A Miserable Irish Story: Do Elephants Intentionally Kill Their Young?
by Brendan Strong
The mourners shuffled, in their mourning suits, which were less morning suits, and more the kind of thing bought off the peg for just such events – christenings, weddings, funerals. Any life changing moment where the church had a hand in the proceedings. Mainly chatting – it was tragic, but anyone could see it coming – so they compared notes on the way to paying their final respects. Knowing comments followed by knowing ‘hmphs.’
Dumbo Doyle came into the church on his own. Late again, not for his own funeral, but for his son’s. Bustled in, headed straight for the top. Tries discretion to no avail, because everything about him was huge – from the huge ears that gave to his nickname to the huge hands that held wife beaters and drunks by their throats while a huge mouth cautioned them that the only thing saving their skin was the uniform he wore. So when he was off duty, they better be more mannerly.
Thank God they hadn’t started, but he was late enough to have to quick step down the aisle. His ex-wife was there, sitting right beside where she stood on their wedding day. He sat on the opposite pew, waved across to her, his daughter and his son in law. There was no getting away from this.
“James. Howarya?” A supportive voice. He turned his head to see the large, red nose of Mick, the cousin. Their mothers had been cousins. He and Mick had been at school together, but lost contact when Dumbo went away to join the Gards.
The priest came in and started talking. That’s all it was now, talk. Some women cried, some young lads placed things on the coffin. None of it made much sense to Dumbo.
After the talking, his daughter came over to ask how he was. His son in law asked how he was getting on. He had forgotten, but he owed in son-in-law money. His ex-wife simply said his name and nodded. Her new male companion escorted her from the church to the graveyard.
Dumbo walked to the graveyard with Mick who said “You musn’t blame yourself.” Dumbo said “I don’t,” truthfully, and Mick sighed. That was when Dumbo realised maybe he was meant to blame himself, because certainly everybody else did.
He let it slip a long time ago that the money – the money for the drugs – came from him. Of course, he wasn’t giving Jim – young Jim, who was dead now – money for drugs. He was giving him money for food, and rent and such. But, the point was, if he had extra money – the money his da gave him – then that money, or the money he already had – that he earned or got somehow or another – could be spent on drugs. It was a confusing argument, and not one to get into without a few pints on board. At some point, someone would say “Don’t be so naive, Dumbo.” He didn’t feel naive. He felt like he was doing the wrong thing for the right reasons, or maybe the right things for the wrong reasons. It was a confusing defence, usually countered by the condescending rejoinder “And you a Guardian of the Peace!” On the way home, alone, he would defend himself to himself by furthering the point – if he gave money to his son, then his son would not commit a crime to get the money. So he was still guarding the peace, but just from those whom his son might steal from.
The first time he gave young Jim money, the boy was in a fix. He was done with it, he said. It surprised Dumbo to learn his son had ever taken drugs. But now, his son assured him, he wouldn’t be taking any more. He just needed some money to pay off some dealers, or they’d go for him. Dumbo handed over the cash, and shook his head. They grow up so fast, this one had lived a whole life – networks, deals, highs, lows, a whole society – and finished with it before his father knew there was anything to be worried about.
Some time after, Dumbo called young Jim and asked him to come home. Jim said he couldn’t, on account of his career. “And besides,” he said “there’s nothing for me there anymore.”
They stood around the hole, looking down. The sky loomed over, like a bruised victim. The coffin went down. Dumbo, Margeret (his ex-wife) and Anne (his daughter) each threw a handful of soil on it. That was that. They were all for the hotel for the afters. Mick rubbed his hands and licked his lips, then cast his eyes sideways and said “God, tis awful. I need a stiff one after that.”
They all intended to, but no one actually did, offer Dumbo a lift to the hotel. He had no car, as the time had gotten so that even a Garda couldn’t drink and drive anymore. He didn’t mind. A lift would only mean having to make small talk in the car on the way. He decided to take a moment, and maybe drop into Smyths for one on the way.
“Well, if you ask me, you get what you pay for. It was coming a long time.” The statement hung in the air, as Dumbo walked into the pub. It was an old pub near the bus stop. Frequented by maybe a dozen regulars, half sat at the bar, the other half at a far table in the corner. The ones in the corner were hastily picking up cards and money. Dumbo ignored it, sat at the bar.
“Dumbo… err.. Jim. What can I get you? On the house, of course. The day that’s in it and all.”
