druids, he asked, the druids were fine people, very learned and wise. And what was all this about the liberation of Ireland, he cried, sure it’s the Church that oppressed us. Jesus Christ, he moaned that’s the worst piece of propaganda I’ve heard in years. And worser still, it’s being drummed into the heads of children. My mother told him to shut up. His eyes glazed and he shook his wild head of wild white hair and muttered,
“That song is heresy. Pure unadulterated heresy. If the druids were around today, we’d be a lot better off.”
I didn’t know what heresy was, but I knew it was serious and after that I held back on the song at choir practice. Brother Liston twigged my reluctance to sing and stood beside me, his ear a foot from my mouth. Louder, he muttered. I obliged. Louder, he growled giving me a pinch on the ear. I skidded out of key and he hit me a fierce clatter across the head and knocked me out of my desk.

That year, a new curate called Father Malachy organized the first ever Saint Patrick’s Day parade in our parish. It was a small affair that started outside the church after last Mass and trailed through the street, ending at the Protestant Church on the other end of town. The parade was led by a fife and drum band from a place called Bunwanny, a bedraggled lot in kilts and black tunics, they were famous for the amount they drank and they made an awful sound. Behind them marched a company of soldiers without guns, followed by our civil defence corp—the men from the firebrigade, then Bogie Molloy leading a pack of greyhounds. Next came a couple of floats—coal and sand trucks decked with green ribbons, carrying dancers, footballers and local characters.

We had no experience with parades and wondered what to do as it passed. Should we cheer like they did in America? Heckle like we did politicians? Or join in behind Willie Daly’s pony troupe? We joined in. The whole street joined in: shouting and cheering like a crowd of jail breakers, we marched behind Daly’s team of ponies. The town hadn’t seen so much jubilation since the night Bogie’s greyhound won a big race in Shelbourne Park.

Afterwards, Brother Liston corralled us into the parochial hall to sing hymns for the annual old folks party. We sang well, got sweets and green jelly for our efforts and were allowed to stay for the sing-song. Granda was there, a big sprig of shamrock in his cap. He had drink taken and no sooner were we finished with our hymns than he stood up, dragged Murt Hynes, (who sat beside him) to his feet and announced that they were going to sing.
They sang a rebel song, Down By The Glenside. They were old soldiers and never missed a chance to put things in perspective. Brother Liston smiled but didn’t join in the chorus like everyone else. I sang like a lark,
“Glory-oh, glory-oh, to the bold Fenian men.”
After that performance, when the clapping died down, Aggie Marrinan began to croon in a soft voice,
“The night was dark and the fight was over,
The moon shone down on O’Connell Street.”

Everyone sang and the mood had shifted from a religious one to a patriotic one. I was beginning to notice there were different layers to Saint Patrick’s Day. Some had nothing to do with the saint, as far as I could see. It was an occasion to open the valve and let it all out. You could be as Irish as you liked and feel good about it. You could put away the Halloween costume for a day.
Granda was asked to sing again and he obliged with an emigration song which began “On the dock the ship is anchored…” and had a line in the chorus that went — “Three leaf Shamrock I adore thee.”
That started a spate of shamrock songs and then Brother Liston took the limelight and sang a quasi-religious ballad called “Dear Little Shamrock.”
He had a quivering tenor voice, a trained voice, as Aggie Marrinan would say, and his performance was unsettling. Old timers shuffled their feet under the tables, cutlery fell on the floor, chairs creaked. He finished on a high tension note that lasted for half a minute or more, but before anyone could applaud, Granda thumped the table, staggered to his feet and shouted,
“Propaganda! Propaganda!” at the startled Christian Brother.
Cronies pulled at Granda and whispered,
“Sit down Ned. Take it easy.”
John Gallery muttered to me,
“Jesus, your grandfather will be arrested.”
Granda wagged his finger at the monk and shouted,
“Don’t hijack the shamrock, ye did it once but ye won’t do it again!”
The party delved into confusion. People shouted, staggered, chairs overturned, Father Malachy appealed for calm. Aggie Marrinan seized the moment and thumped out “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” on the piano. But they weren’t, they were just cockeyed with drink and anarchy.

Granda was taken home by Coyne the butcher and later that night Father Malachy came to the house to see how he was. In bed, my mother said, opening the door three inches. He didn’t rise for two days and when he did, mother ignored him.
Back at school Brother Liston looked at me strangely and didn’t ask me anything for days, kept out of my space. My mother’s intuition told her he was planning to give me a trouncing for Granda’s indiscretions. She suggested that Granda write an apology to the monk and when he made no attempt to, she wrote one herself. I brought the note to school with me and planned to give it to Liston at the eleven o’clock break, as discreetly as possible.
The note gave me a sense of security, like a holy medal or a drop of Lourdes water is said to give. But then when I wasn’t expecting it, Brother Liston pounced. It was Catechism class and he asked me to prove the existence of God. My proof didn’t even convince me. It was curtains.
“Come up here you pagan,” squalled Brother Liston, beckoning me up to the front of the class for public execution.
“Put out your hand and take it like a man,” he ordered.
I did, and with every blow wanted to scream ‘propaganda’ at the panting monk. He belted me until I cried, not with hurt but with rage. Then he gave me two clips across the face for good measure and said,
“You better learn the Proof of the Existence of God by tomorrow or you’ll get twice the hiding. Pagans aren’t welcome in my class.”

Back at the desk I sat on my hands to ease the searing pain. My cheeks blazed as if they’d been branded with a red-hot cattle iron and I hung my head in shame as the Christian Brother ridiculed me and my family in front of the class. I think that was the day I became totally disillusioned with God, St. Patrick, Rome, vocations, teachers and men in dark clothes.
Mid-morning break came, time to slip Liston the note. As I walked towards him, something older than me muttered inside my head, “don’t bother”. I hurried past the sneering holy man and went straight to the toilet, locked myself into a stall, tore the note into tiny pieces and scattered them into the bowl. I pulled the chain and rang out the bells of hell again and again until a torrent of monastery water washed away my poor mother’s plea in a hundred pieces. No apology, no surrender. That’s the way Granda would have done it.


Books by Eddie Stack

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When Angels go Home for Christmas (part II)

here’s part II, read first part here Enjoy + share…


When Angels go Home for Christmas

mummersThe mummers next stop was Dawltawl, a lonesome village that was cold as a mortuary slab even in the finest day of summer. There were few houses here and no children to welcome them. But their antics and music cheered the people to recklessness and they pressed mugs of whiskey on them, in the hope that they might stay longer. Drink went to the Healer’s head and he sang a rousing ballad called The Wild Rover, to the beat of the kettle drum. The Missing Postman had no letters to deliver, but loosened by whiskey he related all the news and lies he could think of. When he got stuck for words, the white haired lady sang an emigration dirge that brought the villagers to tears. Weeping faces bade them farewell and blessings and prayers echoed after them for miles.

Several of the batch were merry from drink, including young Hawkins, who broke into song when he saw the sea in the distance. He gave a fine rendition of The Boys of Barr na Sráide, a classic song about mummers and his compatriots joined in the last line ‘when the Boys of Barr na Sráide went hunting for the wran.’ After that Bachus sang ‘The Black Velvet Band’ and everyone sang the chorus:

‘Her eyes they shone like diamonds,
You’d think she was queen of the land,
With her hair flung over her shoulder,
Tied up with a black velvet band.’

The mummers called at a few more house on their way to the coast and they were well treated with drink and coin. The collection box was heavy and several of them were drunk by the time they reached the sea. It was snowing now and the sky darkened. Two of the Softwood brothers were bickering and Uaigneas Gallagher had a fit of swearing.

“Will ye all shut up to Hell’s blue blazes!” cried the white haired lady, “We have miles to go before we’re finished. Miles to go!”

She stared at the troublemakers and then snuggled against G’way Bawn on the pony. He turned right on the sea road and led the troupe along The Flaggy Shore.

rosslare

The snow was falling fast and heavy when they came to the Neither Lands, a large apron of coast broken into twenty or more small islands by centuries of floods and tides. Steppingstones and humpbacked bridges connected islands to each other. Some were inhabited, others were deserted and more were said to be haunted. The mummers crossed the causeway to the Near Island and called to the house of Brewdor, an old man with a young wife. Apart from a huge bed, the room was empty and hushed as a seashell. A blazing fire and several Christmas candles lit the space. The Brewdor clapped his hands and shouted,

“Music! Music!”

He stood in the middle of the floor, bowed graciously and waited for the tune. Running on whiskey, the mummers played fast and reckless and the little man soon wilted. His eyes rolled, his feet tangled and he collapsed in a heap. His wife rushed to his aid and screamed,

“Open the door and let in the fresh air!”

The musicians retreated from the casualty and The Healer went outside for two handfuls of snow and laid the mush on the old man’s face. His eyelids fluttered to life for a minute or two, and he asked to be put to bed. The wife cradled his body in her arms and laid him under a quilt. She turned to the mummers and said,

“Ye nearly killed him, ye’re a proper disgrace, playin’ music like that. If anything happens to him, I’m gettin’ the magistrates after ye.”

