Being always so goose-pimpled, luminous and hush-hush-hushy-it’ll-be-grand, she could make him cry at the drop of an eyelash. And all because Father Apollo had spat into her mouth at choir practice once, when she was a teenager. But he couldn’t say anything to Mrs. Phelan, or Cassandra, as she liked him to call her, not with all that knotted poignancy standing before him, bowing his heartstrings. How could you turn a person like that down?
Accordion was determined this time though; it wouldn’t happen again. Even if it was Christmas and all that palaver; it wasn’t happening. He wouldn’t do it. Full stop.
It was her giant electronic frog with pink lips that won it for her this time. Well, actually, two of them, on either side of her front garden, which greeted you when you entered with a stereophonic Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit! Ribbit! Her fifth win in a row. The most lit-up Christmassy house in the parish. First prize. Her picture beside her pyrotechnical creation on the front page of Gerald’s Herald came next. And another large dose of her Warholian fifteen minutes, silk-screened in screaming neon.
Accordion made his way slowly past the ribbiting frogs and the swivelling Santas, the finger-clicking elves and the hip-shaking polar bears and many, many shimmering reindeer. He knocked on the door while clicking his camera over everything, trying to capture the essence of everything. He’d laptopped up the newspaper reports himself with his own virtual pencil and had taken the photographs for the previous four years running, this year being no exception.
She’d fully expected him at the door yet flapped about in a flutter of swishes in ersatz surprise on answering. She stood in a festive red dress hanging just above the knees wearing the flashing cherry of a Comic Relief nose clamped above her nostrils. Three seconds on. Three seconds off. He imagined spitting into her mouth right there and then like Father Apollo all those years ago with the antidote and thus reversing the curse. He just wanted to help. But he was far, very far indeed, from possessing any antidote.
‘Will I be here again next year Cassie? Any more tricks up your sleeve?’
They sat down together on the sofa with the teapot waiting on the coffee table before them, pumping steam from its elongated spout.
She said, ‘You know quite well I can’t answer that, Accordion, because of the curse. Besides, as you can plainly see, this dress is sleeveless, so no more tricks. All my cards are on the table.’
With that, her clown’s nose flashed three times to the sound of an ascending, descending, ascending Swanee whistle, she’d slipped into her mouth in the meantime. He riddled her with a machine-gun burst of camera flashes grasping the opportunity by the scruff gracefully. Yes, I’ll use one of those.
He was lucky to have escaped his question without getting slapped, he now realised. Yes, bitch-slapped with the divine glove of nemesis, he deserved that alright. Because she couldn’t talk about the future, not after what happened, only of the present, and perhaps the past, the very odd time, eyes closed. Besides, no one would believe her, they never did. Not her sons Willie and Charlie, not anyone, so what was the point really, darling?
‘Darling?’ she said pouring their tea, ‘No milk for you I presume?’
‘So where did the frogs come from?’ he said.
‘I’m disappointed in you, Accordion. You should know better. My two dead sons concocted and fabricated the entire plan from scratch; as per usual. It was my eldest, Willie, who had the initial froggy concept of course.’
The story ran through Accordion’s head when she mentioned their names. He’d written the copy himself. Memorised forever the facts. Twenty years ago now.
‘Sure who else but a twelve year-old Adam Ant fan could concoct the giant electronic frog with pink lips?’ he said.
She sipped her tea from a huge mug with a blue sailing boat design on the outside.
‘You’re right Accordion, who else indeed? And those pink lips are no ordinary pink. It’s brand new. Spanking. It’s never been done before. The most shocking pink ever imagined and then successfully splashed into real life. In living colour. Smearing the lips of a giant electronic frog. Two giant electronic frogs.’
‘I know Cassie. That’s why you won it; the new pink. The new pink is everything, Cassie. Everything.’
She said, ‘He floated that day, did Willie. The day he found out he shared a birthday with Adam Ant, post-punk new-romantic. I swear it, he actually floated. Afterwards, we had to tie a piece of string to his pyjama bottoms, and fasten the other end to his bedpost at night, so we could pull him back to safety when he floated out his bedroom window. Figuratively speaking, of course, Accordion.’
At that moment her neighbour, Bandana, walked past the window outside and pumped a friendly fist in the air a few times. She would have wired up all the electrics for Cassie. Made her front garden display safe and sound. Not that Cassie needed much help. Her younger dead son, Charlie, had taught her everything about wiring. A long time ago. Twenty years. He was crazy about computers and trolls for all his short life. He knew everything. The two Ps, he would exclaim, ‘The first P stands for practicality. Computers are so utilitarian, that, in the near future Ma, we’ll all have more time on our hands to read about aesthetically-pleasing-yet-technically-ugly trolls, as the computer does our homework quietly and efficiently in the background. That’s where the second P makes an appearance; pretentiousness. It’s all in the aesthetics Ma. Once you‘ve gone troll, you can’t go back. They’re very romantic.’ Back in the day, of course, when troll simply meant, the monster.
Accordion saw it in Cassie’s eyes as she sipped deeper into her light brown tea, her nose still flashing every three seconds or so.
She said, ‘Charlie’s still the dream-weaver though. He made Willie’s initial idea come to life by jumping into Bandana’s head at the right time when she was wiring it all up. And what a result, eh?
‘Willie told me. He was listening to the Adam Ant track, ‘Day I Met God’, in his bedroom once when he stuck his tongue out into the wardrobe mirror, and there, right there before his eyes, sat a giant electronic frog with pink lips, the new pink, staring back at him and asking for the loan of his only fiver to get drunk with.’
