Friday, 27 December 2013

Mick and the Mouse

I want to tell you a story that unfolded in the pub over the last few nights. One of my regular customers, Mick, known far and wide as Mick the Buddhist, has been having a bit of bother.

Before I start, I better say this...the Irish are great for giving nicknames, and Mick the Buddhist is just that...a Buddhist. Before he was a Buddhist he was a handyman, I guess he still is...of sorts. We all thought the Buddhism thing was a midlife crisis, and it didn't take long for the chanting, vegetarianism and avoidance of alcohol to be dropped, but Mick's natural good nature made the nickname stick.

Anyway, on with the story.

About a week ago, Mick landed into the bar and said he had a mouse in his house. As you are probably aware, Buddhists don't harm anything. This left Mick in a quandary. As a good Buddhist, he should welcome the mouse into his life but as Mick said himself..."The fecker is eating me out of house and home!"

The next day, I was down the hardware shop and came across a Live-Capture Trap. It was only a few euro so I bought it. On the way home I stopped at Mick's cottage. I knew he was home because his bike was lying against the outside wall. When Mick answered the door, he was covered in wood chippings. On Mick's kitchen table stood a towering maze of timber. It turned out he was making a bookshelf. My eye might be off but I could swear the yoke leaned left...and the same time. It was making me queasy just looking at the thing. When I produced the trap, Mick was delighted.

Christmas Eve arrived and Mick turned up for a pint.

"How did yea get on with the trap?" I asked.

"Grand, I nabbed the little guy a couple of days ago."

"And? What did you do with him?" I inquired, as I filled his drink.

"That's the problem...I've still got him," he said looking a bit ashamed.

"Ah Jesus! I thought you were going to put him outside?"

"I was reading up on mice...on the Internet, you know. Apparently, they can find their way back even if you drop them a mile from the house," he said, proud of his knowledge. "Anyway, he's a house-mouse, not a wild mouse," Mick mused.

"Ah...for God sake, Mick, it's a mouse, and Kerry is hardly wild," I teased, dropping his pint on a beer mat.

"I suppose you're right," he said, taking a swig and wiping beer-foam from his whiskers.

"I bet you've been feeding him," I said.

Mick looked like a kid caught with his hand in a cookie-jar. "I couldn't let him starve," he mumbled.

"You’re such a softie," I laughed. By closing time, Mick had heard at least a hundred Micky Mouse jokes.


On Christmas morning, Mick set out on his bike with the little mouse dangling from the handlebars, waving a cheery hello to all he passed. He'd decided to release his little friend in a wooded area close to town. Mick picked a nice spot and opened up the trap. The little mouse scampered out, vanishing into the undergrowth.

Half-past-eight that night, I got a call from a distressed Mick the Buddhist. The day had started out lovely but as night fell a storm had rolled in.

"Hello?" I said into the phone, wondering why Mick would be calling so late on Christmas night.

"Squid, I know it's crazy, but I need a favour. Can you drive me somewhere?" Mick said.

"No bother, where do you need to go," I asked, thinking he'd say, to the doctor or hospital.

"Not far, Barry's Glen, and bring a torch," he said, before hanging up on me.

I picked him up five minutes later and we raced through empty streets and out into the country. After a mile or so we reached the woods.

"What's all this about?" I asked, as I put on the handbrake and glared out into the driving rain.

"I let the mouse go today...out there. Jesus lad, look at the weather, how can I leave him out in this?"

I nearly threw Mick out of the car...but the look on his face stopped me. He was pure miserable. I just didn't have the heart. "Come on so, yea lunatic," I said, clicking on my torch and throwing myself into the maelstrom.

Two hours we search the woods...two bloody hours. No sign of the mouse...of course...because the mouse wasn't half as daft as the two of us.

"That's it! I'm going home!" I declared a dozen times before Mick would admit the futility of what we were at. In the end he got into the car and let me drive him home. He looked like a man who lost a tenner and found a penny. When we got to his house I said, "Don't worry, that little fella is curled up as snug as you like, probably laughing his arse off at the two of us."

"I hope so," said a maudlin Mick, as he gently closed the car door and mooched up toward his front door.


Today, Mick burst into the pub a changed man. He was beaming from ear to ear.

"What's got you grinning?" I asked.

"You won't believe it! It's a Christmas miracle!" he said, throwing his arms to the heavens.

"I didn't know Buddhists believed in Christmas, or Miracles," I said, loud enough to draw a chuckle from the lads along the bar.

"Shut up and let me tell the story, you messer," he said, sitting at the bar. "I was fair upset last night...when we couldn't find yerman. I was so bad, I even tried a bit of meditation. Now, I don't know if it was the meditation…or the hot whisky's…but I was soon snoring on the rug in front of the fire. Jesus, it was the middle of the night when I woke up. I was stiff as a plank, hell, I was half crippled. I was trying to crawl up the stairs when I heard rustling coming from the kitchen. I thought I'd imagined it, so I held my breath and listened. Then it came again. Rustle, rustle, crackle, crunch. Quite as you like, I got myself up and snuck into the kitchen."