“Don’t bother with no magistrates!” G’way Bawn cried, “The Healer will cure Mr. Brewdor. He’ll stay with ye ’till the good man is right as rain. We’ll call for him on our way back to the mainland.”

The mummers slipped outside, the woman mounted the pony behind G’way Bawn and he led the batch to the next island. Bacchus Tobin and Ocras Burke rode in the cart with Dado and progress was slow. Noses dripping, they journeyed across three deserted islands without seeing a house or any sign of life. It was like Napoleon’s retreat from Russia: slow rattle of the kettle drum against the blizzard, cart wheels and pony hooves skidding on ice glazed stones, freezing troops protecting instruments beneath their inside-out-coats. In blind faith they followed G’way Bawn until he shouted,

“Whoa!!”

The troop halted at a cul-de-sac in Illawara, an island of crumbling cottages, emptied a century earlier by a mysterious sadness.

“Back! Back! Back!” ordered G’way Bawn, tension in his voice.

The white haired lady tightened her grip around his waist and pressed her bosom against his bony shoulders.

“Christ,” muttered Dado, “I’m thinkin’ that we’re gone astray.”

On the Near Island, Brewdor thanked Hawkins for not poaching his wife.

“But you have to leave now,” he said, “because we’re goin’ to sleep.”

“And thanks for your help,” she said. “Only for you I’d be a widdaw. And don’t mind the rest of ’em, ’cause you’re the best of ’em.”

wren20With prayers and charms they sent the Healer on his way, and promised to relate his powers to whoever they met. Reeling from praise, he hurried through the snowy night in search of the mummers. He heard the shrill sound of a whistle and it drew him like a mating call. Hawkins followed the notes across three islands before finding a small child blowing a toy do-da outside a thatched cottage. When the child saw him he shrieked,

“The mummers! The mummers!”

The child’s mother appeared and asked,

“Where’s the rest o’ ye?”

“I’m lookin’ for ’em.”

“Well they didn’t call here yet,” she said, “and G’way Bawn’s mummers always call. Come in and wait for them.”

Inside she warmed a pot of fish stew over a driftwood fire and stole glances of him when he took off the Chaplin mask. She inquired who he was and shook her head and smiled when he told her.

“Well it’s a small world,” she said, “tell your grandmother that you met Rince Lynn. She brought me into this life twenty-five years ago, when my mother was a servant girl for the Downwaves in Bearnagweithe. Your grandmother was a very lucky midwife and a great healer.”

“She’s teachin’ me to be a healer.”

“’Tis in you,” she told him, serving the stew.

Rince Lynn listened to how he revived the man on the Near Island, and when she casually mentioned that her little son had eye trouble, he sat the child on his lap and tested his sight by making animal shadows on the whitewashed walls. He concluded the youngster had a lazy left eye and treated it by covering the good eye with one of his Mummer’s ribbons.

“You can change the cover every few days,” he said, “feed him plenty carrots and bathe the eyes in water from Tubbarmacdara if you can get it.”
Rince pressed two silver doubloons on him for his service.

“What are these?”

“Old money from the sailin’ ships. And isn’t this a strange thing, it was the man you cured on the Near Island that gave me a bag of ’em one time. I make brooches and rings out of ’em for the man with the traveling shop. That’s how I get by.”

“It’s time for the mummers to be calling,” the Healer said after she had put the child to bed. He opened the cottage door and stepped outside, listening for their racket. The snow had stopped and all he heard was the whirrey-whirrey of sea birds and the faint lapping of the tide on the winter shore.

“They’ll be here yet,” Rince said. “They’d never leave the Neither Lands without calling. G’way Bawn always calls here.”

hollyShe poured two jugs of brandy, lit a candle and prayed the mummers would leave them in peace. Not since the man with the traveling shop visited in November had she any company from the mainland. And this visitor was streets ahead of the man with the traveling shop.

“What other news have you,” she asked, feeding the fire, “tell me about the world abroad.”

“I was in Bearnagweithe just before the Christmas and I saw d’electric light. They have it in a lot of the shops and pubs.”

“What’s d’electric light?” Rince asked.

Without thinking too much, he gave a long explanation that brought a frown to her face and she wondered if she had given him too much drink. He rambled through the world of science, alchemy and magic and predicted advances in civilisation that made her shiver. She thought him too young to know such things and she stared at the fire, her mind wandering back to the last time she was in the company of a drunken man. That was the day herself and the man with the traveling shop got drunk on a cask of rum she’d found on the shore.

She slept with him that same night and when he called again, she was with child. A pious and honest man, he was smitten with guilt and became impotent. He lost his power, and she could never arouse him again. But he still called to see her and their son, leaving them provisions and buying homemade jewellery for his wife. The man with the traveling shop had left a puzzle in Rince’s mind: she didn’t know if she had fooled him, or if he had fooled her.

Soft snores brought her back to the night. The fire was dying and it was time to bed down. She wondered about the young man who was collapsed in a drunken sleep on the sugan chair. Should she put a blanket over him and pile up the fire to keep him warm ’till morning? Or take him to bed with her, just for the company, just for the warmth. She leaned over him and whispered,

“You’ll be more comfortable in my room.”

Rince led him by the arm to room behind the fireplace. She unlaced his boots and helped him out of the fur coat and woman’s dress. He looked at her in the cold blue night and gently touched her head.

“You can go in the inside,” she whispered, pulling back the covers.

The Healer climbed into bed and slid towards the wall. He lay on his back, listening to her clothes fall on the floor, smelling the heat from her body. She cuddled into him and whispered,

“Put your arms around me, this bed is freezing.”

Shy and innocent, he wrapped himself around her and wondered what to do next. The angels were all gone home for Christmas, so anything could happen. There was just Rince Lynn and himself, on a small island in the Neither Lands. Peace on earth and clumsy passion on a goose feathered bed. Lost lovers finding their way home on Saint Stephen’s Night.

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Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas

Doolin: people, place & culture — Amazon Bestseller by Eddie Stack


When Angels go Home for Christmas

long time no blog…here’s a Christmas story in 2 parts…enjoy!!


When Angels go Home for Christmas

The blizzard stopped late on Christmas night and St. Stephen’s Day woke under two feet of snow. There was peace on earth: Hawkins felt it from the gentle white rolling hills and the black skeletal bushes, he smelled it in the cold thin air coming through the crack in his bedroom window. In all his seventeen years this was his first white Christmas.

Up stairs in the same cottage, the Missing Postman stared at the same scenery but it made no impression on him. He had a savage hangover, his stomach was cramping and his head hurt. On top of everything, his brain was addled and he wasn’t sure what day it was.  But knew he had been here since the day before Christmas Eve, when he came to deliver a parcel from America. Snowed in and drunk ever since, he was miles away from base with a sack of undelivered mail.  The snow hurt his eyes and he moved from the window and sat on the bed. Voices sounded below and he put on his cap, straightened his tie and descended the ladder from the loft to the kitchen.

”God Bless ye!” he announced.

“And God bless you, M.P.” Nan and Dado said in unison.

They appeared busy and he wasn’t sure if they were ignoring him or not. He didn’t give it any more thought, and stood in front of the fire. Dado was getting dressed for the Mummers and wore an overcoat turned inside out, polka dot lining exposed. He was the postman’s age, sixty-two or three, but twice his size. Nan was as big as her husband and fussed around him, crisscrossing ribbons of green and gold over his shoulders and around his waist.

Hawkins came from the room behind the fireplace. He was responsible for dragging the postman eight miles or more into the back of beyond with a Christmas parcel from America. An innocent-eyed lanky fellow with wild dark hair, he was the couple’s grandson. Known as The Healer, he could cure certain disorders and took after Nan in that way. He was wearing a woman’s dress and a tattered black coat.

”Good morning M.P.” he mumbled.

“God bless you,” hailed the postman.

Hawkins blew notes on a penny whistle while Nan wrapped green and gold ribbons around him. Dado took up a two-row melodeon and vamped a couple of chords that segued into a reel. When the music built up steam, the Missing Postman’s feet tapped and he swirled like a clockwork ballerina and danced sparks from the flagstones. The little man with the snipe legs, bloodshot face and elfin ears, hopped high as popcorn, and stopped in mid-air when the music ended. The old couple and their grandson clapped.

“Come with us,” encouraged Dado, “you’ve great steps.”

”And you might be able to get rid of a few letters on the way,” said The Healer,

“And the fresh air will do you good,” Nan added.

He felt they were psyching him out of the house. Tiny silver stars danced and zinged around his head. He sighed and turned his coat inside out like Dado, an assurance against going astray.

“And maybe I could wear your cap,” suggested the Healer.

“God knows but I don’t know.” he muttered, staring at the head gear Dado offered him: a soldier’s helmet from the revolution.

The Healer pulled a Charlie Chaplin mask over his head and gave an Al Capone one to his grandfather. These were in the parcel that came from America, the youth told the postman. Nan fixed a goose quill to the Missing Postman’s helmet and stepped back to look at them.

