Killoyle, An Irish Farce

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Chapter 1

By Roger Boylan

Like Castle Dracula, or the Bates mansion in Psycho, Spudorgan Hall stood out in stark relief atop its looming escarpment [1], lit up in the lightning glare that alternated with the barrel-hollow grumbling and asthmatic throat-clearings of distant (but approaching) thunder. It was a quite entertaining phase of the autumnal equinox, [2] especially if viewed from behind twitching lace curtains, or trembling roller blinds--at any rate, more edifying than the telly for the guests at the Hall, as it was for all the snug homebodies and smug early-to-bedders throughout Killoyle city and South-Eastern Ireland and out to sea almost as far as Wales. Decidedly not entertained, however--although likewise sporadically illuminated--was homeward-bound Milo Rogers, Spudorgan Hall's headwaiter and his own occasional poet and dreamer extraordinaire. Nearing the topmost corner of Uphill Street (a real slog, in that wind), he took a cigarette out of his coat pocket and cursed the fates that a) allowed his last fag to be waterlogged b) did likewise to his matches and c) ordered the pubs closed at such a sodbuggering early hour--and on his night off, for the love of God. [3]

"Ballocks," he howled. The thunder burped, sarcastically.

Of course, there were the after-hours clubs on Parnell Parade, where for a cover charge that would buy you a weekend on the Riviera, including airfare and several Blue Ribbon dinners, you could sit until 2 a.m. and guzzle yourself into oblivion and beyond; but Milo, shameless Saturday night inebriate that he was, nevertheless retained enough self-respect to avoid clip joints of that class. Imagine expecting the likes of him to part with good money to buy vintage Canada Dry or Schweppes "champagne" for some raddled slut he'd probably see Monday lunchtime coughing into her fried cod at the Crubeeneria[4] down the street! Moreover (crucially), Milo was nearly penniless, this particular Saturday being equidistant between fortnightly paydays at Spudorgan Hall. In any event (i.e., conclusively), he was already standing at the intersection of Uphill Street (Ir.Sraìd Uphaìl)--alias the N6 Waxford-Dublin dual carriageway [5]--and the T45 Killoyle-Cork ring road [6], half a mile and more from Killoyle town centre--comprising O'Connell Square, Parnell Parade, Pollexfen Walk, Brendan Behan Avenue, St. Derek's (C. of I.), St. Oinsias' (R.C.), SS. Peter & Laurence O'Toole's (R.C.), and the lower approaches to King Idris Road (E. & W.)--and mere seconds away from the front door of his house at No. 7b, Oxtail Yard--well, "house" is perhaps putting it a bit strongly. The "b" in the address pretty much sums it up.

Still (he thought), things could be worse. Reassuringly, they were, as soon as the storm hit Killoyle proper instead of loitering timidly in the outskirts like a country cousin, but by that time Milo had bowed to the inevitable and regained his domain to enjoy the dubious delights of television from Wales--beamed weakly across St. George's Channel from the Principality itself [7]--and his own Three-Star Home Brew, a guaranteed tummy-tickler [8].

"Blow, wind, and crack your cheeks," muttered Milo, as the gale raged outside. On the screen flickered a flick featuring big-nosed Spencer Tracy, like his erstwhile character Daniel Boone wearing a coonskin hat, itself sporting a coonskin tail. Caucasian extras, clumsily made up to resemble Red Indians, huddled together in the damp forests of Upstate New York (in reality the San Fernando Valley, plus decor), plotting evilly against fork-tongued Paleface (Messrs. Boone/Tracy). Arrows flew; a cannon barked; death was shammed in awkward poses athwart the studio floor. The heroic music of Erich Korngold[9] overflowed the soundtrack, flooding broad-nostrilled Spence as he shared the pipe of peace with an obvious Nordic (indeed, Celtic) specimen daubed a sporadic shite-brown color that inexplicably left patches of European pallor exposed: one by his left earlobe, another on his neck, a third up by his daringly low hairline [10] . . . it was ludicrous, absurd, a disgrace!

