Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

"Nimrod" by Arthur Broomfield

"Nimrod" by Arthur Broomfield (2012)  (a short story)

Outburst Magazine, edited by Dr. Broomflield, is a very dynamic journal
 dedicated to publishing innovative poetry and short fiction from Irish Authors

Lucky pulled the burka awkwardly over his Man. United shirt and Levi jeans. Even with a coarse slit cut up the back it was uncomfortable. He was a good bit over-weight and even if it was the largest size he could get from that Pakistani women in Southhall, who looked at him curiously, it was still designed for a woman’s body. It pinched him in some places and hung too loosely in others. To make things worse it was a sweaty, clammy August day.  Even the leaves on the overhanging sycamore tree seemed to droop, motionless. Lucky floundered around the cramped tent as he continued to negotiate with the burka.   I should have left it black, he thought. Litres of bleach had failed to transform it to the stunning white he’d imagined, leaving it instead, a morass of undefined shades of grey. “It’s necessary,” he’d explained to his friend Timmy, “it gives me presence.  All mystic’s wear Eastern garb”.   Nearly ready now, he consoled himself, as he pulled the hood of the burka over his face, the top also slit to allow the visor to coincide with his eyes. Nothing to do now but light the incense.
Outside visitors were trickling into the Ballyhurk Country Show and Fair. The curious paused outside Maharaj Mustafa’s Healing Temple.  It was more a leftover from Lucky’s previous life - the Dylan concert at Slane - just big enough to hold a small table and two chairs and high enough for a man to stand in. Parked close to the entrance was the reluctant Timmy, slumped in a wheelchair, muffled Foxford rugs adding to his discomfort; attended by his “carer”, Billy O’Dunn, the only paid member of the staff.  “I never heard of anything so corny”, Timmy remonstrated, when Lucky put the plan to him, after his ballet class.  “What if someone recognises me?”

“They won’t, they’re all farmers … move in different circles.  I’ll collect you in the van that morning.  You just play your part – O.K.”, said Lucky.
“You must think the people are pure eejits.”
Something else was adding to the discomfort caused by Lucky’s burka.
“Father Looney is coming down on you today.”
 Billy O’Dunn met him with the news
.  “He warned us all not to go near you at Mass on Sunday, said you were a chancer.  How can a man who never darkened the door of a church be a faith healer, he said.”
“I’ve never even seen him, only his photograph in ‘The Champion’”, said Lucky.

“You’re not much like your picture,” said Lucky.
“You’re a picture yourself.  Your poor mother must be revolving in her grave”, said Father Looney.  “Take off that scarecrow’s suit and let the people see who you are.”
“I will when you do likewise with that Roman collar”, said Lucky.
 Father Looney, all six foot and sixteen stone of him, had stormed into Lucky’s temple empowered by the grim resolution of the old style parish priest.
“It’s intense”, Timmy said to Billy O’Dunn, who could hear the exchanges.   .
“Fifty years ago we’d have had you burnt at the stake.  Faith healer my arse”, said the priest.
“Sit down and cool off”, said Lucky.

Timmy was beginning to sweat up in the wheelchair.  A couple of “victims”, as Lucky liked to call those who attended his temple, had lined up behind him.  The one next to him was a weak-voiced little lady in her forties, also in a wheelchair.  She was being cared for by a youth of about eighteen.  A son, thought Timmy.  The din continued from inside the temple.  If it didn’t stop Lucky would lose his clients.
I wonder what he’s got in the bag, Timmy?


“There’s only one thing for it Billy, wheel me in there now”, said Timmy.
Billy opened the entrance flap of the temple and secured it back to make room for the wheelchair.  Timmy had a direct view of the inside.  Now sitting down, the black backed priest, white collar clearly visible, was leaning forward.  His elbows rested on the table, his hands clasped in front of his face.  Across the table stood the burka clad Lucky.  A shock of peroxide bleached hair protruded in a multiplicity of directions some distance above where his eyes were believed to be.  Tall anyway, now he struck a rigidly erect pose, exaggerated in an attempt to level out the humps and hollows of the burka.
“My God, he’s healing a priest”, whispered the little lady in the wheelchair.
Lucky beckoned to Billy to push in Timmy through the open entrance.  “You may leave now, carer” he said, “and close the temple entrance please.”
“This I insist on witnessing,” said Father Looney.
“Indeed, you are most welcome Father”, said Lucky in his best we’re-all-men-of-faith, dress rehearsal, voice.

Lucky adjusted the wheelchair so that Timmy had his back to Fr. Looney.  He stood about a yard from Timmy, his arms stretched towards him, eyes closed tight behind the visor of his burka.
“I will now summon the energies of the universe.  My body will act as a medium.  You must stay perfectly still.”
The summoning consisted of an amalgam of a Hari Krishna chant and the Ullaloo, an eighteenth century Irish funeral song, complete with sighs and groans, and ended with something vaguely resembling the Clare Shout.
“Peace child, peace … peace… peace.”
Lucky stood motionless, arms still outstretched, head now thrown back apparently in deep communication with the energies of the universe.
“My child … my child … arise …. Arise …. ARISE.”
The whole rehearsed charade was worked through till Billy was called in.  After a donation of fifty euros was handed over – eloquently acknowledged by Fr. Looney’s wry smile – a shaky Timmy nervously pushed his wheelchair ahead of him out through the entrance, on to the show and beyond.  Billy walked in close attendance gently asking people to “stand aside, please.”

