A Reading Life Special Event
Irish Short Story Month Year III
March 1 to March 31
"It Couldn't Happen to a Nicer Man"
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
"It Couldn’t Have Happened to a Nicer Man"
Sergeant Malone’s eyelids closed into nutshells and he exhaled like a punctured tire when he heard a car pull into the barracks yard. Kitty Kelly, the new constable. No sooner had he conjured up her name than she was standing before him, right hand raised in salute.
“Kitty Kelly, skipper,” she announced. Malone looked at her with weary eyes. She was a big woman, six foot four and almost two hundred pounds weight, he reckoned. They shook hands.
“Sit down Kitty,” he said, “welcome to Bearnagweithe.”
“Glad to be here,” she replied, looking around for a chair, “Who’s that fella in the red ski suit I saw downtown?”
“Red ski suit? Oh, that’s Spoke Whelan, he’s harmless.”
“What’s his game?” Kitty quizzed, taking off her cap.
“Resident genius,” said the sergeant, looking at her hair, bottle blonde and cropped nearly to the bone. Oh Jesus, he thought, they’ve sent me the Gestapo. Sergeant Malone opened a manila folder and yawned, “I’ve booked you into the Imperial Hotel until you find a place of your own…”
“Fine. What kind of a patch have you here?”
“It’s quiet, as a rule…”
Constable Kitty Kelly drove slowly to the Imperial Hotel, checking out the town. She saw the oddball in the red ski suit again and stared at him until he hurried down a laneway. She wondered about the nun-like waif with the quick walk, and circled the square to get a better glimpse of her face. “This place is full of weirdoes,” Kitty thought, nosing into a parking spot in front of the hotel.
She was just about satisfied with her room, which had a view of the town square and a wrought iron balcony. The bed was large with a good mattress and the wardrobe had plenty space for all her luggage and boxes of baggage.
Kitty looked out the window and scanned the town. It was no great shakes: hodge-podge shops and houses, badly parked cars and no people to be seen apart from the lady stepping out of the bank across the square. The policewoman watched her, a redhead with a confident walk. Good legs, thought Kitty, stepping back from the window as the lady approached the hotel.
When Constable Kelly entered the dining room, the redhead was sitting alone at a table by the window. Engrossed in her newspaper, she was startled when the policewoman asked,
“Mind if I join you?”
“No, no. Please do,” she replied to the woman in blue uniform.
“Thanks. Kitty Kelly, latest addition to the forces of law and order here.”
“Oh! I’m Joan Long, I work at the bank.”
They made small talk. Kitty quizzed Joan about the town social life, flats, and such. She smiled into the bank teller’s innocent brown eyes, gazed at her neck and looked lovingly at her slender hands. A virgin, she thought, noticing no rings on the fingers, no sorrow in the soul.
Kitty’ was enjoying her main course until a man came to the table in a whirlwind of greetings.
“Hello, hello, hello!” announced Malcolm Finn, pulling out a chair and joining them. Joan greeted him and Kitty stared at the intruder.
“It’s good manners to ask if you may sit,” she said coldly.
“I beg your pardon?” stammered Malcolm, ruddy as a beetroot, “this is my table, and I always dine here.”
Joan got flustered, wiped her mouth with a napkin and apologized that the confusion was her fault; she should have informed Constable Kelly that it was Malcolm’s regular table. Kitty grunted and stabbed a roast potato with her fork, speckling gravy on the tablecloth. Malcolm bit his lip, put on his spectacles and stared blankly at the menu. He felt uncomfortable, face boiling, mist of sweat on his brow. Kitty eyed him sullenly: a soft man in late mid-life, dressed impeccably in country tweed jacket, checked shirt and bow tie. Gentry, she thought, chewing a lump of steak.
Malcolm ordered a schooner of sherry to start with, baked haddock to follow, easy on the white sauce, plenty broccoli and hold the carrots. Joan asked how his orchids were coming along and he sipped his sherry and said,
“Very well actually. Last week’s sun did them a barrel of good so they’re just on the verge of opening...that’s the most exciting time...just when...”
“So where would you advice me to start looking for a flat?” Kitty cut in, addressing herself to Joan.
“Ah…well I got mine through the local newspaper, The Independent.”
“How big is your place?”
“Just a studio really, bedroom off a living-room cum kitchen. But tiny all the same...I’ve been trying to persuade Malcolm here to rent me part of his place but he won’t budge. “ Malcolm smiled uneasily.
“The old servants quarters, you know...disused and in a terrible state...not rentable in it’s present right now...”
“I wasn’t asking.” Kitty stopped.
“I’m sorry, please excuse me ladies.” Malcolm said and drained his sherry. He rose from the table and left the dining room with a proud walk.
“Who’s that weirdo?” asked Kitty.
“Malcolm Finn,” sighed the bank teller as she rooted in her handbag for anxiety pills, “A gentleman farmer who lives a mile or so outside the town. He’s very well off but a little eccentric...a bachelor who won’t ever marry.”
