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Alan McMonagle

The Good Crank
Alan McMonagle
So many rushing into tomorrow. They cannot get there fast enough. Every man, woman, boy and child swerving from one moment to the next as though their lives depend on it. Slow down, I say. Take it easy.

‘You’ve got to take the swift with the slow,’ Phyllis tells me. ‘The eager with the meek.’

‘I couldn’t agree with you more, Phyllis,’ I say. ‘I’ll say hello to tomorrow when it arrives. But I’ve still got a little time for yesterday.’

These days I live on Single Street, the oldest street in our town. I’m one of two women living on this road. It’s where we move to when our men run away or meet with an unfortunate end. When he had his chance my man chose to run. A JCB crushed Phyllis Quirke’s. That happened in Australia. ‘He wasn’t taking any chances,’ she says. ‘Ran away and met with an unfortunate end. He must have wanted shot of me bad.’ Phyllis is my neighbour to the right.

Lifelong bachelors occupy the rest of our brittle road. Some are blind and some are deaf. So they go around in pairs. The deaf describe what they see – oh look, Mattie, they’ve converted Rory Flint’s abattoir into a fish museum. The blind record all the gossip – listen to this Tim, Gypsy Teresa says that if you change the past you can rearrange the future. It’s a very effective system. On a good day, any combination of them could run the country.

‘You’re a crank, Kitty Clog,’ Jack Lawless tells me.

‘I know, Jack,’ I reply. ‘But I’m a good crank.’

‘How old are you today?’ he asks.

‘Six hundred and fifteen,’ I reply.

‘The years have been kind,’ he says. ‘You’re now the second best looking woman on this street.’

Jack has twenty-twenty vision and swears he can hear the stars. He grows herbs in his garden and lobs them into his pan of mince stew. When he has eaten his stew he claims he invented something called the iPod. ‘Those little Japanese bastards get the credit for everything,’ he says, shaking his troubled head. He then wiggles through his herbs, a gadget the size of a breeze block clamped to his right ear. From time to time he pauses, raises a clenched fist and promises to visit hell-on-earth upon the Japanese. Jack is my neighbour to the left.

Though I’m old I still try to get about. I don’t know where I’d be without my black Reactor. It has eighteen different speeds and a pump suspension that allows me accelerate going through pot holes. It’s quite a pleasant feeling actually. So I have put in a written request for more.

I do a lot of writing these days. It helps me get things off my chest. I set it all down on five-by-seven cards and address them to my runaway man. Cameroon, my Angolan postman, sees that they get there. He tells me he makes time for five-by-seven cards too. Except he uses images from Time Magazine instead of words. Every Sunday he rows out into the bay, unloads his sack of cards and lets the tide take them. Healing balm for the soul he calls it.

When I write Hummer listens and corrects matters of grammar. She can sniff out a dud spelling before I’ve made it. She’s always sniffing, poking her nose into business that doesn’t concern her. I keep reminding her about what happened to the cat in the adage but it doesn’t make any difference. She just loves collecting smells. She even describes them to me. ‘Haddock,’ she screeches every Saturday morning. ‘Branston Pickle,’ when Phyllis calls over. ‘Marijuana,’ as soon as Jack surfaces.

‘Whoopee,’ she yowled when my man ran. Hummer didn’t like Henry. At least not after he introduced into our humble abode five Labradors, three Cocker Spaniels, two Golden Retrievers, and a Chihuahua called Pook. Hummer sniffed and ran every one of them. She ran Henry while she was at it. At least that’s the theory I like to peddle. One day he was here – unravelling nets, varnishing oars, rigging up his boat – the next he was gone. Vanished. Just like that. Away fishing his note said. He didn’t even thank me for the memories.

‘You’re a crank, Kitty Clog,’ Jack tells me.

‘I know, Jack,’ I reply. ‘But I’m a good crank.’

‘Give me a kiss and I’ll tell you what I’ve seen,’ he says.

‘I’d rather lick an asp,’ I say.

Outside my window cement mixers chug and dumper trucks blunder their way through. Earth bashers pummel the field beyond my little garden. The developer promises to squeeze everyone in. Soon, there won’t be room to swing a cat.

I consider taking it out on the time of year. Already, it’s early autumn, the leaves are falling, and every day swallows congregate along rooftops and prepare to leave. It’s seems like just yesterday they were back. ‘Don’t fall down,’ I hear a little boy call out as they fly. Often I wish I was among them, following the summer around the earth.

Hummer has her eye on the swallows too. ‘Lunch’ she snarls, but she may as well be yowling at the wind. Even that doesn’t come easy. Not with all these earth bashers. Thud-thud-thud, they go. People have jobs, houses must be built I tell myself. Live and let live. Still. I catch myself praying for a purge. Meantime bracts of thistle disappear and the yarrow sighs.

Sometimes I invite the developer inside for a cup of tea, a slice of currant cake. Before discovering property he tells me he was a Yoga Master. ‘Finally I saw the light,’ he says, then mentions his plans to buy a peninsula in west Cork, build a submarine, the country’s first indoor golf course and the largest nursing home there’s ever been.

‘May you live a thousand years,’ he says when I tell him I’ll be his first customer.

‘I’m already over half way,’ I answer.

‘It must be hard to think clearly when you have no roof over your head,’ he says, gazing at my leaking tiles.

‘Not nearly as hard as when you have too many,’ I reply.

