An Irish Quarter Event
a short story by Eddie Stack
"Revolution" by Eddie Stack
Gerard Downwave wriggled in the armchair and frisked his pockets for cigarettes.
"Everyone is in one kind of jail or the other." he preached, "what Marx had to say is interesting.."
With a sigh, his wife Mabel excused herself from the musty sitting room and left him chattering to Healer Hawkins about revolt and revolution. She politely closed the door and traipsed down the cluttered hallway to the kitchen, eternal darkness and a sinkful of dishes. Mabel sank into an old motor car seat beside the fire with a tumbler of elderberry wine. It eased the pain and mellowed the madness. Revolution, revolution, revolution. Day and night it was nothing but revolution. One time there was no talk about 'the struggle', no talk about the military. One time there was talk of nothing else but how he would be headmaster when Master Flood retired. Then he would change the world and drift through the town in a glow like Goldsmith.
He was badly shaken when the school board appointed Paddy Lynch to fill the Master's shoes. How could they do this to him? He trained the football team, played the organ in the church and started up the credit union. How could they say, "Sorry Gerard, we feel Lynch is a better man for the job."?
For more than a year they lay awake in bed night after night, going over the same old ground. Her head was addled from his stories and theories. He trusted nobody anymore and almost persuaded her there was a conspiracy against him. Mabel saw her husband turn grey in one winter. She saw his eyes change, the pupils contracted to mere pinpoints and darted with anger. But she really worried when he jolted upright from the pillow one night, babbling feverishly that he was struck by a profound enlightenment. It was then the sirens screamed inside her head.
And that was only the beginning. Not long after Dora was born, the 'visions' began and the house was plunged into hell. Every evening they prayed in the sitting room while he had his 'visions', and the room was so charged, the children cried. She cried herself and bit her lips, trying to shut out the mad blabber coming from the head of the household. It was around that time she stopped going out.
Father White visited the house when six Sundays in a row Mable failed to come to the altar rails. She burst into tears and related her months of terror living with the man who played cards with Jesus and John the Baptist every Friday night. The priest sprinkled Holy Water on her and said she needed to pray harder. He was concerned about Gerard and so were the school board, he was relaying his experiences to the pupils.
"Strange spirits dwell when God vacates, Mabel," he said when leaving.
She came to the rails the next Sunday. That was the last time she left the house, the Sunday Gerard interrupted Father White's sermon with a flourish of blue notes on the church organ. He glued everyone to the floor.
The priest calmly said,"Gerard, leave the organ alone."
Gerard continued bleating out sacrilegious scores. Some worshipers twittered, especially those who skulked behind the statues at the back of the church. Most people squirmed and there was a murmur of panic when little Irene Downwave screamed at the organist,
"Stop it, Daddy!!".
The school board dismissed him with a decent pension and the 'visions' stopped. Gerard took to the bed for weeks, weeping in the dark. Later he held public meetings in the Square and canvassed parents to boycott the school. When the dismissed schoolteacher painted slogans on the road, the police arrested him. Gerard spent ten days in the Bridewell and once released, he flew a red flag over the house and immersed himself in revolutionary rhetoric. New words buzzed around the hous: fascists, imperialism, colonialism, Trots, Lenin, Marx. When people came to visit her in those days they said it would all pass over, like a stubborn cloud. But they would not look her in the eye. Only Biddy Flanagan did that. Biddy would look her in the eye, grip her hands and blurt, "Jesus Mabel, the poor man 'ill never be the same again."
Biddy used come at all hours of the day and night with a canvas bag of bottles. Elderberry wine. They would sit weeping in the dark kitchen for hours, drinking wine while the house was torn apart by the Downwave children. Mabel knew nothing about Biddy who just came to the door one day with her bag and said, "Jesus Mabel, I'm sorry for your troubles."
It was time to make another pot of tea for the revolution.
The blinds were drawn and Mabel sat on the broken-down sofa. They took no notice of her. Gerard spoke about the printing press he was setting up in the cellar. He would print pamphlets about the way forward and distribute them outside the church on Sunday mornings. She half-listened, half-watched the sparks jump from the fire, and knew it would be another winter of making countless pots of tea for the revolution. The comrades would plot and plan. The police would raid the house a couple of times. Mysterious people would come in the night and stay for a while. They might sleep with one of her daughters and vanish at the call of duty. She worried that Irene was pregnant, another child for the revolution, another grandchild to feed and wash. It seemed to Mabel she was carrying the burden of the revolution on her shoulders. But this was her only part in it: making tea, minding grandchildren and praying it would be all over soon.