“No wan will know ye!” she declared.

Muttering a prayer in Irish, she sprinkled blessed water on them, and sent them on their way to rhyme and roam.

IMG the handThey set off by pony and cart for the Hand, a flat slab of rock where the five roads of the parish met. It was a brisk ride, the pony trotting through the snow to keep warm and the three charioteers sharing a bottle of poitín to shorten the journey. Barren bog land was white and snow capped stonewalls looked like iced scones. The sky was a happy blue and The Healer declared that the world was different today. Dado said you’d know well that all the angels were gone home to heaven for Christmas because the fairies were everywhere.

When they reached The Hand, several musicians were already there. A kettle drummer and a cymbal player beat the daylights from their percussion to welcome them. Bacchus Tobin, robed as a woman with red petticoat and black shawl, waved a holly bush and a money-box.  Nylon stockings pulled over their faces, like terrorists with fiddles, the Softwood brothers and Úaigneas Gallagher tuned their instruments and sounded like a swarm of bees.  Under rouged faces and British bowler hats, Ocras Burke and a hunchback called Awful Sound, danced sean nós on the road. The Hand hummed like a Tibetan temple and young Hawkins’s mind took flight and he burst into an uncontrollable fit of yelling and yahooing.   

The racket stopped when G’way Bawn arrived. Tiny and wizened, he was a piper and rode a small grey pony. Dark and dour as Napoleon, he wore no disguise and looked like a bird crow, with his beaked nose and backcombed hair. G’way Bawn circled them without a word. For a few minutes there was silence and the winter sounds were heard again—cold crow caws, the curlew’s cry and the lonesome lowing of faraway cattle. G’way Bawn raised his right arm and led the troupe west towards the sea.

After a mile or so the mummers came to their first stop—a cluster of thatched cottages at the butt of the Knocknashee hills. To the sound of the kettledrum, G’way Bawn called out:

“They killed the Wran to carry the can,

Up with the kettle and down with the pan,

Give us a penny to bury the Wran.”

Before he had finished, children rushed from houses shouting,

“Mummers! Mummers! The mummers are here!”

The batch trooped through the street in single file— fiddles, flutes, pipes, whistles and melodeons pumping notes, drums and cymbals lashing, holly bush dancing. It was a kaleidoscope of colour, music and mayhem. Children marched behind them and adults clapped and shouted encouragement.  Ocras Burke and Awful Sound danced with wives and daughters, sometimes wheeling them from one house to another. The postman trailed behind, delivering letters and Christmas blessings, consuming whatever he was offered.

The mummers were hailed with drink and thanked with copper and silver coins.  Before they departed, G’way Bawn enticed a tall white haired woman with singing eyes to accompany them. She bundled together a few possessions, shut the door of her cottage and mounted his pony to a rowdy cheer.

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to be continued….


Read a book by Eddie Stack this Christmas


Bonzo

This is the opening of Bonzo, one of the stories in my recent collection, Borderlines.


Bonzo stood out. His face looked a cross between WoodyIMG_0008 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.”

“Really?”

“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


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Carnival Cop

This is an extract from Carnival Cop, the opening story of Borderlines…new book I’ve just published on Kindle


Convoy

The carnival came to town in mid-August, just as the days began to shorten and school was set to reopen. They pitched in Arthur’s Field at the top of Church Street and in two days, they had merry-go rounds ready to spin. And dodgems, swinging boats and chair-o-planes too, all set to rock in a splash of gay colors. Over the entrance to the field, a big arched sign read ‘O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival.’ At night it would light in red, white and blue neon.

On opening day Todd O’Driscoll fixed a loudspeaker to the roof of his jeep with bungee cords and rigged an amplifier to the onboard cassette player. He pushed a tape in the player and crept up the volume as the jeep crawled down the town. Helter-skelter céili music woke the streets and people came outside. The recorded voice of Todd announced,

Céad Míle Fáilte, fair people of this beautiful land. It is with joy and pleasure that O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival has come to town again. We have thrills and rides to tickle your fancy and swing seats that go so high you can catch a glimpse of heaven. And dear friends, our bumper and dodgem cars are the latest in Chicago gangasta style, and this year we have the spectacular Jules Verne chair-o-planes, direct from Peking’s Tong Hing Park. And if that is not enough, we have a shooting gallery with nightly prizes of great value and The Gold Coast Pongo Tent where you can win jackpots of enormous size. For your entertainment we have sword swallowers and knife throwers, fortunetellers and board players. And while you’re at the carnival, enjoy Todd’s delicious popcorn and organic ice cream. So come early and avoid disappointment. The Carnival opens at 6.30 this evening and the fun just goes on and on till late.”

The music played again and Todd tweaked the volume. Children began to follow the slow jeep, echoing his announcement in gibberish. He watched them in the rearview mirror and notched up the volume again. An urchin stood on the tow bar and Todd speeded up, then braked. The urchin thumped the back window and hopped off. A few kids ran beside the vehicle, but scattered when he did a mean ‘S’ swerve.

To his surprise, a police constable stood at the bottom of Church Street, hand raised, indicating that he stop. “Shit,” he muttered, coming to a halt. He rolled down the window and was taken aback: he had never seen a policewoman here before. She was short, skinny and officious and he read her badge as she approached: Constable Stella Blute.

“Beautiful day, how can I help you?” Todd smiled.

“Turn off that sound. Did you ever hear of noise pollution?”

“I beg your pardon?”

She didn’t respond, and he stopped the racket, watching her examine the tax, insurance and other official certificates on the jeep windscreen.

“I don’t see a Public Announcement certificate displayed,” she said, “and your tax is out of date.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

The jeep was heating up and he began to sweat. An urchin urged the cop to arrest him and she ordered the kid to leave the road and go home.

“I thought everything was in order,” Todd told her, “I mean…I don’t understand it.”

“Your tax expired last December. May I have your name please?”

“Well…Thaddeus O’Driscoll. Better known as Todd.”

He smiled but she was writing and made no eye contact. She said, “Your driver’s license please.”

“Certainly.”

He took a wallet from his trousers pocket and flicked through the contents, humming as he scanned business cards, credit cards, debit cards, prayer cards, nude cards, medical cards and memorial cards, marihuana club cards.

“Gosh, constable, I don’t seem to have it with me and I could have sworn that I saw it recently.”

“Address?”

“No fixed abode.”

“No fixed abode?”

“None. I travel from place to place. Week here, week there.”

“Where are you residing now?”

“Mr. Arthur’s field at the top of Church Street. I’m the owner of O’Driscoll’s Fantastic Carnival and I’d be delighted if you could come along…all the rides are on me…you can ride all night for free…we’re opening tonight…that’s why I’m…you know, announcing.”

“Announcing without a permit. You need to put your house in order, sir. Please produce a current driver’s license, insurance and public address permits at the barracks within the next 72 hours. Failure to do so will result in prosecution and court appearance.”

Todd winced and looked at her with hurt eyes. “Thank you officer,” he groveled, “and please do come to the carnival…the fun is on me.”

He turned the jeep in the Square and drove back up Church Street in silence. Outside doors, people gathered in knots, speculating on what had gone down between Todd and Constable Stella Blute. She was still writing in her black notebook, standing in the middle of the road.

images

The carnival people lived in caravans at the back of the field, near a happy stream of fresh water. Some of the caravans were modest, others looked run-down, and a few were big and old fashioned. Todd’s was sleek: powder blue with a red lightening bolt screaming from back to front. What a fuckin’ disaster, he muttered, opening the door. His sleeping partner Izzy Swartz was making coffee. She wore a black robe with a golden dragon printed on the back.

“Hi sweetie,” she greeted, “wanna cuppa?”

“I want a drink,” he said striding to the cupboard beside the fridge.

“What’s up honey? You look upset.”

“I am upset. A cop pulled me for tax, insurance, certs, the works…”

“Oh honey! That’s horrible.”

“A lady cop if you don’t mind…a tiny little midge.”

“What’re you gonna do honey?”

Todd shook his head, poured a tumbler of cheap whiskey and drank it neat.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. Yet. She wants me to produce everything at the barracks within 3 days. She really glammed on to me, like a fucking terrier. Stopped me from announcing. A cop like her could fuck up my whole life.”

“She didn’t ask about the Hagerstown affair? Did she?”

“Don’t mention the Hagerstown business. Please. And don’t mention the shit in Dundalk either. I’ve enough on my plate.”

“What can I do to make it better for you? A little massage?”

Todd drained his glass and filled it again.