Mick paused for dramatic affect.

"Well?" I demanded...he had me hooked.

"Low and behold, when I turned on the light...wasn't the mouse sitting, as bold as you like, in the middle of the table. He'd chewed through the corner of the cornflakes box and was stuffing himself. He must have been starved after his adventure. He didn't even run when I turned on the light. Can you believe it, he found his way back! A Christmas miracle!" Mick said, and the crowd was awestruck. We'll they were...until one wise-ass piped up.

"It must have been a homing mouse!"

Everyone started laughing and Mick went very red. The others didn't hear Mick say this...but I did.

"Still a miracle," he whispered.

"Here," I said, putting a pint in front of Mick. "A Christmas drink to toast your good fortune." Mick took a sup of his pint and I didn't have the heart to tell him, that when you have one mouse in your house, you most likely have dozens.

Perhaps It’s the child in me, but I think the story of the homing mouse miracle of Christmas is much better than a mouse too stuffed with cornflakes to run away.

Happy Christmas, one and all.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

A quick Joke

A trainee began working in the city morgue. His very first job was to move three new arrivals. The trainee was a bit taken aback as all three corpses had smiles on their faces.

"Is it normal that they would be smiling like that?" the trainee asked the pathologist.

"Not really," replied the doctor.

"You see this first one," the pathologist said indicating a white haired man in tattered clothes "he is a Scott's man who scrimped all his life never parting with a penny unless he had to. Yesterday he won 100 million on the lotto and dropped dead of a heart attack.

"What about the next man?" asked the trainee pointing at a well groomed gent in a night shirt. He had to be 90 years old if he was a day; with huge grin on his face.

"That is Rene, a wicked womaniser. He married a 21 year old dancer and died in bed on the honeymoon night," replied the pathologist covering up the old man.

The last body was in a terrible state, while a lot younger that the other two, he was covered in burns from head to toe. The smoke was still drifting up from is clothes, like the others he was smiling happily.

"What is the story with the last man?" asked the puzzled trainee.

"Oh that is Paddy the Irish Golf Pro, he was hit by lightening," said the pathologist.

"That's tragic," said the trainee "why is he smiling?"

"He thought someone was taking his photo."

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

The Apprentice

In the far south of France, nestles Carcassonne, a magical fortified town whose existence can be traced as far back as the Roman Empire. In 100BC, a garrison encampment was formed on high ground overlooking a natural fording point on the river. This land has been constantly occupied ever since. Despite current appearances, this occupancy has been anything but peaceful.

Morning light floods the cobbled streets painting ancient buildings in hues of rust and gold. The place has a feeling that only comes with age. You can’t help but know that these walls, these streets, have witnessed deeds of bravery and savagery in equal amounts. The very stones are steeped in human emotion, perhaps that's why this town has a magical feeling.

Uneven streets twist narrowly among buildings. Everything is quiet, only flocks of finches break the silence of the early morning. It is hard to imagine that blood once flowed on these streets, bodies were dismembered and lives were lost here in needless combat. All paths through this historic town lead to a central concourse. The square is a wonderful work of engineering that no modern man would ever dream of undertaking. The cobbles cover a full acre, undulating gently. One end is flanked by a fast-moving stream, emptying eventually into the main river. The square is speckled with mature trees and hemmed in on all sides by majestic buildings. The cathedral’s spire rises high above the town, the morning sun making the golden cross at its tip twinkle. The only sign of life comes from two little shops standing side by side in this fairy-tale setting.

When you're a baker, life starts early and Monsieur Arnaud Gras rose so early it was still the night before. As the smell of freshly baked bread fills the square, a stooped figure emerges from the gloom. A walking stick taps across the cobbles to the café next to the boulangerie. M. Benoit Delarge is well into his eighties, sleep doesn’t come easy for him. Even though no customers would rise for hours yet, he sets out his cast-iron seating in the square. As the sun appears, M. Gras joins him from the bakery and the two old men sit enjoying a café au lait with fresh pan au chocolate, still hot from the oven.

Another resident of Carcassonne famous for her habits is, Mademoiselle Annabell Rossier. Mlle Rossier is a spinster, who lives in the largest house on the square. She’s renowned for her bad temper and sour demeanour. Dressed nearly entirely in black, she will snarl at every man, woman and child that happens to cross her path. She is particularly nasty to people forced to serve her in shops and restaurants. The only place she’s ever greeted with welcome is at the Café of M. Delarge. No one can figure out why he was always so cheerful towards the inhospitable crone.

Today, the young man that M. Delarge employs, suffered a terrible barrage of insults from Mlle Rossier after accidentally spilling her coffee. Young Luic came stormed into the shop, slamming the cup and saucer into the dishwasher.

"She is such a battle axe, why do you put up with her?" he demanded of M. Delarge.