“Who’d want to marry a sponge like him?”
“Ah he’s a nice man though, it just takes a while to get to know him. He hasn’t much else apart from the flowers...anyway I’d better get back to work. It was nice meeting you Kitty, and welcome to town.”
“Thanks. And listen, I’ll see you around. We might meet for a drink or something. I’m staying here in the hotel.”
It rained on and off for the next week and Kitty prowled around the town, shoulders back, eyes searching, intense as a spotlight. One day she cautioned two town deadbeats for loitering around the public toilets in the Square. Another time she asked Jake Sloecome if he had permission to display a sandwich sign on the footpath outside his bookshop. On market day, she followed Spoke Whelan for two hours, as he slowly walked every street, alley and lane in the town, eyes to the ground, looking for a diamond he had seen in a dream. She knocked off the surveillance when he bowed into St. Colman’s church for inspiration.
Off duty, Kitty took to the bed and fantasized about Joan Lyons. But she didn’t join her for lunch again, sat alone instead at a round table in the dining room and brooded while Joan and Malcolm Finn joked at his spot by the window.
One evening, just as dusk fell and rain pelted in squalls, Kitty snared Joan as she left the bank. They walked briskly to the teller’s flat and Kitty whispered, “Would there be any chance of a cup of tea? I’m perished with the cold.”
“Sure,” said Joan, opening the door, “come in. Sorry that the place is in a mess...”
“It’s fine,” Kitty replied.
The first thing the policewoman noticed was the underwear drying on the back of a chair by the fireplace and her blood heated up. Joan brought tea and biscuits on a tray and whipped the undies away in embarrassment.
“They shouldn’t be there,” she said in a half-laugh.
“What’s natural is wonderful,” Kitty chuckled.
They sipped tea and complained about the weather and the lack of life in the town. Kitty smiled and said, “We should go away some weekend—hit the hot spots in Dublin...”
“Yeah,” Joan said dreamily, “actually I haven’t been in Dublin for ages...”
“What about going there some weekend?” Kitty pressed.
“Yeah, maybe. It’s a thought. Would you like more tea or another biscuit?”
“Yes please. And by the way, I love your hair. Beautiful cut.”
“Really? Do you think so Kitty?”
After that evening, Kitty regularly called on Joan for late afternoon tea and biscuits. She subtly tried to woo the banker away from Malcolm Finn’s table and was surprised when Joan said,
“Actually Kitty, in an odd sort of a way I feel that Malcolm needs me. He likes the company and loves discussing girly things...you know...like he loves talking about perfume and make-up...He’s odd I suppose but the poor man is harmless.”
Kitty felt like savaging Malcolm, decrying him as a fruit, an impotent wimp. But she felt that might have an undesirable effect. Instead she philosophized about sexuality and deviance in a most compassionate way.
“Different strokes for different folks,” she said softly, “it takes all types to make the world.
On a late-night prowl around town, Kitty spotted Malcolm Finn driving down Clare Street and wondered where he was going. She gazed after the car as it wound slowly down the street and turned up Briar Hill. At least he’s not going to see my honey, Kitty thought, fondling the undies in her pocket that she had earlier nicked out of Joan’s laundry basket in the bathroom.
Undies were also on Malcolm Finn’s mind that night. He parked in the shadows outside St. Mary’s Church and sat in his car, listened to the wind whip the black leafless trees and frowned at wisps of cloud gliding past a crescent moon. Malcolm left the car quietly and melding with the shadows; he walked by the high churchyard wall and crossed through the cemetery, shutting out the whispers of his dead ancestors. At the end of the burial ground he stooped by an iron gate and fiddled with the lock keep. Gently he coaxed the heavy barrier open and slipped into the convent grounds.
Malcolm made his way through the high-hedged garden, which he often visited with Mother Superior. At the tall monument of the Crucifixion he veered left and turned into the drying-yard by the laundry. His mouth watered: lazily swaying in dim the moonlight, dozens of schoolgirls’ underwear boggled his mind. “Ahhh!” he gasped and rushed across the cobblestone yard.
Just as Malcolm reached for a pair of black tights, he was dazzled by a blaze of lights. He shielded his eyes in fright. A bell rang somewhere and the convent wolfhound barked. Panic stricken, Malcolm ran but couldn’t find a way out of the yard. He heard voices, dozens of voices and he covered his head with his jacket. The hands of ten nuns grabbed him, and he fell to the ground weeping, clutching a pair of black tights.
Mother Superior was kind to Malcolm and gave him hot cocoa with a good shot of brandy. Sitting in her office, he confessed his mission and told her about his closet life. She pursed her lips and stared at her desk while wondering if the same rules of sin applied to non-Catholics like him. He was always different, she thought, remembering their excursions to garden shows around the country. How could a man who was so passionately in love with flowers be a sinner as well? No, she concluded, Malcolm was not a sinner, he was just ill.
“Malcolm,” she said quietly, “I think you should see Doctor Maura. I’ll make an appointment for you and we’ll forget all about this incident.”
