Karl MacDermott was born in Galway. He has written extensively for radio including the series’ ‘Gone But Forgotten’ and ‘Here’s Johnny’ on RTE Radio 1 and ‘The Mahaffys’ on BBC Radio 4. He has also written a six part comedy drama for RTE Two Television, ‘Straight to Video’, and contributed many articles to the Irish Times over the last ten years. His novel ‘The Creative Lower Being’ was published in 2007. A new e-book ‘Ireland’s Favourite Failure’ was published in 2014. He is currently writer-in-residence in his home in Dublin.
THE BOOK PROBLEM
By Karl MacDermott
I had this problem. I was always getting books as presents from a friend. However, that friend had different tastes in books than me. So I wanted to give these books away. To my local charity shop. The trouble is, my friend shopped in the local charity shop. He didn’t give presents of the books he bought in the local charity shop – he was not a cheapskate – but he did shop there so I couldn’t leave the books he gave me in that charity shop. You see, he always inscribed his presents. Now, the nearest charity shop outside of town was forty miles away. And since I couldn’t afford to replace my car after being rear-ended by that Hiace van last year my limited living space was filling up with unread books. I asked my friend Catriona if she could drive to the other charity shop with the books – must have been twenty books at this stage, Tom gave me lots of presents, I guess he liked me – but she made a very good point that he could be out of town sometime and pop into that other charity shop and then he would see all the books he had given me over the past two years and it would devastate him, seeing them all lined up in that shop. I couldn’t do that to him.
They were mainly crime books. He loved crime. I wasn’t that pushed about crime books. It was always the same thing. Down-at-heel loner private eye with a drink problem. Dysfunctional relationship with a drug addict daughter. Solving ever –improbable clues leading to an ever –predictable climax. Catriona told me I should just tell him I didn’t like crime books. But I couldn’t. It would be like insulting him or something. So then I came up with this plan. Ask Catriona to maybe spread out the delivery of books over ten or twelve charity shops around the whole county of Galway. She agreed. I made the sandwiches and stumped up for the petrol.
His name was Tom. Gangly and well-mannered. A widower. He used to be in show business. Did a novelty country music act in the late 1960’s in the States. Called himself Beauregard Kierkegaard- the philosophising redneck. He was no redneck. Not much of a philosopher either. Although he once did say it was strange that the word slaughter without an ‘s’ is laughter.
We first met in a coffee shop. That particular morning, Catriona was meant to pick me up to go to the chiropractor’s but was late and the battery on my mobile phone was low, so I asked him if I could use his to ring her. And pay him whatever was owed of course. He said no problem. So I rang Catriona with his phone. Catriona didn’t answer so I left a message on her mobile. I returned his phone. We started to chat. Five minutes later his phone rang. He answered. It was a confused Catriona. He handed me his phone. I was ever so embarrassed and flustered. Catriona was all curious. She told me whoever it was had a lovely voice.
You know those May-December romances. Tom and I were more like an October-December romance. Without the romance. We were more like friends. I hadn’t been with anybody since Jasper died over five years ago. And frankly I didn’t miss it. Most men are silent maniacs. Jasper was. Couldn’t make up my mind yet about Tom.
Then the most dreadful thing happened. Tom popped around unexpectedly the following Sunday. The day after Catriona and I had spent the whole of Saturday, driving over 120 miles to fourteen charity shops in the greater Galway region and even taking in some of south Mayo and north Clare. To dispose of Tom’s presents. Of course I invited him in. He’d never been to my place before. I’d been to his place once or twice. For no hanky panky, mind you. He fixed me a risotto once. Which was not a culinary success. He’d used the wrong sort of rice. And stock. And everything. Anyway I was just out of the shower and needed to go dry my hair so I told him to sit and wait. When I returned he was looking at my bookshelf. I live in a small modestly sized apartment – sold up the house nearly three years ago – but I cherish my books. Obviously not Tom’s. He was too polite to say anything but I could see he was a little down. I felt awful. I gave him a cup of tea and we had a sort of strained chat. I should have hung on to the books until he’d moved away, become infirm or died or something. I didn’t know if we’d be friends any more. I would miss him in his own way. I’d also miss the presents. Who else gave me presents? Here was this man giving me presents and I wanted to give them away. How could I have been so cruel?
Catriona was not best pleased when I suggested a return trip to the fourteen charity shops. I insisted that I needed to retrieve those books. Invite Tom over for dinner and have them prominently displayed on my bookshelf. After a second day- long 120 mile round trip we recovered sixteen. Obviously Ed Nesbitt’s ‘Tough Guy Shenanigans’ trilogy had found a new home in Tuam and Val Thursby’s interminable ‘The Dead Don’t Smile’ was gone from that little shop in Clifden.
Catriona came up with an idea. Tell him the books he gave you are very popular with your friends. The last time he visited they had all being lent out. But now most of them have been returned.
On Wednesday evening Tom arrived for dinner. I fixed him some risotto. Proper rice. Proper stock. A nice bottle of red wine. A very pleasant soirée. I felt attracted to him for the first time. In that way. He’d even bought me another book. Asimov.
“I love science fiction. Do you?”
I thought of the future. Not in the science fiction sense. But in my cramped apartment sense. Book shelves being laden down with unopened galaxy–centric tomes. I looked over at Tom.
“Yes. Even more than crime books.”
Copyright Karl MacDermott 2016