The thunder crackled, snored, eructated hugely. Rain lashed the windows with pent-up sadism. The gas fire was burbling comfortably, releasing frequent hiccups in sympathy with the wind. Past time for a refill, said Milo to himself. He made this declaration aloud, although to the best of his knowledge there was no one in any of the bungalow's three rooms to hear him.

"Time for a refill, eh, me man?" he repeated. His voice boomed hollow in his empty glass. Nodding in self-agreement, he squeezed his generous bulk out of his armchair and swept majestically from the parlor into the vestibule and thence to the kitchen, abode of (reading from left to right): [11] a Frigidaire, vintage 1962; closets dating from the founding of Oxtail Corners, circa 1976, which year also saw the razing of a dwelling from the Georgian period and in its place the raising of No. 7b, a lopsided bungalow better suited to the Curragh [12], or infamous holiday camps on England's South Coast . . .  next, the microwave (Hatichi, '87), head cheerleader among the bachelor's friends, always on hand to dish up a lukewarm snack of boxty, or colcannon and broth; the sink, with refitted taps, hot, cold and in-between; above the sink, a window, at that moment framing a pinkish-white face with anxiously wandering eyes; next to the sink, a broom closet, rarely entered, containing dusty pails, a dryish mop and three yards of twine, but nary a broom in the two years and a bit Milo had been in situ (he Hoovered instead, at an incredible rate); a mid-sixties Hoover, leaning drunkenly against the kitchen's pièce de résistance: the stove. A real turn-of-the-century masterpiece, this beauty was hammered out of a single sheet of drop-forged steel back in 1896 (or was it '97?) by MacSweeney of Chicago and miraculously salvaged from the other house [13] just in time to be connected to existing gas mains under the thick macadam of Oxtail Terrace (adjacent to the Yard) [14]. Intended for display rather than use, it squatted across from its distant descendant, the Hatichi microwave, which gazed back, exuding the callow superiority of its generation.

The floor featured tiles, hexagonal in shape, some with intriguing whorls of ancient grime embedded in the fading interstices.

Milo turned on the light in the kitchen. Out of a charitable impulse to amuse the solitary spectator he took at first to be his own image reflected in the darkened windowpane, he fell into Quasimodo pose--one shoulder upraised, knuckles of opposing hand grazing the floor, facial distortion [15] accompanied by hoarse cackling--and lurched towards the sink, beneath which a little brown jug of fresh homebrew awaited his attentions. Before he could proceed further, however, he froze, rooted to the spot. Electrified insects danced along his spine; sweat teased his palms; his intestines shrank in on themselves in the immanence of fear. It was no reflection after all: there was a face at the window!

It was only Murphy, but still . . . !

"What the blazes are you playing at?" inquired Milo, unheard through the closed window. Once open, it admitted a swaggering gust of midnight storm, as well as a few stray leaves and, one leg nimbly preceding him: Murphy, Peter X. of that name, fellow-Dubliner, fellow-Northsider and chief barman at Spudorgan Hall. Milo repeated his question.

"What am I playing at?" echoed Murphy. With meticulous irony, he briefly but masterfully aped Milo's apish gait. "You're well away, aren't you, Milo. Could I, ah?" He straightened his back and shot a significant look towards the sinkside homebrew. "As long as you're having one, like."

When interrogated on his unorthodox method of entry, Murphy turned out empty pockets to denote the absence of money and/or keys to his basement flat across the Yard.

"I was on me way to meet a woman but it started pissing down, so here I am. Are you deaf? I knocked on your door until my knuckles were black." He displayed a chapped fist as evidence.

They repaired to the parlor, beakers brimming. As soon as Murphy crossed the threshold, he broke into a run. The man's eyes were rolling like the eyes of the horses of Tintoretto (or even Rosa Bonheur), thought Milo, an aficionado of the plastic arts.