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


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Lisdoonvarna via The Hand

The leaves are beginning to curl at the edges, there’s a nip in the air and crows are cawing like supporters at a sad All Ireland final. Here, there, everywhere, lonely hearts and bouncing hearts are stocking up on perfume and aftershave, condoms and Viagra, praying to Jude and Josephine, rehearsing chat lines and touching up hairlines. Love is in the air, it’s Spa Time…to us locals, that is. To the outside world it’s Lisdoonvarna Match Making Season.
people

Big business nowadays, Lisdoonvarna became famous some hundred and fifty years ago when a Doctor named Foster discovered therapeutic springs there. The doctor swore the waters could cure anything from arthritis to zoomorphism, and soon people began to flock to the town in late summer and early autumn, to get tuned up for the winter chills. ‘The Spaw’, as it became known locally, was the perfect place to unwind after the summer slog: mineral baths, sulphur tonics and the likes worked wonders on tired bones and weary souls.

drinkers2To cater for the Victorian masses, hotels were built that made so much money in six weeks, they could afford to close down for the other forty-six. The Spa became Ireland’s first health resort and saints and scholars smiled at the new consciousness dawning on the land. But the waters worked other wonders, and the tonics soon had people looking for bedmates to help keep the winter chills away. Lisdoon became a place where you could waltz all night, drink till dawn and get the bus home in the morning. The Spa season became two months of madness, when the town danced from dusk to dawn, keeping three shoemakers on the go full-time, mending heels and worn soles. Marriages were made, marriages were lost, hearts were shattered, new ground was broken.

Even in today’s hi-tech world of the Internet, lusty chatrooms and dating sites are buzzing about the Spa at this time of the year. My friend Jay Spelman accidentally discovered this virtual world of Spalovers when he was trawling for a soul mate on a wet Sunday afternoon. Jay is recovering from a messy divorce and only dipping his toe in the water again. It astounded him that in all corners of the globe, people knew about Lisdoonvarna. Surfing the chatrooms became his nightly kick, logging on at half-ten, the same time he used go down to the pub in the last century. He took the moniker Spaman and threw in comments about the town and environs, making it known he was local. And just like he had drinking buddies in the pub long ’go, he now had friends online like ‘Brown Eyes’, ‘Sore Toe’, ‘Sexy Sixty’, ‘Miss Dickie’. He became known as a Spa expert, taking hours to explain the difference between the Lisdoonvarna Music Festival and the Lisdoonvarna Matchmaking Festival. In chatrooms, if anyone wants to know anything about Lisdoonvarna they ask Spaman. He gives recommendations to those intending to visit the town: Where to eat, drink, stay, avoid…and what to do, say and hope for. Then he got into a jam and called me: he had ‘met’ an American lady online and she was coming to Lisdoonvarna the following week.

“Tell me more,” I encouraged.

“Well like, I can’t meet her in the Spa,” he said, “Everyone would know my business…they’d know that I was ‘on the pull’, so I’m meeting her in Ennis on Tuesday.”

“Next Tuesday? The day after tomorrow?”

“Yes,” he muttered quietly, “and I was wondering if you’d sorta come along with me…”

“You want me to be the ‘gooseberry’?”

“Not really…just to lend a bit of moral support…I haven’t had a date since I split up with Stella…”

I agreed because I didn’t want to hear another monologue about Stella.

On Tuesday morning, Jay called for me and we drove to Ennis in his van. He was spruced up in sports jacket, white shirt, blue tie and Dunne’s Stores slacks. He chain-smoked all the way to town and I could get little out of him regarding the lady, except that she was fifty-five and five foot-six. That made her both older and taller than Jay and when I pointed this out he sighed and lit another cigarette. He was heavily doused with cologne, and seemed to be wilting as we approached town.

We got to the hotel fifteen minutes before the date and sat in the bar from where we had a good view of the lobby. I ordered a pot of coffee because Jay was in the jitters and pretty much speechless. All my efforts to find out about Internet dating met with sighs and shrugs. So what’s her name, I asked eventually.

“Kelly O’Shea,” he said in a half-whisper, “she’s Irish-American.”

“Well that’s good, at least she’s hardly a whacko then.”

He whimpered into panicked rabbit mode. We waited and watched people coming and going through the hotel lobby. The Cathedral bell pealed time and Jay shivered. Stay cool, I advised and he nodded and went outside for a smoke. No woman like the one he described came, but a heavy-set lady with a coiffured white head and studded denim jacket appeared at the front door. I pointed her to Jay when he returned and he shook his head. Ten more minutes passed and the lady still stood at the door. Jay got edgy and muttered that he had been stood up. Again. Happens every time, he sighed, shaking his head. Then, over the intercom we heard the sweet tones of a receptionist say,
“Will Mr. Jay Tobin please come to the lobby…Mr. Jay Tobin, your party is here to meet you.”

We stared at the lobby, empty apart from the white-haired woman in denim.

“Oh fuck,” whined Jay.

“You have to meet her,” I pressed, “she came all the way from America…”

He closed his eyes and sweat pressed through his forehead. The receptionist paged him again and the lady looked around with an anxious face.
“Go on Jay, ” I encouraged, “she might be a millionaire…”

“I can’t…” he stuttered, “I fucking can’t…”

Then he looked at me with those sad rabbit eyes of his and said,
“Would…would you go and meet her…say I’m sick or something…please…”

“You’re a horrible libe,” I hissed, “and a terrible bad ad for Clare tourism…she could complain you to The Gathering authorities and have you exported.”

“Please…please…I have to go to the jax…I’ll be back in a while…just hang with her til I get back.”

I left the seat and went to the lobby. As I approached, the lady smiled and came towards me.

“Jay,” she drawled, “so good to meet you…”

We shook hands, she looked me up and down and I lost my ability to speak. On every finger there was a ring or two and she gripped my hand like a frisky sixteen year-old, though she was a good sixty if she was a day. I looked around to see if any neighbours happened to be in sight and noticed that Jay had disappeared.

“You never told me about the beard,” she chuckled, “and you look just like Van Gogh with that long coat and black hat…”

“Welcome to Ennis, Kelly…” I said.

“Like a drink or some tea?” Kelly asked, beaming up at me.

“Sure,” I replied and we walked to a discreet table in the bar.

“I’m really glad you came,” she said with a smile. I nodded and forced a smile. “Well, as I told you in my last e-mail, I’m searching for my roots, and I’d like to retire to Ireland and meet someone I could have a relationship with…”

All I could do was nod. A waitress came to the table and I ordered a brandy for myself, and tea for Kelly. After a sip, words came to me.
“So how have you been?”

Fine, she said and told me her life story: widowed twice, no children, just a sister in a retirement home in Florida. She’d like to give it one last try, grow old gracefully with an Irishman. A North Clare matchmaker had arranged for several men to meet her, she said with a glint.

“But I haven’t made any commitments…I thought I’d meet you first…your e-mails were so sweet…and thanks for all your information about Lisdoonvarna.”

I shrugged and wondered where in Hell was Jay. Then she asked me about ‘my farm’ and I told her about Jay’s spread, adding sixteen horses and forty head of cattle to the mix. She moved in the chair and said she liked to ride horses and told me about the lovely western saddle her first husband had. After that I ordered another brandy and told her about the lake in the middle of the farm and how we used swim there in the long hot summer nights. The acreage grew until I was the second biggest landowner in West Clare and said that my grandfather had sold the Cliffs of Doneen to the Council for a song. There was no going back after the fourth brandy and Kelly took my hand gently and said,

“You’re such a nice man…I should tell you though…I was very skeptical about this Internet dating business…I mean Jay, one never knows.”

I nodded and agreed, “You’re right, one never knows…”

“So before I came to meet you, I went to the police station and said, ‘look, I’m meeting a man called Jay Tobin from Tobarwiska in the hotel…here’s his telephone number…so if I don’t come back and say I’m OK, you know who he is…’ I hope you don’t mind, Jay…”

It took a few minutes for it to sink in and then I had flashes of the Guards tapping pens on desks, recalling all they knew about Jay. It was a horrific vision, because they knew a lot. Kelly gave me a kiss on the cheek and whispered,

“So I’m going back to the police station to tell them I’ve met the nicest gentleman in the world…and when I return maybe we can learn more about each other…”

When she returned I was gone, but later I heard from Jay that she found the note I left on the table beside her tea-cup. He said I dropped him in the shit and he hasn’t spoken to me since.

“Darling Kelly,

Sorry I had to rush away, I just got a call saying cattle broke out. I would love you to come to dinner tonight at my house, I’m cooking roast duck with all the trimmings. We can crack open a bottle of champagne in the hot tub and watch the stars. Maybe take a ride up Mount Callan if you’re up to it. Below is a map how to get to my place. Be careful making the right turn at The Hand. I look forward to seeing you and call if you get lost.

all the best,

Jay”



photos copyright of Clare County Library



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When Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters

This is an extract from When ‘Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters’, a very long short story. It’s from my recent book Quare Hawks, available for Kindle at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B0098TKAAE . Quare Hawks can be read on Mac/PC with the free Kindle app from Amazon. American writer Willy Vlautin had this to say about the book:

“Quare Hawks is a collision between old and new Ireland. Both heartbreaking and hilarious, and hopeful and despairing. Eddie Stack has a way of making you laugh and cry at the same time. A brilliant collection from a great Irish storyteller.”

Willy Vlautin, author of Lean on Pete, Motel Life and Northline


The road from Mulla to Ballyjames is barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, and miles of it weave along the northern face of the Killgory Mountains, through pine forest and high bog. The region is remote, sparsely populated by small farmers and a few reclusive artists who live in the hills.

