“Mr. Jones” by Eddie Stack

He’ll never stop drinking now. Do you think he will? I don’t, he’s too old to stop, he’s 72. I’m 69. I probably should have left him years ago, when I was younger. But women didn’t do that then, now they’re gone at the drop of a hat. It’s true for me. You read about them every day in the papers. Would you like a cigarette? You don’t smoke? Sorry. I like the odd one myself. He smokes all the time, smoking and drinking. Of course he tried to give it up…the drinking, not the fags. He was away, you know. St John of Gods. And St Pats too.  And of course the local place as well. He was there several times. Other institutions too, but they couldn’t cure him. He didn’t want to be cured, you see. My brother brought him to a special hospital in England once, very posh place. All the hobnobs went there, but he only stayed three days. He went out a window. They called here in a panic and told me. There was nothing I could do. Eventually the police found him drinking with winos in Nottingham.

He’s a disgrace. I shouldn’t have married him but I knew no better then. My father thought he was a great match for me. It was my father who introduced us, you know. At the Listowel Races. I’ll never forget it. You see, my father knew him from the rugby. He was a very good rugby player when he was young and they expected great things of him. Thought he’d play for Ireland. Of course he didn’t. Couldn’t even make the Connaught team. The drink. After we married he said we’d build a house outside the town. I was looking forward to that. We were going to have a family then. But none of that ever happened.

We were living here with his mother, you see. She adored him and she didn’t like me. She was always sighing around me. Terrible. She was a right old battle-axe. He couldn’t stand her either. And of course that was a great excuse to be away drinking. Instead of building our own house up in the land. You know? I was looking after the business and looking after her. It wasn’t easy, for God sake, who ever saw a woman butcher? I was a nurse one minute and the next I was selling sausages. But I had to do it. He wasn’t here. That time he had a contract to supply meat to the girls’ boarding school, St Ita’s up the road. Many’s the time the nuns had to come down here and ask where was their meat. He’d have forgotten to deliver it.  Might not even have prepared their order. I used be mortified. I used go to all the pubs around town looking for him. If I found him, he often wouldn’t leave and even told me to eff off a few times. Terrible. I should have left him then. But instead I tried to keep the show on the road.

The nuns went elsewhere for their meat for a finish. You couldn’t blame them. Can you imagine, two hundred students waiting for their dinner and the butcher refusing to give them meat? It was terrible. Of course it got worse when his mother died. An excuse, that’s all it was. He didn’t love her. I knew that, he told me often. He never loved anybody, but the drink, and the fags. And he was a fine looking fellow, you know. Rugged and handsome. A lot of rugby players are, aren’t they? And he was very strong, only for that, the drink would have killed him. I don’t know how he isn’t dead. You know he has a plate in his skull? A steel plate. The result of a car crash. He went over the wall one night coming home from Galway and the car tumbled into a quarry. They found him in the morning. He was brought to Dublin. He was anointed that time. They thought he was going to die, but he surprised them. I thought that would stop the drinking but it didn’t. He was back on it a few months afterwards. He’s incurable. Another time he drove into a lorry in broad daylight up the street. The fire brigade had to cut him out and he broke a leg and an arm. But he still didn’t learn. I don’t know why because he’s an intelligent man, isn’t he? Do you think so? I do. And he had a great education, Rockwell College. He was a few years at university studying medicine, but he didn’t mind the books and spent his time playing rugby. That’s how my father new him, the rugby. My father was chairman of  St. Finbar’s rugby club. My father could see no wrong in him, but my mother could, and was wary of him. She was right. I didn’t see it her way, you don’t when you’re young, sure you don’t?

He’ll outlive me. I know that. He’s strong.  One night he came back and I was in bed. I didn’t hear him coming in. He went to the bathroom and fell into the bath, on his back. And I had clothes steeping in the bath in bleach. And he fell asleep with water up to his ears. Never woke up until I found him in the morning. I screamed when I saw him. I though he was dead. You would, wouldn’t you, when you’d see someone like that lying in the bath of water like a corpse. He effed me out of it. That’s what he did. And the bleach had whitened the hair at the back of his head. But out of spite, I didn’t tell him. And he was going around like a fool for days…like a Frisian bull, black and white. It was good enough for him.

He’s proud, you know. That’s the breeding. The father’s side.  Big shots in a small town. Often he’d look at the name over the shop and walk around the front of the place like it was a castle. That was when he did a bit of butchering. But I think he felt it was beneath him somehow and he spent less and less time here.  Always had other things to do, and there was always drinking to be done. You know, racing and rugby and the Spring Show in Dublin. And of course the Fianna Fail Ard Fheis, that was a big one. Lots of big talk and loads of brandy, slipping and slobbering in hotels until daylight. Fairs, he couldn’t miss any sort of a fair either, Spancil Hill, Ballinasloe, the Puck Fair, horse fairs, antique fairs. Anything. All dressed up like a lord. He was always gone. Wherever there was a racket, he was there.

For a finish he didn’t butcher any meat. Didn’t cut anything, just ordered it in from some place in Galway. It came in brown cardboard boxes, you know — chickens and sausages, chops, puddings, bacon and that sort of thing. He’d just put it out on trays and leave me to sell it. Of course I was more of the fool to do it. You can be a fool in marriage, can’t you? It took me years to find that out. Are you married? No? And have you a girlfriend. You do? That’s good. I’d say you’re good to her, you’ve that look about you.