"I bags the sofa," gasped Murphy, and lost no time in arranging himself in the attitude of the Strong Man At Ease: supine, feet raised, one arm cushioning his head, drink squarely planted on midriff. Meanwhile, Milo found himself occupying the entire space between the two arms of his chair. His bum anchored his bulk downwards, while his legs, swelling like engorged goitrefish with the beer and the wind, buttressed the upper part, being firmly placed side by side and tapering into feet shod in running shoes of imported Bessarabian oryx hide [16].

There followed a traditional, if somewhat shopworn, scene of Irish hospitality: without, the throbbing gale; within, the lowering of ale.[17]

"That was a rotten day, let me tell you." Murphy received no more than a coarse slurping sound in reply as Milo applied himself to his fresh drink, while out of habit gazing over the rim of his glass at the television. Color faded in and out of the screen image of Tracy/Boone's profile silhouetted against sunlit mountaintops. A woman wearing a bonnet entered stage left and flung herself into Boone/Tracy's arms. They embraced, tightly, as Korngold swelled and credits rolled, then it was back to Cardiff and an update on the day's rugby (New Zealand 9, Wales 0).

"What a load of shite," snarled Milo. This was misinterpreted by Murphy as an overdue response to his complaining about the day's doings and led to a heated exchange, sadly typical of bachelor friendships [18], before Milo explained himself, his manner mellowing at the sudden recollection of Murphy's former membership in the All-Ireland Middleweight Boxing Team. He even sealed his peroration with a smile. Murphy relaxed, mollified. Still toying with the Rotten Day theme, he lay back again and gazed at Milo's well-stocked bookshelves, [19] although reading for anything other than titillation was a phenomenon foreign to his tastes; in fact, he hadn't opened a book since the Easter weekend, when Doreen Grey, a girl he went out with now and then, loaned him the latest Michelle Stoane bestseller--Slut, or Chick, or something along those lines [20]--but he'd chucked it after about page 10. Murphy, like most young men, was more interested in sports, wheeled vehicles, TV glamour, technological gimmickry and, of course, most of all: GIRLS.

"They're terrible men for the teasing," he said.

Milo blearily awoke from his contemplation of inner space. [21]


"The girls, of course. Take that Doreen creature, now--you know the one I'm talking about, a right flirt so she is, works down at Woolworths?"

"That's the one you're on your way to see, is it?"

"No, not that one. Doreen. Ah, come on, you know the girl," coaxed Murphy. "Reddish hair, or is it brownish-red, or brown altogether, or almost black, would you say . . . ."

"I'd not know her from Eve. When was the last time I went into Woolworths, for God's sake," spluttered Milo. He was rocking back and forth in an effort to dislodge himself from the armchair and extinguish a cadaverous television face lecturing him in Welsh. [22] Beer spillage was considerable, impregnating his shirtfront with a tart aroma. Finally, after seesawing violently five or six times, Milo put down his drink, took a firm hold of the armrests and--with a mumbled "one-two-heave"--he propelled himself forward at a sufficient velocity to change channels, switch off the light and slam the door shut, all without the use of his hands.

"There." He looked around the room, a smile crumpling his whey-white face. "That's better." The shadows danced on the wall in the gas fire's cheery glow as, contrapuntally, the cheerless wind keened through the chinks. "Sure that's very nice. It is that."

"Turn on the feckin' lights," said Murphy, stridently.

