"When Everyone in Ballyjames had Helicopters"
A Short Story by Eddie Stack
A Reading Life Special Event
A Short Story by Eddie Stack
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
The road from Mulla to Ballyjames is barely wide enough for two cars to pass each other, and miles of it weave along the northern face of the Killgory Mountains, through pine forest and high bog. The region is remote, sparsely populated by small farmers and a few reclusive artists who live in the hills.
About halfway between Mulla and Ballyjames, the pine forest falls away like stage curtains and Logra Lake appears unexpectedly. From the mountain behind, a waterfall pours into the lake, and the view is so spectacular, that the county council created a roadside vista area with two picnic tables and a litterbin. There is a small country store across the road from the vista area. Petty’s of Logra has been there for generations, catering to basic needs of the locals. A sleepy, two-story building with white walls, green windows and shop front, it doubles as a post office. Apart from Wednesday, business is very slow and sometimes the shop is shut for hours. Occasionally it might not open at all for a day or two.
Wednesday is doleday, and in the morning, recipients come to collect their allowance at the post office and buy a few provisions in the shop. A police car is always there with two officers, who bring the money and the departmental documentation. With a dozen or so local recipients, mostly small farmers, everyone knows everybody else and it’s as much a social gathering as an official roll call.
It’s a busy day for Paddy Petty – busy in the post office and busy in the shop. Dole day provides his week’s wages and he juggles hats as postmaster, shopkeeper and government paymaster. Medium height, eternally dressed in old blue suit, shirt and tie, Paddy uses Brylcreem to sculpt his dark wavy hair and tame his bushy eyebrows. Nearly fifty and fighting against it, he was once married, but his wife left a decade ago. She told him she was going to visit her sister in London and he drove her to the airport but never saw her again. She blew away like an autumn leaf, writing him a goodbye card from Southhampton. When people asked where she was, Paddy said she’d gone and joined the nuns and eventually they stopped asking. Nowadays he received comfort from Goldi, a hippie from the other side of the Killgory Mountains. Goldi swapped him free-range eggs and organic carrots for tobacco and chocolate. She was easy on his head and stayed with him once a month, often for three or four nights.
In late May, a few strangers turned up to collect dole at the post office. Scruffy young men and women, dressed in leather, they had odd hairstyles, tattoos and facial rings. When they got their money, they bought cartons of milk, bread, cheese and crisps from Paddy and went across the road to the picnic tables.
Paddy watched them from his shop. A few were jabbering on mobile phones, others admiring the view. He thought them mediaeval in their look and manner; even their speech was from another age and place, wherever that may be. A couple of mongrel dogs sniffed around the table and they threw them crusts. Three men and two women. Paddy looked at the new names on his register: Cloud Maggs; Sixtop Reeves; Birdie Cole; Zag Homa; Ork Toms. He noted they were all of ‘no fixed abode’ and pursed his lips, trying to match names with faces. When he peered through the window to jog his memory, they were gone.
He saw them again the following doleday. They came in a battered white van with foreign registration plates, and along with the original five, came four others of similar dress and appearance. Two of the new ones had blue woad on their foreheads, another had a raven on his shoulder. Paddy looked at the new names: Yorrel Hix; Midnight Lyke; Tatan Brown; Filly Downs. They were mannerly and pleasant, pocketed their money and bought bread, sardines, milk, rolling papers, pouches of tobacco, and cans of beans. Then they gathered around the outside tables, talked on phones and had a picnic. Paddy glanced out the window at them, checked the register: his ‘family’ was growing, twelve regulars and nine irregulars.
George West, a so-so English potter who had settled in the area, came to the shop around midday. He noticed the picnickers and whispered to Paddy, “I yam an ol’ hippie, but I never did see the likes of these in my travels. They’re like something from a bad trip, man.” Paddy added up his bill, glanced out the window.
“It takes all types to make a world, George, and their like have to be in it too.”
“They’re campin’ down by the lake at Collock’s Shore.”
“Easily known they’re not locals.”
The strangers came to the shop every few days. Paddy thought they didn’t wash and smelled of musty hay. He couldn’t place their accents or the language they spoke amongst themselves:
“Hey Zag, banda suko Tatan hagur zonka.”
“Ah no man, nishin suko zonka.”
“Why not? Burka lato sut?”
“Hi, two packs a Golden Virginia and four pints a milk.”
They all had a similarity in their leather jerkins, muddied jeans and badly-cut hair. It was difficult to tell one from the other and Paddy felt their numbers had grown. George the potter confirmed this when he came to do the Lotto at the weekend.