The old man chuckled, "She is not all bad you know, she has a wonderful side."

"There is nothing but hate in that woman," fumed Luic.

"I think you're wrong, Luic. You have to look past the front and see the woman beneath," said the old man, wisely.

"I think you’ve been seeing things," huffed Luic, filling a fresh coffee for Mlle Rossier.

"I tell you what, come open the shop with me in the morning, and you can see for yourself," said M. Delarge. After some persuading, Luic agreed to rise at four to help the old man open up.


Luic accompanied the shuffling old man along the cobbled streets and into the still dark square. As delicious cloud of steam billowed from the bakery, they unlocked the café, turned on the lights, and started the coffee machine. Luic placed the metal tables and chairs outside the shop while M. Delarge prepared the first coffees of the day. Half an hour later, M. Gras appeared with a basket of fresh pastries. 
"Good morning, Benoit. I see we've company this morning," said M. Gras, sitting at the table. The old café owner laid out three large coffees for the gathered men. M. Gras took a tape player from under his arm, which he put on the table, but didn't turn it on. As the sun rose, the old men chatted about mutual friends, and Luic sipped his coffee, watching the finches flutter from tree to tree. As the sun began to chase the shadows into the deepest corners of the square, the door to Mlle. Rossier's house opened. 

She glided down the stone steps, dressed in a gossamer nightgown. The two old men smiled at each other, and winked at Luic. M. Gras turned on the tape player. Delicate notes drifted into the air. Mademoiselle Rossier was clearly sleep-walking, but she had the most beatific smile on her face. As the music reached her ears, she began to twirl and dance. For a full ten minutes, she performed a joyful ballet around the square. To Luic had to admit, like this, the woman was beautiful. When the music finished, Mlle. Rossier faced the three men, giving them a deep curtsy. Monsieur Gras and Delarge stood, bowing back to the sleeping woman.  Mademoiselle Rossier disappeared back into her house, closing the door on two smiling old men, and one shocked younger one. 

M. Delarge turned to Luic, "Now, you see there are many sides to people."

"Perhaps you're right," said Luic.

"This is our little secret, not even Mademoiselle Rossier knows about our morning dance lessons," said Monsieur Gras, taking his tape recorder back to the bakery. Monsieur Delarge smiled as he gathered up the cups, "You were a bit unlucky, actually," he said.

"Why's that?" asked Luic.

"Most of the time she wears nothing to bed, it must have been chilly last night," laughed the old man, shuffling away on his stick. 

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

The First Turkey

This is a story told to me by my mother, about her mother, from a time before she was born. Granny Begley was only mammy Begley back in those days but I can never bring myself to call her anything other than Granny Begley, it would be too weird in my head.

This takes place in the late 1930's, Granny Begley was married a few years at that stage but already had three small boys out of a family that would eventually encompass a full nine brothers and sisters. Granddad Begley had just began working for Captain Raskin as a farm hand. Working as a farm worker was not a well paid job and with a growing family, existence for the Begleys was hand to mouth. The few coins in Granny Begley's purse never went far but Christmas week highlighted just how little they had.

The Begley family had three forms of transport, Granddad Begley had a bike, weighing as much as a small car and made from the indestructible metal that comets are made of. The second was shanks mare, or walking to you and me. The final mode of perambulation was Neddy and his little cart.

Neddy was the family donkey, who once secured between the tines of the cart, could move heaven and earth, if he felt in the mood. On the day of the dreaded Christmas shop, Granny Begley hitched up Neddy, with the three kids loaded aboard, she struck out for the town. She had a week's wages in her purse which didn't amount to a hill of beans. Christmas dinner would be sparse. Granny Begley hoped she could stretch to a broiler hen for roasting on the most holy of days.

As they clip-clopped the five miles to town Granny Begley drifted off into a world of her own and failed to hear the flat bed truck rumbling up behind the cart. It over took them on a bend, wobbling dangerously on its hard rubber wheels. The back of the truck was stacked high with wooden crates, each stuffed with a huge gobbling turkey. The driver shook a fist out the window as he raced away at the break neck speed of 30 miles an hour.

Neddy bucked and skidded between the tines of the cart. Granny was too much of a lady to say anything bad about the driver of the truck, but she went very red. She got Neddy steadied and it was a minute or two before they were ready to continue on their way. Three bends later that they came across a smashed timber crate in the middle of the road.

"Woah," called Granny hauling back on Neddy's reins.

"Would you look at that lads," said Granny to my tiny uncles hunkered down in the back of the cart. "I wonder where the turkey got ta?"

As if in answer to her question the turkey gave a loud gobble from the field next to the road. He was wandering around clearly dazed from his confinement, as well as having just survived one of Ireland's first car accidents.

