Updated: Jan 27
Let me tell you about Vince. Vince always had problems with his phone. The main problem being that he’d get his uncle Brian to fix it every time it broke. Was Brian some kind of telephone engineer? Absolutely not, but his moustache and the frown that was permanently on his brow were almost perfect mirror images of each other and somehow that confluence of features commanded some kind of technological respect amongst his peers. His eyebrows and moustache were the kind of combo that only seemed to come with years of labouring over the workings of some piece of technology. Just looking at them you knew that they’d spent time surrounded by some kind of flow: water through pipes, electricity through cables or air through vents. And Brian didn’t deny it. Even though he was a hotel receptionist by trade.
Y’see, Brian had never felt he’d found his thing. Everyone else seemed to have one. For a few years he’d got it into his head that his thing might be painting. He just needed to put some practice in. Up in his attic he’d spent hours putting the hours in. He’d produced painting after painting trying to build towards a grand unveiling in front of all of his friends. Tada! This was his thing; he was a painter. But three years in – just when he was starting to feel like he was getting somewhere – there was a leak in his roof after it got hit by a flying branch in a storm. (The branch went on to slap a goat in the ass three days later when it fell off the roof, enraging the goat and sending it on a rampage around the town tearing down the lower branches of every tree it could find, leading to an abundance of opportunities for tree swings and a generation of children with excellent swing abilities.) The water from the leak destroyed half of Brian’s paintings. The problem was he couldn’t tell which half was which, and nor could his wife, and nor could anyone else really. When no one could tell which of his paintings had been ruined and which were exactly as he’d intended them Brian knew that painting wasn’t going to be his big thing. So the next Summer, when he managed to fix Mrs Dunhanny’s TV and everyone started thinking he was some kind of electrical maestro, he certainly wasn’t going to let anyone know that all he’d done was plug the TV into the wall rather than the fax machine. Least of all Mrs Dunhanny, a woman so lacking in charm her own dog had eight times stowed away on the intercounty bus to try and get away from her – or at least that’s the motivation that everyone had been assigned to it, including Mrs Dunhanny.
Every day she would stomp into town to find things to complain about. Packaging in the supermarket that was too bright, cars parked in an overly careful manner, weird smells in the local park that weren’t bad in themselves but which she didn’t like the combination of together. Her bitterness all stemmed from the day she’d discovered the truth about her beloved love letters. Every Sunday morning she would find a letter on her front door mat espousing her beauty and charm. Five and a half months she’d spent trying to uncover the identity of her paramour. One by one she’d eliminated every man in town. The first person ruled out, of course, was Father Cardigan. Not only was he presumably too busy on Sunday mornings to be posting love notes under her door but he’d also taken a vow of celibacy. A second one. He’d taken the standard vow that came with being a Catholic priest but it hadn’t really taken on him.
He’d been surprised to find out there actually was a real vow one had to make in order to graduate from priest college – a course he’d only taken up in the first place because of a one in a million mix up with his exam marks, college application choices and a slow horse to Belfast. The sunk cost fallacy had in-for-a-pennied him into going the full three years in the seminary despite the fact that he had many doubts, mostly about whether an atheist should really be a priest. The celibacy vow was a problem though because he didn’t like to lie but he loved to get laid. He’d tried every trick he could to avoid taking the vow: claiming he’d gotten confused about which day it was on, claiming he thought he’d already taken it with one of the other priests, sending in a vague lookalike in his place, faking a coughing fit halfway through, trying to get everyone at the ceremony drunk enough that no one could remember who took a vow or not. But nothing had worked so he’d had to succumb.
Father Cardigan swore on the holy Bible that he wouldn’t sleep with anyone else. (His own Bible had been witness to so much action that no one considered it holy any more. To the best of his knowledge it was the first copy of the Bible that had to be excommunicated.) But five paces out into the carpark he’d succumbed again and went home with a barstool maker from Ballydunbaile. It turned out a lot of people wanted what they couldn’t have and Father Cardigan’s life in the priesthood had been fecund with affairs. It also handed him on a plate the perfect alibi as to why he and his lovers had to be kept below board and undercovers. His second vow of chastity had come, however, after his torrid dalliance with Edna. Edna was different from all the rest. She made a point of it. Edna went dancing in ski-boots, she ate lasagne for breakfast, she swore at aeroplanes.
Her heart’s desire was to be a muse. She didn’t have it in her to be an artist, she knew that. Not through lack of ability; it just seemed like a lot of effort. It was surely easier to just be the inspiration. All she needed was an artist to inspire. She’d tried to inspire them all: painters, architects, sports journalists, but it was hard to tell how much of their work had come from her. Sure, the all-weather canopy over the carpark at the back of the Trusty Savings Bank bore a reasonable resemblance to her own backside but she couldn’t be sure she’d incepted the idea in the assistant architect on the project: Killian Trout.
