Sitting in his favourite armchair riddled with moth holes, Sharkey was enjoying a nice cup of tea when his missus came into the living room covered in shit.
Not even deigning to blink as he took in this odd sight, Sharkey took a huge gulp of tea and, trying not to smile, braced for his wifeâs upcoming tirade.
âThat Patrick Maguire and his family are a shower of bastards!â she shrieked, dropping a few dried turds on the dusty faux-Persian rug on the floor in her agitation.
âWhatâs after happening, love?â enquired Sharkey calmly in response.
She took a few deep breaths before continuing.
âMe and MĂĄire were at the market, nattering on as we usually do. We were in the queue to buy some fish off McGroaryâs stall.â
Sharkeyâs face darkened at the mention of this.
âAh that McGroaryâs an awful so-and-so. He never lets me buy anything off him since that time his dog met the toe of me left boot when it bit me last weekâ
His wife, her flow of conversation momentarily put on hold, exasperatedly told him: âSĂ©amas, will ya focus, Iâm trying to tell you the full story here!â
She continued on quickly and didnât stop in her rendition lest Sharkey interrupt again.
It seemed his wife and her friend were in the queue for the fish, yet it moved on while they were still talking. They hadnât noticed that Francis Maguire, Patrickâs wife, had seized her chance and cut in front of them.
âIt was after taking me a whole of two seconds to cop that she was after taking me spot in the line. Well, says I to meself, thatâs not on.â His wife then started to get redder in the face as she described what happened next.
âThe whoor had the cheek to ignore me, and me trying to explain nicely that sheâd taken me place.â
Sharkey couldnât imagine a less likely situation; his wife, the volcano of righteous indignation that she was, âclamlyâ explaining anything. He nodded, like smart husbands were wont to do, as she began to tell him of the ensuing fight.
âOut of nowhere, she lashed out at me, grabbing a fistful of me hair! Well, I reefed out of her the same and we were tearing chunks out of each other in secondsâ
She showed her mute husband the damage the evil bitch had caused; tufts of hair pulled out, her coat ripped and her lip cut. It still didnât explain the shit, though.
âMĂĄire was just about ready to hop in,she says, when McGroary came around his stall and pulled us apart, telling us to stop acting like little babbies.â
âAh McGroary, sure who is he to be tellin people not to act like babbies, sure heâs the biggest one.â Said Sharkey, however his wife was not willing to accept this support from her man.
âStop going on about him, itâs that Francis bitch you should be mad at!â she glared at him, and went on as if no interruption had transpired.
âAfter we stopped, I heard the clip-clop of a horse behind me. Her husband Patrick, apparently, was after finishing his last round hauling manure from the stables up the way when heâd noticed our scrap. He drove his horse as quick as a Catholic repentance down the road towards us.â she huffed.
At this point she started to gesture towards the afore-mentioned manure, which now coated half her upper-torso and bits of her legs, as if her husband could have missed it.
It turned out, Patrick had been livid at the bruising of his wifeâs face and proceeded to lift Sharkeyâs wife up and throw her on the manure pile at the back of his cart. Everyone laughed and the tension disappeared, Francis got her fish, Patrick dragged his wife off his cart and he and his missus trundled off, leaving her in the mud and covered in excrement.
âI was going to report him to the police and claim assault and battery on the pair of the bastards, but MĂĄire said it best to go home first and clean up.â
At this she started to cry, and Sharkey got up, gingerly put his arm around the bit of shoulder that wasnât so encrusted with filth and held her. He assured her that all would be well and she shouldnât press any charges on them, that they werenât worth it.
âHow can ya say that SĂ©amas, have ya seen the state of me?â she cried, sniffling back more tears.
âI know love, but if ye tell the Guards what happened, theyâll get suspicious about what happened after and theyâll be able to pin it on me no bother.â
His wifeâs expression cleared and she looked up at Sharkey, his face now alight with passion.
âWhat ya mean, SĂ©amas, what ya going to do?â she asked tentatively, fearing the answer. Her husband was many things, a logical thinker was not one of his more obvious traits.
âJust get washed up love, Iâll be off for a bit. Anyone asks I was here all night, understood?â
She nodded, and Sharkey gathered himself, donned his cap and coat, picked up his walking stick and walked out of the door.
Patrick Maguire was the third son of a relatively well-off farmer. He was well-liked around town and made a steady business hauling manure from the stables to his brotherâs farm and farms around the area.
He and the wife were sitting around the fire, tucking into the fish and spuds she cooked for him, the fire blazing merrily in the hearth of their little cottage.
Heâd parked his cart in the front garden so he could keep an eye if anyone tried to make off with it. They lived far enough from the village that he didnât feel like everyone was falling on top of him.
âI gave her a few aul clatters across the face, thanks be to jaysus, before we were broken up.â His wife said for the fourth time since getting back home. She exulted in their victory, as she called it.
Patrick smirked dutifully again and finished the last of his meal.
Then his hearth exploded.
Flames streaked everywhere and the smell of a thousand rotting corpses engulfed the tiny living-room. It was like the coming of Lucifer himself, with a cloud of soot that choked him.
His wife was screaming fit enough to wake the dead. She had fallen to the floor as he had, and was covered in soot and grime and god knew what else. Patrick stood up unsteadily and trampled on bits of carpet that had caught alight.
âAre ye okay, love?â he spluttered, trying to clear the smoke from his lungs. His eyes watered, his face stung and his wife tried to reply in an equally shaky voice.
âIâm grand Patrick, wha…what the fuck was that?â
Patrick didnât answer but instead hurried to the window, letting some air in to clear the smoke and nasty smells permeating the room. He surveyed the damage; the hearth was empty of life now, and nearly the entire living room furniture was covered in soot.
He walked over to the fireplace and saw a lump sticking out from the bottom of the chimney.
He stared, disbelieving, as he picked up a huge sod of manure.