- By James Joyce.
Part One: The old preist Dies.
North Richmond Street, being blind, was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers' School set the boys free. Quite why they’d kept them chained in a basement, no one could understand. The boys were always glad to be free, free of the scary nuns that ruled them with an iron fist. The boys mocked the nuns, calling them penguins, on account that they wore black and white like a penguin. An uninhabited house of two storeys stood at the blind end, detached from its neighbours in a square ground. The other houses of the street, conscious of decent lives within them, gazed at one another with brown imperturbable faces. None the wiser, the occupants of the houses kept to themselves, or hung out at the local taverns and drank themselves into a stupor.
The former tenant of our house, a priest, had died in the back drawing-room. I could tell he was dead, because he smelt even worse than usual. I remember that day well, I was visiting the priest for my weekly confession, during which I would be forced to admit my ‘guilty sins of the flesh’. Last week I told the priest I had once seen a woman hanging out washing, he condemned my ‘vile lust of the eyes’. And said I was a wicked depraved child, who Jesus would watch with extra vigilance. He asked if I’d ever been naked. I told him I had. ‘Nakedness is sin!’ He screamed, ‘I myself have never been naked!’He told me I must say 500 Hail mary’s , 86 our fathers, and pray for the death of 26 protestants. He asked if their was any other, depravity to witch I would confess, he seemed exited at the thought of depravity and I could see him drool slightly as he spoke the word. He had that creepy look in his eyes, the look he gave alterboys as he locked the church doors for the start of choir practise. I said I thought church was ‘a bit dull’.
He foamed at the mouth, and made the sign of the cross. He called this ‘adultery of the soul,’ and said I would go straight to hell that afternoon, unless I was very very sorry, and gave him five pounds. I gave him the money and he told me I must now say 900 Hail mary’s 11 Jesus wepts and 600 our fathers, and pray to saint Patrick to end my ‘Depraved phallic lust’. He said if it didn’t stop soon I would end up a degenerate pornographer, I would go blind from wanking, regurgitate sand, and choke on my own whisky. He said from now on I should feel nothing but guilt, and the ‘numbness of shame.’
Curiously I had found the door was unlocked. I stepped inside, just to look around, perhaps ‘borrow’ some furniture. While exploring the drawing room I spotted a silver candlestick above the hearth. I thought it very ornamental,and couldn't help wondering how long it would take to melt down the silver;. Passing the candlestick from hand to hand I slid it in my pocket, to protect it from the dust. I did the same with his watch, and his crucifix, and the banknotes under the mattresses. The priest had always said that we couldn't take it with us after we died. Not like he'd need it any more. After all, he tried to hide his Kitten Huffing habit and his porn collection. I found his porn stash in some old boxes marked "hymn texts", and I found used up kittens in boxes marked "tax forms", and I knew the priest didn't believe in paying taxes and hardly ever sang.
Naturally I took the opportunity to tidy out the rest of the place, before the police arrived, I didn’t want them to trip over all that clutter. Returning with my wheelbarrow I began clearing the mess. In fact I was so enthusiastic and removed so much ‘clutter’ , I was obliged to sell the majority of his possessions, that very day at the flea market. I reasoned that the priest had no need of them, being decidedly immobile for the foreseeable future, and already rather mouldy. The porn collection alone could yield a fortune to lonely men unable to find a mate, as they usually hung out at the flea market having nothing better to do.
Besides I lived next door him so it virtually belonged to me anyway. “Its what he would have wanted.” I told myself as I shoved his body off the chair, and chopped it up for firewood, the chair that is, not the body. I thought he’d be having a bad enough time in hell, without burning on earth as well. I'll leave his torture up to the devil, who just loves priests who lost their way and has a special place set aside for them next to the insurance salesmen, lawyers, and politicians.
Part Two: Uncle arrives
Later as arranged my uncle arrived; and demanded his cut of the furniture profits. Not wishing to feel the back of his broken bottle, I grudgingly gave him half the money, he undid his belt. I gave him the other half; he looked offended, I gave him my shoes, still he as not satisfied. I gave him the cigarette I was smoking, and the whisky I had stolen from Valium Joe the opium fiend. Finally he was mollified.
His wrath diminished he swallowed a glass of turpentine and said we would give the priest “A proper send off.” For in my uncle’s opinion the priest was “A fine fellow.” Compassionate and wealthy. “Not queer like the others.” He then tenderly bent down over the body, as his tears dripped on the mouldy face of the dead man; my uncle appeared greatly moved as he ransacked the pockets for cigarettes and “booze money.” Upset at finding only a shilling he swore, and wrenched open the priests mouth, only to find no fillings. Now even more perturbed, he threw his pliers to the floor with great violence. He picked up the corpse dragging it by the feet out the door, straight into the open sewer. As it sank in the oozing mud and piss he announced he’d never liked “His sort.” They we’re disgusting “Fecking perverts”, “Bible bashing feckers.” who “Did things.” which uncle wouldn’t elaborate on but said were ‘sticky’. He said that Mrs Birdseye from number forty two had told him he’d buggered a Herron, wore lipstick, and that twelve years ago he was ‘seen’ with a sailor.
The funeral finished, and the arrival of any police still far off we set to work. The air, musty from having been long enclosed, hung in all the rooms, as did the roasted cats the priest liked to catch and eat for supper. The waste room behind the kitchen was littered with old useless papers. Among these I found a few paper-covered books, the pages of which were curled and damp, with an unpleasant liquid I couldn’t quite identify, the pile of books contained: The Abbot, by Walter Scott, The Devout Communicant, and Stupid whore tit violence. I liked the last best because its leaves were yellow. The wild garden behind the house contained a central apple-tree and a few straggling bushes, under one of which I found the late tenant's rusty bicycle-pump. He had been a very charitable priest; in his will he had left all his horde of money to institutions, and the furniture of his house to a small boy he kept locked in a sock draw. Our business finished we closed the door, just as the flames began devouring the building. Uncle went to the docks to fight whores, and I trudged over to O’Keefe’s pub to drink raw ether and brawl with sailors.
Part three: Winter of malcontent.
When the short days of winter came, dusk fell before we had well eaten our dinners. Potatoes again, it was all we could afford. We we’re lucky tonight, usually uncle boiled all the potatoes to “Make vodka.” Leaving me to make do with a saucepan of pulped bibles in gruel. When we met in the street the houses had grown sombre. Being destitute like me it was the only emotion they could afford. The space of sky above us was the colour of ever-changing violet, the cheapest colour, it was all we could afford. Towards it the lamps of the street lifted their feeble lanterns. The cold air stung us, clouds of acid from the Uranium mill mingled with the mist, and we played till our bodies glowed. An eerie green glow. Dribbling priests watched from the shadows, waiting for an opportunity to strike. Our shouts echoed in the silent street. The career of our play brought us through the dark muddy lanes behind the houses, where we ran the gauntlet of the rough tribes from the cottages, who drank diesel instead of turpentine, and welded nails to their fists, for an extra advantage in fights with gypsies. When we returned to the street, light from the kitchen windows had filled the areas. If my uncle was seen turning the corner, we hid in the shadow until we had seen him safely housed. It wasn’t wise to surprise uncle at night, especially when the man was drunk, he might think you’re a policeman and tip you in the canal.