“Jesus man, there’s three vans down at the lake now and a horse-drawn wagon. There must be a couple a dozen of ‘em there. There’s kids an’ all runnin’ naked around the place, man.”
On dole day Paddy had thirty-eight strangers on the register, an all-time record when he added his regulars. They swarmed outside the shop and blocked the light coming through the door and window. When they moved to the picnic tables, Paddy sprayed the space with air freshener. He was annoyed at the amount of extra work they generated: all the counting and doling of piles of money, the watching in case they shoplifted. But they also bought a good deal and for this he was pleased.
Before leaving for HQ, the policemen came to see him and buy cigarettes.
“An odd bunch,” Sergeant McGee said.
“There’s no harm in them though,” Paddy suggested, wringing his hands.
“No, no. We believe they’re part of some pagan outfit or cult or something.”
“Is that so?”
“Earth magic and that sort of thing,” Constable Collins said.
“They’d learn plenty about it, if they went cutting hay or footing turf for a few days,” Paddy muttered.
“And there’s more of them on the way,” the sergeant told him.
“I s’pose it can’t be helped.”
“We’re expecting about forty more next week.”
“Jesus, that’ll be nearly eighty of them so,” Paddy winced.
“It’s a changing country,” Constable Collins sighed.
“There’s six helicopters in Ballyjames,” the sergeant said. “Every builder has one, and those who don’t, have race horses. Solve that one.”
“Everyone has a helicopter now.” Collins said. “On Sunday they come to Mass in them and land in the football field.”
“Terrible fucking noise,” McGee said, “you’re lucky there’s no helicopters around here, Paddy.”
“Tis something to be grateful for,” agreed Paddy.
Later that evening, a convoy of five vehicles came through Logra. An old school bus painted purple led, followed by a pickup truck with a makeshift cabin in the back. An ambulance towed a grey station wagon and they were tailed by a black Ford cargo van. Paddy watched from the doorway as they passed slowly, laden down with people and gear.
Next morning three horse-drawn wagons with green canvas barrel tops were stopped outside when he opened the shop and he was reminded of a scene from a cowboy film. A woman approached, followed by a toddler. They were scrawny and wild looking. Forest people, thought Paddy, smelling the moss and the leaves from them. She bought two pints of milk and two cans of sardines and paid in small coins.
After she left, two young men arrived, one of them leading a large blonde cat-like animal on a leash. It’s a fucking lion, thought Paddy in alarm, stepping back from the counter. The men rattled away in their own lingo:
“Hanz, serto von puka?”
“Ishna zee, sunto zog.”
“Cool. Albu onxa.”
Paddy heard the animal snarl and curled his toes. The man tightened the leash and spoke firmly to the creature.
“Smells another cat,” he said to Paddy, “two cans of beans and a pack of Golden Virginia, please.”
He was ten pence short, but Paddy nodded and suffered the loss, relieved to see them leave.
Hardly a day passed without a few wagons going by. Some of them stopped for milk, beans or tobacco. The potter told him a village had sprung up at Collock’s Bay, a hive of tents and wagons and vans. They had bonfires nightly and he had heard them singing til dawn, banging and blowing weird instruments.
On doleday their numbers overwhelmed Paddy and he asked two of his regulars to stand by the grocery counter and regulate the queue, letting in only five at a time When the dole-out was finished, Paddy was shattered and he bolted the door and invited his helpers into the kitchen for a drink. He poured a round of whiskey and said, “It wouldn’t be too bad but for the animals. The animals are dangerous. Can you imagine if one of these dogs and a lion or something got into a tiff outside there?”
“You’ll have to stop animals coming in,” advised Mike McGough, “otherwise they could maul someone.”
“It’s one of us they’d maul,” said Paddy, topping up the tumblers. Matty Hynes nodded, “I think...I think they’re from a circus or something. I don’t think they’re pagans.”
“The pagan might be a bit cleaner alright,” ventured McGough.
“I believe Collock’s Bay is worse than hell,” Paddy said. “George the potter says there’s all sort of carry-on down there. Bonfires, sex, drugs, rock and roll.”
“I came across one of them in Fogarty’s wood,” Hynes said, “rooting for pig-nuts he was.”
“Pig-nuts will drive them gaga,” Paddy sighed, “I’m afraid, there’s now one hundred and forty of them, not including children, in this parish and we’re outnumbered by five to one.”
“And what the hell is bringin’ ‘em here?” Hynes asked.