About halfway between Mulla and Ballyjames, the pine forest falls away like stage curtains and Logra Lake appears unexpectedly. From the mountain behind, a waterfall pours into the lake, and the view is so spectacular, that the county council created a roadside vista area with two picnic tables and a litterbin. There is a small country store across the road from the vista area. Petty’s of Logra has been there for generations, catering to basic needs of the locals. A sleepy, two-story building with white walls, green windows and shop front, it doubles as a post office. Apart from Wednesday, business is very slow and sometimes the shop is shut for hours. Occasionally it might not open at all for a day or two.

Wednesday is doleday, and in the morning, recipients come to collect their allowance at the post office and buy a few provisions in the shop. A police car is always there with two officers, who bring the money and the departmental documentation. With a dozen or so local recipients, mostly small farmers, everyone knows everybody else and it’s as much a social gathering as an official roll call.

It’s a busy day for Paddy Petty – busy in the post office and busy in the shop. Dole day provides his week’s wages and he juggles hats as postmaster, shopkeeper and government paymaster. Medium height, eternally dressed in old blue suit, shirt and tie, Paddy uses Brylcreem to sculpt his dark wavy hair and tame his bushy eyebrows. Nearly fifty and fighting against it, he was once married, but his wife left a decade ago. She told him she was going to visit her sister in London and he drove her to the airport but never saw her again. She blew away like an autumn leaf, writing him a goodbye card from Southhampton. When people asked where she was, Paddy said she’d gone and joined the nuns and eventually they stopped asking. Nowadays he received comfort from Goldi, a hippie from the other side of the Killgory Mountains. Goldi swapped him free-range eggs and organic carrots for tobacco and chocolate. She was easy on his head and stayed with him once a month, often for three or four nights.

In late May, a few strangers turned up to collect dole at the post office. Scruffy young men and women, dressed in leather, they had odd hairstyles, tattoos and facial rings. When they got their money, they bought cartons of milk, bread, cheese and crisps from Paddy and went across the road to the picnic tables.

Paddy watched them from his shop. Two were jabbering on mobile phones, others admiring the view. He thought them mediaeval in their look and manner; even their speech was from another age and place, wherever that may be. A couple of mongrel dogs sniffed around the table and they threw them crusts. Three men and two women. Paddy looked at the new names on his register: Cloud Maggs; Sixtop Reeves; Birdie Cole; Zag Homa; Ork Toms. He noted they were all of ‘no fixed abode’ and pursed his lips, trying to match names with faces. When he peered through the window to jog his memory, they were gone.

He saw them again the following doleday. They came in a battered white van with foreign registration plates, and along with the original five, came four others of similar dress and appearance. Two of the new ones had blue woad on their foreheads, another had a raven on his shoulder. Paddy looked at the new names: Yorrel Hix; Midnight Lyke; Tatan Brown; Filly Downs. They were mannerly and pleasant, pocketed their money and bought bread, sardines, milk, rolling papers, pouches of tobacco, and cans of beans. Then they gathered around the outside tables, talked on phones and had a picnic. Paddy glanced out the window at them, checked the register: his ‘family’ was growing, twelve regulars and nine irregulars.

George West, a so-so English potter who had settled in the area, came to the shop around midday. He noticed the picnickers and whispered to Paddy, “I yam an ol’ hippie, but I never did see the likes of these in my travels. They’re like something from a bad trip, man.” Paddy added up his bill, glanced out the window.
“It takes all types to make a world, George, and their like have to be in it too.”
“They’re campin’ down by the lake at Collock’s Shore.”
“Easily known they’re not locals.”

The strangers came to the shop every few days. Paddy thought they didn’t wash and smelled of musty hay. He couldn’t place their accents or the language they spoke amongst themselves:
“Hey Zag, banda suko Tatan hagur zonka.”
“Ah no man, nishin suko zonka.”
“Why not? Burka lato sut?”
“Nah. Ishto.”
“Hi, two packs a Golden Virginia and four pints a milk.”

They all had a similarity in their leather jerkins, muddied jeans and badly-cut hair. It was difficult to tell one from the other and Paddy felt their numbers had grown. George the potter confirmed this when he came to do the Lotto at the weekend.
“Jesus man, there’s three vans down at the lake now and a horse-drawn wagon. There must be a couple a dozen of ‘em there. There’s kids an’ all runnin’ naked around the place, man.”

On dole day Paddy had thirty-eight strangers on the register, an all-time record when he added his regulars. They swarmed outside the shop and blocked the light coming through the door and window. When they moved to the picnic tables, Paddy sprayed the space with air freshener. He was annoyed at the amount of extra work they generated: all the counting and doling of piles of money, the watching in case they shoplifted. But they also bought a good deal and for this he was pleased.

Before leaving for HQ, the policemen came to see him and buy cigarettes.
“An odd bunch,” Sergeant McGee said.
“There’s no harm in them though,” Paddy suggested, wringing his hands.
“No, no. We believe they’re part of some pagan outfit or cult or something.”
“Is that so?”
“Earth magic and that sort of thing,” Constable Collins said.
“They’d learn plenty about it, if they went cutting hay or footing turf for a few days,” Paddy muttered.
“And there’s more of them on the way,” the sergeant told him.
“I s’pose it can’t be helped.”
“We’re expecting about forty more next week.”
“Jesus, that’ll be nearly eighty of them so,” Paddy winced.
“It’s a changing country,” Constable Collins sighed.
“There’s six helicopters in Ballyjames,” the sergeant said. “Every builder has one, and those who don’t, have race horses. Solve that one.”
“Everyone has a helicopter now.” Collins said. “On Sunday they come to Mass in them and land in the football field.”
“Terrible fucking noise,” McGee said, “you’re lucky there’s no helicopters around here, Paddy.”
“Tis something to be grateful for,” agreed Paddy.

Later that evening, a convoy of five vehicles came through Logra. An old school bus painted purple led, followed by a pickup truck with a makeshift cabin in the back. An ambulance towed a grey station wagon and they were tailed by a black Ford cargo van. Paddy watched from the doorway as they passed slowly, laden down with people and gear.

Next morning three horse-drawn wagons with green canvas barrel tops were stopped outside when he opened the shop and he was reminded of a scene from a cowboy film. A woman approached, followed by a toddler. They were scrawny and wild looking. Forest people, thought Paddy, smelling the moss and the leaves from them. She bought two pints of milk and two cans of sardines and paid in small coins.

After she left, two young men arrived, one of them leading a large blonde cat-like animal on a leash. It’s a fucking lion, thought Paddy in alarm, stepping back from the counter. The men rattled away in their own lingo:
“Hanz, serto von puka?”
“Ishna zee, sunto zog.”
“Cool. Albu onxa.”
Paddy heard the animal snarl and curled his toes. The man tightened the leash and spoke firmly to the creature.
“Smells another cat,” he said to Paddy, “two cans of beans and a pack of Golden Virginia, please.”
He was ten pence short, but Paddy nodded and suffered the loss, relieved to see them leave.



Click title for Kindle Edition Download: Quare Hawks. This Kindle edition can be read on Mac, PC, iPad etc using free Kindle app

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“No,” she said. “Fortunately I’ve Never Had That Experience.”

This is Kitty, the first chapter of the novella  “No,” she said. “Fortunately I’ve Never Had That Experience.”. This Kindle edition can be read on Mac, PC, iPad etc using free Kindle app


My mother used say ‘Kitty’s on the steers again,’ when she’d see the petite woman rushing down the street, a gray pack on her back. The town knew that the only time Kitty was in a hurry was when a relationship of hers broke up. It seemed she was compensating for time wasted with this man or that, and went about her business in a determined manner, intensity creasing her forehead. By degrees, she rekindled friendships with old friends, smiling broadly and telling them how happy she was to be liberated, and relieved to be on her own again. She went jogging with Mrs. Lynch, and rejoined the Sunday morning yoga class at the town hall. Every second evening she went to the gym in the Leisure Center and lifted weights, ran on the treadmill, swam ten laps of the pool and went home exhausted.

Kitty was a teacher at the Community Secondary School. She came there as a young woman and some thirty years later, she still looked much the same as the day she arrived, apart from the wrinkles on her face. When she taught me I had a crush on her, but we didn’t get along that great. It annoyed her that I was good at English but hopeless at French.

In her heyday, Kitty was an attractive woman with short brown hair and the smile of an angel. She had a soft Northwest accent and blue eyes, and an elegance that befitted a lady. For work she dressed better than all other teachers, in quality clothes with a professional accent. She went casual on weekends in jeans and purple fleece, and had a tomboy look with a swagger that said she was fun. She could knock back a pint as good as any man, but rarely drank more than two.

Since the day she moved to our town, Kitty lived in the same apartment, the top floor of an old Edwardian house across The Square from our pub. Whether she was aware of it or not, but my mother knew when she came and went, who called to her, how long they stayed and so on. Sometimes over a few drinks after the bar closed, Mother would look out the window, see the apartment ablaze with 100-watt bulbs and say, “Kitty’s in The Lighthouse tonight.”

