A number of Eamon O’Leary‘s stories have appeared in The Galway Review and published in many anthologies and elsewhere.
His story, No Answer, won the Southport International Short Story Competition in ’19.
The stories are an eclectic mix, with no particular genre.
Not a Good Idea
By Eamon O’Leary
As soon as my backside touched the leather of the BMW, I felt the tension. Marjorie had a puss that could’ve sunk the Titanic without any help from the iceberg. Glancing at the rear-view mirror, Tom, Marj’s husband (short for Marjorie ‘cos she’s my best friend) threw his eyes to heaven.
“All set for a dirty week?” he asked
Marj glared. She didn’t even give me a “Good morning, Dot,” so I decided on a vow of silence and sat back. I love the smell in new cars.
Arriving at the airport, Tom flicked on the hazards and parked on double yellows.
“Have a ball, guys, see you next Friday.”
Standing there with arms open, I think he expected a goodbye kiss from Marj. No way. Grabbing her Cartier travel case, she sped off whilst managing to stay aloft despite perilous four-inch heels and began issuing instructions.
“Come along Dorothy (that’s me), let’s get breakfast.”
Feeling like a dope, I followed, shrugging my shoulders at Tom.
Tea and toast is my usual start, but Marj insisted on and returned with smoked salmon bagels and lattes.
“Now Marj, please do tell me what that was all about.”
“Dorothy, I don’t want to spoil my meal or our holiday by discussing my present husband.”
“Ok, I said, what happened this time?”
“Well, apparently I’m gone beyond it, Dot. Too old to wear feminine clothes and presumably, no way attractive.”
“Let’s have it.” I knew she was bursting in typical Marj fashion to offload every detail.
“Remember, I told you we were invited to Tom’s boss’s house for a BBQ last Saturday.
“Of course. The Patterson’s. How’d it go? They’re not the liveliest crowd, from what I hear. A bit puritanical, aren’t they?
“Yes, yes, but Dot, would you say I’ve a good colour?”
“How could you not have? It’s been the best Summer for years and you’ve spent most of it lying topless on the back patio, driving that lovely old man next door to sin.”
“No need for the sarcasm, Dot, it doesn’t suit you.”
“For God’s sake Marj, what happened at the party?”
“I don’t know because I never went. When I came downstairs, Tom didn’t like what I was wearing. I’d on the short white cocktail dress and with my new heels, I thought I looked rather well.”
“Marj, it was a BBQ… at the Patterson’s, not a wedding you were going to. What did he say?”
“He said the plunging neckline was way too much, and I wasn’t a teenager anymore.”
“I ran upstairs in tears and rummaged thru’ my walk-in until I found an outfit that would fix him.”
“Jeez. Talk of suspense. What did you put on?”
“An ankle length flowing pastel maternity dress that for some unknown reason I kept after Jason came along. You probably remember it. Very high neckline.”
“Yes, and when I reappeared, Tom said I looked like something from a circus. He told me to grow up, and I told him to F off. We barely spoken since.”
Marj had sprung the mini holiday on me a few weeks earlier. She was full of surprises.
“Great news Dot. We’re going to France. Remember, I spoke to you about Rachel buying a gîte with some of the money after she and Graham split up. She says catching him and his secretary playing ring-a-rosie in their underwear was better than winning the Lotto. Well. She’s back, and everything’s finalised. Apparently, it’s petite but beautiful and in a romantic old village. The painters are there now, and that’s where we come in. A free holiday for spring cleaning the place. It’s ideal. We’ll be flying at the end of the month when my two urchins are on mid-term.”
“Sounds lovely Marj. Be sure and let me know if there’s anything I can do when you and Tom are away.”
“No, no, no, Dot. It’s not me and Tom who are going. It’s you and me, love. You’ve been saying for ages how drained you are from looking after your mum. Well, your two sisters will have to manage ‘cos I’ve it all organised. The flights are booked and we’re flying on Friday 29th. You owe me 96 euro.”
“Oh my God, Marjorie, I just can’t drop everything and head off to France with you. I’ve never gone anywhere without Vincent. What’ll he say? I’m not sure this is a good idea.”