“Because we’re a soft touch,” Paddy said. “And the cops are more concerned that everyone in Ballyjames has a helicopter than shunting these lunatics to England or Europe, to somewhere that can afford them.”
George was pale when he came to the shop. His forehead was furrowed and his eyes were dark and watery.
“I can’t sleep. I’m missin’ four chickens, man,” he said, “and I swear these dudes snatched them.”
“That’s bad news,” Paddy said, “I’m sure the fuckers are nicking stuff from me too.”
“I’m afraid to leave the house man, the woods are infested with them. They’re weird, man. I think they’re all tripped-out. You know what one of ‘em told me? He said they were waiting for a spaceship to land on the fuckin’ lake.”
“You’re shittin’ me,” said Paddy.
“No man, that’s what the guy said, they were waiting for a spaceship.”
“They’re stone cracked.”
The strangers bought all the tobacco and all the canned food that Paddy had – sardines, beans, corned beef, steak and kidney pie, beans, peas, and peaches. They cleaned him out of bread and milk and he had deliveries every second day rather than once a week. He smiled to himself, raking in the money he had doled out on behalf of the government a few days before. He wondered if he should order another load of rice and a few more boxes of cigarette rolling papers. And candles.
A couple of miles west of Logra there was a motor accident when a tractor and silage-cutting machine came around a bend and hit a bus of earth people. There were no casualties but the wrecks blocked the road for a day. When the scene was cleared, forty wagons came through in a queue, hooting at every bend, as the policemen had advised. Paddy heard them coming from miles away, honking like Canadian geese. He watched the convoy pass by his door. “Good God,” he muttered.
Battered vans with luggage and stuff tied on top, small trucks, cargo wagons, cars with trailers, and cars with boxes on the roofs. All painted odd colours, some multi-coloured. Behind them, a flock of sheep and goats was shepherded by men on piebald ponies. Paddy twitched and went inside.
Before doleday, Paddy got a big delivery from Price-Slice Cash & Carry and restocked the shelves. He got a few new items — noodles, curry powder, tins of tomatoes, pasta and bananas. Around sunset, a drunk with a guitar arrived, and began to sing outside the shop. His voice was mournful and the guitar went blur-blur, blur-blur, rooted in the same chord. The song concerned a maiden’s love for a sailor, who had a wife in another port. Paddy banged on the shop window and the performance stopped. What the fuck is he doing here, Paddy wondered.
The drunk muttered to himself and staggered across the road to the picnic tables where he resumed singing. A different song, this one was about an outlaw. He used the back of the guitar as a drum and Paddy put his hands over his ears and waddled into the kitchen. He wondered how long it was since Goldi visited and backtracked through weeks in his head. It was four weeks since he saw her, and so she was due any day soon. He rubbed his hands together, checked the drinks cabinet in the kitchen and turned on the radio.
That night he laboured over the kitchen table, making a big sign from white cardboard. He wrote in block letters:
NO ANIMALS ALLOWED INSIDE.
ONLY FIVE PEOPLE AT A TIME.
PHOTO ID REQUIRED.
He was going to be ready for them. He had arranged for young Martha Fitzpatrick to man the grocery counter while he handled the dole-out. McGough and Hynes would guard the door like the previous week.
Outside he heard the drunk sing again. Other voices were joining in. Paddy peeped through the shop window and saw a chip van parked near the picnic tables. What the hell is happening, he thought. A woman hung a menu board — Chips: 1 fedro; Burgers: 2 fedro; Chicken Leg: 3 fedro; Beans: 1 fedro. A man washed potatoes and the drunken singer smoked a cigarette and watched him.
Paddy slept badly, awakened several times by the sound of vehicles maneuvering outside. Occasionally he heard the drunk strum the guitar and sing a song, which petered out after a verse or two. Before dawn, he smelled frying from the chip-van across the road. He lay on his back listening to the sizzle, heard a radio somewhere blare out hit songs and traffic reports. What the heck is going on here, he wondered, what are these people doing here?
Paddy ate a quick breakfast of boiled egg, tea and toast, then washed his hands and opened the front door. He peered around and saw a man in a kilt setting up a canvas-canopied stall near the chip van. A couple dressed in denim assembled a counter beside a battered bread van. Paddy stepped inside and bolted the door. There’s something different about today, he thought, wringing his hands. He waited for the police to bring the dole money and hoped his helpers would come soon.
McGough was first to arrive. He told Paddy there were droves and droves of strangers walking the road.
“They’re like something out of ‘Lord of the Rings’,” he said.
