News From Home 24, Part II
8/28/2006 (updated 8/29/2006)

I was, as usual after one of McSweeney’s discourses, at a loss for words. He continued:

“Did I tell you of the time, back in my farming days, when I painted the goats? Ha! This will amuse you.” He tapped out his pipe on his heel, but seemed unable to find a fresh supply of shag in any of his countless pockets. “I understand that you are fully of the teetotal persuasion, but would there happen to be a secret supply of porter, or any such, about the house, left over and long forgotten since you took the pledge, of which I might relieve you? I myself have a rather good 12 year old whiskey concealed in a table lamp, which Mrs. McSweeney has never suspected.”

I could think of none. “No matter”, he replied, “I’ll toddle round to a dispensary shortly. Anyway, back in my farming days in Connemara, I did miraculously well with my oats – as you know, it is a windswept and rocky place, far more suited to livestock, and I was considered a bit of a freak for even attempting a cereal crop…but I was blessed with perfect weather that year, and made a handsome profit. Figuring that things might never be as good again, I decided to get out of cereals and into the goat business pronto. Every week I walked the two miles to market, bought the three best looking animals at the auction, and walked home again – after a stop for refreshment at Mrs. O’Rourke’s Bar, of course. And herein lay the problem…I was so drunk going home, and the night was so dark, that for three weeks running I lost the goats. I was rapidly losing all my hard-earned capital. Avoiding Mrs. O’Rourke’s did not seem a practical solution – this would have meant painful self-sacrifice, and I did not even consider it as an option. I did, however, have some white paint left over from sprucing up the cottage, and so the next week, I took two tins with me to market. I painted the new goats, and after a dram or two, made my way home.”

He paused. I was unsure if that was the end of the story. 

“You made it home successfully, with full compliment of goats?” I asked.

“Alas, no”, he replied, “If that wasn’t the one day of the whole year that it snowed.”

Witherstock is someone who would never be seen dressed in red. Grey, grey and grey are her personal rainbow, to match her hair, and that tinge of sadness in her cheek, and that steely grey in her eye, and the threadbare but perfectly pressed grey of her uniform. It is a proper, housekeeperly colour, she would say, unfrivolous, unpretentious, and blending into the shadows of the room with a servile deference… from where she can dream of lost love, and read the auguries in bird-flock and tealeaf. Her utterances are increasingly eccentric, and she is scaring the children.

“Mummy”, said our youngest the other day, “Witherstock says the world will end next Tuesday during Geography.”

“Well, I’m sure she didn’t really say that, Dear.”

“She jolly well did, and I asked her if the end could come a bit later, ‘cos I really love Geography with Mr. Soutar. I asked if she could change it to end just before double Physics, and she said she had the power to see what was written, but not to change what was written - something about the moving finger writes, and dum-ti-dum-ti-dum…”

“And having writ, moves on, Dear. I’m quite sure she meant something entirely different.” 

“She also said our house was built on the site of an old Indian burial ground, and all the lost Indian souls were coming to repossess the land next week, and they’d probably suck our brains out…but if the world ends Tuesday, that doesn’t really matter, does it?”

And so it goes on. Witherstock has also taken to muttering to herself, and chuckling in a Macbeth-witch sort of way. But she does iron my shirts superbly, so I think we can live with these small inconveniences.