“Rubbish, Dot. There’s only you and Vince in the house and he’ll be happy to go golfing every day. It’ll be brill. Anyway, you can’t let me down now.”
I’d intended on throwing my few bits into the well-worn Adidas bag I use for badminton, but Marjorie nearly freaked.
“No way, Dot. You cannot seriously be thinking of taking that yoke on holiday. Rachel bought a beautiful designer case on the way home and she’s given me the Calvin Klein one. It’s perfect and you can borrow it. God, she must’ve screwed Graham for every bob he had.”
Ryanair did the business, and we landed in Beauvais ahead of time. Gerberoy is only a short bus ride but as Marjorie doesn’t do public transport, she’d organised a car for the week. We struck off and, as Marj isn’t great on motorways, we took the back roads for the thirty-minute drive. After a few minor scares en route, we arrived unscathed in a little over an hour. Rachel’s map was spot on. We found the gîte, parked, and went to explore.
“It’s so beautiful, Marj. I love the quaint half-door and it’s bigger that I expected. Oh my God, look at the lavender fields next to the bedroom windows, and isn’t the built-in BBQ cute?”
With the sun smiling and the temperature around 25, I relaxed.
“Will we make a start with the cleaning, there’s not much to be done? What do you think?”
“Relax, Dot. We’ve the entire week. I’m starving. Let’s get lunch.”
Le Picardie dominated the cobble-stoned square and listening to the locals chattering away created its own atmosphere. We got the last two seats outside.
“Bonjour Mesdames, how can I assist you today? You are new here, yes? I am Francois and this is my place. I cook, clean, serve and do everything my customers desire.”
Marj, showing off her prosthodontist’s recent work, didn’t hesitate; “Bonjour, Francois. Je m’appelle Marjorie and this is mon ami, Dorothy.”
“Pleased to meet you, ladies. Have a look at our menu. I’ll return in a few moments, and you let me know if there anything I can do to make your stay in Gerberoy a happy one.”
“Merci beaucoup”, replied Marj, veneers sparkling.
“Isn’t he just gorgeous, Dot? The long hair, the moustache and oh, the accent.”
“I think he looks scruffy, to be honest.”
As most of the natives were going for moules-frites, we did likewise. I’d a Coke, but Marj decided to have a glass of Chablis to unwind. Another quickly followed, and then a few more, just to relax. By 4pm, she was in right good order and getting noticed. I was mortified, but thankfully Marj agreed that it was time to go. The bill paid, we exchanged the customary hugs and kisses with Francois, then I linked and helped her waddle back to base camp. The needle like heels didn’t help.
With the sun still showing off, Marj lay on the lounger and within minutes was showing off her tonsils. Not a good idea. It was dark when she surfaced. She managed to get into the kitchen cum living room before announcing she felt awful and was going to bed.
“Would you like a cuppa?” I asked, leaving down the book on local history I’d found in the cob-webbed bookcase.
“I’d love one and two or three painkillers if you’ve packed any.”
For the rest of the week, we kept a somewhat similar pattern. After Marj appeared from under the duvet, she’d pop a few aspirin and we’d have orange juice, croissants and coffee on the patio followed by a few hours sun worshipping, then a relaxed stroll thru’ the countryside where roses and wisteria on every cottage fought for supremacy. The car never moved.
A leisurely late lunch at Francois’s was our routine. Marj stuck to the Chablis. I enjoyed the occasional glass of rose.
We put the housework on the long finger and by Thursday; the gîte resembled a student bed-sit, as Marj never found the sink with a cup or plate or the washing machine with her discarded smalls.
“I think we should stay in this evening and give this place the once over. It’ll only take a few hours and we’ll be able to relax in the morning before heading to the airport.”
“Good idea, Dot, but we’ll have to drop up to the restaurant to say au revoir.”
We went around 4ish after I’d finished the laundry and Marj soaked more rays. The regulars insisted we try Pastis and Ricard, the famous French spirits. Both are sipped slowly, heavily diluted with water. Marj skipped on the H2O. As the sun set, she tried, unsuccessfully, I might add, to sing Irish ballads. So embarrassing, but thankfully Francois was eager to close and so time came to say goodbye. After hugs and kisses from the locals and a special farewell from our host, we waltzed back to the gîte. Marj hit the feathers.
