Authors: Patrick McCabe
When I awoke, all was silent once more, for they had vanished and everything was in its place as if I had somehow wandered into an establishment which, with the absolute minimum
of effort on the part of anyone, would somehow always succeed in garnering first prize in any presbytery-of-the year competition. It was absolutely immaculate. As I composed myself, I endeavoured
to piece together the series of events which had led to my abandonment in a totally unfamiliar environment, flushed and soutane-less, and was succeeding to some extent in piecing together the many
ill-fitting components of the jigsaw when suddenly I became aware of a sealed cream manila envelope at my elbow, which I opened with trembling hands. I had good reason, as I within moments began to
realize, to feel apprehensive, for the contents of that envelope fashioned for me a prison which, albeit with invisible bars, would soon prove itself to be as impregnable an Alcatraz or any
high-security place of incarceration as those of a fiercely custodial frame of mind have yet to dream up. For the words which I read upon that fine, unstained stationery informed me – with
not the slightest hint of equivocation – that if I ‘made the slightest attempt’ to ‘follow his “Nocturnal Grace” ever again’ – and here I experienced
a particular frisson of arctic coldness, for the word ‘ever’ was both italicized and in bold type – he would have no hesitation in activating the diabolic genes which he and his
‘lady friends’ had implanted within me as I slept, the consummate consequence of which would be that, helpless to prevent myself, I would find myself running amok in the streets and
villages of Ireland, murdering people, robbing and looting shops, selling drugs and burning down churches and people’s houses. So, his eerie scrawl concluded (even it too seemed redolent of
anthracite), if I had any sense, I would know what to do and remain for quite a sizeable portion of the foreseeable future where I belonged – safely within the confines of the Bishop’s
Palace, with my mouth securely shut.
His career since that awful night has been handsomely productive. Rarely a day goes past but someone is shot or pitchforked and only yesterday £150 million worth of
narcotics was discovered in Newtownburkett. Occasionally I will switch on the television to find him confronting me once more, discoursing freely on the topic of ‘young people’ and
describing with tented fingers how he considers Jesus to be his ‘special friend’. At times like that it is all I can do not to weep or put my carpet slipper through the screen. For I
know that no matter what I do, or what labyrinthine plan of action I formulate, it is clear that I have been trumped. How can I pretend it to be otherwise when he has implanted within me what can
only be described as the equivalent of a nuclear time bomb? Even worse, he has, through some form of hypnosis, succeeded in convincing many of my fellow clergymen that I am jealous of him and that
it is for this reason and this alone I had been spending my time spreading the wickedest of rumours, and slandering his name at every available opportunity. At various conferences, I have become
aware of this innuendo – mutterings of ‘mad because of his popularity’ and ‘because he hasn’t it in him himself, you see’ spring to mind. It is with a heavy
heart I acknowledge that such asides and corner-of-the-mouth insinuations persist to this day. Only last week, it was my misfortune to overhear a colleague assert his opinion that ‘having got
the bishopric you’d think he’d have enough without bad-mouthing a good priest like Packie Cooley’. There can be little doubt but that he has succeeded in performing his work well.
The talk of him succeeding me here in the palace (his sights ultimately being set upon the highest ecclesiastical office in the land, of course!) has already begun and rarely a night goes by but I
envisage him leering at me from the corner of the room, waving coyly as he adjusts the red silk cape and rakishly tilts his cardinal’s hat. And thus it is destined to continue – there
is an infuriating inevitability about it! – night after night until (to begin with!), he has himself firmly ensconced here by the fireside, with Mrs Miniter innocently providing him with
scones and teacake as she once did me.
No, for me there is no option now but to bite my lower lip and pass on. Pass on, my only company on the solitudinous peregrinations that are to be my lot. Heavily – unbearably –
burdened within by the sad knowledge that only I possess. The sad knowledge that the most influential clergyman in all of Ireland today is none other than the Devil himself and, even sadder still,
knowing in my episcopal heart and soul that, for every drug addict and degenerate sex baron brazenly disporting themselves about streets once a paradigm for all civilized society, there is no one
to be deemed responsible but me.
After all, readers – I ordained the fucker.
For many years I have lived alone, within the four grey walls of this narrow room, the tremulous silence intermittently broken by the tube trains which cut through the
tar-black night with their cargo of ghostly, pallid faces, as if in relentless, heartbroken pursuit of something lost a long time ago, just as the peaceful harmony which once pervaded my entire
being has been bitterly wrested from me.