Martha Fitzpatrick and Mattie Hynes showed up together and when Paddy opened the door for them, he gasped at the crowd swarming outside.
“There’s two crackpots juggling flaming sticks down the road,” Martha said, “and there’s a fella sellin’ cider from the back of a van out there and someone else floggin’ cans a beer.”
“Oh fuck,” shivered Paddy, “this could get outa hand...this fuckin thing could explode.”
Heavy knocking on the front door: cops with the money. Paddy opened the door and Sergeant McGee slipped in with a big black metal box.
“It’s shagging mayhem out there,” he said, “there’s all sorts weirdoes milling around. I told Collins to notify HQ and ask for another car with some of the heavy lads.”
“Good thinking,” muttered Paddy.
He opened the box behind the counter, counted the money until he lost track and had to begin again. He checked the amount twice and signed the docket for McGee.
“I was thinking,” said the sergeant, “it might be a good idea if I stood here near the door...just in case.”
“Fine, fine,” said Paddy, “Mattie and McGough are givin’ a hand too.”
A clock chimed ten and the helpers emerged from the kitchen. Paddy nodded and Hynes opened the front door and fixed the large sign overhead:
NO ANIMALS ALLOWED INSIDE.
ONLY FIVE PEOPLE AT A TIME.
PHOTO ID REQUIRED.
Then he tapped the sign and addressed the gawking crowd.
“By order of the Government. Please proceed in an orderly fashion and have your ID ready before you enter.”
The crowd mumbled and buzzed like bees. Paddy peered through the window and thought they were getting agitated. They got louder and women directed swear words at the post office. But nobody approached or came to collect their dole. “What the fuck is up with them?” Paddy asked.
“They’re planning something,” the sergeant said.
The local recipients arrived in fives and complained about the smell from the strangers, suggesting that many of them were spaced out.
“There’s a van out there selling bottles of stuff called fairy juice,” James Mills said, “and it’s going like hot cakes.”
“They’re all nuts,” Andy Dolan muttered, “wan of ‘em is ridin’ around on a camel and a lady following him on a shaggin’ ostrich.”
“I hope they don’t settle here,” a hippy woman called Starlight said, “they’re on a really disturbing frequency.”
Paddy doled out money and peeped through the window. A guy with long grey hair and red cape was addressing the crowd in their own cant and Paddy shook his head and turned back to the counter.
Sergeant McGee stepped outside to estimate the size of the crowd. Two, maybe three hundred. Aliens, he thought, they can only be aliens. This crap about the spaceship might be true. These nuts could kidnap us all if we piss them off...could take us back to some other planet. We might need a chopper. A chimp-like child shouted at him and he went back inside.
“A weird bunch,” he muttered, “I don’t know how they ever got on the Register to draw dole.”
The crowd started to chant something like Taba Shoo Taba Shoo! The grey-haired man with the red cape approached the post office, accompanied by two leather-clad men with black helmets and large dog-like animals on leads.
“At ease,” the sergeant whispered to Paddy and his staff, “everyone stay calm.” His walkie-talkie crackled; reinforcements had arrived. The deputation stopped outside the door and the man in the cape tapped at the notice.
“You are infringing on our rights by these demands!” he shouted into the office. “We cannot be separated from our animals because we are bonded to them. It is written in our constitution. Neither can we be separated from our being in the form of photographs. It is written in our constitution.”
“I don’t give a shit where it’s written,” flared Paddy, “but there’s no fuckin’ animals coming under my roof.”
The man relayed Paddy’s outburst to the crowd and they booed. Martha got nervous and lit a cigarette. Hynes and McGough lit up too and Paddy coughed, fanning smoke away. “Jesus Christ,” he moaned, “we’re bad enough without the fuckin’ smoke.”
“Let me handle this, Paddy,” the sergeant said.
Sergeant McGee stepped outside and spoke to the man with the red cape. It was an intense talk, and eventually the man nodded and shook his hand. Then McGee announced, “Please line up in alphabetical order.”
The man with the cape tipped him on the arm and asked,
“Our alphabet or your alphabet?”
He looked into McGee’s eyes and the sergeant felt a jolt go down his legs and bolt him to the ground. He couldn’t move his feet, it was like they were embedded in concrete. These are definitely aliens, he thought, and they have us by the balls.
“Your alphabet of course,” he replied and sprung back inside. He looked shaken and his eyes rolled as if he was drunk. “Jesus,” he muttered, “the smell off them would knock a horse.”
