TSUNAMI – A SHORT STORY BY MARK MULHOLLAND
With a hurried punched march she pushes through slanted rain. She leans over her short legs as this might speed her arrival whilst holding off the weather. She glances across the street where shaded lanes break the terraced town-house row with blind funnels that drop to the old port. Over the houses, sheets of cold rain are thrown inland from the Irish Sea. She grips the top of her coat as she bundles forward through puddles of lamplight in the black evening.
She slows at the granite steps and grabs hold of the worn iron handrail. She climbs the five steps and bursts into the open tiled porch. She stretches for the inner door and pushes herself through, quickly closing the door behind her. She stops in the bright calm and catches her breath. She removes her headscarf and opens her coat, and she shuffles the cold and wet away. She dips two fingers into the fountain of holy water and blesses herself in front the faded picture of Our Lady of Perpetual Succor. She touches the glass of the print and says a small prayer, and she ignores the adjacent bulletins of scheduled events. She doesn’t even look. It’s more than fifty years since that first Monday after her Confirmation, when she was allowed join her father at the weekly prayer meetings of the Legion of Mary. And bar the birth of her children and the attack of jaundice in 1982 she hasn’t missed a week. And she volunteers the Thursday and Friday mornings with the Meals on Wheels where hot food is prepared in the Legion’s kitchen and taken to the town’s old, vulnerable, and lonely. It’s the lonely she prays for most. And there’s the annual outings: the June pilgrimage west to Knock, the day out and picnic in Blackrock on the fifteenth of August, and the volunteer ushering by the Legion for the nine days of Saint Gerard’s Novena. No she doesn’t look, for these are as part of her rhythm as breathing air. So she steps away from the weather and moves towards the main hall. She opens the double doors and sees the warden arranging chairs at the other end.
‘Well, Larry,’ she calls.
‘Ah, hello, Phyllis,’ he replies, ‘you’re early tonight. I’ll put the kettle on; the others won’t be in for a while yet.’
‘That’s a feisty one, out there,’ she says.
‘It’s a night for brave souls,’ he replies. ‘But if we didn’t suffer for our Blessed Mother, who would we suffer for?’ And he turns to the large Queen of Heaven picture on the small stage of the meeting room. ‘Ireland owes a great deal to the Blessed Virgin.’
‘You’ve made a great job of the hall, Larry,’ she says. ‘The flowers are gorgeous. Whose wedding was that?’
‘The McArdle girl,’ he answers. ‘Mona’s youngest. Married some chap from the North. I hear it was a great day.’
‘Bejaney,’ she says. ‘Mona’s youngest getting married; I thought she was still at school.’
‘Ah, Phyllis. She’s a qualified architect; been to university in Dublin. A smart girl by all accounts. Time flies, eh?’
‘Indeed it does,’ she agrees. ‘An architect. That’s a holy terror.’
‘They didn’t hold back on the flowers, Phyllis,’ he says. ‘Look at all these. No expense spared. I hear the chapel was lovely.’
‘That’s a great deal you have going, Larry,’ she says. ‘Getting the wedding flowers from the chapel. How did you swing that at all?’
‘Ah, Father Mick is very good,’ he says. ‘He never fails to send them round of a Monday. Well they fairly liven up this old place, I’ll say that. He’s very good.’
‘Father Mick is very good,’ she agrees.
‘Would you like a Penguin biscuit with your tea, Phyllis?’
‘A Penguin, bejaney,’ she says. ‘We’re splashing out altogether.’
‘Here you are, Phyllis. Sit down there and relax. I’ll put this plate of biscuits down beside you, and you can save your energy for the praying.’
‘Oh, Larry,’ she says. Will you stop?’
‘There you are now.’
‘Are you not having one yourself?’ she asks.
‘I will in a minute, Phyllis. I’ll just get the notes ready for the meeting. Father Mick asked me to distribute the new prayer book tonight. And there are a couple of young ones from the youth choir coming to sing for us.’
‘Oh, that’ll be lovely,’ she says. ‘He’s always been good to the Legion, Father Mick. He’s always been good to us.’
‘Father Mick says we have to hear these two. He says they’re great.’
‘Did you see him in the newspaper, Larry?’ she asks. ‘There was a picture of himself at some do above in the hotel. He never stops, that man. Hasn’t he great energy?’
‘I did yeah,’ he says. ‘Doesn’t he always look great in the paper? He’s what you might call a photogenic priest.’
‘Oh, Larry, will you stop? But he is, right enough. He always looks great. What was that do for anyway?’
‘The emergency relief fund, I think they call it,’ he says. ‘You know, after that big tsunami.’
‘God, yes,’ she says. ‘That was awful. All them people killed. That was just a terrible thing to happen.’
‘Aye,’ he agrees. ‘That it was.’
‘Any word on that brother of yours, Larry? I’d say he’s giving stick to all around him above in the hospital.’
‘He’ll be out next week, please God,’ he answers. ‘I met his missus up the town on Friday. She was looking great. I haven’t seen her looking that well in years. I’d say the break has done her the world of good.’
‘Oh, Larry,’ she says. ‘Will you stop?’
‘You know, Phyllis, it’s an odd thing, but if you look at those tourists killed in the big tsunami, well, there’s a lot of solo travellers there. Single men, like. You’d have to wonder what they were doing there.’
‘Bejaney,’ she says. ‘I didn’t know that.’
‘It’s a long way to go for a holiday,’ he presses on. ‘And on their own too. They weren’t up to any good, that’s the sad truth of it. They were what they call sex tourists.’
‘And many weren’t single at all,’ he says. ‘If you know what I mean. The dirty so and sos. You’d have to wonder about that big wave.’
‘Bejaney,’ she says. ‘You would, right enough.’
‘Aye, you’d have to wonder if wasn’t some sort of judgement. The Lord works in mysterious ways, Phyllis.’
‘That he does, Larry,’ she says. ‘That he does.’
‘Aye, you’d have to wonder if, perhaps, the Lord works in mysterious waves.’
‘Oh, Larry,’ she says. ‘Will you stop? You’re a holy terror.’
‘Right, that’s the new books out,’ he says. ‘I’ll grab that tea now. The place is looking grand. Father Mick will be happy.’
‘Well, that itself,’ she says. ‘Are these the new prayer books, Larry? God, but aren’t they lovely?’
‘Pass us a Penguin would you, Phyllis?’