Mannequin Monday – It’s Best Not to Talk
“So why then does he feel he is on his way to perdition and not paradise?” We’re dressing our mannequin, our story framework, with words from an emerging Irish writer. The Irish Independent celebrates David Ralph’s “Taghazout” this week.
And I offer my own short story “It’s Best Not to Talk,” about a rookie cop finding out when to speak, when to shut up, on her night shift.
This Week’s Story
Ireland’s national newspaper The Irish Independent offers New Irish Writing, edited by Ciaran Carty and appearing on the last Saturday of each month. Currently featured is “Taghazout,” by David Ralph. Ralph hails from Tipperary and lives in Dublin. He is working on a collection of short stories.
The story opens, “He wakes like a swimmer emerging from water, his head rearing up off the pillow, his mouth sucking hard at the air.” Coming up from the deep. “He is hungover, his head hammering.”
He is hungover, his head hammering.
The man wakens to a huge hangover, remembers he is scheduled to go on holidays, hurriedly gathers his gear and dashes off to the airport. He will meet his friend in Morocco to surf and party. As he rushes to the airport, prepares to board his flight, he is riddled with anxiety. It’s a black cat kind of day. He can’t shake the feeling death awaits him somewhere before the day is over.
“His bag is packed in no time. His friend Francois is already there, waiting for him in Taghazout, a village along the coast past Agadir. A midwinter break to the gloom. Francois says it’s a paradise for surfers, yoga enthusiasts, sybaritic partygoers. So why then does he feel he is on his way to perdition and not paradise?”
The author immerses readers in the chaos swirling in the character’s head. “He passes gate after gate after gate. When he approaches Gate 111, he sees that people are already queuing to board. Already they’re snaking round a corner, tripping over each other to get inside an iron canister that will javelin them in a miraculous arc up over France, on through Spain, and finally set them down on the edge of the Sahara.”
As fellow passengers are boarding, the man’s mind is spinning: “And then the thought comes to him as he considers the blue liveried hostess with her hair pulled tightly back in a bun. He could just stand up and walk off. There is nothing and no one stopping him. He doesn’t have to get on that plane.”
Read on to see what the man decides to do. The author has captured one long foreboding moment in a man’s life. A singular moment? Or one of a string of such moments?
My Current Writing
I offer another exercise from my writing courses, a short story of several “moments” on a rookie cop’s night-shift. Enjoy. (A few mature moments in the story.)
It’s Best Not to Talk
At 2 a.m. rookie officer Carmen Cortez rang the doorbell of the rectory next door to St. Mark’s Church. She shifted from foot to foot in the cold night air waiting for an answer. An intercom startled her.
“Yes?” A sleepy, almost slurred voice.
“This is Officer Carmen Cortez. I have a deceased elderly man whose wife is requesting a parish priest to come to the house.”
“Where is the house located?”
“Only three blocks over, on 39th Street. I can drive you.”
“Sorry. That’s outside our parish boundary.”
“The wife said this is their parish.”
“No. Try St. Andrew’s.”
The intercom went dead.
Cortez drove a mile to St. Andrew’s rectory.
On the way back to the house, she thanked the priest for coming out.
“No worries. It’s what we’re here for.”
“The old man died in the bathroom. On the toilet.”
“Yeah. I’ve seen that before. They push to go, and the strain cuts off oxygen to the brain and heart.”
Cortez shook her head.
“I tried St. Mark’s,” she said. “They sent me to your church. Said it wasn’t their parish.”
“I get that a lot.”
“Too lazy to get out of his fucking bed and take care of his own people.”
The priest smiled.
“Sorry, Father. I didn’t mean to curse.”
“It’s okay. I’ve heard it all.”
Cortez smirked. “No, I don’t think you have.”
“What am I missing?”
“There’s a nasty curse my father taught me. But he told me, never say it to someone unless you’re prepared to fight.”
The priest said, “Yeah?”
“The lazy one I spoke to at St. Mark’s? I’m so pissed off I would use the curse on him if he was in front of me…Me cago en la leche de tu mama.”
“Whoa. That is bad.”
“You know Spanish?”
The patrol car’s radio squawked. “Cortez, where are you?”
“That’s my partner,” she said. “He’s with the man’s wife.”
“Almost there,” she replied to the radio. “Parking out front right now.”
The front door to the house flew open as Cortez and the priest approached. A middle-aged woman took the priest’s hand.
“Thank you for coming, Father. My mother is so upset. She wants dad to have the Last Rites.”
She almost pulled the priest toward the back of the house.
Cortez noticed the house was beginning to fill up with family. Her partner pulled her aside. “What took you so long?”
“The…man…at St. Mark’s said this wasn’t his parish.”
“You got Callahan.”
You got Callahan.
“The sergeant at the station calls that church every week to get Fr. Callahan’s duty schedule. Posts it at the back of the squad room. Everyone knows to not waste time if it’s his duty night. I should have told you that. Now you know.”
A young woman, blotting tears, stepped up to Cortez and her partner. “Thank you for helping us tonight.”
Her partner nodded. Cortez said, “It’s what we do.”
“It’s such a shock. We had dinner with my grandparents just Sunday afternoon.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Cortez said.
“He was so loved.”
The woman turned away.
Cortez said, “At least you know he’s in a better place now.”
The young woman whipped around on Cortez. “How can you say that? My grandfather is gone. My grandmother will be alone now. We all loved him. How can you say he’s in a better place? He should be here now with all of us.”
She spun and stormed off.
Cortez looked to her partner.
He nodded. “You’ll learn it’s best not to talk.”