An hour later, she reappeared, howling.
“What’ll I do Dorothy? I’ve had an affair.”
“What are you talking about? When, where and with who?”
Swaying, Marj blurted – “tonight with Francois.”
“Go back to bed, Marj. Perhaps the goodbye kiss was a little longer than expected, but I don’t think you can claim that as a fling.”
“Are you sure?”
“Marj. you weren’t bonking anyone. You are plastered. Please go back to sleep.”
I was up before the sun and had the place spotless before Marj surfaced around ten.
“I am about to die,” she declared before bolting to the loo, where she remained for an age.
“Marj, are you ok? We’ll have to head off soon to leave time to return the car.”
“I have never, ever been so ill. Not ever.”
As the mercury reached 30, she retched again and announced; “You’ll have to drive, Dot.”
“Are you mad? I can’t drive here. Vincent always drives whenever we go away. Anyway, I’m not insured.”
“Well. I’m still pissed and dying. Please, Dot.”
And without another word, she got into the back seat, curled into the foetal position, and covered her head with a damp tea towel.
Almost swimming in sweat, we, or rather I, made it to the airport. My knickers clung to me. I’d never been so nervous.
“Don’t tell me this isn’t the queue for our flight, Dorothy.”
“Afraid so, but it’s moving along nicely.”
An Alsatian barked. I jumped and Marj wet herself.
“Is this your bag, Madame?” asked one of two well-armed gendarmes standing next to the Calvin Klein wheelie.
I nodded. “Yes, it’s mine… What’s the matter?”
“Madame, you’re under arrest. Our dog, Hannibal, has detected drugs in your suitcase.”
Marj, despite her condition, managed to support me. I thought I’d faint.
“There must be some mistake, officer,” we said in unison.
“We shall see. Please follow.”
“But this isn’t really my gear,” I pleaded. “I only borrowed it. It belongs to Rachel, her sister. She was on holiday here lately. There has to be an explanation.”
Humiliation. I was photographed, fingerprinted, and interrogated by a detective wearing a suit that would fit him someday if he took up body building or steroids or maybe both. They left Marj alone. She’d enough to contend with the pneumatic drill rattling her cranium.
After what seemed an age, they summoned her to the interview room.
“Madame, you are free to continue your journey.”
“Wonderful, will I still make my flight?”
“Are you serious Marj? Are you really going to abandon me here? You’ve landed me in the shit over that bloody bag of your sisters. And now, you’re leaving me. I don’t believe this is happening.”
“Dot darling. You know I’d love to stay and see this sorted, but tomorrow is Saturday and Tom won’t be pleased if he doesn’t get his game of golf, especially as he’s been looking after the kids for the week. I’ll have Rachel phone Graham as soon as I’m home. They say he’s an excellent solicitor.”
“Unbelievable,” was all I managed.
As Marj literally took off, they escorted me to a detention cell where I lay and cried till dawn with I’m not sure this is a good idea, replaying over and over.
The detective who’d barked rather than asked the questions entered wearing a broad smile carrying a tray of hot coffee and croissants.
“Bonjour, madame. We have positive news. The car that this lady Rachel hired. We have located it. From our inquiries, we now know it was used by a criminal gang some weeks earlier to move a large haul of cocaine. The boot still shows signs of dope, and it satisfies us this is where madame Rachel’s case picked up the traces. It is clear you are not a drug mule, and we have arranged for you to catch the next flight to Dublin.”
Never did I imagine I’d be overjoyed to learn the gendarmerie didn’t relate me to a donkey and, of course, I burst into tears.
Vincent collected me, and after sharing my nightmare, I went to bed.
“Marjorie phoned three times when you were asleep, but I left it ring.”
My peace was short-lived. She rang again. I answered.
“Dot, I knew it’d all be fine, but it’s wonderful you’re home. Now, to cheer you up, I’ve some terrific news. First, you can hold on to the Calvin Klein bag and as we had such a fantastic time, I think we should do it again soon. Have you ever gone skiing?”
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry.
“Can we chat about it next week, Marj, I’m just going for a shower? Yeah, give you a buzz for a cuppa.”
“Vince, be a pet, and fix me a G&T. A large one.”