Monday 21 February 2011

Do You Believe In SHC?


This being my 200th post, I present here the first half of a short story I wrote decades ago. If you like it and want more, I'll post the second half!

Do You Believe in S.H.C.?
The leaves of Dublin’s trees shrivelled and cried in the cold north wind. Padraig arranged the turves around the burning coal.
“It makes a nice fire.” said Paul.
‘And what would you know about fire?’ thought Padraig. He didn’t like the young man, sitting over there with all that button-down collar malarkey. ‘And in my own chair. I’ll not like him, and I do not have to like him. I have not the slightest inclination to like him. Ice in his Jameson’s. It’s as well I didn’t offer him the Midleton.’                                                                                                                                                                                                  
Paul stuck his finger into his drink, twirling the ice around in the glass.
Padraig stood in front of the fire. The heat was good, and soon the backs of his legs were roasting.
He stayed put, lest Paul might feel too warm.
“So, where would you stand on the issue of spontaneous human combustion then now?” asked Padraig, with a slight flourish.
Paul sat up in his chair. What a startling non- sequitur! Still, it was interesting enough. Maybe there was more to Padraig than a nicotined beard and a shoulder chip the size of the British Empire.
“Well actually, I must confess to a latent fascination for S.H.C., now that you mention it.”
“What was that? What was that? What’s all this S.H.C.? Oh, I see, yes, and tell me this. Would that be what they call a ‘Buzzword’ these days young man is it now?”
Padraig made it clear that his question was rhetorical, sniffing deep and long. Then, groaning with invented pain, he settled himself into the other chair, all the while casting covetous glances at his own.
Paul showed no telepathic tendencies. So, ousted he was, and ousted it would be then.
Slowly and deliberately Padraig packed his pipe, allowing just enough time for Paul’s mind to wander. With smoke rising from the freshly-lit bowl, the flames from the fire reflecting in his eyes, Padraig turned to Paul.
“Now, let me tell you about your S.H.C. Yes, let me tell you about h–exploding people. Listen now while I tell you the story of Bernie Collins.”
In some matters Paul knew his place. He leant back in his chair.
“Well, Bernie was a Traffic Warden, off in County Kildare. You wouldn’t know the place so I’ll not waste my time telling it to you. Anyway, this would be a good few years from now, oh yes. This would be maybe in the next century, you see?”
“Ahhm, I think so.”
“Well, either you do see or you do not see.”
“Oh, well, yes, I see. A good few years from now.”
“So what was your problem?”
“I didn’t think I had a problem. Please, please go on with your story.”
“Well, that would be a lot easier without all of these h–interruptions.”
“Sort of ‘Stop talking while I’m interrupting’ kind of thing? Sorry, it’s a joke. Never mind. Do go on.”       
“Yes, and I should think so too. Ah, but you’ll have that. Now, Bernie Collins was a Traffic Warden, and his uniform was brown. Bernie loved his job and he loved his uniform. He lived on his own, after his Mother died of course. All alone in his own wee house. The outside of his house he painted brown, and the insides he painted brown, and all of the things he bought to put inside his house were brown too. All of his everything matched his uniform, and that made Bernie a very happy chappy .
“He had one suit - brown it was - and he’d wear it every Sunday to Mass. Funerals and weddings he wore his uniform. And sure, every other second of his waking life, Bernie wore his uniform.”
“Did he sleep in his uniform?”
For a few seconds Padraig stared at Paul, lips tight with deep contempt.
Paul exhaled slowly, shaking his head.
“Sorry, I just wondered. You said he wore it every second of the day, didn’t you? Or was it every second day?”
Padraig continued regardless.
“Yes, well now, Bernie wasn’t one for doing much. He was the shape of a barrel, a short barrel on legs, hohoh yes. But he did love his job. If he could have he would have worked from dawn to dusk and through the hours of darkness. He knew every single, double or dotted yellow line in his town. He knew just exactly who owned every vehicle, and he tried his blessed best to know who was driving which car and where and when they were doing it. Y’see, he knew that the Undertaker’s pretty young assistant was out driving with the Mayor every Tuesday afternoon. Then there was the manager of a big insurance company down on the High Street who was parked outside of his own wife’s sister’s house every Friday, between Noon and a half past the hour of One. He saw it all, and the more he saw of them the less he liked them. Their secrets.