Milo obeyed, but as he did so, he muttered imprecations sotto voce having to do with Murphy's lineage and general morals. If his friend heard, he gave no sign; instead, a sloppy grin spread across his face and his eyelids slowly drooped. Light tenor snoring announced sleep. This suited Milo. He thought Murphy was a grand old hoor, but a man needed a moment or two to himself now and then to reflect on things, just. Milo's morale was at low ebb, anyway, what with the job, the weather, thwarted ambitions, the rent, enforced chastity (leading, sadly but inexorably, to onanism), etc.--of course, with this last item, we find ourselves on the familiar, dangerous ground so well-trodden by blue-jowled clerics and Mother Church on one side and Austro-American psychoanalysts and the Hollywood crowd on the other: sex, in a word, always a guaranteed ticket to the shakes. Milo's experience of the matter was short but broad, somewhat like his person. In his final year at Trinity, still as virginal as any seminarian, he'd met a honey-skinned Frenchwoman named Martine, an encounter that led, in panting single file, to your standard tongue-tied, red-faced, knock-kneed wanker's courtship--oddly successful, perhaps owing to Martine's being from the great and sophisticated city of Lyon. [23] In urban France, that kind of thing is generally over and done with by age ten, or twelve at the latest, so to see it in full bloom in an allegedly full-grown man of twenty-three was no doubt such a novelty to the woman that she gave in just for the laugh that was in it. Anyhow, the affair lasted for the balance of Milo's undergraduate career, and pretty well scuttled his degree: come June, there he was in the exam hall, facing the European History final, [24] with any real chance of passing it well behind him. Only Martine existed in Milo's mind, and she'd gone back to Lyon, unresponsive to his moist missives and telephonic pleading. Eventually, marriage claimed her, followed boringly by maturity and maternity and the creeping dowdiness of domestic life. Meanwhile, Milo, short one degree (B.A., no honours), found fewer and fewer opportunities for his unlicensed genius. After a year in London pulling pints for the Kilburn crowd, and six months' illegal building work in New York, rooming with a crazed Brit-hating rebel from the County Queens, he drifted back to Ireland like ash on the wind and softly fell to earth in the cozy confines of Spudorgan Hall, "the Ritz of the Southeast." There were unfriendlier places to be, and he'd had a worse time of it in New York, but on the loneliest nights the memory of Martine returned and no time was worse than poor Milo's present, [25] and if he was behind with the rent into the bargain, life was hardly worth the effort. At two hundred and fifty punts a month, the rent bit hard into his waiter's wages, so hard that sometimes (as now) he was forced to reconnoitre every streetcorner before venturing round it, lest his landlord, Tom "The Greek" Maher, loom into view. Outwardly bluff and jovial, given to affecting Aran sweaters and a Donegal tweed cap, The Greek, paradoxically, struck Milo as the most diabolical man he had ever met. [26] In his eyes--blue as speedwell, with flecks of feral yellow--there twinkled the spirit of Himmler and de Sade, or so Milo claimed, perhaps fancifully; certain it was that inexplicable things tended to happen when The Greek's tenants lagged in the payment of their rent. On each of the past four days, for instance, Milo had spoken to telephonic whisperers variously claiming to be a Church of Ireland minister, a travel agent named Bob, the R.C. Bishop of Monaghan and finally--ominously--a Russian tourist with a message from "The Big Guy." As if all this weren't enough to drive the sanest of men to the very brink of madness, on the following Monday, ten days into arrears, Milo was settling down to watch the repeat of Strumpet City on RTE 2 when a stench as of the overworn underwear of an entire boarding school rose from beneath the floorboards and rapidly permeated the bungalow. Driven from his home, Milo made for Mad Molloy's, there to while away the evening making loud noises of protest over a series of whiskies paid for by none other than The Greek Maher. The same Greek sat next to him the whole time he was there, murmuring age-old clichés of sympathy: "now, now"; "there, there"; "I never"; "ya ballocks", etc., accompanied by nudges in the ribcage and, once, a mock left hook to the jaw fuelled by gusts of laughter and resonant slaps on the back. Never once during the entire evening did the man take off his Donegal cap, or pronounce the word rent. This confirmed Milo's fears. He spent the rest of the night behind the reception desk at Spudorgan Hall, only returning to his bungalow in the early morning. The smell was gone, but on the front doorstep was the decomposing body of a mongrel dog known to all of Oxtail Yard as the agent of many a sleepless night when the rutting season was on. [27]

An especially discordant note in the storm's diminishing song jolted Milo back to so-called reality.

"It's true that the mysteries of life are deep and various," he said to himself, staring at his own face staring back from the now-blank television screen, "but that one took the grand piano."

And so to bed, not including three visits to the jakes and one to the front door (exit Murphy, groggily).