"Come on boys, don't let him get away," called Granny Begley bounding over the dyke, into the sodden field followed by three very excited little boys. So began the great Christmas rodeo. They chased in circles but the outcome was never in doubt. A turkey never lived that could outrun a hungry Irish man. Once the gobbling tearaway was apprehended, Granny Begley wrapped it in her shawl so he couldnt fly again. The Begley clan raced back to Neddy who was nibbling at the grass growing in the middle of the road. Granny dropped the turkey in the back of the cart instructing the three boys to hold on to it. They had their work cut out as the turkey out-weighed the oldest boy by a couple of pounds. Granny turned the cart for home spurring Neddy into a gangly trot.

This is the story of how the Begley family came to have a huge glistening turkey steaming on the dinner table that Christmas day for the very first time. Everyone dove in to their dinner except Granny Begley who could only look at her plate, downcast and worried.

"Why are you not eating Mammy," asked Granddad Begley.

"I can't touch it, tis a sin," Granny mumbled to her husband.

"Whisht woman, eat your dinner," he said with a laugh.

Granny picked but got no satisfaction from it, neither did sleep come that evening. Nothing would do her but to be waiting at the gate the next morning when the priest came to open the church.

"Morning Mrs Begley," said the priest when he arrived.

"Father, I think I've done something terrible. I need to make a confession,"said Granny Begley
"Just give me two minutes Mrs Begley, I will be right with you," said the priest walking through the church turning on the lights. Ten minutes later Granny Begley found herself in a confessional shaking in her boots. The shutter slid back, "Bless me father for I have sinned it has been three weeks since my last confession" said Granny Begley.

"Tell me your sins, my child," said the priest from behind the grill.

"I have taken what is not mine father and defiled the most holy of days with my treachery," Granny said.

"What do you mean Mrs Be - my child," said the priest.

"I found a turkey on the road father, I killed it and feed it to my family when it was not mine in the first place," said Granny knowing this was a damnation offence. She was taken aback by the laughing from the far side of the grill.

"Mary, it's God's will that you found that turkey before a hungry fox. He works in ways that none can understand and if he intended you to find the bird, that is what he made happen. Leave here with a clear conscience, enjoy what God has delivered to you."

Despite this reassurance, from this day to the end of her time, Granny Begley could never eat turkey.

Sunday, 8 December 2013

Granny Fitz

Running a bar in a small town along the west coast of Ireland qualifies you for many roles. Financial adviser, councillor, medic, peacekeeper, not to mention the provider of drinks and hangovers for a whole community. You'll find the young and not so young rubbing shoulders nightly, you may even find a dog or two snoozing under an owners stool. Any of you that have read my stories will know that I'm a bit of a dog lover. I've never yet encountered a dog that caused me an ounce of bother but plenty of two legged customers have ended up on the pavement, backside first.

Two of my most regular customers are, Mary Fitz and Bobby. Mary Fitzgerald lives four miles outside town and she’s the mother of twelve grown children. They're all married now but have never quiet cut the apron strings. Every last one of them are living within ten minutes of where they were born. I've no idea how many grandchildren Mary has, but it seems half the towns calls her Granny. With so many people calling her that, it’s only natural the name spread to the rest of us. Bobby is the latest in a long line of dogs that have shared Granny Fitz's life and all of them have been border collies.

Every Thursday, Granny Fitz and Bobby would walk the four miles into town. Regular as clockwork, she’d collect her pension, and do whatever shopping she needed. At each stop, Bobby would wait patiently at the door until she came back out. When a full round of the town was done, they'd stop by the church for a chat with Mr Fitzgerald, who's been resident in the cemetery for over ten years. Bobby never felt the tug of a lead on his neck, he never needed it. You'd always find him six inches behind Granny Fitz's heel, watching every move she made with utter adoration.

When lunchtime rolled around, Granny Fitz would call in to me for a bowl of soup and a toasted ham sandwich. At first, she left Bobby outside, like everywhere else she visited. One rainy day, I insisted she bring him in. Bobby slinked inside the bar, not believing he was being allowed. That first day, Bobby lay at Granny Fitz's feet, expecting to be hunted out at any moment. But since that day, he walks in with a huge doggie smile on his face. I always get lick and a head nuzzle from him before he settles down at Granny's feet while she eats. After lunch, one of Granny's brood would come and collect the shopping, while Mary and Bobby walked the four miles back. For some reason, she never liked travelling in cars.

A few weeks ago, Granny didn't turn up for lunch. I didn't think much on it but when it happened again a week later, I called her daughter. Granny Fitz had taken a serous turn. She was in hospital but things were not looking good. For a woman who'd never seen dawn in bed, her end came quickly. Not a house or business in the town greeted the news with a dry eye.

In Kerry, when a person dies, the funeral always goes to the graveyard via the departed’s house. Like I said earlier, Granny lived four miles from town and despite the graveyard being next door to the church, Granny Fitz's remains were slowly driven the long way out, to stop before her front gate. A final farewell.

