"Blue Money" A Short Story by Eddie Stack
A Reading Life Special Event
A Reading Life Special Event
Irish Short Story Month Year III
March 1 to March 31
In an act of supreme generosity Eddie Stack has sent me 22 short stories to post for Irish Short Story Month. I offer him my great thanks for this. I intend to share all of these short stories with my readers. He is a master story teller with a deep understanding of Ireland.
Press comments on his work
Press comments on his work
Praise for Eddie Stack’s writing
"Mr. Stack's fiction is versatile and engaging...a vivid, compassionate, authentic voice...securing (him) a place in the celebrated tradition of his country's storytelling.”
New York Times Book Review
“This second collection of short stories by Eddie Stack has a wonderful sense of unreality, of weirdness among Irish characters and of downright fun.”
“Eddie Stack’s stories jet back and forth across the Atlantic, contrasting small town Ireland and big city US. Every time they land, the author seems to test the borderline of what might and might not be possible in downtown bars, crumbling dance halls and drizzly farms. The result is a remarkably consistent collection of short stories.
Ian Wild, Southword
Sunday afternoon was warm and lazy and those who could, went to the seaside. Deep in the glen below the town, John and Marty fished by an old chestnut tree that arched over the bank, darkening the water with its shadow. Only quiet river sounds dimpled the stillness: the distant pop of a rising trout, the worried hoot of a water hen in the reeds.
Rods resting on the grass verge, they sat against the tree and watched their floats. Bored and penniless, they were sixteen and just finished school for the summer. Marty flicked a pebble into the water and said, “What d’you think of knockin’ off those donation boxes in the church?”
“For fuck’s sake,” John muttered, “you can’t be serious?”
“It’s handy dosh and...”
Marty stopped when he heard voices approach. John heard them too, the giggles of young women. Linking each other, a pair of young ladies slowly walked up the tree-lined riverbank.
“Jesus,” whispered John, “who’re these two?”
They were strangers. One wore a wide-brimmed straw hat, tight white t-shirt and shorts; the other had a purple bandanna around her head, black halter-top and denim mini-skirt.
“Christ,” muttered Marty, “look at the legs of ‘em.”
Engrossed in their own conversation, the women didn’t notice the youths peering from behind the tree until they were ten steps away. They quietly exchanged ‘hellos’ and the one in the straw hat called,
“Catch any fish?”
“No,” the lads replied in unison.
“What are you fishing for anyway?”
“Trout, fluke, eels…whatever,” Marty said.
“Would any of you have a cigarette?”
“No,” said Marty and John shook his head.
The women joined them and hunkered down on the bank by the tree. Out-of-state by their accents, older than the youths by a few years.
“I’m Suzy,” the straw hatted one said, “and this is my friend Blue.”
The boys introduced themselves and smiled shyly.
“Are ye on holidays?” Marty asked.
“You could say that,” Blue replied, “are you locals?”
“Yeah, we’re from the town,” Marty nodded.
“Beautiful little place,” Suzy said, “you live in a lovely part of the country.”
“Are ye staying in bed and breakfast?” Marty inquired.
“No,” Blue said, “we’re camping.”
“Good weather for it,” mumbled John, his eyes on the fishing line, too shy to look at the strangers. Marty took side glances at them and noticed neither wore a bra. Their legs were bronzed and shapely and his heart bombed when he looked right up between Blue’s thighs and saw no underwear. She caught him peeping and when their eyes met, she grinned and he quickly turned away and fumbled with his fishing rod.
“If you catch any fish,” she said, “can we have some?”
“Sure,” Marty said and John nodded.
“We’re camping in the little wood below,” Suzy said, pointing downstream, “so if you get lucky, you know where we are...”
“Okay,” Marty smiled and the women left, talking quietly as they strolled down the riverside path.
“Jesus Christ, what do you make of that?” Marty whispered.
John shook his head quickly and blurted,
“Fine things, aren’t they?”
“For fuck’s sake, they’re mad for the ride…no bras or knickers or anything...fish my arse…it’s fellas they want...”
They caught no fish, though they waited under the chestnut tree for another couple of hours. Women on their minds, they returned home for Sunday tea when the Angelus pealed from the church across the river.
Later that evening they hung outside the chip-shop, looking down towards the river, wondering what the women were doing, where they were from, why did they come here, above all places. As the sun went down, Marty became frustrated. “Listen, they want us to ride them…I bet they’re waiting below in the wood for us.”
“We can’t just walk in on them.”
The Sunday drinkers came to town and packed the few pubs, livening the summer’s night with the rumpus of card playing and dart throwing. Marty rambled on about the things he was going to do when he became a man: drink, gamble and bed as many women as he could. “It’s the only job,” he muttered, kicking his toes against a telegraph pole, “that’s what we’re here for.”
When they went to the river the next morning, Marty had a pack of cigarettes he nicked from his mother’s handbag. The weather was heavy and overcast and looked like it could rain at any time.
“It might be a good day for fish,” John said, as they cast their lines by the chestnut tree.
“Let’s leave the rods here and go down the wood to these dames,” Marty urged.
They strode in single file, Marty leading. Wild woodbine and rambling rose scented the air with anticipation. Marty stopped at the old stone bridge and said quietly,
“I want the one with the straw hat, you can have the other one.”
“Blue?” John whispered and Marty nodded.