‘You’re a crank, Kitty Clog,’ Jack tells me.

‘I know, Jack,’ I reply, ‘but I’m a good crank.’

‘Dance a reel with me,’ he says, ‘I’ll spin you right around.’

‘I’d rather go cheek to cheek with a tarantula,’ I tell him.

After my man ran I made friends with Notorious Reilly. Notorious used to be in the keeping-lonely-ladies-warm-on-a-cold-night business. In exchange for warmth I’d fry him a chop or two. ‘Swine,’ yowls Hummer any time I mention Notorious.

Notorious kept Phyllis warm too. On balmy evenings we’d sit out the back and compare notes. One such evening Notorious hopped over the back wall.

‘Hello girls,’ he said, with a twinkle in his eye.

‘Will I stick on the frying pan Notorious?’ I asked him, winking at Phyllis.

‘Not at all,’ he replied, winking back at the two of us. ‘Tonight, I’m in the mood for a sandwich.’

It always amazed me how Notorious could lay his hat in so many places at the one time. Alas, now he lies in the new cemetery and Phyllis has become aware of her mortality.

‘I’m never going to die,’ I calmly inform her.

‘I used to think that way,’ Phyllis replies. ‘Then I obtained expert opinion.’

And I hear all about the consultant. Handsome, with a pencil-line moustache. A dead ringer for Rhett. Tell him your name, age, habits and history, and in thirty seconds he will give you your time and cause of death.

‘I love his hands,’ Phyllis goes on. ‘It only costs one-hundred-and-eighty euros to shake them.’

‘How much for an opinion?’ I ask.

‘You’re a crank, Kitty Clog,’ Jack tells me.

‘I know, Jack,’ I reply, ‘but I’m a good crank.’

‘Let’s go to Fish Frenzy,’ he says, ‘I’ll shout you a Moby Dick.’

‘I’d rather dine with the cannibals,’ I tell him.

Cameroon tells me he knows a charm that might improve my moods. Women where he comes from use it to bring back their vanished men. ‘Give me something once cherished by your neglectful man,’ he instructs and I hand over the frying pan. Then begins an urgent summoning, a wailing plea that somehow reaches deep inside and wrenches out the icy shards within me, every sunken dream. ‘Yikes,’ Hummer yowls when the frying pan takes to the air. ‘No one has used the charm on me,’ Cameroon muses when his magic spell concludes.

Once alone, I sit up and keep watch. By the light of the Moon I listen for the night’s quiet declarations. Wayward thoughts find me. The fisherman’s song. The frosts of wooing words gone cold.

Soon I hear a scratching at my window. Through the frosted glass I can even make out a ghostly form, an unresting spirit returned from some forbidding place with unfinished matters to attend. ‘The magic is working,’ I gasp. ‘It’s my repentant man returned from his fishing.’ Then the phantom speaks - a delicious devil-voice that tells me, in no uncertain terms, what it wouldn’t do for one last chop.

Come morning the dumper trucks resume their rampant ways. After some rummaging, Phyllis presents me with a pair of ear plugs.

‘What good are these,’ I say, kneading between my thumb and fore-finger the two yellow bits of foam.

‘You’re dramatic,’ Phyllis says, stopping my restless hands. But she has now only one thing on her mind. ‘Have you seen the cost of dying?’ she remarks. ‘It’s obscene. I hope it happens to me soon. Otherwise I won’t be able to afford it. I’m thinking of a green coffin. Do my bit for the environment.’

I plug my ears and pedal to the water. I taste the salty breeze and throw a fist against the ebbing tide. I scan the vacant horizon until I feel the cold. Until, at last, I begin to understand this corrupt murmuring inside my withered chest.

‘How long have I got?’ I ask the consultant when I’m carted into A&E.

‘Your digestion has been mildly inhibited,’ he replies. Then he ladles out two mouthfuls of Gaviscon and refers me to a website. ‘Euthymol toothpaste,’ yowls Hummer, when I offer her a saucer of my medicine.

Novembers are chilly in our town. Winter winds whistle. And the rains come on like furious applause. But I like the sounds of water. The waves at Silver Strand. The river’s conversation with the stones. And when the temperature drops a little more, I like listening to the snow. There is much to be silent about. And there is always tomorrow.

Either side of me Phyllis has begun a funeral list and Jack rages into his breeze block. Outside they have laid a new stretch of road. ‘There’s a huge pot hole in it,’ Phyllis says. ‘Right outside your door.’

I ask the developer is his submarine ready yet. But he has changed his mind. ‘Crematoriums,’ he bellows. ‘I’m going to corner the market.’ And there and then he unveils his fiery vision.

The deaf have started to wonder are their eyes deceiving them. The blind cling to the notion of changing the past to form the future. I can’t quite get my head around this - after all, what’s done is done. But if I could change one thing it would be this: I’d turn myself into a man. That way I wouldn’t have to worry about my subdued appetite, this splintered heart inside me. And I could whine away in peace and quiet to my heart’s content without that mince-frying herb-eater next door constantly banging on about what a crank I am. While I’m at it I might even turn Hummer into a Doberman. I could train him up. And, maybe then, I could set about re-arranging the future.

Alan McMonagle lives in Galway where he recently completed his MA in Writing. Among others, his work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Stinging Fly, Southword, The Cuirt Annual, Pindeldyboz and Crannog.

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