Monday, March 17, 2014

Shenanigans


Author's Note: A few years ago, I wrote a blog piece about how much I dislike the waywe observe St. Patrick's Day here in the US. One of the particular things that sticks in my craw is how we portray Leprechauns. They are not benevolent creatures who leave chocolate coins in your shoes. They are far more mischievous—even devious. This story is a modern fairy tale about what a real encounter with a leprechaun might be like.

         Barry hung up the phone and exhaled slowly. Relief and hope flooded through him—a job interview. He had sent out hundreds of resumes and letters in the months since he was laid off. His savings were dwindling and he was beginning to feel desperate. Now he had the chance to get his foot in the door and make an impression.
         He pulled his best suit out of the closet. It was a little loose after weeks of eating Ramen noodles and pounding the pavement, but it would do. It had to be cleaned and pressed and his dress shoes were worn at the heels and in need of polish. Fortunately he had a few days to get things in order.

         “Can I get these by Tuesday?” he asked the dry cleaner.
         “The suit is no problem. You can have it tomorrow,” the smiling Vietnamese man assured him. “I don’t fix shoes anymore though.”
         “Do you know anyone who does? I can’t remember the last time I went to a cobbler.”
         “There’s a man downtown who still fixes shoes,” the man said hesitantly. “O’Malley? O’Riley? Something like that. Nice enough guy. A little strange.”
         “I can put up with strange if he can fix my shoes before my interview on Wednesday. Have a good night Mr. Nguyen.”
         Barry left the store and walked downtown, saving himself the bus fare.
“This guy better still be in business,” he muttered as he pulled his coat tightly to shut out the bitter March wind.
At the end of a row of empty store fronts, a golden light poured from a shop window. Barry couldn't remember ever seeing the carved oak sign that read:
Daniel O’Rourke, Cobbler
Shoes Repaired While You Wait
         He pushed open the door, expecting the shop to be broken down and dusty like the rest of the neighborhood. Instead, well cared for hand tools were laid out like a surgeon's on the maple workbench and an old black and gold Singer sewing machine gleamed like new amid. A rack of perfectly repaired shoes lined the wall, each pair tagged with its owner’s name. A statue of a dozing leprechaun sitting on a bench with an awl in his hand decorated one corner.
         There was no one in the shop. No bells rang when he opened the door to announce the arrival of a customer. Barry waited a moment and cleared his throat, hoping it would draw someone from the back room. A few moments passed and he called out, “Hello? Is anyone here?’
         “Oh! I beg your pardon sir. I must have dozed off!” replied the man Barry had mistaken for a statue. He leapt from his stool in the corner and crossed the room with remarkable speed for a man of only four feet tall. “My name is Daniel O’Rourke. What can I do for you today?” His freckled face was nearly as red as his hair and his dark eyes shimmered like coals.
         “I have a job interview on Wednesday. I’m wondering if you can have my shoes fixed in time.”
         “Let’s take a look then,” O’Rourke said and gestured for Barry to put the shoes up on the counter. He hopped onto an old wooden box and took a closer look. “These are good shoes. It’ll be nothing to get them looking like new.”
         “That’s great,” Barry said. “I’ve been out of work for months. I really need to make a good impression at this interview.”
         “Months you say?”
         “You wouldn’t believe how many jobs I’ve applied for. No one’s hiring.”
         “Well that calls for a celebration my boy!” the little man declared and slipped into the back room. He returned with a pottery jug and two old cups. “I know it doesn’t look like much. But this whiskey is the best you’ll ever have.”
         Barry was taken aback by the O’Rourke’s friendliness, but never one to turn down a glass of whiskey, he smiled and accepted the drink.
         “Slainte!” the little man said. His thick Donegal brogue reminded Barry of his great grandfather.
         “Slainte,” Barry replied, drinking the whiskey. The sweet and spicy liquor burned pleasantly.
         “Your grandfather?” Spoke the little man as if reading Barry's mind. “He was a Donegal man.”
         “How did you know that?”
         “Ach, I've been around. You might say I can smell the blood of a Donegal man,”
         “You're right about the whiskey,” said Barry. “I’ve never tasted anything this good. What’s it called?” he asked as he finished the rest and held his hand out for more. The little man poured another generous tot into the cup and smiled as Barry continued drinking.
         “Oh, you can’t buy this in any old package store son. This is Daniel O’Rourke’s own whiskey.”
         “You made this yourself?” Barry asked as the whiskey warmed him all over and made his vision blur. Nevertheless, he held his glass out for more. “You can make whiskey and fix my shoes in time for my job interview? You’re my hero!”
         “I can indeed. Alas, I don’t think you’ll be goin’ to that interview on Wednesday Barry me boy.”
         “Not going? Why? Why wouldn’t I go? Wait. How did you know my name?”
         The little man's grin transformed from friendly to fierce.
         “You drank my whiskey mo chara. You’ll be workin’ for me for the next seven years.”
         “What? But I don’t know how to fix shoes,” Barry said as the store got fuzzier and fuzzier.
         “Don’t worry about that. You go on home. Get a good night’s sleep. Meet me back here tomorrow.”

         Barry’s mouth felt like it had been dragged through a litter box. The sun shining through his window stabbed at his eyes like needles. He couldn’t remember how he got home. The last thing he remembered was a guy who looked like he walked off a Lucky Charms box laughing at him. He staggered to the kitchen for water. On the table were his black dress shoes. The heel had been repaired and the polish was so shiny, he could see his reflection in it. There was a note attached,
“See you at 10am mo chara. D.O.”
         “Crazy old bastard,” Barry said, crumpling the note. He tossed it into the trash and took a shower.
        He emerged fifteen minutes later feeling clear-headed enough to make a pot of coffee. As he crossed the kitchen, he saw the note, no longer crumpled propped up against his shoes. It was nothing, Barry told himself. He must have imagined throwing away the note. That whiskey had really done a number on him. As he thought of the whiskey, he could feel the warmth steal across his chest like when he took the first sip. Like an echo in his mind he heard the old man say, “You drank my whiskey mo chara. You’ll be workin’ for me for the next seven years.”
         Nonsense. That was potent stuff, but not so potent it could make him a slave. He picked up the note and tore it to pieces. A chime on his phone alerted Barry that he had a voicemail.
         “Good Morning Barry. This is Fran Lancaster from the firm of Smith, Gold, and Stein. I'm calling to let you know we won't need for you to come into the interview on Wednesday. The position we spoke about is filled.”
         Barry sank into a kitchen chair feeling cold. He glanced at his shoes on the table. The note was propped up against them once more—uncrumpled and untorn.
         The wind outside picked up. It sounded like laughter.