This could lead to gossip or theories about Kitty, which I found painful because I still had a crush on her. Mother would wait for me to comment, but I never did. She’d finish her drink and sigh, “Poor Kitty is a weird fish.”

Because our pub was the nearest to Kitty’s place, her men friends often dropped in for a drink while waiting for her to come back from work, or maybe just to raise some courage before meeting her. Mother could name all the suitors who came there since Kitty had joined us.

Top of the list was Mr. Rogan, an engineer from Ennis, a red-haired man who smoked a pipe and wore a green corduroy jacket. A nice man, my mother thought, a bit on the quiet side, but very well travelled and a great conversationalist when he got going. He was seeing Kitty for over two years, and a rumor went around that they were looking at sites on the High Road and thinking of building a house. Kitty looked very happy with Mr. Rogan, and linked him tightly when they went for walks down the Glen or did shopping around town. They looked like they were in love, but something snapped and suddenly Kitty gave Mr. Rogan the boot. The poor man was distraught and would drive from Ennis every evening, have a few pints in our place and watch for signs of life in Kitty’s apartment. Then he crossed The Square and rang her bell, but there was never a response. After a month he gave up, and we never saw him again.

Kitty went on the steers after that, a summer of self-improvement she called it, but it lasted a couple of years. She had occasional boyfriends, but they never stayed long and she went back on the steers for another while.

Then she met Mr. Hillman, a reporter with The Clare Clarion. We knew Mr. Hillman, because he reported on court cases, dog races and funerals in town; he often wrote his stories in our pub. There was always a notebook peeping out of his pocket and the seat by the window became his perch while he waited for Kitty. He was the first writer that I ever met and from talking to him, I decided to write a book.

Publicly they were not as close as she and Mr. Rogan, but Hillman stayed at her place a few nights every week. I found it hard to see them kiss goodbye in the morning, when I went to get the papers. They were together for a a year or more and seemed to be getting on well.

And then one night they had a row. We could hear the muffled shouts across The Square and my mother peered through the window. It was well after closing time and we were having a few drinks in the dark. Next we saw that Mr. Hillman was outside Kitty’s place, trying to talk calmly to her. She was wearing a nightdress and shouted, “Shut to fuck up! I’ve had it with you!”

Then the door banged and Mr. Hillman shouted, “And I’ve had it with you too, you fucking adolescent!”

Unlike Mr. Rogan, Mr. Hillman didn’t come ringing Kitty’s doorbell again, but whenever he came to town reporting on a story, he parked outside her place and always dropped in to our pub for a few pints. One day my mother asked him how Kitty was and he shook his head.

“Ah Kitty, poor Kitty. She has a lot of baggage.”

“God help us,” my mother said, and left it at that.

That night I began the book with a speculative piece about Kitty’s baggage. I wrote in an old leather bound shop ledger, which was the size of serving tray and at least four inches thick. The edging was marbled and the tome weighed a half-stone at least. It was slow going, writing in longhand most days with my father’s old fountain pen. I didn’t know what the book was going to be about, or if it was going to be fiction or a mishmash of poetry and prose. It would be a reflection of whatever was on my mind. Therapy maybe. With the book on the counter, I toiled away like the monks of old, while I waited for drinkers to arrive. When they did, I carefully dried the ink with blotting paper, closed the book and put it under the till.


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The Warrior Carty: an Irish Christmas Story


I grew up in a small pub in the west of Ireland, where every market and fair day, a cadre of old IRA men held fort at the corner of the counter. Known as ‘The Boys’, they were our local heros, the men who fought the British at Rineen, Monreel, 81 Cross and other hotspots. I once saw a picture of them taken in 1919 and was struck by how young they seemed back then, they looked like boys who’d just left school.

After ‘The Boys’ had a few drinks, conversation turned to the ‘campaign’ and who did what and who didn’t do that. Sometimes it seemed there was unfinished business from the revolution being settled in the pub. One man, Murt Hynes, used thump the counter and my father would have to tell him to take it easy. In the late afternoon, Murt often challenged his mates to take up the cause again and ‘finish the job for once and for all.’ They stared at the floor in silence, finished their drinks and went home. Alone, Murt would sing a few rebel songs and then my mother made a plate of ham sandwiches to fortify him for the journey home.

The Warrior Carty is set on the day of a fair around Christmas time. The character is not directly based on any of ‘The Boys’, but I have always felt he was one of them.


The Warrior had enough of the Christmas fair and took cover in Looney’s bar. It was empty, dark and cold, still waiting to be strobed by the solstice sun.

“A harmless aul fair,” sniffled Bridgey, totting up his bill on a brown paper bag. “Four shillins for the Powers an’ three an’ sixpence for the bottle a porter…what’s that altogether?”

“Seven an’ six Bridgey,” said the Warrior, leaving three half crowns on the red formica counter. He settled them into a small pile. “Thanks Bridgey, and good luck to you.”

“The same to yourself…ahh, they have the country ruined…and everythin’ is so dear sure…”

“They have this poor country shagged, Bridgey. That’s about the size of it now.”

“‘Tis true for you…”

“And what’s more, the crowd that’s doin’ it never fired a shaggin’ shot in their life.”

“‘Tis true for you.”

“Anyways,” sighed the Warrior, flopping his arms in resignation, “give us another small whiskey.”

“Powers, wasn’t it? ”

“‘Twas…that’s the way now Bridgey. What kind of a Christmas are ye havin’ so far?”

“Yarrah…’tis quiet. Don’t you know yourself now. An’ sure today is the big day an’ can’t you see the way it is. Quiet, sure. You might rise a stir in it yourself above in the Square later on.”

“Not today, Bridgey.”

“No?”

“Not today, Bridgey,” the Warrior repeated, shaking his head, “but anyways, this is the overcoat I was tellin’ you about, the last day I here.”

She admired the dark crombie coat and listened to how he came upon it. And he was wearing the good blue suit, clean shirt, collar and tie. These he bought from the Pakistani hawker who came to Ennis every Saturday. That was another story, better left for another day, he said.

“Is there anyone dead belongin’ to you?” she asked.

“No, not that I know of, Bridgey,” he answered. “And I didn’t hear anything up the town. But there was a funeral this morn beyond in Maheramore, I s’pose you heard that. That poor Mrs. Canney was buried. Her son is married to a daughter of Paraffin Hogan’s.”

“Is that the boy that drives Blake’s lorry.”

“Now you have it.”

“That’s where Doran’s hearse must have been. It passed up the road a while ago.”

“I got a lift to town with them. ‘Twas my first time in a hearse and it won’t be my last, Bridgey.”

“‘Tis true for you.”

She smoked one of his cigarettes and put the pieces together. The Warrior was wearing his good clothes because of the funeral. He had a few drinks after filling the grave with Doran. That’s why he wasn’t going up to the Square, he had drink taken. He never drinks before going to the Square.
“Are you alright now for a while? I have to put down the dinner.”
“Sound as a bell Bridgey — but give us another half wan an’ a packet of plain cigarettes so I wont be botherin’ you.”

Bridgey peeled potatoes into a bowl by the kitchen fire.”That bar out there is freezin’,” she sniffled. If it got any colder she would have to get an oil heater. She could hear him stamp his feet to keep the blood running to his toes.

“Are you alright, Warrior?” she called, tapping on the bar window.

“Sound as a bell, Bridgey. The circulation.”

“I hope he don’t throw a turn,” she mumbled. It would be the talk of the country — The Warrior Carty to die in the only pub he was served in. The six other publicans in the town would not let his toe inside their doors but Bridgey saw no harm in him. He was persecuted by his own after he fought for them in the War of Independence and the Civil War. Later he went abroad and the misfortunate wretch got shell-shocked in some foreign war. That’s where the strange behavior comes from, like the exhibition above in the Square. “God help us,” she sighed and added an extra potato to the pot.

The usual crowd gathered in the Square before midday and waited for the Warrior Carty. This was the highpoint of their fair — to see and cheer this robust man lift a cart-wheel, which was as big and as heavy as himself, and balance it on the hub of his chin while the Angelus bells rang out. It was an extraordinary feat and he performed it at every fair, hail, rain or snow. He did it to distract the fair from prayer and succeeded for the most part. The Warrior’s act could be the making or the breaking of the day.

When the church bells called for prayer in Looney’s bar the Warrior blew a smoke ring for every peal. It was as defiant as he wanted to be that midwinter’s day. He knew the followers in the Square would be disappointed, but that was life — nothing lasts for ever. He had retired. The decision had been made in his sleep and he was obeying. Orders from the management. Not God, just the Management.

The crowd felt like fools. Cheated of their entertainment and their prayers, they dispersed sullenly and griped about the Warrior. Where was he? Had he not walked the town earlier in the day, showering everyone with Christmas greetings? It was not his form to ignore the call of duty, especially today, The Small Fair of Christmas.