Doctor Maura knew Malcolm well; they often played bridge together, he attended her New Year’s Eve party and she never missed his annual birthday bash in the manse. A kind faced woman with grey hair in a bun, she sat at her surgery desk and opened his medical file. Malcolm nervously fingered his tweed hat.
“I’m not gay,” he muttered, “I just like wearing women’s clothes...”
Dr. Maura nodded. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of,” she consoled, “you’re a cross-dresser.”
He made a whimpering sound and checked himself promptly, sat erect in the chair. Dr. Maura trotted out case histories and informed him that there were other closet cross-dressers in the area and he was not alone. She took off her spectacles and said,
“Once you have the clothes, you’ll be fine.”
It took him a couple of days to raise the subject with Joan Long. She was supping her soup when he whispered that he was a cross-dresser. Her eyes widened and the spoon halted before her mouth. Malcolm waited for the news to settle and was heartened when she said,
“I’m still your friend, your private life is your own business.”
He clasped her hand and muttered.
“Thank you Joan, thank you.”
At desert he wondered if she might do him a huge favor: help him buy a couple of feminine outfits. Without hesitation Joan agreed and Malcolm closed his eyes with a sweet smile.
Kitty Kelly called on Joan that evening and they had tea and biscuits in front of the fire. The policewoman again suggested going away for the weekend; Willie Nelson was playing in Dublin and she could get tickets. Joan winced and said that she had a prior arrangement with Malcolm. Kitty’s head jerked backwards. “Joan,” she sighed, “I don’t know for the life of me, what you see in him.”
On Saturday morning Malcolm collected Joan and they drove to Galway. A cheerful drive over the mountains, opera on the radio, she explaining the qualities of different fabric and cloth, Malcolm confiding fantasies. And you’ll probably want make-up, she said, looking at his face and wondering what would suit.
Joan suggested they shop at Brown Thomas and she led him through the various departments. Malcolm was in ecstasy and admired lingerie, negligees, underwear. He swooned at mannequins and realized he needed a wig as well, brunette he thought; blonde would suit better, Joan advised. When he’d picked out what he wanted, she took the items to the counter and they carried four huge bags of goodies back to the car.
“This truly has been one of the happiest days in my life,” he said as they drove home, “Thank you Joan, thank you.”
Malcolm shaved his legs that night and pulled on panties and tights. Stuffed the cups of his black bra with tissues and tied it over his chest. He selected a pale satin blouse from the three he’d got and stood in front of the full-length mirror, tied the buttons, settled the collar. Then he took a brown tweed skirt from the hanger, opened the zip and stepped into it. Sat at the dressing table in his bedroom and carefully applied make-up to his face. Finally he donned the blonde wig and settled the crown on his head. Malcolm looked at his transformed reflection in the mirror and gasped, “Oohh la-la...”
He had a rapturous evening in the manse, lounged in the sitting room under paintings of his ancestors, played Mozart on the hi-fi and got tipsy on champagne. At bedtime he slowly undressed, put his clothes away neatly and pulled on a crimson negligee with black trim. Washed off the make-up, applied moisturizing cream to his face and went to bed with his blonde wig on.
“At last I’m myself,” he muttered to the pillow.
At lunch the following Monday, he told Joan about his nights at home. I’d love to have seen you, she giggled and Malcolm broke into uncontrollable laughter that turned the heads of other diners. Kitty Kelly shot him a caustic look and he blushed and dabbed sweat from his forehead with a napkin.
“God Malcolm,” Joan said quietly, “I have never seen you happier.”
“I know,” he chuckled, “I know.”
Some nights later as Malcolm sipped sherry in a tight black velvet dress, he decided to pay a surprise visit on Joan. Maybe pick up the back issues of Cosmopolitan that she’d promised him. He examined his make-up, settled the wig, and sprayed a little Estee Lauder on his neck. Perfect, he smiled, posing this way and that in front of the mirror. What a surprise she’ll get, he chuckled. First time ever outside the manse in woman’s dress, he felt overwhelmed by freedom, looked at the cloudy sky with outstretched hands and said, “Thank you God, thank you for being good to Malcolm.”
He was unprepared for the difficulties of driving with high heels and the car growled painfully as he changed gears. It took all the concentration he had to control the vehicle and a couple of times he thought he heard his mother’s voice pleading with him to turn around and go back home. “It’s the sherry,” he chuckled. “Mother loved sherry.”
On the outskirts of the town a figure emerged from the darkness. Malcolm saw the luminous belt and the blue uniform commanding him to stop.
“Good grief!” he muttered and halted.
Kitty Kelly peered at the vehicle registration number and then looked at the driver. Malcolm Finn in black velvet dress, blonde wig and scarlet lipstick. Her chest expanded and she towered over the car.
“Kitty,” he stammered, “us ladies have to stick together.”
“Get out of the car, you pervert,” the policewoman ordered, fingers squeezing her black truncheon.
End of Guest Post