The Squat Pen: Many are called but few are chosen

OF all the chores in a house with a young family, ironing is the one I dislike least. It’s private for a start, and you accomplish something tangible. A basket with neat, crisp clothes.

In particular I love ironing Japanese selvedge jeans. Inside-out, start from the back pocket, then the other back pocket, turn around and do the front, inside the pockets, then the pockets, the crotch, the legs. With the right tunes and a milky coffee, I swear I could iron for eternity.

So, when Fionnuala barged into the utility room and stood staring, I turned down the music.

“You are disturbing a man at work. What’s with the look of doom?”

“You have forgotten where you are supposed to be. Uncle Brian is waiting for you to lift him in town and will be drenched through.”

Genghis. I had ironed him out of my mind evidently. I was (not of my own volition) his chauffer, as he was barred from driving for a month for health reasons. Fionnuala loved him but he hated me for no reason and every time I had him in the car he seethed.

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I had to put my pile of crinkly clothes back in the basket and in the lashing rain speed into town and find him. Easier said than done. He was nowhere to be found and had no phone so I drove around searching.

He was standing outside a pub smoking and I pulled up. “Sorry I’m late, Brian. Was working at home there.”

“You don’t work,” he said. “What where you working at?”

“Nothing important,” I said. “Jump in.”

I had wanted to say “None of your frigging business you presumptuous git.” But he was staring at me with granite eyes.

“I had to get a pint and I’ll be out when that’s finished.” And he sauntered into the bar.

I thought about phoning Fionnuala but what was there to say? Moaning would get me nowhere. When sorrows come, they come not single spies but in battalions. Shakespeare understood.

I sat there in the car, the wipers thumping, the rain so thick it seemed like sitting in a waterfall. I couldn’t see out and Genghis was evidently having another pint and it occurred to me that I was a fool. Was he not supposed to be off the fags and drink? Was I not his lackey because of his heart condition?

A knock on the window. A face peering in that I didn’t recognise. “Fabien?’ I indicated yes and this strange man jumped into the car, wet and flustered. “Hello, Fabien, I’ve been looking for you.”

I thought this was maybe a dream. He was small and bald and when he took down his hood I was mesmerised by his alabaster complexion and youthful blue eyes as he looked deeply at me.

“In case you are wondering how I knew it was you, Fabien, I have a thing for number plates.”

“I was wondering who the hell are you?” I couldn’t help but blurt it out. I know people in Tyrone have their own ways but this was a new one. A total stranger in my car smiling at me sweetly.

“I’m your priest, Fabien. Fr Austin.”

It began to dawn on me. I had seen him before. That day at Mass a few weeks back when I brought the collection plate up. He had called me a soldier.

“I hear you are an English teacher. Would you read at Mass? People are heartsick listening to my 'oul voice all the time.”

I spluttered for a bit but he handed me a piece of paper and left as quickly as he had arrived. I read it in the gloomy light. Many are called but few are chosen.

I was back at the ironing board when Fionnuala came in. “Thanks for getting Genghis.” I remembered him belching in the car. “And I think we should skip Mass on Sunday and take the kids to the folk park or somewhere nice.”

“Oh, we’ll all be attending Mass. No more day trips for us, I’m afraid. I’m the new reader.”