How many years have I paced these accursed floorboards, imploring any deity who cares to listen to return to me the bountiful tranquillity which once was mine and end for ever this dread torment
which greets me like a rapacious shade each waking day!
And now, as I stand here by the window, watching with leaden, emotion-drained eyes, directly below me, a single line of mocking, waltzing calligraphy; at last they confront me, the jagged
ciphers which, all this time, I have feared would one day rise up from my blackest dreams like wicked flares from the pit of hell: T
AN YOU SURVIVE THE
My nightmare began some thirty years ago in a small town in Ireland, not far from Mullingar and quite near Dundalk. I had come to Barntrosna to spend the summer with my uncle,
who was the headmaster in the local school. He had of late acquired some measure of fame as an ornithologist and it gave me great pleasure indeed to accompany him on his regular lectures in various
halls and venues throughout the county. It is not my intention to imply that my duties were in any way onerous for, in truth, beyond the simple erection of the screen and the operation of the slide
projector, there was little for me to do. I carried the briefcase containing my learned relative’s notes, it is true, but such was his erudition that he made little use of what he termed
‘needless paraphernalia’, and it was of such insignificant weight that it could have been comfortably borne to the Temperance Hall (in which establishment it was his practice to deliver
his orations on the habits of our feathered friends) on the back of the average housefly. What a privilege it was for me to turn the metal disc yet another semicircle as, in basso profundo, he
would declaim, ‘Slide, please!’ while his neighbours and friends looked on admiringly.
As I look back on those days now, they always seem to me suffused with the colour of burnished copper and within them time does not appear to move at all.
Afterwards I would stroll casually through the cooling streets, making the acquaintance of the elderly gentlemen who whiled away their hours on the Summer Seat discussing the imminent ruin of
the country and the hypothetical prowess of assorted thoroughbreds in contests that had yet to be.
I would regularly share a lemonade with them, perhaps on occasion pass around a packet of Player’s. Laughter and an unbending faith in the goodness of our fellow man was a common bond
amongst us all, and there was little doubt in my mind that where I had the good fortune to find myself was indeed the most idyllic town on earth. And had you taken it upon yourself to share your
intimations that darker times would soon be discerned on the horizon, I would have extrapolated from your spurious, clandestine misanthropy nothing more than a bitter, small-minded and wholly
despicable envy. I should have evinced scorn and packed you off about your business. For if ever a truth were spoken, it was that evidence of dissension in that sweet little hamlet there was none.
Save perhaps the awesome figure of a well-known layabout by the name of Dingo Deery, who at odd intervals would appear wild-eyed in the doorway of the hall and bellow at the top of his voice:
‘Shut your mouth, Lestrange! What would you know about it! You wouldn’t know a jackdaw if it walked up to you and pecked your auld whiskey nose off!’ Whereupon he would spread his
arms and assail the stunned, mute assembly: ‘You think he knows about birds? He knows nothing! Except how to beat up poor unfortunate scholars for not knowing their algebra! Look at these
hands! Look at them, damn youse!’
When he had spoken these words, he would break into a sort of strangled weeping and raise his palms aloft, and indeed there were few present who could deny on first viewing those bruised pieces
of flesh that they undoubtedly had seen wear and tear beyond reasonable expectation, even for someone of his social standing. ‘Cut to ribbons!’ he would cry hoarsely. ‘Cut to
ribbons by Lestrange! Him and his sally rods! Oho yes – you were handy with them all right, Lestrange! But mark my words, you’ll pay for what you did to Dingo Deery – I can tell
you that!’ Then, with a maniacal cackle, his recalcitrant, cumbersome bulk would be forcibly ejected, the distasteful echo of his combative ululations lingering in the air for long
But such incidents were indeed rare, and otherwise life proceeded serenely: Yuri Gagarin was in space, Player’s cost one and six and John Fitzgerald Kennedy was undoubtedly the possessor
of the cleanest teeth in the Western hemisphere.
It was to be many years before the arrival of colour television and the first drug addicts.
The first day I met Mick Macardle, I knew instinctively all was not as it should have been. Deep within me, I heard a timorous voice cry: ‘Withdraw! Withdraw while you
still can!’ The languid sunshine, however, and the soothing breeze of the early afternoon conspired in silence to usher away any such uncharitable and unnecessary suspicions.