“Shay. A pint, please. And thanks”
“What about me?!” Dumbo looked round to see Mick, yet again behind him. Support, he supposed but was supporting who?
“Oh. Right, Mick. What’ll you have?”
“Pint. And a whisky. As you said, day that’s in it…” Mick looked down at the bar. Shay and Dumbo looked at each other. It was an old move, and just this time, they’d let it go.
“So, James. How are you?”
“Where is he?” asked Margaret, tired of having to ask after an ex husband who just seemed to do everything he wanted to, and in whatever way he wanted.
“I don’t know, mam.” The guests were swirling round the hotel function room, coming up to offer consolations, retreating, returning to nervously say “Excuse me, but where is Dum… errr… James?” The manager approached to ask about starting the food.
“You’ll need to give us a few more minutes. My husb… ex-husband hasn’t arrived yet. We’re a bit worried about him, actually.”
Having reached the end of the pint, Mick looked to Dumbo, still halfway through his. “Another?” he asked. No answer. Not even a sign Dumbo had heard him. Mick looked to Shay, and said “Another.” Shay put them on, all the bar in silence.
The second time he asked for money, Dumbo tried to be cute. He said he’d help him out if young Jim would just give him a name. Someone he could arrest and bring in. That could trigger a series of events leading to promotion and a better life. Maybe even a move to Dublin, so young Jim wouldn’t be on his own up there.
His son spat back at him that he really couldn’t care for him, not if he wanted to use him in this time of vulnerability. When he was begging, he had no dignity, and had turned to the only person he could. And that person demanded favours in return. That, his son observed, was the way it had always been, hadn’t it? Because Big Jim had always been ashamed of him, or something.
He asked Margaret about it. That was the beginning of the end of their marriage.
“Drugs?” she asked, astounded. “And you gave him money before?”, disgusted. “What kind of a man are you?”, demanded. “No, we won’t give him any money. If he needs anything it’s help. For the love of God, you’re a Garda. And you’re contributing to his drug addiction. What’s wrong with you?”
But he couldn’t let his son down. He just couldn’t.
When Margaret saw the bank balance, she packed her bags that evening. She said “Well, once again, you’re doing things your own way. I just can’t support this. After what I said. Ugh.”
That night, young Jim rang again to ask why he’d told his mother. Didn’t he realise this was the end of it, and now it’s all the more complicated because she’ll be forever asking about the drugs, and he wasn’t even taking them anymore. He just had to pay off one last tab, and he was free of them. But now, his mother would be asking. He’d never be free of them, and it was his father’s fault. He said that – “I hope you realise it’s your fault!”
In Smyths he thought about this. He supposed it was his fault, but for giving him the money. What Margaret said all along. He let out a sigh, and took in the end of his pint. He got up, but noticed the other pint on the bar. He sat down again.
“We’ll go after these”
“Oh, yeah. Can’t miss the meal!” Shay looked at Mick, drunk already. Must have been at it before he even came in.
“Is he here?”
“I don’t know. Don’t go asking him for that money now. It’s not fair on him.”
“It was a lot of… I’m not going to ask for it… I just want to make sure he… Alright!”
“Thanks” Ann clutched her husbands shoulder as she repositioned the shoe on her foot. “Mam is devastated. I might stay with her tonight.”
“Of course. But she does have Gerry now, so you may not need to. They might want their space”
“Lookit, he’s in a world of his own. A quick game, go on lads” Mick was coaxing the nervous card players into a quick round of something. Shay, looking over asks “What time is the meal, James?”
Dumbo looked at his watch. “Half hour ago” He looked into his pint.
“Should you not…” He couldn’t finish, but he wanted them out. No one was talking since they came in, except Mick, who was a bad drunk and trying to get into a card game that would keep him here all day.
“I suppose. I’ll just finish this.”
“Good man. You know, ye may have broken up, but Margaret still needs your support.” That was all he would say. Now he’d just have to wait.
But not for long. “Mick! We’re going!” Dumbo had downed the pint, and was headed for the door.
“Hold on, hold on! Dumbo… err James’s drinks were on the house, what with the day that’s in it, but Mick…”
“What?” Mick, indignant looked around the bar. “I’m here to support my cousin! And you, you fucker, want money! Jesus! What a day!”
“Do you have it?” asked Dumbo
“Well, that’s not the point…” Mick stumbled.
Dumbo took the money from his wallet, and went to the bar.
“Dumbo, don’t. I only meant for Mick to pay his way. I’ll get him the next time.”