Copyright © 1997 by Roger Boylan

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[1] The Micheal MacLiammoir overpass, just across from the railway station if you're coming in that way (CIE spur line twice daily Cork-Killoyle, three times on Sunday, no returns) or a brisk walk from the bus stop if that's your fancy (CIE Express, Green Line #15A: CORK Central--Cobh--Youghal--Killoyle--WAXFORD East). [back]

[2] Autumnal equinox? Your granny. A spit of rain, nothing more and nothing less; natural as your morning stool, especially in this place (SE Ireland) at this time of year (October). [back]

[3] Not any more, thanks to Gar Looney's Fine Whiskies coalition government and the new All-Night Licensing Act they managed to get passed last Wednesday--and was that ever a squeaker, twenty minutes before the pubs closed and guess whose belly was pressing against the bar at Neary's a scant five minutes later, that excellent establishment being a judicious six minutes fifteen seconds on (fleet) floot from Leinster House, in normal traffic? Ten out of ten if you guessed your man Gar himself (unrecognized by one and all). [back]

[4] Do you mind? Tam-Tam's, on Haughey Circle; oh, their crubeen's all right, and I quite fancied their fillet of plaice in aspic, and wait till I tell you about their toasted cod on barley--you'd think Heaven itself was the next stop! But the squid courgettes I had there once, and the grape-free vinegar they serve with everything . . . UGGGGHHHH, if you follow my drift. [back]

[5] Jewel carriageway, indeed! Four lanes for as many miles, then back to the old one-two, if you ask me. What a country. [back]

[6] Leading from the shopping arcade on Parnell Parade to Cork, via Skibbereen, bold Gougane Barra and (on a clear day, mind) parts of North Tipperary (Ryan country-- brrrr!). [back]

[7] Harlech TV, of course, at its best on Saturday nights to lure Taffy home from the bloody local (if his area's wet; if it's dry, well, that's another set of bloody problems entirely, isn't it, boy bach?): reruns of traditional Welsh dramas, e.g. Dai of the Tryffyds, Rhondda! and Cwm Cymru; the occasional game show/quiz, usually hosted by Geraint ap Rhys, raven-haired Schwarzenegger of North Gwynedd; a war film now and then, invariably starring Dickie Jenkins from Abergavenny, he whose Swiss tombstone reads "Richard Burton, 1925-1984." [back]

[8] And occasional bowel-reamer. [back]

[9] More Korn than Gold, as the old da used to say. Ah, wasn't he the sharp one, and didn't all the neighbors call him Wally the Wag, and isn't he where he always wanted to be, up there at the right hand of God--or was it the left? One or the other, anyhow (or both, unless he's taking the Mystery Tour of Purgatory, and just between you and me I wouldn't put anything past him, sure now wasn't he the sharp one, etc.)! [back]

[10] This thespian poltroon later became (hold on to your hats) President of the United States, prehensile forehead and all; known to posterity as The Dozer, he wasn't bad, actually, despite his grandpa's being born in Ballyporeen, not a million miles away from storied Killoyle (but not far enough, in them days). [back]

[11] Your left, his right, unless you're standing on my left, then his left's your right and vicey versa, at least from where I sit. [back]

[12] Renowned for the nags, of course, as well as that nasty old Army jug the lads sprang Johnny Owen from back in '79--he's in L.A., now, doing the heavy lifting for some Asian crowd. Johnny, we'd hardly know ye: as a law-abiding Californian, he's into organicism and multitasking, but--poor homesick gurrier that he is--he showers down with Irish Spring, and doesn't the scent of his freshly-scrubbed oxters remind him of the Vale of Avoca on a soggy day! [back]

[13] Known in Killoyle's teeming places of refreshment as "De Udder House (hic)", qv. Maher, infra. [back]