“I don’t know who that fella is but I know there’s nothing O’Dunn wouldn’t do for a tenner”, said Fr. Looney, clearly unconvinced.  “We’ll see how well you’ll work with Madge Brennan”.

Everyone in the parish felt for Madge – struck down by a mysterious virus shortly after her Paddy got himself wrapped around the power-take-off of his tractor and thought how well the widow had borne the affliction and brought up her young family in spite of it.

“God bless you father, I didn’t expect to see you here”, said Madge.

“Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth”, Lucky sang out rather hurriedly, hoping to forestall any contribution with which the priest might hope to enlighten the proceedings.  Instead he pulled his chair to the side of the temple – to make space for the widow – where his big frame crouched, expectantly, to accommodate the slope of the canvas.  His face was creased in the smirk of the cat who was about to get the cream.


“Its time we talked”, said Father Looney. 
Billy O’Dunn stuck his head into the temple. 
“There’s more people here to see you”, he said to Lucky. 
“Tell them the healing is over for today.  Tell them …. tell them my energies have dissipated”, said Lucky.
Billy noted the change of mood in the temple.  Now the two men were sitting on either side of the table, facing each other, a bottle of Paddy whiskey and two plastic cups between them.  Lucky had taken off the burka; his face was pale against the red of the Man. U. jersey.  Father Looney’s black jacket hung from his chair.  Billy noticed that his collar was opened at the back; its mark still imprinted on his neck.
“And fasten the entrance on your way out – here’s something for you”, Lucky said.

“It’s not what I did to her, its she did to me”, said Lucky.
The two men sat in silence, gazing into their whiskey, looking for an answer.
“And of course you guessed right with Timmy.  He was just a ready-up to lure the punters.  But Christ, when she dragged herself up out of the wheelchair and tottered towards me I could see the Resurrection in her eyes.  This wasn’t meant to happen … I mean … I mean … I never believed it could … it was just a way of earning a few bob.  I never had a victim in a wheelchair, just gout and piles … that sort of stuff.  What’s going on father, you’re a real man of God, you must know?”  Father Looney swilled his whiskey round his plastic cup, stared at it, raised it to his lips, paused as if he was going to say something, checked himself, left down the cup, stared into it again.  At last he raised his head and looked straight into Lucky’s eyes.  “You’ve got me wrong, Lucky.  I’m no more a man of God than you are.  We’re both too smart for our own good … in a way both of us are responsible for what happened today.  I gave up believing years ago.  But I can’t say that.  If I’m like that – a country priest – then what’s the Pope, he who keeps the whole show on the road?”  Father Looney paused again, took a sip of whiskey.
“You tell me,” said Lucky.
“They want to believe, that’s the point,” Father Looney continued, ignoring the response to his rhetorical question.  “And we give them what they want because … because … that’s how we are.  Repentance … forgiveness … the body and blood … the afterlife, nothing that can be proved, don’t you see?  Then you come along and put it all to the test.  You put it up to belief itself.  That’s why the Church doesn’t want your sort around the place.  But look what happens!”
Lucky looked into Father Looney’s eyes.
“You and your damn wallalooing – its more like a sick joke … and our looing … our loathéd, long-winded, lying, looing … skip to the loo … skip to the loo… Christ, we’re the Wally’s now …   This is not about Madge Brennan.  Its us that’s in shock, she’s gone home, thanking God and …. and the universe.  Where do we go now?”

Lucky had sat transfixed through the priest’s agonising.  At last, he reached for his whiskey.
“An hour ago I believed in nothing only money”, he said.  “You saw me, I couldn’t take her money… I couldn’t take it.”
Lucky took another sip.
“Can’t you see it now!”  Father Looney’s big fist came down hard on the table.  It’s us that’s lost our beliefs.  She’s walked out of this … this … temple… no different than when she was pushed in.  We’re the ones who’ve changed … its changed us … she changed us.”
“Yea”, said Lucky.  “Its … its like …. like we told her a story that she believed that we believed was only a story.  Its like ‘I used to believe in nothing, now I’m not so sure’.  It worked for her not because it’s true but because she believed”.
Lucky ran his hands through his peroxide locks.  “Her faith has made her –“
“Don’t say it”, said the priest.  “This is far too serious”.  He took another sip, straightened himself and gazed somewhere into the distance.  “I don’t know what to think, I don’t know what to say”, he said.  “She’s cured, that we can see – if seeing is believing.”  “All I can say is”, he said “that I don’t now believe that I don’t now believe”.
Lucky looked at the nearly full whiskey bottle and the two cups. 
“I think its time to finish the whiskey”, he said.

Outside the temple a pleasant breeze had cleared the muggy conditions.  The leaves on the sycamore tree were lively now, rustling in the breeze.  Bees hummed, adding to the music.  Bees and leaves in harmony.  And, for those who looked though the green leaves, the sky beyond was blue and deep.

End of Guest Post

I am very appreciative of the honor Dr. Broomfield has done The Reading Life with publication of this great story.  This story is protected under international copyright laws and is the intellectual property of Arthur Broomfield.  

Author Biography

Poet and Beckett scholar. Latest publication The poetry Reading at Semple Stadium. Working on book on Beckett's works, due 
out December 2012 .Graduate NUI Maynooth, B.A. English, History, M.A. English. Mary Immaculate College ,University of 
Limerick, Ph. D. English.  He lives in County Laois, Ireland and is the editor of the on-line journal Outburst.  
Outburst, edited by Arthur is a very innovative source of new poetry and short works of fiction.  I subscribe to it and have found it a great source of new to me writers.   

You can also follow Outburst on Facebook.

Mel U

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