Killian swore blind that Edna had been in his mind almost the entire time he’d been designing the all-weather canopy over the carpark at the back of the Trusty Savings Bank. But this was a lie. Killian hadn’t designed the all-weather canopy over the carpark at the back of the Trusty Savings Bank. He’d come close. You had to give him that. He’d designed an all-weather canopy for the carpark at the back of the Trusty Savings Bank but not the all-weather canopy for the carpark at the back of the Trusty Savings Bank.
Killian was the most junior member of the architectural firm Boyle and Cook. He was very keen though. He knew his time there wouldn’t be long and he wanted to make an impression on the world before his time ran out. He wanted to be able to look at something and say that he had created it; that the world was different because he was in it. The problem was that he was thirteen. He’d snuck into the office because he was busting to go to the loo. One wrong door and he’d ended up in a job interview in the place of a candidate who hadn’t shown up because he was dead.
Mr Tom Dankins died doing what he loved: hating every minute of his life. And also flying through the sky over the GAA grounds the night of the big match against Louth. Match attendees swore after that they could clearly make out him saying, “Ah, fuck this.” as he soared over the stadium before ricocheting off the east stand awning and plopping into the sea. That was a common refrain for Tom. Nothing had really gone right in his life. He’d been plagued by eyebrow pain. His wife had left him for their mugger. Every car he’d ever bought had been destroyed in a natural disaster within four weeks of owning it, a different style of disaster every time so his insurance policies never kept up with them. His hands were constantly cold because of weak circulation. His feet were constantly hot because of strong circulation. When his heating had gone out one evening he’d lost his temper and tapped a little too aggressively on the gas boiler which duly exploded and rocketed him out of his flat and over the GAA club. Which was why he hadn’t turned up for his job interview the next day.
Killian didn’t know that so he feared the day that the real Mr Tom Dankins would appear and take away his job. So, before it was too late, Killian snuck into the office one night and replaced the plans for the all-weather canopy for the carpark at the back of the Trusty Savings Bank with his own plans for the all-weather canopy for the carpark at the back of the Trusty Savings Bank. When the bosses saw the new plans they were amazed at how terrible they were and quickly replaced them again.
Edna’s lack of definitive resemblance to an all-weather canopy that a thirteen year old regular at her gardening centre claimed was inspired by her ass sent her down a road of living in a truly remarkable way so that if and when she was the seed or seam of a piece of artistic endeavour then there’d be no doubt that it was down to her. She’d be able to spot the breakfast lasagne from a mile off. Hoping to inspire Father Cardigan’s sermons, when she was sleeping over at the parochial house she had taken to eating food with a yo-yo, kissing her socks goodnight and claiming that she could hear butter talk.
Father Cardigan didn’t dare feature even a veiled reference to Edna’s antics in his sermons. He was enraptured by her. He found himself thinking about her constantly. Why did she hate stamens so much? How could she spend a whole evening staring at a radiator? Why would she need to carry an unopened bag of fertilizer around with her everywhere she went? Pretty soon, he could think of nothing else. He was deep in thought, mulling over her love of skirting boards, when he rode his bike off the road and into a cow. He and the cow and the cow’s calf and the vet that was delivering the cow’s calf at the time were so upset and confused by the experience that Father Cardigan swore never to sleep with another woman again.
It was perhaps a foolish move to announce it from the pulpit. Half the congregation presumed that it was already true and the other half cursed under their breath. Mrs Dunhanny was the only person in the church that day that took out a piece of paper and crossed his name off a list.
And over the next couple of weeks she crossed every other name off that list: man, woman and thirteen year old boy masquerading as a middle aged architect. It was only when she cross referenced the list with the sign-up sheet for the town table-volleyball round robin – an event so popular it was used to replace the town census – that she figured out the one person she’d left off her list: herself. It turned out that in drunken blackouts she’d written the notes to herself to boost her own confidence. The terrible handwriting was down to the alcohol and not that every time the mystery man wrote to her he became so overcome with passion that his hands started to tremble.
The realisation that there really was only one person in the world for her and that that person was her, had left Mrs Dunhanny so bitter she’d decided to spoil everyone else’s day. Which had really made her day. So she’d kept it up. It was now her life’s work. If anyone showed the slightest vulnerability she’d pounce on it. Brian knew this well from experience so he wasn’t going to admit that he really wasn’t an expert on electrical equipment.
Brian lived off the adulation that it afforded him in the town. It added a spring to his step, which he quickly dulled to a grumbling lollop more fitting of his new mechanically minded persona. Everyone brought their broken electrical, mechanical and sometimes biological devices. He’d take them into the backroom and prod around hopefully at them for an hour before declaring to them beyond repair. No one doubted Brian’s diagnoses and the river outside his house was now laden with items hurled in there by disappointed customers who were fed up to the gills with planned obsolescence.
Apart from Vince. Vince always brought his phone back to his uncle Brian to try to fix. Every time. He’d take it away again thinking that it seemed like it was working better now but a couple of weeks later he’d be back again looking for Brian to work his magic again. Brian would take it into the back room and read a novel for an hour before bringing it back to his trusting nephew and saying it should work a bit better now. But Vince’s phone would never work well. It was a piece of shit.