If you ask me to explain what happened next, I can’t. As the hearse stood outside the gate, Bobby launched himself over the hedge, barking like crazy. He was in an awful state. It wasn't an angry bark, it was a pleading, heart-broken cry. Bobby clawed at the glass separating him from Granny Fitz, howling like he was being ripped limb from limb. The hearse pulled away and gathered speed, but even in third gear, Bobby kept throwing himself against the glass. It was a heart-breaking sight.

The whole four miles, Bobby ran faster than I've ever seen a dog run. When the hearse finally stopped at the grave-yard, Bobby's chest was a blur as he wolfed air into his lungs. He wouldn't budge from the back of the hearse, remaining by his loves side till the very end.

As the coffin was lifted to the shoulders of her six oldest sons, Bobby lay prone at the head of the mourners, keening. I looked into the eyes of that dog and I'll never be told that they don't feel pain. If a dog could cry, Bobby was shedding floods. He was a dog no more, but a mourner, pure and simple. As the six sturdy men carried Mary's coffin to the freshly opened grave, Bobby remained, as he ever had, six inches behind Granny Fitz.

When the coffin was lowered, Bobby inched forward on his belly until his muzzle and front paws hung over the edge of the grave. The priest began the service but Bobby couldn't contain his grief. Surrounded by a dozen Fitzgerald children, and nearly seventy grandchildren, everyone knew the chief mourner had four legs. Bobby whimpered loudly, whining with sorrow. In the end it got too much for the priest. He turned to the undertaker and said, "Can you do something with the dog, Sean." The burley undertaker had taken two steps towards Bobby before a deep voice rumbled from the assembled crowd.

"Sean Ryan, touch that dog and you'll regret it for many a year." The sound of Michael Fitzgerald's voice was enough to stop any man in his tracks. The whole Fitzgerald family closed ranks around the little black and white dog. The undertaker retreated quickly. A few tension-filled seconds passed, everyone in the crowd held their breath. Then, the mollified priest finished his prayers and the congregation shook hands with the family. People drifted away, many to McFinnigan’s, where we raised a glass to a wonderful woman who'd be long missed.

That night, after I'd cleaned and locked the bar I walked for home. Passing the grave yard, something made me turn. It didn't feel right to go to bed without having a final word with one of my favourite customers. I walked through the moonlit headstones until I came to the freshly closed grave - but I wasn't alone. Bobby lay across Granny Fitz, his eyes huge and sorrowful. I hunkered down and rubbed his neck. He managed one lacklustre wag of his tail but his chin never lifted.

"I miss her too boy," I said. What else could be said. I turned sadly and walked away, leaving a dog and his mistress alone in the moonlight.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Mr Scrunch

I have the most wonderful lady who visits my bar for lunch. She is living proof that a body ages, while the brain remains as young as you wish it to be. She has a lifetime of stories which she gladly shares with anyone willing to listen. Here's what she told me today.

When I was a young girl, the town was much smaller place but that didn't stop it from having the most interesting people. One in particular was Scrunch, an old man with a huge bend in his back. Poor old Scrunch was so twisted, he only ever saw where he'd been, never where he was going. He was a jolly old lad who delighted in playing tricks on us children, making us jump with good natured frights. Far from seeing his affliction as a hindrance, Scrunch enjoyed the way his deformed back made him stand out from the crowd. He was surprisingly nimble and used two tiny walking sticks to help him get around, dispensing smiles and greetings with all he encountered.

Time ticks by, as it inevitably does, and Scrunch shuffled off to a better place. Back then, funerals were major social events, attracting huge numbers of people to pay their respects, and catch up with friend and foe alike. Mr Scrunch presented a particular difficulty to the undertaker. Not one day in his whole life had Scrunch ever lain straight in his bed, his final resting place proved to be no different. Try as he might, the undertaker couldn't get poor old Scrunch into the coffin. In the end, he drilled holes in the bottom and winched Scrunch flat with some bailing-twine. Scrunch's bones groaned with the strain, as his back straightened for the very first time. Once finished, the man draped a silk sheet over Scrunch's chest to hide his handwork.

People came from far and wide for the funeral. Every one of them commented on what a fine tall man Scrunch was, when he was lying down. The parish priest was a stern old bugger, but he said a good mass. Every seat was taken by the time he began. The priest was in full flow, raging against the evils of drink, when a loud snap ricocheted around the church. Scrunch sprang forward, sitting up straight in the coffin and scaring the life out of everyone there.

It was Scrunch's last, and best, trick. Once everyone realised that he wasn't actually coming back from the dead, the congregation howled with laughter. By all accounts it was the happiest funeral ever to take place in the town.

If you enjoyed Mr Scrunch, you can find a collection of similar stories for your reading pleasure on;

Monday, 18 November 2013

Where's Laura?

Glee has wrecked school drama societies if you ask me. In the Eighties, the drama group was a complete mystery to everyone, except the ones in it. Nobody knew what they did, who they were, or what was involved, except that they were the super nerds of the nerd universe.