[14] As Milo wrote in his diary: Prodigious and giant-like is Milo's stove, boasting six coal-black burners, four in back, two in front, each wide enough to service a pot of porridge for six, and they with the hunger of unfed men; deep as the pockets of Dail Eireann its oven, and broader than the broad sands of Magilligan strand; higher and loftier its bulk than the golden-stoned majesty of Joyce Castle, dominion of the Ondt and industrious Gracehoper; louder roar the six flames of its burners than the massed throats of the warriors of Meath, and they without drink taken this fortnight past; sweeter sings the gas through its nozzle of brass than the purling of the tern in the soughing reeds of Inishboffin; heartier than burly pub-crawlers the soups and stews fermented there, and ranker than the summer sweat of panting lovers the lingering aftertaste thereof; smooth as Chinese silk the porcelain hull, and of a sheen brighter than Lough Neagh in the gilt of a springtime dawn! In a word, it's a corker. Good thing Milo never uses it: who knows how fast the market value might depreciate? [back]

[15] One eye shut, the other roving wildly; tongue lolling dogwise from mouth; nostrils flared; exaggerated overbite. [back]

[16] Will you get out of that right now! With oryx hide loafers going for fifty quid the pair at Boylans? And your man without the means to buy an extra pint after hours of a Saturday night? Listen here, Mister Know-It-All: if that's oryx hide, I'm a Dutch person called Joop den Uyl. [back]

[17] Straight out of James Stephens, or J. M. Synge, or another of the Holy Ireland crowd, the ones you'd find lurking in the cool Celtic twilight and forever peopling the place with silver-tongued hags and toadstool-dwellers and harpists with arse-length hair; to hell with that lot, the Clurichauns are the men to look out for (have you checked your cellar lately?)! [back]

[18] I.e.: faces glowing in mutual contempt; bared teeth on display; words unsuited to decent company swatted about like shuttlecocks. [back]

[19] I saw them once, as I shudder to recall. All right, if you insist. Here's a random sample: Encyclopedia of Irish Farm Animals (G. Nackert, Cork, 1965); Mother Arafat's Arab Kitchen (Redgrave House, 1980); Freight Trains of Canada (C.N. Rail, Winnipeg, 1949); ¡Nalgas! 101 Rear Views of Cuban Women in Swimsuits (Anon., Miami, 1989); Fifty Pee a Pint: The Later Verse of Jasper Hoolihan (O'Duffy Press, Athlone, 1980); Two Bob a Pint: The Complete Early Poems of Jasper Hoolihan (Blueshirt Press, Athlone, 1966); Four Great Irish Recipes (Stubble House, Sligo, 1982), etc. The remainder of Milo's collection consists mostly of collections of verse--many of them by the aforementioned Hoolihan--and a few classics (Scott, Dante, Kavanagh, etc.) guiltily nicked from Fred Hanna's in Dublin in college days gone by: an unambitious display, and yet! Somewhere deep inside Milo Rogers there squirms a nascent bookworm (or is it tape-?)! [back]

[20] Wench, actually, #1 on the Sunday Post best-seller list for 37 weeks. Ms. Stoane's latest blockbuster is the story of Tess, unwanted illegitimate daughter of the Duke of Whipminster. Raised by Rosie, the head chambermaid--who later dies of tuberculosis in an alleyway as the German panzers roll into Paris--Tess discovers her true identity in the brutal arms of Thatcher, the wine steward. Determined to claim her rightful inheritance, she fights and claws her way from the low groggeries of Cheapside and the belowstairs brothels of Houndsditch to the salons of Mayfair, the Left Bank and Monte Carlo, until finally--as the German panzers roll into Paris--she acquires the rank and title she has so long sought; but her happiness is short-lived. Soon afterwards, she loses her polo-playing Argentinian fiancé Apollo Belvedere in a freak horse collision at Auteuil; two days later, lesbian fashionplate and would-be suitor Caca Chamois, jilted by Tess, commits suicide with an elegant silver-plated handgun in the Bois de Boulogne as the German panzers roll into Paris. Disguised as an oberst in the Wehrmacht, Tess flees to Hollywood, where she meets and marries aging Dutch-born matinee idol Joop den Uyl. [back]

[21] Dense, mealy, dark; something like the homebrew he 's working on, or a pint of stout. [back]