Mattie Hynes got him a chair and Paddy asked,
“What the hell are you tryin’ to do?”
“Get rid of them, for God’s sake. Give them the fuckin’ money. Don’t piss them off Paddy, we haven’t the resources to handle the situation if things go belly up.”
Outside a long line was forming in a series of hairpins. There were lots of animals, birds and reptiles. A woman had two snakes, one around her waist and another draped across her shoulders. A half-naked man had a small crocodile on a leash. Paddy bounced in his chair. “This is ridiculous,” he piped, “I can’t handle this. There’s no animals comin’ in here and that’s fuckin’ that.” Martha lit a cigarette and he ordered, “Smoke that fuckin’ thing out the back!”
“Cool it Paddy,” soothed Hynes, “take it handy.”
Martha left the shop and went into the kitchen, closing the door with a heavy thump. A few seconds later they heard her scream and she came running back.
“There’s a tiger or something in the toilet!”
Paddy swore and jumped from the seat. Hynes closed the kitchen door firmly and McGee gave Martha his chair. McGough opened a bottle of orangeade and passed it to her.
“It was drinking water outa the bowl...it was huge...big as a calf.”
“Sweet mother of Jesus,” blessed Paddy.
Sergeant McGee spoke to Constable Collins on the walkie-talkie and requested lawmen be sent to the post office.
“The lads have machine guns,” he told Paddy, “let there be no panic. And we have a chopper on alert, just in case.”
“Panic?” echoed Paddy, “no panic and we surrounded by weirdoes who’re making a fuckin’ open zoo out of my house. And you say let there be no panic? And now a few lads with machine guns are joining us. And you have a fucking chopper hovering over my house like a wasp. I don’t know what this fuckin’ country is becoming.”
“Paddy, Paddy, Paddy!” pleaded McGough, “Take it aisey.”
The man with the red cape tapped on the door, poked his head inside and asked, “Are we ready?”
“Ready?” he asked again, looking at McGee who was staring at his toes.
“Ready for what?” asked Paddy.
“Ready for our money.”
“The universal money that passes from you to us and back to you again and so on ad infinitum.”
Paddy looked at him, and was about to lambaste the leech, when three cops in black tracksuits stormed into the post office, each carrying a briefcase. They huddled around Sergeant McGee, opened their cases and assembled machine guns in a couple of clicks. The man with the red cape backed away from the door and addressed the crowd excitedly.
“First, get that fuckin’ tiger in the toilet,” Paddy shouted to the machine gun cops.
“Don’t go too near him,” McGee advised, opening the kitchen door for them.
They slipped inside, guns poised, finger on the trigger. Paddy waited, McGee watched the back of their heads through the slightly open door. Martha closed her eyes, covered her ears and waited for the shots. Hynes and McGough stayed near the front door in case of emergency. The hunters returned minutes later and muttered.
“Clean, nothing there.”
“I definitely saw it,” Martha said, “Would it be gone upstairs?”
“Up-fucking where?” cried Paddy, glancing at the ceiling in alarm.
“Best to wait until he comes down,” McGee said, “you’ve no chance when the animal has the higher ground.”
“This is fuckin’ it!” flared Paddy, “I’ve fuckin’ had it. There’s a tiger above on my bed and a lost tribe of weirdoes waitin’ outside my house, like it was Noah’s fuckin’ ark...”
“It’s alright Paddy,” consoled Mattie Hynes, “everything will be fine. Toughen yourself.”
The crowd was quiet, apart from the odd roar or bark of an animal. The busker staggered to a halt near the post office door and began a song about two sisters who loved the same man. Paddy banged on the window and ordered him to move away. He meandered a few steps and started a song about a pirate, which many of the crowd knew and they sang along with him. Paddy stared at the cans of beans and sardines packed on the shelves of the shop, tins of stew, soup and spam, tomatoes, yams. There was also a box of ripe bananas and a barrel of grapes from Greece. He had enough to feed Napoleon’s army and if this crowd didn’t buy it, no one else would.
“We’ll get rid of one problem at a time, Paddy,” Sergeant McGee said, “let ‘em in without the ID, and stamp their hands or something so they can’t impersonate.”
“This is ridiculous,” Paddy muttered, looking at the list of odd names and the payment for each, “I’ll draw the line with the animals...no animals, birds or reptiles. Of any sort. Tell that to the fuckin’ Batman with the red cape.”