In my mind, I was a superstar waiting to blossom into utter fabulousness, darling. The reality was much duller. I was a tall thin girl, as straight as a beanpole, with wire-rim glasses and hopeless taste in fashion. I dreamed of performing on stage, but sadly I possessed the most terrible voice, even I knew it was horrendous. On the first day of High School, societies set out their stalls to entice freshmen to join their ranks. The queue for the drama society was by far the smallest. Even so, the gang of giggling drama-Nazis sitting behind the table eyed me with utter disdain.

"Name," said the one in the middle with the perfect make-up and professionally styled hair, which looked ridiculous on a sixteen-year-old.

"Sally Ann Farmer," I said, handing over my pre-filled application form.

"You actually look like a farmer," said Miss Middle America, causing her bookend groupies to stifle mock giggles. She plucked my form off the table, her pinky finger cocked high, as if it were a bag of dog poo. As she read, she made a decidedly unimpressed litany of, uhmms, and ahaas.

 "What's your singing voice like?" she snapped.

"I'm not much of a singer, I'd be fine with speaking parts."

"Our group...," it was clear that our meant her, "is primarily concerned with musical productions. All speaking parts would be held by lead actors, and all would be required to sing. Sing something now," commanded the hard-faced beauty queen.

"What, here?" I said, looking round at the milling students signing up for societies.

"Well, if you can’t sing here, you'll never manage on stage?" chirped in left-bookend-girl.

"Exactly," added, right-bookend-girl, not wanting to be outdone.

"I can't," I whispered, going red to my toenails.

"Then the stage is no place for you," said blondie, stabbing my dream with her pitiless eyes and icy words. "However, we're always looking for stage crew," said blondie, with a sniff.  That was how I became one half of the costume department, the other half being the lovely Laura.


Laura was strikingly beautiful but she did everything she could to hide it. She draped herself in over-sized dungarees: huge knitted jumpers, chunky glasses and always some kind of floppy hat pulled down over her face. She seemed determined to cover every possible inch of skin. Some days, the only part of Laura visible were her eyes, huge pools of innocence beaming from a frame of auburn curls. The other reason Laura went unnoticed was her near complete silence. Laura had a stutter, which got worse when she was nervous. Often Laura was so quiet you wouldn't realise she was in the room until she materialised in front of you with her angelic smile.

As well as beauty, Laura had grace, a quality most people failed to notice, but not Sarah Callaghan. Sarah was the blond tyrant that murdered my artistic dreams with one cutting remark. She had an extra nasty bit of her withered heart reserved specificity for Laura. She deliberately crumpled costumes, ripped seams, dumped stuff on the floor, but mainly she was just down right spiteful. She would yell at the top of her voice, "Where's Lalalalala-Laura," something her troop of evil minions found side-splittingly funny. Any lesser girl would have snapped and slugged her, but Laura just let the abuse slide. Only her eyes betrayed the hurt with an occasional tear. 

Late December and rehearsals were ramping up in preparation for the Christmas show. Try as we might, Laura and I just couldn't keep up with everything. We often had to stay behind to finish up while the rest of the cast went home. Tonight, was worse than any other. 

It had been a full dress-rehearsal with opening night only a few days away. Laura and I were mired in a blizzard of costumes, all needing to be to ironed, pressed, mended or steamed. Everyone else had vanished in a whirlwind of air kisses - bitches. It was nearly dark when I said good night to Laura, leaving her ironing one last shirt in the costume room. She smiled and waved as I left, banging the fire exit door behind me. I was outside the school gates when I remembered I'd left the Sarah's finale costume steaming in the dress bag. It would be in tatters if I left it there all night. I had to go back. 

I caught the janitor as he was locking up the main doors. He let me into the auditorium where the lights were out. I had to feel my way through the cavernous room, eventually finding the stage door. I pushed it open and heard a noise coming from the costume room. As I got closer, the noise transformed into the most wonderful singing I've ever heard.  I inched closer and listened. It couldn't have been Sarah, she wasn't that good, in fact, none of the cast were this good.

I peeked in but the room was empty. The iron stood on its end, steam gently swirling upwards from its ticking hotplate. The wonderful melody filled the room, it seemed to be everywhere at once. I tip-toed in, afraid to make a sound, for fear of breaking the spell. I honed in on the perfect notes until my hands were resting on a lid of a wicker costume hamper. With a heave I threw up the lid and there was Laura, sitting in the dark and singing like an angel. I was about to say something when a voice boomed from behind me.  
"Is that you singing, Sally Ann?"  It was Mrs Wiscon, the drama teacher. I nearly jumped out of my skin and let the wicker lid fall back in place. 

"Jesus, Mrs Wiscon, you scared me," I said, clutching my racing heart.

"Don’t take the Lord's name, young lady," she scolded, "but that was amazing! Why didn't you tell me you could sing like that?"

"I can't, Mrs Wiscon, honest," I said, telling the truth.