A long lean farmer said he must have lost his nerves. His neighbour disagreed. “The Warrior was born without nerves,” he claimed. It was his age. “He must be sixty-five or seventy years old if he’s a day,” he insisted, sliding into Peter Egan’s bar. Inside, they joined a couple of cattle jobbers who were already discussing the Warrior.

“Well sure, he started out first in Boland’s Mill in 1916…then he led the Faha column of the boys in 1920,” declared a barrel-shaped jobber in a once-white coat. “I know it. And he never surrendered after the Civil War. I know that, too. Carty never handed over the gun.”

“Tha’s right sure. ‘Don’t give up the fight.’ I often heard him say that,” drawled his companion. “An’ he went off to Spain with the Brigade too. Maybe that was to get another wallop at the Blueshirts

“Maybe, but I don’t think so.”

“An’ sure if they hadn’t locked him up in the Curragh Camp durin’ the last war he’d have been soldierin’ somewhere.”

some of the Clare IRA who ambushed + vanquished the Black & Tans at Rineen, 1921

Bridgey left a plate with a piece of haddock and a potato on the counter.
“Ate this,” she said. “It’ll do you good.”

“The Blessin’s a God on you Bridgey,” he said and picked at the meal. He felt like confiding in her. He wanted to explain why he didn’t go to the Square and what he was doing in Sunday clothes. But it was a delicate matter and she might pick it up wrong.

“Bridgey…” he asked, motioning for another whiskey and stout. “Do we soften with age?”

“‘Tis hard to say,” she said slowly and pondered at her reflection in the mirror behind the whiskey bottles. “The aul fair’ll be over early,” she muttered, putting his drinks on the cold red-topped counter. He would be her only customer today.

The money-box was getting heavier and he was getting drunker, but in a quiet sort of a way. For a short while, a beam of evening sun warmed the bar and they traced about things of long ago like rekindled lovers. He reminisced about the great fairs, when you could walk on the backs of beasts from one end of the town to the other without stepping on the ground. Bridgey reminded him of the great dances that used be held before the Christmas years ago.”All that’s gone now,” she sighed.

They recalled the big crowds arriving home from England and wondered where they all were now.”A sad day for Ireland, Bridgey,” Warrior sighed and a cloud of silence darkened the bar. Bridgey fumbled under the counter and a string of Christmas lights blazed a trail around whiskey bottles. Tiny beads of yellow, green, red and blue blinked at the Warrior.

“Jaysus, Bridgey,” he said slowly, “but I love Christmas, even though Christmas is not the same as it used to be.”

“Nothing stays the same sure,” she said, almost in a whisper.

Sipping a cup of tea, she peered at him from the dark kitchen. He was talking to himself and counting his money, cursing her blinking Christmas lights. The Warrior had enough drank for one day but she hated to ask him to leave. He tapped the counter with the heel of his glass and called her.

“The same again, Bridgey…is that clock right?”

“No…’tis slow…hurry up an’ finish this like a good boy. Tonight’s the night of the carol singin’ above at the church an’ I must get ready.”

“Sound Bridgey. An’ Bridgey, before I forget it…give us a naggon of whiskey and a packet of Players for the morn.”

“Here,” she said, wrapping the small bottle and cigarettes in a brown paper bag, “this is from me for Christmas.”

He pressed his chest against the counter and lowered his head as if to kiss her. But he clasped her cold hands instead and whispered, “You never forget the Warrior. The blessin’s of God on you. Bridgey, you’re the only wan in this town who has any breedin’.”

“You can’t bate breedin’ Warrior.” she said, “How’re you goin’ home?”
“Walkin’.”

She came outside the counter with a broom and peered out the front door.
“There’s no wind out. Take it aisey an’ you’ll be sound.”

“I’ll be sound anyway…But Bridgey as the song goes — ‘Oh what matters when for Erin dear we fall.’ I don’t mind in the least fallin’ for Erin…many’s the good man an’ woman have done so in the past. But Bridgey, what I do mind, is fallin’ for some of the shaggers that live here.”

“Our Lord fell three times,” she said quietly, sweeping his crushed cigarette butts into a heap.

“And he rose again Bridgey. We’re martyrs for punishment.”

The Warrior drained his glass slowly and put Bridgey’s Christmas present into his overcoat pocket. He wondered if he should try for another half one, but decided not to, it would be bad form.

“Bridgey… I’ll hit away,” he said. “Happy Christmas and a prosperous New Year to you astore.”

“The same to yourself and be as good as you can, Warrior. Happy Christmas to you now. Mind the step as you g’ out.”

She bolted the door behind him and unplugged the Christmas lights.

Main Street smelled like a farmyard in the wake of the fair. It was quiet apart from a few children who played in the light streaming from Callaghan’s sweet shop. The town was winding down for the carol service and the Warrior numbed when he discovered the pubs were blacked out. He tried them all — Tracy’s, Egan’s, Hogan’s, Vaughan’s, The Widow’s and Dinn Joe’s.

“Shag ’em,” he snorted. “An’ shag ’em again.”

He had hoped to breeze into the enemy camp in the quiet of the evening, just when the day’s takings were counted and the publicans were happy. He would extend the olive branch and ask to be served again. He would keep the peace. There would be no more trouble, no more defiance. No more would he lure the Christians away from the Angelus prayer by balancing the cart-wheel. He was retiring from all that.

But his plan was foiled because he had tarried too long with Bridgey. And the church didn’t help. The pubs would be closed until after the carol singing. Muttering about goodwill and room at the inn he plodded back down the street to wait in the shadows until God relented.

Passing Peter Egan’s he had a sudden urge to lash his boot through the glass paneled door but was distracted when the new curate, Father Hannon, suddenly appeared like a host. “Hardy weather,” the pale priest hailed, side-stepping him.

“Say wan for me Fader,” grunted the Warrior and wandered in the opposite direction.

He slipped into Hogan’s Alley to relieve himself in the darkness, but Gretta Greene saw him. The mad woman from Frohaul who had once done him a turn behind the town hall peered into the laneway and jeered, “The frost ‘ll kill et. The frost’ll kill et an’ make a small boy a you Warrior Carty you dirty scut you. I’ll say a prayer that you’ll go ta hell.”

With his back to the church he plodded on. Two women, pious as nuns, scurried past, arm in arm.

“Peggy, is that the Warrior Carty?”

“Tis. He’s an awful nuisance.”

“He’s in town since early today. I saw him when I was gettin’ the paper. Was there a girl in that family?”

“No. An only child that fella, an’ spoiled an’ young. He lives on his own. The mother died in the workhouse. Sure that fella couldn’t take care of himself.”

“Never married?”

“No. And he let a great farm of land go to wrack and ruin. Drank it.”

The Warrior felt the cold in his bones. Frost glistened the black tar road that separated the lines of shops. Stars above and stars below. He stood at the Square and gazed at the sky. A great black dome dotted with peep holes to heaven. Shocked by the thought, his head reeled. “Jaysus…I’m half drunk,” he mumbled to the night. “I’d better sit down before I keel over.”

Outside Hogan’s pub he flopped on an empty porter barrel. Hogan would be his first port of call with the olive branch, the whiskey would keep him warm till then. He uncorked the naggon and listened to the Christmas carols escaping from the church. Some he knew from long ago and crooned along between sips of whiskey. Memories paraded before him and he felt the town growing strange. It reminded him of a desolate railway station he saw from a train, one winter evening in war-torn Spain. “I’m only just passing through,” he muttered.

After the carol singing, the faithful passed the Warrior slouched over the empty barrels outside Hogan’s.

“He’s in town all day,” a man from the Vincent de Paul whispered to his wife.

“Thank God you don’t drink,” she whispered back. “It’s a terrible curse.”

Father Hannon shook his head and crossed to the other side of the street. “An awful disgrace,” he muttered to Coyle the butcher.

Nobody bothered the Warrior and hard frost crept over his crombie coat in a white fur. At closing time Frank Hogan tried to move him on, not out of sympathy or concern — but out of fear that the old soldier might erupt during the night and cry him out. But the old soldier was dead. Twisted like a vine, white as ice. The Warrior was gone and only his burly body remained.

His remains were brought to the church in a plain coffin paid for by Bridgey Looney and Ned Duffy. Laid out in his good blue suit he looked like a saint in death. After Mass on Christmas morning only a few mourners followed the tricolor-draped coffin through the streets. The Christmas morning cap guns were silent, the children called a truce for the funeral.

It was bitter cold in the graveyard above the town and Father Hannon rushed through the prayers. Ned Duffy fired four shots from an old revolver and children in the town below replied with a thousand rounds or more.

“Home is the hero,” Bridgey whispered. “May God be good to you, Warrior Carty.”

The Warrior Carty is published in The West: Stories from Ireland. A spoken word version of the story with music by Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill is available for download here.


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Morning Tea

here’s short story about a woman and her man…roles can be reversed to suit…

She woke earlier than usual, suddenly alert, like she’d parachuted into the dawn from a dreamless sleep. It was 6.51 on the digital radio clock,  and grey slivers of light crept through the sides of the curtains.  She’d snooze  for another hour, until Jack brought  her morning cup of tea. And then it struck her that she’d talk to him today. She’d break the ice and say,

“Thanks, Jack.”