“You won’t. Here. I appreciate the drinks. A problem like Mick never gets fixed.” He could have said it of his own son.
“Jesus, where were ye? What kind of a state is Mick in?”
“Stopped at Smyths. Just for the one. Mine were on the house. I had to pay for Mick’s though.”
“You’ve been gone longer than just one. And you paid for Mick? Jim, he’s an alcoholic. Will you never learn?” Her words were harsh, but her look soft. For all that had happened in six years, she was still gentle with him. He was a fool that didn’t understand how things were, but she couldn’t go on waiting for him to learn. She had her own life. Anne told her the separation, and divorce were the only things she’d done for herself. And she was right. You had to be happy in life, you just had to be happy.
The manager came over and asked them to sit, so they did. Then the food came.
The third, and last time young Jim asked Dumbo for money, he just didn’t have it. But there were really bad guys after young Jim, and he wouldn’t let up. There was nowhere else he could get it. But Dumbo couldn’t get it either, mortgaged to the hilt, paying out to Margaret, repaying several loans. The money just wasn’t there, and the credit was all used up.
“She got to you, didn’t she!?” his son asked, referring to Margaret. “I heard about the divorce! It serves you both right! You’re a bastard and she’s a bitch, and it serves you both right!”
Dumbo told his son to stop right there. That was enough. He’d had enough, paying out every time young Jim was supposed to have given up drugs altogether. It was plain he hadn’t. And it just wasn’t right that he ask his father for the money.
Young Jim said he spent his own money on drugs. It was food and rent he wanted money for. He said “You caught me out. I am, yeah, a user. But it’s under control, and it’s the only thing to keep me sane. So I’m going to keep doing it. Now, whether you want me to do it in a flat with food in me, or on the street hungry, is up to you!” Dumbo didn’t know what to make of this. He was silent for a while. Then he said he’d see what he could do, and hung up the phone.
When they brought they boy back from Dublin, he looked like he belonged in a curiosity shop. Long strands of greasy hair. Waxen face. Skinny, made all the more gaunt looking by his length in the coffin. Margaret cried, turned to Dumbo and said “This is what you’ve done! I told you to get him help, and instead you did this!”
She apologised later, after Dumbo had screamed that he had paid for all the drugs that killed his boy. It was too much to keep in. Especially as they all asked “I wonder how he got the money?” Maybe they hoped he was a thug, a criminal. The son of a Garda, an outlaw. It would keep them in conversation in pubs and outside churches for years. Hi bizarre confession would do that now, he was sure. Margaret and Anne calmed him, until at last he seemed untouchable. Deep inside his skin somewhere was Dumbo, dealing with all of this.
“It’s about the money”
“Did you get it? I knew you would dad. Thank God. They’re coming for me. Tonight, you know. I hope you know that. They’re coming for me tonight.”
“OK. Well, I’ve transferred it. It should be in your account in two days.”
“OK, well I guess I just have to hold them off until then. I hope I can. How did it take you so long to get?”
“Ten thousand Euro doesn’t just appear, son. I had to ask Gerry.”
“Gerry? And did you tell him why? I don’t want every fucker knowing my business, you know. It’s not up to you to tell everyone my business”
“No. I told him it was for a holiday or something.”
“OK. Well, I have to go. Thanks again”
“Are you all right, son?” he asked a click and a series of steady beeps.
At the time he was born, they all said “Oh, he’ll be a Gard! Look at the size of him!” That was what they said when Dumbo was born. When young Jim was born, they said “Oh, he’ll be a real sportsman! Look at the size of him!”
Dumbo took him out to everything. Gaelic, Hurling, Soccer (secretly), Rugby (secretly) and swimming. Young Jim loved it, being out and about.
At one rugby match, Jim got the ball and ran like hell to the try line. He went through two other boys, and out outmanoeuvred two more. Coaches and officials nodded. Everyone was behind him here, as he ran toward what seemed to be his future. Dumbo thought to himself, this is what it’s all about. Young Jim, courageous hero, scorer of the winning try, came running up to him “Did you see me Da? Did you see me?”
“I did!” he said and lifted him up. “You were brilliant!”
The boy thrashed about for a bit, “Let me down da. Not in front of the team”.
“Oh right.” He let him down, and watched him run to his team mates who gave him high fives and cheers.
This was what Dumbo Doyle thought about as he cut into the roast beef at the meal after his son’s funeral.