"Of course you can, I just heard you. If it wasn't you, who was it then?" she asked, waving her arms about her. I heard a near silent, "no," come from the basket beside my leg.

"I can't sing when people are watching me, I get nervous," I said.

"Don't be such a Silly Billy, its only me," she said, getting a little cross.

"Please, Mrs Wiscon, I can't."

"You can, and you will, young lady," she said, her tone stern.

After a long pause, and a little time to think, I said, "Okay, will you just stand outside the door, and I'll try."

Mrs Wiscon gave me a look, but did indeed step out into the corridor. I stooped very quickly and whispered to the basket, "Laura, you better sing now, or we are both in trouble, and your secret will be out in the open."

Several seconds passed before the first notes of Bring in the Clowns came dancing from the wicker basket. The song was perfect in every way: each note crystal clear, each tone super-rich, but more remarkably, every single word without a hint of stutter. When the song was nearly finished, Mrs Wiscon appeared at the door, I hid my mouth behind my hands and tapped the basket with my shoe, silencing Laura in perfect time. Mrs Wiscon's cheeks were glistening with tears as she crushed me to her heaving breasts.

"You’re a miracle, child. A miracle," she half sobbed, half laughed, into my wiry hair.

"I'm not, and that's the truth," I said, but my words were muffled, and she was beyond listening. She babbled on and on about, a star is born, and diamonds on a beach of sand, as well as other such rubbish. The thing is, she was right, she just had the wrong diamond. I'm ashamed to say, I wanted it to be me, I wanted this reaction, this love to be showered on me.

"You must come to my office in the morning, we'll talk about what part you'll play in the show. I know, I know, the show is nearly upon us but that will make this all the more special."

Somehow, I ended up nodding as she left the costume room, blowing kisses as she went. Once the emergency door slammed shut, I flipped the lid off the wicker basket. Laura sat there wearing a Snow White costume, with her hands clasped to her chest. She was so pale she was nearly white herself. I dove into the basket and gave her the most enormous hug. "Why didn't you tell me you could sing like that?"

"I can only do it bbb-by myself," she said, echoing the lie I'd told Mrs Wiscon.

"But you did it when you knew me and Mrs Wiscon could hear you?" 

"Yy-you couldn't see mm-me, and ss-she did not know it was mm-me." 

"We'll have to figure some way out of this mess," I said. We sat in the bottom of the hamper, excited and terrified, without the faintest idea what to do next.


The next day, I sat in Mrs Wiscon office and tried one more time to get her to forget the whole idea. "Honestly, Mrs Wiscon, you don't know how terrifying it is, getting up in front of all those people!"

"Let me tell you, Sally Ann, if you only sing one tenth as well as you did last night, you'll be the hit of the show. What's the worst that can happen? You forget the words? Or freeze up? It happens all the time! Trust me, Sally Ann, it will be fine." 

It looked like there was no way out of this for me, or Laura. Secretly, I was glad she was so persistent. Deep inside I wanted to be on that stage; too feel the adoring eyes of the audience on my skin, and hear the thunder of their applause. I wanted to feel that, if only once in my life, and Laura was my secret weapon.

After hours of persuading I got Laura to agree to do it. 

"Sss-so long as ppp-eople ccc-can’t see me!" she said, her only condition.

"They won't. I got this all figured out. Trust me," I said and it took me a second to remember how Mrs Wiscon had used the same battering ram on me only a while ago. 

"We need a sad song. Something that I can dress like a widow for. A black dress and a black veil. We'll bring down all the lights, just have one spotlight on me, standing over the coffin."

"C-c-c-c-coffin," said Laura, aghast.

"Yea, coffin. We'll drape the hamper in cloth, you can hide inside with a mic and sing, I'll stand on stage and mime."

"I-i-i-it will n-n-n-never work."

"Sure it will, trust me!" 

I was going to hell for this.


"What are you going to sing?" asked Mrs Wiscon, on the morning of the performance.

"In the arms of an Angel, by Sarah McLoughlin," I said, it was Laura’s favourite, and one hell of a song, it would fit our plan.

Mrs Wiscon sat back in rapture, "That's a perfect! We must keep this between ourselves, do you think you can pull it off without a rehearsal?"

“I'll give it my best shot," I said and hurried out the door. 

Laura was waiting outside for me. “Wwww-what did she say?” Her eyes were huge and terrified under today’s hat selection.

“She said we – I have to do it, I’m sorry Laura. I tried to talk her out of it,” I lied. Her tears gushed. Laura had pleaded with me to get Mrs Wiscon to forget the whole thing. I'd lied that I would. For the first time I saw how vulnerable Laura was, but she was the key to my dreams. Just once, I wanted to stand on that stage and have the whole world love me. Was that too much to ask? I wrapped my arms around her. 

“I cc-can’t,” she blubbed. 

“You can, sweetheart. It’s our only chance. Or, should I tell Mrs Wiscon that it's you who sang, not me.”