But now, as I languish here in my one-room prison, forgotten in a city which remembers no names, my heart has crusted over and no such beguiling veils remain to blur my vision, and with
staggering clarity I see what ought to have met my eyes in those days of benevolence-blinded myopia, a sight which, had I not been poked in those organs by two large metaphorical thumbs, should
surely have swept through my soul like an arctic wind.
The thin cigar hung insolently out of the side of his mouth. A black raven’s wing of Brylcreemed hair fell ominously down over his alabaster forehead. His lips were two ignominious pencil
strokes, his moustache not unlike a crooked felt-tipped marker line as it might be drawn by a small child. More than anything, however, what ought to have telegraphed to me the imponderable depth
of the man’s reptilian nature was the slow slither of his arm about my shoulder, the hiss of his silky sibilants as he crooned into my ear: ‘Don’t worry about a thing!’
Then, out of nowhere, he would erupt into inexplicable torrents of laughter, the flat of his hand repeatedly falling on the broad of my back as he cried: ‘You leave it to Mick! I’ll
take care of it!’
‘No prob!’ he would cry, sawing the noun in two like some cheapskate magician in a tawdry show.
How I should have loathed the man! But no – my innocence and desire to think the best of all fellows won the day, and even when he passed by my uncle’s house in his new Ford Consul,
waving through the open window like a visiting dignatory from a Lilliputian puppet state, I chose to ignore the unspoken counsel of my instinct, preferring instead to align myself with the views of
those citizens of the town who ranged themselves about him, some indeed claiming kinship, as they declared him ‘one fine butt of a lad!’ and insisting furthermore that there was
‘no better man in this town!’
The abrupt nasal-spurt of his megaphone could be heard far and wide as his glittering Consul zigzagged through the candy-striped streets of summer. ‘Yes!’ it would bark with metallic
brio. ‘Yes, ladies and gentlemen! Mick Macardle for all your movie requirements! Why not drop along to Mac’s Photography Shop at number 9 Main Street? Come along and see what we have to
offer! Weddings, christenings, confirmations! Never be negative with Mick Macardle! Mick Macardle’s the movie man! No prob! Yes, siree!’
Thus life proceeded. The church bells would ring out across the morning town, the womenfolk give themselves once more to the fastidious investigation of vegetables and assorted foodstuffs in the
grocery halls, brightening each other’s lives with picaresque travelogues of failing innards and the more recent natural disasters, delaying perhaps at the corner to engage in lengthy
discourse with Fr Dominic, their beloved pastor. ‘That’s not a bad day now,’ they would observe, the clergyman as a rule finding himself in fulsome agreement. ‘Indeed and it
is not,’ he would respond enthusiastically, occasionally a dark cloud of uncertainty passing across his fresh, close-shaven features as he added: ‘Although I think we might get a touch
of rain later!’
Observations of similar perspicacity would provide a further ten minutes of eager debate before they would once more proceed on their way, past Grouse Armstrong snuggled up in the library
doorway, the single American tourist snapping gypsies in the hotel foyer (‘Couldja throw a little more grit on your heads, guys?’) and Sonny Leonard the local minstrel rehearsing
‘I wonder who’s kissing her now’ into the neck of the brown bottle which served as his microphone.
Sadly, even at that transcendent moment, as I gave my heartiest approval to the maestro’s impromptu recital with rousing cheers of ‘Good man, Sonny!’ and ‘More power to
your elbow, young Leonard!’, disturbing events were already proceeding as the sleek limousine bearing Mick Macardle cruised silently through the streets of Amsterdam, the Barntrosna
businessman seated comfortably now by the side of an ambitious, long-fingered entrepreneur, a sinister individual of foreign complexion who, within hours (I know it! Despite assertions – and
there have been some! – that it is mere conjecture and foolish rambling on my part! For I, Dermot Mooney, am no erratic, fevered fantasist, and never have been! I scorn such pathetic and
perjorative imputations!), would be outlining his proposition in an outwardly unremarkable lockup garage, its dimly lit interior, however, festooned with tattered pictures of young ladies in
abbreviated attire, helpless females of tender years being pursued by villains of the wickedest mien sporting pork-pie hats – you can be certain of it! – their misfortunate quarries
crying helplessly from the suspended cages in which they ultimately found themselves. Forced to become slit-skirted temptresses leering through uncoiling cobras of smoke, captured for ever in
calligraphic captivity as the houndstooth letters whorled all about them in a dizzying, soporific swirl! That same houndstooth lettering that would later choke my soul in bondage like so many miles
of barbed wire:
Evil Virgin Thrills! Runaway Go-Go Psychos! I Married Hitler!