"Mabel," Gerard called, "There's a knock at the door."
It was Biddy Flanagan. The women settled in the kitchen and Biddy wept.
"Jesus Mabel," she keened, "I've something terrible to tell you. Gerard slept with Kathleen Mack above in Doyle's the other night, Mary Kate said not to tell you but what could I do?"
She hugged Mabel and prayed for her wayward husband.
"Jesus Mabel, but men can be awful bastards." she said drying tears with her scarf.
"Christ Mabel, I've an egg cup of engagement rings in the dresser at home. Give 'em an inch an they'll nail you to the bed."
Mabel said Gerard had not bedded with her for years. She still kept his clothes in the matrimonial bedroom and he changed there in the morning but never at night. He was only a lodger in the house, someone she once had an affair with, he had long ago slipped away as a husband. Gerard was gone, long gone.
"Who's in the parlour with him?" Biddy asked in a whisper.
"Some fellow called Hawkins."
"Oh Sweet Mother of Jesus an' all that's good an' holy...not the Healer Hawkins?"
"Oh Christ! Mabel, that fella's an awful case and he's only startin' out in life. Terrible to the world. They say he has a cure for everythin'... but he's gone from the wire rightly. God help the poor lad, but he'd drink till maidin geal. He'll make proper shit of the revolution."
"I hope you're right."
"May the Lord Jesus have mercy on Gerard Downwave," Biddy whispered, reaching for her tumbler of elderberry wine. "Like a child Mabel, Christ have mercy on him. The way sure himself and that poor boy a the Nixon's parade around the town at night is only cruel to the world. In an' out of pubs an everythin' ...they're just like the gangsters you'd see in the pictures that used t' come to the town hall long 'go before they burned it down. God help us."
"They search everywhere for the enemy, but the enemy is within themselves, hiding in their souls." Mabel said wearily. It was a line she had read somewhere, and she tried to believe it.
"Tis no life, God help us." Biddy moaned and slipped into tears again.
Rain lashed against the kitchen window and Mabel awoke slouched in the old car seat beside the fire. The house coughed and snored. It was well into the night and Biddy was gone. She was angry with herself for getting comatosed again. Elderberry wine. Biddy must have put the rug over her. All these nights ended the same. Oblivion. Life was becoming a crusade of staggers, rise and falls.
Mabel made her way along the hall, stopping by the sitting room to rake the fire. The room smelled of stale cigarettes and musty books and somebody snored on the broken-down couch. The Healer Hawkins. Biddy said he had a cure for everything. Mabel looked at him and wondered if he had a cure for loneliness. She was tempted to wake him.
In one sweep Mabel gathered all her husband's clothes from the wardrobe and flung them from her bedroom. From the chest of drawers his mother gave them as a wedding present, she emptied wads of underwear, socks, shirts, vests and woolen cardigans and heaped them on the landing outside the bathroom.
"Revolutions, like charity, begin at home," she muttered.
Mable opened the window and let night exorcise the room. She undressed and untied her hair, and naked by the window, let the wind whirl around her anxious body. A glint of light on the dressing table caught her eye, the small pewter framed wedding photograph.
Though she could not see his face, she felt Gerard's stare. He was lording over her again, smirking at the naked body he left behind a decade or more ago. A lot of lonely nights had passed through her room since then. Her heart screamed and she thought her body would burst with the rush of blood through her veins. In a wild sweep she hurtled her wedding photograph through the open window. The wind caught it and she heard the glass shatter against the wall.
Mabel Downwave shuttered the window and wondered if the Healer Hawkins was old enough to know that love was a migrant, a goodnight kiss at dawn, a sense of wonder in the fray. She dressed her bed with fresh linen and lit a stick of incense she been saving for years.
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Eddie's a wonderful storyteller. This is highly entertaining. Love the phrases especially 'he'd drink till maidin geal'. As far as I know it means he'd drink till the bright morning.
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