“NN-NO , Please!” Laura grabbed my arm, terrified that she would be made go on the stage herself. It was a nasty trick, but I had to play it. 

“You can do it. One way or the other, I'll be right there with you,” I said, with as much compassion as I could get into my voice. From my shoulder, I heard a tiny “O-K”, and our fate was set.


That night, Mrs Wiscon was constantly fussing around me, making sure I knew what I was to do, while trying to keep our plan from everyone else. The lead up to the curtain-call was dominated by Sarah, faffing around, like the world depended on her performance. She kept throwing tantrums, and saying how everyone was letting her down. I actually overheard her tell one of her minions that she was carrying the whole cast on her back – wagon. Wait till she gets a load of my song, I thought with an internal smirk. 

The curtain went up, the lights blazed into life and everything was forgotten. Two hours later the curtain fell on a huge success. 

"More! More!" 
Yelled the crowd and the whole cast went on stage to take a bow. This gave me and Laura the chance to get into our positions. I gave her a hug as she got into the basket.

“I love you Laura, your amazing!” I had no intention of saying that, it just came out but because it was true. She smiled, and took the microphone from my hand as I closed the cover and draped it in black cloth with a white cross sown on it. 

I pushed my makeshift coffin behind the backdrop to the mark Mrs Wiscon had shown me earlier and waited. The applause began to wain and the cast scurried off stage in a gale of teenage squeals. I heard high heals click across timber and the crowd grew quiet. Although I couldn't see, I knew what was happening.

“Ladies and gentlemen, if you could bear with me for one more minute. We have a very special, last minute addition. I introduce to you, a first time performance by, Ms Sally Ann Farmer,” boomed Mrs Wiscon's voice and the curtain before me slowly hoisted high into the rafters. 

I couldn't see much. The room was dark and a shaft of light lay heavy on my black-clad body. There was a scattering of polite applause followed by silence. I could only imagine the worried look my own parents must be wearing. I knew they were in the audience.  It was now or never. I took a deep breath and bowed my head.

The music began very softly, only barely audible, but growing in volume. I raised the fake mike to my veiled face, and gave the basket a gentle tap with my foot.  Even though I knew what was coming, I was knocked sideways when Laura began to sing. A voice, hand-picked by God himself, enveloped the room. I was so captivated I nearly forgot where I was. I could feel every heartache she had suffered, every frustration, every disappointment life had dealt Laura, pouring out in that song. The beauty of it moved me more than anything before in my life and then I remembered the selfish way I had manipulated my friend to make this happen. 

As if in a dream, I walked to the front of the stage and made the gestures we'd practised in the dark recesses of the costume room. I looked at the sea of amazed faces gazing up at me and realised that none of this was mine. I was a thief.

How could I steal this magical moment from a girl that never once asked for anything, but deserved so very much. I knew what I had to do. I lifted my veil and lowered the microphone. I pressed my finger to my lips, in the gesture that every kid knows, “Shussssh”. 

I felt the whole audience hold its breath but the powerful song kept them silent. In the wings, I could see Mrs Wiscon plonk herself on the nearest flight case, unable to watch what was happening. I could see the delighted smile on Sarah’s face. She must have thought I was miming to a recording, they all must. 

In the end the song finished and the lights come up. Not one sound was made. Two hundred accusing faces stared at me with hatred. I turned my back on them and threw the cover off the basket. When I opened the lid, Laura was curled in the corner like an abandoned kitten. I smiled at her and held out my hand. Thinking our trick had been found out, she started to cry and climbed out. Laura stood beside me on stage, shaking from head to toe. We stood there in silence, looking at the bewildered crowd before us. I reached down and took the microphone from her shaking hand and said, “Ladies and Gentlemen. Laura,” 

Nothing happened. Now my hand started to shake and the microphone fell to the floor with a thundering clunk.

We joined hands and began to walk off when one man stood up in the middle of the audience and began to clap. We stopped and looked over just as the dam burst. Everyone in the room shot to their feet and the applause was thunderous, nearly lifting the roof clear off the building. They cheered and shouted while in the wings the cast went wild. There was one notable exception, Sarah just stood with her mouth in a very unflattering O.

Beside me, Laura had stopped shaking. After a full two minutes of wild rapture, I pulled Laura by the hand and walked toward the wings. Waiting there were her friends, many of which were not her friends before, but they sure were now. As we reached the curtain, I felt Laura’s hand pull out of mine. She turned back, and slowly walked to the middle of the stage. The applause died away. This this little weird girl, who had sung so wonderfully, stood stoic in the middle of a single circle of light. When the room was silent, Laura stooped down and picked up the dropped microphone. I saw her fist tighten around it, as she raised it to her trembling lips.

“Thank you all so very much,” she said, clear and stutter free. 

This time, the roar of the audience did take the roof off the place, and even the black heart of Sarah broke, because she clapped like her life depended on it, crying like a baby. 

That was when Laura finally took her bow.