McGee stepped outside. The busker sang a song concerning a mining disaster in Australia; a child beat a drum beside him. The sergeant beckoned to Batman and relayed the postmaster’s edict. Paddy watched from inside, saw them having an animated conversation, Batman laying down the law and Sergeant McGee nodding in agreement. They shook hands and McGee returned to the post office.
“That’s grand,” he said to Paddy, “no animals.”
The first five arrived quietly and gave their names to Paddy in low, polite voices. He requested they spell it and he ran his finger down the list of recipients Then he told them to put their right-hand palm down on counter and he postmarked the back of the paw.
The sixth payee, a lanky woman named Inka Rosey, asked Paddy to postmark her forehead rather than the back of her hand. Eyes luminous with fairy juice, she leaned forward and he stamped her to get rid of her. Ungi Tool, the next in line, requested a forehead postmark as well. Excitedly he asked Paddy if he could time date it to the exact second and Paddy lied that he could. Ungi lay down his head and got stamped over the left eye. Then someone asked if they could have a stamp over each eye and the postmaster said that cost a fedro and they paid. It was then Paddy realised that the dolers were leaving without buying anything in the shop. He glanced across to the other counter and saw Martha Fitzpatrick paint her fingernails, protected by a sergeant and three cops with machine guns.
“Hold it!” he shouted before the third batch came in and the office stood still. He beckoned to Sergeant McGee and wondered in a whisper if he might send the gunners on a tea break to thin out the shop.
“They can go into the kitchen,” Paddy whispered, “tell them to take their time. Make a drop of tea for themselves.”
“What about the tiger?” McGee asked.
“Just keep the door closed.”
Without the armed guard, the office was light and airy. Martha stood ready to serve but nobody came to her counter; they all turned on their heels after being postmarked and left the office. Paddy was baffled. He made a sales pitch to recipients while he postmarked them. “The shop is open if you want anything” — was regular as a mantra until he noticed a cat peeping out of a woman’s backpack.
“I said no animals,” he chided.
“It’s only a little putty-tat,” she purred and he stamped her on the back of the hand with undue force.
The mantra began again, but drew no results, nobody shopped. A guy brought in a deerhound but Paddy didn’t notice. Someone else came in with an anteater, but he didn’t see that either. His brain was buzzing when he got to Fraz Love, a tall slender woman in leopard skin pelt with a snake coiled around her waist. She gave her name, Paddy found it on the list, told her about the shop as he counted out sixty-five fedros and fifty pence. He picked up his stamper and aimed for the flesh he saw on the counter, recoiling in mid-strike when the snake raised his head. Paddy screamed, fell off the chair. Martha screamed, “A fuckin’ shnake bit him! I saw it!”
Ms. Love fled. Sergeant McGee rushed to Paddy, and Mattie Hynes cleared the shop and shut the door without explanation. Hearing the commotion, the cops with guns stormed from the kitchen.
“A shnake bit Paddy,” Martha told them, “a woman had him inside her dress.”
Paddy moaned on the floor, tears on his cheeks, ignoring the sergeant’s questions. “Awww,” he moaned, “awww… Jesus Christ...awww a fuckin snake… awww…fuck…awww.”
McGough got a glass of brandy and they sat Paddy on the chair, still moaning.
“He’s in shock”, whispered McGee, “total shock.” After a few sips of brandy he spoke weakly,
“I said no animals, birds or reptiles. Are you fuckin’ blind McGough? How the fuck did a snake get into my premises and almost kill me behind my own counter?” McGough blushed, looked at the floor and shrugged.
“Sorry boss,” he said, “she had the snake hidden. I didn’t see it.”
“She had it inside her dress,” Martha helped.
“Well,” said Paddy, “if they can’t play by the rules, they can go and fuck each other, because there’s no more dough for them. That’s it. Fuck ‘em. No man should have to put up with this abuse from leeches and riff-raff from Mars. And the smell of drink and shit from the fuckers. Jesus Christ, I could be in the fuckin’ belly of a python if it wasn’t for the grace of God. Fuck ‘em!”
Paddy trembled and sipped the brandy. The shop was silent. Outside the busker sang about working on the railroad and the crowd joined in the chorus, climaxing in “Poor Paddy’s workin’ on the railway!”’
“Fuck ‘em,” hissed Paddy. He shook his head and drained the glass, beckoning to McGough for a refill.
“Bringing the snake in was out of order,” offered Sergeant McGee.
“There was no need for that,” added Hynes, “and they were warned often enough about it.”
“I’m sure I’ve doled three thousand fedro,” Paddy said, “and not wan fuckin’ cent have they spent in my shop. Not wan fuckin’ cent.”