Eyes scanning for sign of the camp, ears perked for female sound, they followed a path by a rattling brook and went deeper into the wood. Finches fretted, blackbirds fled and a grey heron rasped from an oak tree as they passed below. They smelled smoke, heard voices in the distance. Marty grinned, gave the thumbs-up sign and moved quicker.
Suzy was bathing naked in the stream when they came into the campsite.
“The fishermen!” she greeted and Blue stood up from a small crackling fire, a blackened can in her hand.
“Any fish?” she asked.
Marty shook his head. “Not yet,” he smiled, “but we brought ye cigarettes.” He looked at Suzy, sitting in the water. He’d never before seen a nude woman in the flesh and his whole body tingled.
John glanced at the fire and the makeshift camp: a sheet of brown tarpaulin draped over a fallen tree. The others spoke but he hardly heard them, his eyes roaming over the objects hanging from sticks impaled in the soft ground: a dead crow, rabbit skins, a long yellowed bone, a cow’s skull with one horn. He wanted to retreat but Blue was offering him tea. “Hope you don’t mind drinking from a jam jar.”
“I’m fine,” he muttered.
Suzy came dripping from the stream and Marty drooled as she dried herself with a torn towel. He opened the pack of cigarettes and offered them around. Everyone took one except John. Suzy teased him and he blushed. “We were going to come down last night,” Marty said, blowing a smoke ring.
“You should have,” Blue said, “we love company.”
Marty smiled and sat on a stone by the fire. “So do we,” he chuckled, “nothing happens in the town….it’s dead as a graveyard.” John nodded, testing sentences in his head.
“Are ye staying long?” he asked, eventually.
“It depends,” Suzy replied, buttoning a long shirt that came to her thighs.
“Yeah, it depends,” agreed Blue.
“Ye’ve a grand spot here,” Marty said, offering another round of cigarettes.
“Can I take a few of these for later?” Blue asked.
“No problem,” Marty said and gave her four.
“You’re really nice guys,” Suzy smiled.
A slight breezed rustled the treetops overhead and heavy drops of rain pattered on the leaves.
John looked skywards. “I better get back to the fishing rods.”
“They’re alright,” assured Marty, “stay where you are; you’ll get drenched.” But his mind was made up and he dashed away.
Back by the chestnut tree John watched the river boil in the heavy rain, peeping down the path every once in a while for Marty. He waited an hour, then another before his mate appeared running, a delirious grin on his face.
“They’ll ride,” he panted, “I asked them...they’ll do it.”
“Yeah. . .anytime, they said, . .but we’ll have to pay them.”
“Yeah…they’re broke….they want fifty euros.”
“Are you serious? Are they....are they prostitutes or something?”
“No...they’re just broke.”
Marty went to the church that evening and knelt at the back near the statue of Martin de Porres. He waited for the worshipers to disperse after Benediction and slipped into a confessional when Joe Tobin, the sacristan was at the altar quenching candles. In the dark he heard Joe swish by, greeting statues as he passed, saying a prayer here, making a request there. He heard the heavy doors creak shut and the lock snap home. Then the church was quiet and peaceful, apart from the rain drumming on the roof.
When Marty left the confessional, the air held ghost smells of quenched candles and incense. Empty and bigger than he had ever seen it, the church was dimly lit by evening light coming through the stained glass window behind the altar and the flickering red glow from the sanctuary lamp. He went to the wooden Vincent de Paul collection box and lifted it. Disappointed that it was so light, he wondered if there was more money in the Foreign Missions box under the statue of Saint Patrick. That was heavier alright, and with a box under each arm he went into the sacristy and out through a window.
In the graveyard behind the church he tried to force the boxes open with his penknife but the blade broke. “Fuck,” he muttered, “fuck, fuck, fuck.”
He looked at the church clock: it was nearly nine. The girls would be waiting; John would be waiting. He’d better hurry. But he couldn’t walk over the bridge and through the town carrying two collection boxes. Better to cross the river below the cascades, on the stepping-stones the poachers used to snatch salmon.
The river was swollen and the stepping stones were almost covered by the flood. He took off his shoes, tied them together by the laces and slung the brogues around his neck. A box under each arm, he stepped on the stones, wary as a tightrope walker. Water rushed against his feet and halfway across, he felt it hard to keep his balance and wondered about turning back. He glanced around and saw Tobin the sacristan on the bridge above, waving madly.
Downstream by the old chestnut tree, John sat between Suzy and Blue. He felt uncomfortable and wished Marty would arrive soon. It was almost twilight and the river was running fast and urgent with the flood. Rubbish and debris from the town floated past and then on its own, like a baby’s coffin, the wooden Vincent de Paul box. John recognised it and said,
“He’ll be here soon.”
“You sure you got no cigarettes?” Suzy pressed.
They waited another ten minutes or so and then the women suggested John to go and look for his friend.
“He owes me for a favour,” Blue said, “I want my money.”
“Otherwise we’re taking these rods,” Suzy said.
Hurrying upstream towards town, John stopped when he saw dusky shapes by a pool called the Salmon Hole. From their helmets and caps he picked out the silhouettes of policemen and firemen. He saw them haul something heavy from the river. A body. John’s heart thumped. He watched from behind a tree and saw the men take off their headgear and bless themselves. He blessed himself too and wondered if a poacher had fallen in and drowned. Names flipped through his mind. That’s what’s delaying Marty, he thought, he’ll arrive when all this drama is over.
End of Guest Post