Maybe she’d ask, “What kind of a day is it?”  The freeze had gone on too long— two months, maybe more. She’d relent and speak to him today.

Mona turned towards the wall and pulled the duvet over her head and shoulders like a hood. The bedroom was cold, and she made a mental note to ask Jack to reset the boiler for quickening winter. She’d say it in a soft voice, maybe at teatime. They should be cautiously talking by then. She’d prepare something nice for him — one of his favourite dishes, something from their early years.  Toad in the Hole, Cornish Pasties, Welsh rarebit.

And lunch too. When he’d come at 1pm from his job in Carney’s Medical Hall, she’d have a hearty plate on the table instead of a sliced loaf  and a hard lump of  orange cheddar. Of course, if right was right, he should be having his lunch in Carney’s.  If right was right, Carney’s should be theirs: she was Carney, it had been her father’s business. The thought made her restless and she turned on her back and felt colder. It was Jack’s fault. Her father didn’t like him, thought him a wimp. And rather than pass on the business to them, he sold it instead. She didn’t even get the money, her father left it all to the Vincent de Paul. That caused the first major row between her and Jack. That row lasted nearly a year and finished when she fell down the stairs and broke her ankle.

As she recovered, Jack began talking about starting a family. She’d postponed having a child  while her father was alive, because the old man was adamant he’d prefer the line to be extinct  than have it tainted with Jack’s blood.  She didn’t tell this to Jack, but filed it away as ammunition for a vicious row, when she really wanted to stab him in the heart. Now  talk of starting a family was unnerving. She wasn’t ready. The thought of coupling with Jack  paled and lined her face. It slowed her recovery. One evening at tea, as he served up spicy chicken wings and French fries, he said,

“I can’t wait until we’re setting this table for three.”

“Who’s moving in?” she asked wearily.

“Well…our child…I mean not immediately…but you know what I mean…in the future.”

“Oh,” she sighed, paused to push away her untouched plate and said, “If you don’t mind Jack, I’d prefer not to think of that right now. I need all my energy to get on my feet again, so I don’t have to depend on you.”

“It’s no bother to me.”

“Well it bothers me Jack. And for the last month at least, it’s nothing from you but having a baby, preferring a girl if it made me happier. What the hell is all this about? It’s all your decision. What about me? What about me, Jack? Hmm? You lost the Medical Hall on me and now you want a baby.  You’re pathetic Jack.”

He took his meal into the sitting room and they didn’t speak again until she had to go to the hospital to have the cast removed from her leg. But he never stopped bringing her a cup of tea in the morning. That was the one constant in their marriage, Jack always brought her a cuppa in bed, and he was always waving the flag of truce. And though she despised the gesture, she always welcomed the tea.

She turned on the left shoulder and glanced at the clock: 7.40. Times goes slowly when you wake early. She’d often stayed awake right through the night, only dropping off when she heard children going to school. Many movies had run in her head in the darkness, reels of film were scattered on the floor of her mind. In some films, she was married to other men— Gabriel Byrne and Bill Clinton were husbands in a few dramas. In another feature, Jack dies, gets killed or just disappears, and she marries Robert de Niro,  who’s the local doctor.

The floor upstairs creaked and she perked her ears like a hound. Jack was up. More rummaging than usual. The wardrobe door creaks open, clothes hangers rattle, the rumble of shoes. A sneeze. Then solid footsteps across the landing and down the stairs to her floor. Right turn into the bathroom, bolts the door and water fills the hand-basin.  Washing. Gurgle of wastewater. Toilet flush. Door unbolts and Jack exits the bathroom, turns left and goes down the stairs.

She waited for the snapping sound of kindling wood, waited for the scent of burning pine to weave upstairs through the thin morning air. Hearing no fire making, she wondered what he was at. That bloody kitchen will be freezing when I get up, she thought, if he doesn’t put down a fire soon. From below came the shrill whistle of the kettle on the gas burner as it boiled.  At least he’s making the tea, she sighed and relaxed.

Footsteps came up the stairs and she pretended to be asleep, heart pacing as she waited for Jack to twist the brass doorknob. But Jack turned right instead, and climbed the steps to the next floor. Mona opens her eyes. What’s he at? Rummaging. Footsteps on the landing and down the stairs again, slowly, like he’s taking one step at a time. He passes her room and descends to the kitchen. That’s odd, she thought and turned on her back and looked at the ceiling.

They never had a family. After she broke the ankle, they weren’t intimate again. They slept together for the warmth and security of the company, but there was no talk of  babies coming into the house. She was the boss, it was her house, inherited from her grandmother. He’d made a good catch and he should be happy to have such a sturdy roof over his head. In fairness, he wasn’t demanding and was always there when she needed him. When they went out to dine with friends or to functions at the golf club or the hotel, he was the perfect partner and great company. He blossomed when they socialized with Doctor Logan and his wife, the Carters, the Faheys, or other town gentry. After Jack had a few gins, she could almost love him. It was then she saw the man she married. The vision never lasted long and the more she drank, the more he morphed into a toad. If it wasn’t her house, she’d have left him years ago. She tried to throw him out several times, but he refused to go. Ignored her and went about his life as normal.

A few years after her father died, they attended a marriage counselor in Limerick. It was expensive and they went twice a month on Thursday afternoons, when the Medical Hall closed for the half-day. She remembered the journeys were long and grey, she drove her father’s old Morris Oxford, because Jack never learned to drive. But he paid for the session and bought the petrol. On the way home, they stopped at the West County Grill and he was always chatty and ordered the best courses on the menu. He always said they were making progress and urged her to do the communication exercises that the counselor suggested. She promised to do them the following day,  but that day never came.  And then, as they were about to attend their first session of the New Year, something snapped and Mona said,

“This is going nowhere, Jack. I’m not wasting anymore time. This therapy thing isn’t working for me.”

“Just give it a few more tries, we’re making progress Mona, we really are. We had the best Christmas we’ve ever had.”

She shook her head and said, “If you want, go by yourself, you can have my car.”

He called the counselor and apologized that they wouldn’t be making the appointment. Then wrote a check for the fees and put it in the mail.

She heard the toaster pop and then got the whiff of charred bread. Soon he’ll bring  the tea, she thought, maybe he was making toast for her. Maybe he’d go the extra mile and  bring a glass of orange juice as well, like he used do when they were first married. Sometimes he brought her grapefruit, sprinkled with brown sugar and caramelized under the grill.

The sun came over the houses and weakly lit the room with a slice of light through the window drapes. A magpie chattered somewhere outside, and a few cars passed on their way to Ennis. The garbage truck trundled down Main Street, and a school bus pulled up in the square and unloaded students. She glanced at the clock: 8.50. Christ! Where was her tea? Here he comes — the  solid footstep climbing steadily, balancing the cup. A rush of thoughts scrambled through her head. What would she say to him? Thanks? Eyes open, she lay on her back, staring at the ceiling as the doorknob turned and he entered.

“You’re awake,” he said softly as he bent down to leave the cup and saucer on the bedside locker, “here’s your tea.”

She got a whiff of cologne, but said nothing, thinking he never wears cologne going to work.  She decided to ignore him.

“No word today either,” he said.

Jack stood beside the bed and Mona stared blankly at the ceiling. He turned away after a short while, left the room and quietly closed the door. His cologne hung in the  room and she sat up in annoyance. She heard him sob quietly as he descended to the kitchen. The old softy, she spat, what a bloody weeping willow. It’s me who has cause to weep, not him. She sipped the tea: it was too strong and she angrily left it back on the locker. He couldn’t even make a proper cup of tea anymore.

The cathedral bells pealed for morning Mass, as a car pulled up outside and someone got out. Gentle knock on the door. That’s odd, she thought and  wondered who it was.  She felt tempted to peep out the window. The door opened and she heard the mumble of voices. A woman talking to Jack? She heard the front door close with a firm bang, car doors shut and the vehicle moved away. What was that about? Who was that woman? Did Jack go off in the car with her? Was she giving him a ride to work? Why?

Peeved, she bounded from the bed, donned dressing gown and slippers and hurried downstairs. A growing sense of emptiness met her step by step, and by the time she reached the ground floor, her heart was alarmed.  She flashed her eyes around the kitchen, trying to understand what was different, what was wrong. Nothing was out of place, except the bunch of keys on the bare table. Jack’s keys. The key of her house, the keys of Carney’s Medical Hall, the key of his bicycle lock. She picked them up and hurried back upstairs, wondering where to hide them.

“What a fool,” she mulled, “to leave the house without his keys.”

She put them at the bottom of her underwear drawer and got back into bed to wait for his  knock on the door or his call on the phone. Of course she wouldn’t answer either. Rain pattered against the  window and cold crept around her. Mona wondered why he hadn’t put down the fire.

“What about me, Jack?” She asked the empty house, “What about me?”


Books by Eddie Stack

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