“I didn’t sell a box a matches,” piped Martha.
“They’re all buyin’ from the traders out there,” informed one of the cops.
“That’s the thanks I get,” muttered Paddy, accepting the second brandy from McGough. “I’m sending the rest of that dole money back with ye to the barracks and they can go there for it. I’m not putting my life in danger for that shower of twerps.”
“Jesus Paddy,” McGee said quietly, “that could cause all sorts of problems. They could throw that anti-discrimination law at you.”
Paddy looked at him, shook his head in disgust and had a swallow of brandy.
“I’m not able for this shit,” he muttered.
“Maybe...maybe,” began Sergeant McGee, “maybe Batman would give it to them…you know.”
“Batman? The nut with the cape? I don’t give a rat’s tat who gives it to them, but it won’t be Paddy. No sir, been there, done that, have the scar. Batman can have the bag of cash and give it to the busker for all I care.”
He drank the brandy, sniffled, and glanced out the window at the crowd of misfits. Many had animals, many were unsteady on their feet and laughing hysterically. A woman on an ostrich passed the window and he flinched at the size of the bird, eyes big as duck eggs. He turned away when a trouserless child made faces at him.
Sergeant McGee stepped outside and beckoned to Batman. They spoke for a few minutes, heads nodded and they both returned to the office. Batman bowed before Paddy, mumbling how sorry he was about the snake incident. He would of course distribute the dole to the rest of the tribe, and asked to be allowed postmark them. Paddy begrudgingly passed him an inkpad and stamper, then the bag of cash and list of names. “They’ve to sign next to their name,” Paddy said, “but an X will do to save time.”
Batman and his cohorts stood outside the post office and he called out names. A line of communicants weaved toward him and he stamped their foreheads. They signed the government sheet of paper, got their money and dribbled back into the crowd. Some of them were rocky on their feet and a few had to be carried. But all in all, it was a smooth process and Paddy and his helpers watched from the shop.
“Christ,” he said, “but isn’t it an awful waste, to be handin’ out money to that shower of libes.”
A drunk staggered towards the shop and they moved away from the door to let him enter. Martha went behind the counter and the customer stood in the middle of the floor and pointed at the shelf over her head. Paddy tried to figure out what he wanted. Figrolls? Custard? Peas? Sugar? Tobacco?
Frustrated, the man waved his arms and tried to talk but failed. He staggered out again and Paddy muttered.
“And fuck you too, mate.”
A little later a barefoot woman with green hair bought a pint of milk and a can of beans. That was the final sale of the day.
Sergeant McGee and Batman came back to the post office and Paddy examined the sheet of recipient’s names. He signed it and gave it to the policeman who avowed, that all was well that ended well.
“Indeed,” Paddy sighed. Batman offered the postmaster his hand and said,
“May you be filled with wine of the gods.”
The police waited until the crowd moved away, then took off to HQ with blue lights flashing. Stallholders packed their wares into vans and cars and crows picked through the litter on the road. The busker sat at the picnic table and talked to himself while rolling a cigarette. Paddy locked the shop and settled into the kitchen with his staff. He put two six packs of Guinness on the table, a bottle of whiskey, a large bottle of red lemonade and four tumblers.
“Never in all my born days did I see such weirdos as that crowd,” he said, “Christ but I hope I don’t have to deal with them everyday.”
“And the smell of them,” Martha shivered.
“I’m sure they sleep with them fuckin’ animals,” McGough said.
“I hope they’re not settlin’ here,” Hynes muttered, “they could make a right haimes out of a place. …fuckin’ cops with machine guns would be livin’ in our ears.”
“And helicopters looking down on us,” added Martha
“They don’t give a shit about the cops,” Paddy said, opening cans of stout, “the cops are no match for them, guns or no guns. Christ, if they set a few lions or tigers on the cops, what would they do? Hah?”
“And the crocodile….uggg!” added Martha, “He really gave me the creeps.”
They drank the six packs and Paddy poured a round a round of whiskey.
“Like,” he said, “what happens if a few of them animals get loose and hide in the woods? Hah? Nobody is safe.”
“Them fuckin’ lions could breed around here,” Hynes muttered.
“If that crocodile got into the lake...” Martha shivered.
“This crowd could fuck the whole place up,” said Paddy, shaking his head.
A second bottle of whiskey was opened and Mattie Hynes sang ‘Lovely Leitrim’. Martha told them about a night she went to a nightclub in Dublin with her sister and danced with a man who offered her cocaine. Paddy said the world was gone to hell and now they saw it close up in their own parish. McGough said the place was going downhill since the state joined the Federation. He was drunk and getting emotional, “We have nothin’ now. The government sold out. Every fucker is milking us.”