Click. That expression. Accordion had his photo now and his cover story. Enough material, actually, for a more in-depth think piece with a staple in the middle, but he wouldn’t go there. For who could risk discovering the gloom in their own future? She dripped with life and death.
He said, ‘With the price of electricity these days, I’m surprised you can afford it all Cassie. On your own in the house like. It must cost a fortune keeping that light show going through the best part of darkest December.’
‘Shane contributes – he practically pays for ninety nine per cent of it these days.’
Accordion had to sit down.
‘Yes, Shane,’ she said.
‘He’s a good man, Accordion.’
The afternoon it happened, Shane was struck dumb, all reports said. He wouldn’t talk for years afterwards, even during his jail sentence, and only did so when extreme expedience dictated. But he was permitted to keep Mrs. Phelan’s front garden Christmas display going year after year. She’d asked him personally and he’d agreed.
Cassie stood up, walked over to Accordion and put her hands on his shoulders.
‘Yes. It’s true. I had to forgive him. To move on. Like what Jesus Christ said. And I actually did it. I found out that life does go on and smiles again, no matter what. Shane was the last person to see them alive, Accordion. Before he killed them. He remembers everything about their last ten seconds. And he tells me of it often. Anytime I want that smiling game of football in the middle of the road, he gives it to me. They were on their summer holidays. And exulting in life. That’s them Accordion. That’s them.’
She then hugged Accordion before pouring herself another cup of tea. She’d told them not to play football in the middle of the road a million times. They’d be run over by a robbed car. She saw it in her head down to the very day it would happen. They couldn’t be watched 24-7. So she locked them into their bedrooms on that particular day to make sure. But they got out the window, Charlie’s know-how of course.
‘You’ll be knocked down and killed stone dead!’
She was right. Since the age of nineteen, when she joined the choir for a year, with Father Apollo, she was able to predict things.
She fell asleep after choir practice in the church once. Overtime went very late that week. Tired bones. She had to sing though. Needed it. Church choir. She fell asleep in a chair behind the altar after everyone else had gone home and he awoke her and told her he liked her. He wanted to sleep with her just the once. Priests have their needs too you know. And he was quite handsome and jovial. But she wasn’t quite fully awake yet, and before the light of day rushed in, he promised in return for the pleasures of her body, the gift of prophesy. She’d be able to see into the future.
She had no time to think.
It would be nice to see into the future alright, give her something to look forward to when getting up in the morning, before going in to the factory. Her job was hard and grinding and too full of overtime hours she didn’t really want to do. She preferred her own time. They threatened the sack if she refused, so she’d no choice in that scheme of things. Yes, she could make money out of this gift-of-prophesy thingy and retire before she was twenty-five – to paint pictures. Perhaps.
‘How will you give this power to me then Father? Not with your -‘
‘No! By waving my hands at you Cassie.’
Walking towards her, he waved his hands before she could blink or even say yes, and smack bang wallop, she didn’t feel any different, maybe a slight twinge. It was when she saw the pulsating crescent moon outside the church doors crawling with maggots, that she changed her mind.
‘You’re all right father. You can keep your gift to yourself. I’m not in the humour for sex. I’m fully awake now. I bid you good night.’
‘You can’t do this to me Cassie. You promised. I can’t take it back you know, the gift. Impossible. Leaving me hanging like this – it’s just not on. Just give me a kiss then? You promised full penetration, but I’m a forgiving man, a priest for god’s sake, a kiss will have to do me for today.’
She knew that this was bound to happen, but she could withstand beatings by the nuns in school, and by the factory owners at work, so why not here now too? The immediate regret of the religious or the wealthy would provide the scope for her escape. Out a back door somewhere she’d slip, while they shake and pray for forgiveness eyes closed. ‘Forgive me for what I’m about to do Lord.’
Their lips gripped. His clamp around her shoulders was tight and of steel. She was locked in without control and so her gift was forever tainted. Father Apollo, parish priest, choirmaster, handsome man, spat into her mouth. His saliva mixed in with the gift’s essence and had adulterated it forever. Now she would only be able to see and prophesise the miserable events of the imminent future.
There was also the fact that no one would ever believe her. The curse. Cassandra – prophet of doom.
‘You’re just being dramatic Cassie. Get lost!’
‘You must be joking! I’m not taking advice from someone like you! Who do you think I am? A big dope?’
Willie and Charlie didn’t listen to her. Didn’t listen at all. Like everyone else. Too busy imagining planets in their heads. Bigger. Better. Brighter. Christmas lights. Cameras. Action. Go. Go. Go. The perfect meditation for Cassie; giant electronic frogs with pink lips. Sex.
Accordion looked over at Cassie from across the coffee table. She was trying to increase the frequency of the flashings of her Comic Relief red nose standing in front of the twinkling Christmas tree.
He’d sworn to himself on every previous occasion that this would never happen again. But now, early the next morning, as her Comic Relief red nose flashed continuously on the bedside locker beside them, and her two giant electronic frogs with pink lips, Alan and Dave, were ribbiting, ribbiting, ribbiting away like goodo outside, he made no such oath. And smiled.
Camillus John was bored and braised in Dublin. He has been published in The Stinging Fly, RTÉ Ten and Headstuff.org. Recently he killed the Prime Minister of Ireland in fiction in the Welsh literary magazine, The Lonely Crowd, with a piece entitled, The Assassination of Enda Kenny (After Hilary Mantel). (Still a few copies available – buy it while Enda’s corpse is still warm). His first novel, The Rise and Fall of Cinderella’s Left Testicle, has yet to find a publisher. He would also like to mention that Pat’s won the FAI cup in 2014 for the first time in 53 miserable years of not winning it.
Copyright © Camillus John, 2016. Banner image © Jo Mazelis, 2016.