Thursday 5 September 2019

Toastmasters


Still editing. By the time I am finished this novel will be a mini-pocket novel....
Mrs Mac really is the villain of it so here she is showing her true colours.



MRS MAC BREWS A STORM

The topic under discussion at toastmasters is Ireland the land of welcomes – Myth or Reality?” It isn’t a very original title and Angela MacFadden has thrashed it out year in year out in the Leaving Cert syllabus. She considers herself to be somewhat of an expert on the subject.  There will much sentimentality spoken on the night of the under-privileged immigrants seeking refuge in our increasingly affluent economy, of the increasing prices in Ireland’s tourist and catering trade, and of exploited Americans and disillusioned Europeans. 
 Phil McCarthy will wax lyrical on the subject of cultural eclecticism.  The librarian loves all things foreign and takes herself off on downright foolhardy global expeditions several times a year. Phil is a na├»ve who wanders through life embracing diversity and goodwill. The treks she makes are probably so stage managed that she barely scrapes the surface of indigenous communities, but that will not prevent Phil from taking up the cause of the Third World and suggesting that the Irish provide a safety overflow for the Third World’s surplus population. This is not Angela MacFadden’s opinion. Let the developing countries limit their population instead of inflicting it on her hapless shores.
 Charlie Moore will insist that we, as a nation of emigrants ourselves, should at least recognize the destitute circumstances of the flood of immigrants that is arriving at our ports. He will talk of empathy and responsibility; Charlie emigrated to Australia in the seventies, stayed for six months and begged the fare home from his auntie Bridie. He speaks with experience, and at length, of his ordeal.
 John Dillon will talk rationally, thank God, about the devastating effects on our service industry of introducing cheap labour. Matt Byrne will make parallels with the Jews and Nazi Germany, for he can leave the topic out of no debate. It will be interesting to see how he might angle it this time. Sissy McKeown can be relied upon to dwell on the spectacle of droves of beggars haunting the streets, swelling the tide of itinerant paupers. She will have tears in her eyes imagining the gaunt eyed babes in arms and toddler children dragged past waiting car queues at traffic lights and placed strategically at supermarket outlets to extend their puny hands to passersby. Sissy once accosted an itinerant on the subject of childcare and received a verbal tirade for her trouble. Sissy has no children of her own, and has sentimental notions about their susceptibility.
 Dick Brady will be sure to scandalize the company with his reference to illegal prostitution and its links with immigrants. He will savour dwelling on human trafficking to the delight of Jemima Stewart, Blackrock High ancient historian, who will let her mind run to riots in the streets. Carnage at Carthage. Miss Stewart is a bloodthirsty spinster whose imagination finds refuge only in the truly barbarous.
 But of all these it is Lily Devlin’s response that most interests Angela. For Lily will plead for liberalism, agree with cultural diversity, agree John Dillon’s hard economic realism and fall victim to Jemima’s hysteria. Lily will be susceptible to all sides and concur with everyone. It is Angela MacFadden’s opinion that Lily, if personally challenged in her smug middle-class cosiness, would be the first to send the immigrant ship home, and she, Angela MacFadden, is going to test her theory tonight.
 Angela will, like Lily, plead the reasonableness of all of the arguments. She will opt for state controls, law reforms and democratic decisions, but she will personally not support any politician who cannot be relied upon to keep this country free of radical foreign ideas and influence.