After a short silence, Paddy sang an old rebel song from the revolution and they all joined in the chorus. McGough recited a poem with a line that went We’ll all be rooned said Hanrahan, before the year is out. Paddy collapsed at the table and Martha and Mattie carried him upstairs to bed. McGough gave another poem and Martha sang ‘You Are My Sunshine’. They finished all Paddy’s drink, put off the lights and locked the door.
The road outside was littered with trash and the busker sat at the picnic table singing ‘Blowin’ in the Wind’. Suddenly a huge boom rocked the night. Boom! Boom! Fireworks exploded and the lake lit up with a million stars reflecting from the sky. The waterfall glowed in luminous orange from another blast of fireworks. Cheers rose from the lakeside. Drums beat and instruments blared strident noise. “Oh Christ,” said the busker, “they’re calling down the spaceship.”
For the rest of his life, the busker would tell about the night he saw the UFO descend on Logra Lake and unload hundreds of beings. He would cross his heart, look listeners in the eye and ask, “How could anyone be the same after seeing that?”
There was a party for the newcomers he said, but he wasn’t invited. All night they played music like he could never describe because it was definitely from another galaxy. It stopped when the birds began to sing and only then could he sleep at the picnic table.
When he woke up, wagons were driving past at funeral pace and the tribe was on the move. All sorts of vehicles, wagons and contraptions, weighed down with bags, boxes and gadgets. He hailed on many of them to give him a ride but they refused, pointing out that he didn’t have a postmark. Even their kids had postmarks now. All day they passed, a long snaking procession that hooted a hundred horns as they approached bends on the road to Mulla. He asked where they were heading and they just said, that they were going further.
It was early afternoon when Paddy Petty came to. The daylight was blinding and his head ached. He heard wagons rumbling and rolling past his window and then he remembered the strangers and moaned, “Oh no.”
Hung-over and cranky, Paddy boiled an egg and ate it with a slice of toast. A mug of strong black sweet tea brought life to his face and he went to the shop. From the door he watched rigs crawl past, dogs and exotic animals tethered to them. They were leaving. Relief came over him until he thought of the boxes of bananas and grapes on the counter. A lynx lunged at him and he closed the door and watched the procession through the shop window. They were like a disheveled army of some kind; they had a determination about them. Thanks be to God they were leaving; his hangover began to ease. Then some bastard lobbed a dirty nappy at the window and frightened the life out of him.
At four-thirty the mail van came and delivered three pieces of post: a credit card statement for Martha Fitzgerald, something for George the Potter from Amnesty and a postcard from Goldie for himself. Hi Paddy, hope the summer weather is agreeing with you. I will drop by on Thursday. Look forward to catching up. That’s today, thought Paddy. His mood lifted and he went to the kitchen and made himself a strong Irish coffee. Then the world didn’t seem so crazy.
The last motorized vehicle passed around six that evening and then, in a cloud of dust, horses, donkeys, lamas, sheep, mules, cows, yaks and buffalo came, herded by wild youths. One of them flashed the ‘F’ sign at Paddy and he withdrew from the window.
It was sunset by the time they had all passed. Paddy stared at the amount of trash around his shop and along both sides of the road, in each direction. He’d have to call the county council in the morning. The busker crossed the road towards him.
“They’re gone,” he said, clicking his fingers, “just like that.”
“May God speed them,” said Paddy.
“I don’t suppose you have any drink for sale…a drop of rum or vodka…I’m drinkin’ that fuckin’ fairy juice for the past two days and I need to drop anchor.”
“No drink. No drink. Mulla is your best bet, fifteen miles down to your right. There’s pubs there with plenty drink.”
“There won’t be much left by the time that crowd have passed through. I saw them down in Kerry and they drank the town of Kenmare dry in two hours. And I mean dry, down to the cooking wine in the supermarkets.”
“I have to close the shop now.”
“That’s alright, I don’t mind. You do what you have to do and don’t mind me.”
Paddy sighed and shut the door, banged bolts into place and turned the key in a creaky lock. Fairy juice and Earth People, crocodiles and ostriches, singers and machine-guns, choppers and snakes – he had a lot to tell Goldie about when she arrived. The busker began to wail about knock, knock, knocking on Heaven’s door. Paddy sighed and went to the kitchen to make another Irish coffee. He was almost there.
End of Guest Post
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