 

Do you know his brother? The canon? Lovely man. They don’t talk at all. Haven’t for years. They had a row, up at the hotel one evening. It was terrible. The bishop and all the priests of the diocesse were there. I think it was after Confirmation, yes, yes it was. And hme in and gate crashed their gathering, you know, barged into the room where they were having a quiet drink or whatever. The canon told e came about it later. You see, the canon knew he was drunk and tried to wheel him out before any trouble started, but he wasn’t able. Then they had a row. The canon was mortified because my fellow shouted that the bishop was having an affair with a certain nun. Maybe he was, I don’t know. The hotel people called the guards and he was arrested. He refused to apologise to the bishop. Only for that, the canon would be a monsignor, maybe even a bishop now. But that finished him. After that the poor man was transferred to a parish in the back of beyonds. They haven’t spoken since.

Of course that wasn’t the first time he was arrested, oh God no, he has been arrested several times. And always got away with it. Connections, you see, since his rugby days. If right was right he should have gotten jail a few times. But he didn’t. There’s no justice, is there? It all depends on who you know. One time he was arrested for striking a publican up the town. He broke his jaw because the man refused to serve him. He was drunk, very drunk. I think it was after a funeral or something. He loves funerals. Sometimes I think he only gets up out of bed to go to funerals. The first thing he does in the morning is to read the death notices in the newspapers. That isn’t normal, is it? So he broke that poor man’s jaw and was arrested in another pub down the street. He was singing a song apparently when the guards came in for him and he wouldn’t leave until the song was finished. They brought him to court and the judge just bound him to the peace for two years. Terrible wasn’t it? After breaking a poor man’s jaw. He said he didn’t mean it, that it was a friendly tap. Friendly tap! I heard the court room was in stitches. He should have got jail, but you see he had the connections.

And when I think of all the times he was pulled for drunken driving. And got away scot free mostly. Except for the time he was caught in the North somewhere. Ballymeana I think. He was up at a rugby match and of course was drinking his way home. It was the army who stopped him and  he became very abusive apparently, told them he’d get the IRA after them. Can you imagine? Nobody in their right mind would say a thing like that. Sure they wouldn’t? But he did.  So they arrested him, and rightly so. He was locked up for days. The guards came here to the door at three in the morning to tell me. I thought he was dead when I heard the knock.

They let him out on bail, I can’t remember what it was but it was a lot of money at the time, several thousand pounds anyway. And then he had to go to court up there which was a different kettle of fish than going before one of his cronies down here. Oh it was in the papers and all. The judge called him a disrespectful thug who shouldn’t drink. He gave him a big lecture and a huge fine and would have put him in jail were it not for pressure from the Taoiseach. He knew the Taoiseach from the rugby, you see, and the Ard Fheises. Connections again. But of course he hated the publicity the case brought him. It was even on the radio about him. I said nothing to him. What was the point? I’d said it all already and he never listened to me anyway.

“Shut up woman! Shut up woman!” is all he ever said to me.

And when he’s drinking he gets into all sorts of silly business. You’ve seen him drinking? Haven’t you? He does stupid things and gets into terrible messes. Like that time himself and that…oh what’s his name…the fella from Mayo…I can’t think of him now…but anyway, they stole cattle one night over in Offaly. Total madness. They were after bringing over two horses to some trainer there and of course there was drink involved. So they stole cattle from a farm near Portumna and brought them home in the lorry. Worse, the fools put them into our fields. He was in court for that too but got away with it. And when you’d see him in the morning after he gets up, and he dressed like Prince Phillip, you’d swear he was a proper gentleman, wouldn’t you. He dresses well, I have to say that for him. That’s the best I can say about him.

He goes to Cheltenham every year, you know. For the races. Once he was away for nearly three weeks. He had a big win, that’s what he told me on the phone. I could hear a party going on in his room, women laughing and somebody singing. I hung up on him. The next day I closed the butcher shop, why should I slave and he having a good time? And I always wanted to have a shoe shop so I got Tommy Hynes the builder to come in and change everything, take out the big cold room and the display cases and all that kind of thing. My brother has a fine shoe shop in Kilkenny and he supplied me with stock to get it started. I should have done it years before, but you don’t think of the obvious sometimes, sure you don’t? When he came back from Cheltenham he was so drunk that he didn’t even notice the change in the place. It was a week or more before he realised it. One morning he went out to the shop in his striped  butchers apron and stood behind the counter.  Big man trying to made an impression, you know? He’d do that sometimes, pretend to me he was turning over a new leaf, especially if he’d overdone something. Atoning for his sins. Lot of sighing, like his mother. And standing at the door, smoking and chit-chatting.  But he was too sick to go to the door this morning and he just stood behind the counter. I was watching him from the kitchen. He looked around the shop, and all he saw were shoes.  I could see the confused look on his face. He must have thought he was in the dt’s because he ran upstairs to bed. We never spoke about it. I don’t give him any money from the shop. Why should I? His father left him a millionaire. He’ll never drink it. Maybe that’s the problem. What do you think?

 

Biographical Note:

EddieStack is an Irish writer and an American Small Press of the Year Award recipient. He received a Top 100 Irish American Award in response to his book of short fiction, The West: Stories from Ireland, which was published by Island House (US) and Bloomsbury (UK).

His other work include a second collection of stories, Out of the Blue, and Heads, a novel set in San Francisco. He produced the first iPhone app of Irish fiction, spoken word, music, song + art in March 2010.

Eddie Stack’s work is included in State of the Art: Stories from New Irish Writers; Irish Christmas Stories, The Clare Anthology and Fiction in the Classroom. His stories have also appeared in literary reviews Fiction, Confrontation, Whispers & Shouts and Criterion 83.

www.eddiestack.com

 

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