“He just plain couldn’t face the horror of the world. Bernie, d’y’see, he’d loved his Mammy, and never had he felt the slightest h-inclination to step out with a young lady. Ohno. Not the slightest bit. Some are like that, so they are.
“So there he would sit, in his brown uniform, his head swimming with all their secrets. Their lies. Their deceptions. Their lies and their sinning. It was too much for him, d’y’see? He just plain didn’t want to know.
“So he’d settle into his tatty brown leather chair after his meal, and he’d watch his old black and white telly. It was so old that the picture was all faded, like. You could almost imagine it being brown. But my, did he watch it? Oh my, did Bernie Collins enjoy his telly? Oho! He watched every soap opera, every chat show, game show , and he loved to watch a fil-m. He’d watch just anything that wasn’t a news programme or a doc-humentary. As he watched all those soaps and that, he’d think to himself he was watching the lives of all the liars in his town. He had not the slightest knowledge of anything that was happening in the world. All he knew was the inside of his troubled head, and the stories that the television told him. If it didn’t occur within his own sight and hearing he remained ignorant of it, and- oh yes, that was another thing.
“Bernie Collins was as near to deaf as a man can be before you call him deaf. His television was turned up so loud you could hear it from a half-mile away, and there he was himself, sitting there, just right up in front of it all the time. Mind you, that’s not to say there was anything wrong with his sight, hono. Sharp as a kestrel.
“Bernie thought himself lucky that he didn’t have to be putting up with hearing all the blaspheming that folk shouted at him when he gave them a parking ticket. Not at all. Not a bit of it.
“There were some who thought Bernie loved giving tickets, but that wasn’t the truth of it. Sure, he loved his job, but he would have been even happier if he never saw an illegally parked car all day. Bernie was not a man with an evil streak inside of him. Truth be told, he just felt sad when folk tried to get away with it. It made him sadder still when they shouted at him, as if it wasn’t them who had done wrong.
“Worst of all was when he’d be finding the same car parked on the same illegal spot, time and time again, day after day. That would make him feel redundant, d’y’see? What was the point in him being there, of him telling them not to park there, if they just plain ignored him and went right ahead anyway? It was the only thing that made him angry, and maybe, just maybe deep inside the heart of Bernie Collins, he knew that his tickets were nothing more than minor irritations to these people, and he - well, he was thus nothing more than the bearer of minor irritations.”
“Was Bernie the only Traffic Warden in the town?”
“He was. The very sole purveyor of the parking tickets.”
“And what, pray, does this have to do with S.H.C.?”
“Well now, if you were a more patient man you’d find out. Now so there was Bernie sitting in his chair, watching one of his soap operas with the sound turned up terrible loud, so loud that he couldn’t hear the singing outside. He just plain couldn’t hear it, but every other soul living on the planet that night could hear the singing. It was the singing of Angels. Yes, Angels, singing from the skies, calling folk to come outside. Some say it sounded different to every soul who heard it, but certainly, to each and every one of them, it was the sweetest sound. A sound that had to be heard. Listened to.
“Outside, outside they went, onto the streets, looking up to the skies, looking for the source of that heavenly music. Children woke in their beds and followed their parents onto the streets. Nurses wheeled the old folk out to hear the cherubim, and soon enough there were great multitudes thronging the streets. When the sounds started to move away, the crowds followed, as rats to the piper. Off into the darkness they went, without so much as the slightest he-hesitation. Off, away, never to be seen again.”
Paul was engrossed. What a splendid yarn.
“All of them. Every man, woman, child and babe-in-arms. All except for Bernie Collins, who sat watching his soap opera until the picture went dead. All the lights in his little brown house went off, and Bernie grumbled to himself about power cuts and took himself to bed for an early night."

What will happen to Bernie Collins, all alone in the world? What does Padraig's story have to do with Spontaneous Human Combustion? Leave a comment below if you want to read the rest and find out....


Jeanne said...

More Bernie, please! Gotta find out about that SHC.

Charlie Adley said...

Hi Jeanne! The rest of the story will be up very soon - thanks for asking!