Clare County Library
Clare Literature
Home | Search Library Catalogue | Foto: Clare Photo Collection | OS Maps | Search this Website | Copyright Notice


The Sting

by Maura Barry


Jim Casey came into the kitchen and clapped Danny on the back.
   
“I’ve made the match. You can go on a visit, the first Friday.”
   
“What do you mean, made the match, who to?”
   
“Peg Malone, don’t you know Castlegarr, well, just a mile from that, to the right.”
   
“What’s she like? I hope she’s big and strong.”
   
“You know something, Danny, she’s a fine girl and is a great cook, so the auld pair said. You’ll be well in, and the winter’s coming. Imagine, Danny, coming in from the fields and a fresh soda down in front of you, and the turf fire blazing. Now wouldn’t that make any man happy? You’ll go then, that’s Friday after next. Don’t forget to turn right as you leave Castlegarr, and it’s on your left-hand side. A two storey house, mind, so you’ll not miss it.”
   
Danny sat staring into the fire after Jim had left. He conjured up many images of Peg and it made him feel warm and contented. Then he saw a small fat woman, poking a finger at him and roaring,
    “You great oaf. Get out there and feed those cows, and when you come back, you can get the spuds and cabbage from the garden, and put them down. If you think I’m going to be running after you, you may have another thing coming.”
    Danny shuffled about in his chair.
    “Maybe I’d be better off on my own. Haven’t I done all right so far?”
    He wished his mother were still around, so he wouldn’t have to make any decisions.
    Lying down in bed with the cold sheet below, he pulled the blankets up over his ears. He thought of Peg beside him, of her soft, warm flesh, and he was lost in his world of passion. Which made his mind up.
   
The brown suit came out of the moth-balled wardrobe. He hung it up in the hayshed, to let the wind go through it. For the next ten days, Danny thought of nothing but Peg, and of the great life that was in front of him. Jim Casey came again, the following Thursday.
   
“Go up after the 8 o’clock mass. They’ll be waiting for you. Don’t forget now, if it works out, my fee is a bit extra.”
   
“I won’t forget.”
   
On Friday morning, Danny was up before the light in the sky. He polished his shoes, till they shone, and greased his hair till it was slick. The suit was brushed, and spitted on, to take the odd stain out of it. Mr. What was harnessed and the sidecar got a wet cloth rubbed round it. He was ready.
   
In mass he saw nothing but Peg on the altar. The pony made great haste into Castlegarr, and on turning right at the end of the town, Danny got a bit anxious. Peg took on many forms again, and none of them too pleasant. He arrived at the two storey house and was shaking getting out of the side-car. An elderly woman came out to greet him. There was a fine breakfast laid out in the parlour. The Malones asked him many questions, which he answered very truthfully. Peg was sitting beside the mother. She was about thirty-eight, with short brown curly hair. Her features were plain enough, but she had a lovely homely smile. Danny couldn’t believe his luck getting this fine woman and him well into his fifties. He promised he’d give Jim Casey a bonus if all turned out well. Mr. Malone agreed to the marriage, and Peg just nodded her head and went off into another room. They settled a deed over a whiskey and Mr. Malone said they’d set the wheels in motion.
   
Danny spent the rest of his day in his own wee village pub. He bought rounds of drink for the house. They congratulated him on his future marriage. Some were laughing behind his back.
   
“Peg Malone, Jesus, he’ll have his work cut out for him there. Ah, well! I suppose when you get to his age any auld thing would do.”
    The laughter rose. The drinks went on the slate after awhile, as Danny ran out of money. Everyone was merry, except Mr. What, who was tied to a pole outside. When no more drink would go down, Danny walked sideways to the door. He turned around and made a speech, which no one could understand. Joe Quinn, the publican, came out and gave him a hand into the cart. Danny took the reins and fell back into the car. Joe gave Mr. What a slap on the rear and off he went.
   
The wedding was arranged for the 20th October. All the neighbours turned up at the church.
   
“By God!” said Mary Walsh.
    “They have got rid of her at last. Poor Danny must be demented, to take her.”
    Danny sat at the top of the church, with Spider Magee, his best man. The priest came out onto the altar and Peg and her father came down the aisle.
   
“This is it, man, hell on earth,” said Spider.
   
The vows were taken and Peg slowly pushed the veil up over her face. Danny turned round to look at her, and the colour went from his face to his boots. This was not the Peg he met. Here a woman with a sharp nose, brown teeth and to crown it all, a squinty eye, stood looking at him. Danny was going to run, but he had taken his vows. Nothing could be done about it now, he was married and that was that. He looked around the church, but could not see the other woman. Did he dream it all? Here he was, married to a fiend. He asked Mr. Malone outside the church where was the Peg he saw at the house. Mr. Malone looked at Danny as if he had a few screws missing.
   
“This is Peg, my daughter. You agreed to this marriage, so make sure you look after her.”
    Danny just accepted it all, so Peg went home with him.
   
It was a daily struggle to put up with Peg. Her voice was like a fog horn. As for her baking, he wouldn’t touch a thing she put her hands on. The settle bed was pulled down in the kitchen, she slept in the room. He met Jim Casey in Quinn’s one evening, after mass.
   
“Ah, Danny! I think you owe me a few bob, after that great match I made you.”
    Danny stood still for a minute and then his fist flew out and caught Jim hard on the jaw. He fell back onto the floor.
   
“You bastard, Casey, I’ll kill you, my life isn’t worth living now. Who was the girl they showed me? Making a laughing-stock out of me.”
    He kicked and kicked at Jim Casey, until Joe and a few others grabbed hold of him, amazed at Danny’s attack.
   
“Take it easy, Danny, good man,” said Joe.
    Danny tried to shake them off, but couldn’t.
    “You all knew, didn’t you, and not one of you had an ounce of decency in you, to tell me who Peg Malone really was. Every one of you were in on this. Just for a laugh.”
    He threw another kick at Jim Casey and went out and slammed the door.
   
Mr. What took him home again. Instead of going into the house, Danny went up the old road, which ran alongside the house. Paddy O’Grady, his near neighbour, was the first into town the next morning. It was he who found Danny, hanging from the tree.

 

________

Taken from ‘This is Where We Came In’ (1992), pages 126-128.



Maura Barry
 

Cathal Brown