[22] Knowing the men of Harlech as I do, I'd say it was probably old Dafydd Jones ap Jones, the Non-conformist minister who gets 3 minutes' free air time every Saturday night just after closing time to scold the ladies for letting their menfolk relive the pukey heaven of Stag Night once a week (except in south Powys, and the drier parts of Dyfed). [back]

[23] There's the place for us, son, a gracious town of a million or so--about Dublin-sized, and the air's a bit close in winter months, so they've their fair share of bronchial hackers and round-the-clock bottle men, but the grub's in a different class altogether. The only Liffeyside eatery that comes close is Le Phacochère in Harold's Cross, and guess who runs it? You're right: a man from Lyon (Jean-Claude)! Seriously, now, what I can't understand is how the locals can take the pace-- you know, every single blooming day God sends they're off to Bocuse's, or the Bouton d'Or, or the Trèsgros Brothers', or chez Alain Blanc, shovelling in the cassoulet au vin blanc and the caille aux raisins noirs and (as if that weren't enough) washing the whole caper down with a Beaujolais, or a smart palate-tickler from the Rhône valley! Civilisation, that's what it is, boy; that, and no mistake. There's nothing like it for prolonging life. [back]

[24] "Was the Treaty of Timisoara of 1867 the sole cause of, or merely a contributing factor to, the Balkan crisis of 1848? Discuss." [back]

[25] Sniff, sniff. Suitable accompaniment would be mumbling chords in D major, e.g. cello or double bass, with violins waiting in the wings, just in case. [back]

[26] And he'd met a few, that galoot in New York, for one: as a staunch fifth generation Irishman, his declared mission in life was to assassinate the British prime minister. Once, overloaded with Budweiser, he practised on Milo, using steak knives. Not surprisingly, it was their last night as room-mates. [back]

[27] God, that reminds me of something I read in the Press, a while back: "The Odorous Overcoat of Sandymount Strand." That was a story and a half. Wait till I tell you. James Barnacle, solicitor's clerk and aspiring playwright--i.e., a perfectly respectable class of person--found himself being overcome by fumes every morning as he put on his old Burberry mac. In chronological order, your man slid heavily to the floor after a) kissing the wife b) adjusting his tie in the hallway mirror and c) reaching for the dreaded coat; then, of course, he needed prompt reviving with smelling salts and turpentine to be on time for the 7:41 at Sandymount Station, a terrible drain on the family finances. After several weeks of this, and poor old Jembo beginning to topple over as if banjaxed at both ends of the day inclusive--incurring serious risk of concussion, with that raised footrail at the Parnell Mooney's--Father Joyce, the Television Exorcist, performed a TV exorcism in the dead of night, hoping to catch the evil visitor napping, so to speak. Confident in the powers of Good, next morning, regular as one-two-three, Jembo put on his coat with a light Dublin air on his lips--and whammo, there he was, measuring his full length at the wife's feet, exorcism or no exorcism. This can't go on, says the missus (a woman of firm opinions), it's him or me, I'm off to stay with my sister in Longford. Arrangements were accordingly made, dress clothes brushed, shoes polished to a high gloss, parcels containing personal belongings entrusted to the mails--and wouldn't you know it, she mailed her sister the wrong parcel, containing you-know-what (meanwhile, Jim's falling fits stopped altogether--very suggestive, if you ask me)! Naturally, once Sis caught a whiff of it, the coat went straight from her house to the laundry, but no sooner was the wrapping paper off than the laundry crew passed out as promptly as if they'd been bashed on the noodle one at a time with a blackthorn stick, or billy club. They survived, thanks be to God, and shortly thereafter the townsfolk torched the Burberry in a traditional Longford auto-da-fé, so we'll never know the whole truth; but, haunted or not, that old mac was a godsend to Jim, if you want my opinion. Last we heard, his play The Haunted Overcoat was in its forty-fourth week of rehearsals at the Peacock Theatre (or was it the Abbey?). [back]

Copyright © 1997 by Roger Boylan

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