 The evening unfolds exactly as Angela MacFadden expected. John Dillon surpasses himself quoting figures from various recent surveys. Sissy sheds more tears than usual. Angela thinks Miss Stewart has lost the edge on her normal level of paranoia, perhaps it is the effect of the Christmas season mellowing her. Angela had forgotten that factor, the Christmas season and the no- room -in- the- inn theme. Matt Byrne, however, has not, and he opts for the marginalized Holy Family instead of the Jews. Angela enjoys listening to Lily embrace all sides of the argument. She enjoys it particularly well tonight because of the bombshell she is about to drop.
 “So I see your Fred has got himself un amour, or should I say amoureuse?” Angela says chattily to Lily at the tea break.
 “Fred. A girlfriend? No. I think you’re mistaken, Angela. He’s far too disorganized for that kind of thing,” and Lily continues sipping her tea from a china cup, flicking her grey honey blond hair and smiling at Dick Brady.
 “They were wrapped around each other walking along the beach, Lily. But if you say so, perhaps….” Angela swallows a custard cream whole.
 “Are you sure it was Fred?” Lily stops flirting with Dick.
 “I teach him, every day, Lily. I wouldn’t be mistaken about that!”
Lily’s colour is rising. She has just caught hold of a possibility that has long hovered on the edge of her consciousness. How will she feel when she is no longer the only woman in her son’s life? The feeling is uncomfortable.
 “Wrapped around each other?” Lily asks. Dick is waving a plate of biscuits in her direction, but Lily doesn’t seem to notice.
 “Very much so. Young love. You remember that Lily?” Dick’s toupee is slightly askew on his forehead as he surges forward with the plate. “I’d love one of those Kimberly biscuits, Dick, thanks,” adds Angela.
 Lily begins to recall dropped clues, little symptoms of secret trysts, lies that she may have wrongfully indulged. There have been a lot of demands for aftershave and excuses spun out so wide that Lily cut them short and settled for ignorance, trusted in his loyalty. Naively, as it turns out!
She totally ignores the proffered plate of delights that Dick Brady is waving under her nose.  There’s been a lot of wet towels left strewn lately on the bathroom floor after long showers taken at odd hours and his bedroom door closed at all hours, never his habit before. Her darling, childish Fred in love? Lily can’t swallow another mouthful of tea.
 “No Dick,” she says brusquely as Dick Brady now hovers over her with a tilted tea pot. “Do you know who she is?” Lily can barely whisper the words. Angela’s moment has arrived.
 “Oh, yes, there could be no mistaking who has put the spring into our Fred’s step,” she says draining her cup. Lily’s eyes are riveted to Angela’s face.
 “Dick, I’ll have one of those bourbon creams as well, if I may,” says Angela. “I have a real weakness for these ones,” she adds to the undertaker’s wife.
 Lily is cringing under the weight of Angela’s ugly words, “put a spring in his step.” Her Fred has always been lighthearted, sprightly, never morose, an affectionate loving son. But come to think of it, he isn’t turning back to give her a goodbye hug as often as usual and he’s stopped peppering every parting with, “Love you!” and one night, a while back, he popped his head quickly inside the sitting room door and sneaked off to bed in a very guilty like way and the next day she noticed a bruise on his face.
 Is the girl abusing him? Lily’s imagination is running off the Richter scale while Angela watches her face closely as she exchanges some pleasantries about biscuits in Bethlehem with Dick.
 “Angela, for God’s sake tell me who is she?” pleads Lily so insistently that Dick looks sharply in her direction.
 Angela reckons the moment is ripe and the evening’s topic lends her triumph more panache than she could have hoped for.
 “Well, I’m sorry to be the one to tell you Lily. I had assumed you must know or I’d never have mentioned it, but from the rumours flying about, it seems that he walks her home - to that place- everyday after school.” Angela munches contentedly on the chocolate biscuit.
 “Rumours? What place? Angela?” Lily is even more distressed than Sissy McKeown could ever be at the sight of a child street beggar.
 “Lily, I’m so sorry to be the one to break it to you. The girl’s a foreigner, an immigrant, Algerian. She lives in that council dive at the far side of town, across the railway tracks.” Angela brushes the crumbs from her skirt in one wide sweep.
For a moment Angela thinks that she may have gone too far for Lily physically blanches and Dick Brady notices it.
 “Lily, are you alright there? You’re as white as a-?”
   “Get her a cup of hot tea,” urges Angela.
   There is a buzzing in Lily’s ears. Images shift and dissolve. She blinks her eyes and her head feels separate from her body and floats into space. Lily digs her heels into the floor and Angela’s words seem to come from a long way off.
 “No, no!” She struggles to get up as someone pushes a cup of steaming tea to her lips.
 “If you would just call John? I need to go home now.”
 “Of course, Lily! I’ll bring you myself,” says Dick helping Lily to her feet.
 “I’m so sorry, Lily. I had no idea you didn’t -”
 “Yes, yes, Angela. Thank you. Yes.” Words come to her mouth and then recede and she cannot even remove Dick Brady’s proprietary arm from her waist as she makes a hasty exit.
 Once Lily has been ushered from the room, Angela tuts aloud to Miss Stewart who has missed none of the exchange; Angela’s only surprise is that the ancient historian did not interrupt her performance.  “Only sons! A lot of trouble. I think I’ll have another one of those bourbon creams and perhaps a drop of tea to wash it down, thanks Jemima.”
 Jemima Stewart pours the tea with relish. She has to take her hat off to the D.P. When it comes to inflicting pain Miss Stewart knows none more skilful than Angela MacFadden.

Copyright with Cathy Leonard 2019


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