Monday, 26 March 2012

The law of unintended consequences 1

Butler sat on his usual bench at the appointed time, for his daily converse with the sea. Hands resting on his paunch, he gave the waves a benevolent smile. He found their eternal rhythm a source of deep satisfaction; the glinting highlights on their surfaces as they broke upon the beach both dazzled and delighted him. He shut his eyes for a moment to listen to their susurration and splashing as they broke and the drag and rattle of the pebbles beneath as they withdrew.

Earlier, as he’d strolled along the promenade towards his bench, Butler had been so taken with the brilliance of the day and opulent swell of the waves, that he had absently patted a small boy on the head as he passed by. It had been an affable gesture but the child had run screaming to his mother, busy with a baby in a push-chair, and she had shouted something abusive after him. His reverie momentarily interrupted, Butler had paused to assure the red-faced women that his motives had been solely avuncular and that he deplored violence on anybody, especially children. He then had to explain, courteously but firmly, that while he did not know what a pudding-faced kiddy fiddler was, he thought voicing the sentiment might be slanderous.

At this point the small boy returned and kicked him repeatedly in the shins and the serenity of his day was severely jeopardised. Unwillingly to keep the sea waiting, Butler had dealt with the problem with commendable speed and efficiency for a man of his bulk. He doffed his hat to the woman, but she was too busy peering over the sea wall and hyper-ventilating.

A howling of sirens mingled with the rhythm of the waves. But for the moment Butler chose to keep his eyes shut.

Friday, 9 March 2012

Where did that come from? 5

First day, first year in junior infants. There wasn’t much of an induction. It was a small village and even the children who hadn’t been able to afford to attend the nursery class, knew the others who had.

They introduced themselves, nonetheless, and then they went round the class, calling out what jobs their parents had, if any. Mrs Isaacs had gone to some lengths to explain that being a housewife was as important job as any other. And that people who right now didn’t have a job, had been let down by the country, and were just as good as anybody who had a job. Despite this egalitarian manifesto, Richard called out proudly from the back of the class, “My dad hasn’t worked for twenty years and he’s damned if he’s going to start now.”

Mrs Isaacs deplored the world “damned” but allowed the sentiment to pass otherwise unremarked upon. She looked for more positive contributions from the rest of the class. And they were quickly forthcoming.

“My daddy’s a fireman and my mummy works in a pharmacist.”

“Dad works for the Gas Company. And mummy helps out at the store.”

“Mom stays home and dad’s a mechanic.”

“Anybody else?” Mrs Isaacs invited brightly, as the trickle of jobs dried up.

“Daddy works away on the oil rigs,” chimed in little Annie Mason, “And mummy screws anything in trousers.”

Mrs Isaacs looked at Annie’s affable little face, and felt her throat constricting. Eventually she managed a husky, “I don’t think you can have that quite right, Annie.”

“She’s got it wrong, Miss,” called out one of the girls.

“OK, then,” Mrs Isaacs turned swiftly towards the blackboard, hoping to move on to the safer territory of spelling.

“Her dad’s away in prison,” Richard offered by way of additional explanation.