03 September, 2019

Demise of the Undertaker's Wife, A Short Story Collection by Anne Walsh Donnelly Book Spotlight!

Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife A Short Story
Collection by Anne Walsh Donnelly 

Debut collection of short stories from Anne Walsh Donnelly which showcases a lyrical talent, characters that come to life in their searches to mend broken lives, often featuring struggles for acceptance for their sexuality. The stories explore themes of anger, betrayal, death and loneliness alongside the healing power of connection when some characters reach out to others and succeed in conquering their demons. 
Anne Walsh Donnelly: Author and Poet 
Anne Walsh Donnelly is a multi-award winning writer of fiction, poetry and non-fiction. She is a single mother of two teenagers. Originally from Carlow in the south-east of Ireland, she moved to Mayo in the west of Ireland, twenty-four years ago, where she now lives. 
Anne works as a student services officer in a third-level college and writes in her spare time. She says of her writing that, “it is my playground. I experiment, take risks, run wild on the page, always hoping that my work will resonate with the reader. I write my emotional truth and bring my whole-self to my writing.” 
She has been described by the Irish poet, Kevin Higgins as “a poet of exceptional bravery, a pretty sensational original voice. I hope the poetry world doesn’t tame her, though no doubt it will try.” 
Anne’s poetry chapbook The Woman With The Owl Tattoo (Fly On The Wall) was published in June 2019 

Demise of the Undertaker’s Wife 
He looked very solemn in death. Not at all like the Jack that would be
in the pub on a Saturday night buying drink for half the country. I had
a fierce job getting his eyes to stay shut and as for his gaping mouth.
I thought I’d have to put Super Glue on his lips. It was hard to see a man I went to school with in one of my coffins even if he had spent all of sixth class kicking me under the desk when the teacher wasn’t looking. Hard to believe that was over fifty years ago. If we knew when we were young lads how our lives would turn out, would we have bothered with it, at all? 
That’s what I was thinking when I was talking to Jack’s father the day before the funeral. 
“Will you take cash?” he said, hunching his shoulders and looking at the oak coffin I’d just shown him. I had to think for a minute before I answered him. Most people don’t talk about paying until the funeral is over. 
“No need to worry about that yet,” I said. “I was keeping the money
for my own funeral, for Jack to bury me. What was the man above
thinking when he took him first?” he said. 
I rubbed my hand along the coffin’s lid not knowing how to answer that question. 
“Sorry. I’ve nothing smaller. I’ll have some on Friday if you want to wait.” 
“No, it a perfect size.” “Perfect?” I said, thinking of Jack’s scrawny body.
“Julius and Caesar will fit in nicely, one on each side of him.” 
I lifted my hand off the coffin and leaned towards him, expecting to get the smell of whiskey off his breath.
 “Poisoned, they were. Jack was awful depressed after he found them both dead in the field at the back of the house, the day before he died. He always said he wanted his dogs buried with him.” I’ve had some requests in my years at this job, but I have to tell you this beat them all hands down. “And put the lid on the coffin for the wake. Can’t have the neighbors looking at him.” Jack’s face had hit concrete when he fell. Or jumped. Not sure exactly and it’s not something I’d ask his father. I’d done my best to make him look presentable. 
“You won’t charge me extra for the dead dogs, will you?”
“God, no.”
“Thanks. I don’t care what they say about you, but you’re a decent skin.
You know Jack’s heart wasn’t able for what he was at. That ghost estate
on the edge of town killed him. There was no way he was ever going to
sell those houses.” 
His words fell into an angry silence as he struggled to keep his hard man’s face from cracking. A tear sneaked out and hung off the cliff of his cheek bone but I knew better than to touch him. 
It must be six months ago since I last touched Maureen. Reached my
hand across the space between us in our king-size bed. Under the
crumpled sheets. Over her right thigh. 
“You don’t have to,” she said, her stiff back facing me. Her voice chased
away my eager hand. I looked at it for a moment to see what was wrong
with it. Then the snooze alarm went off. She didn’t move. No gentle shove
out of the bed like there used to be. I can’t remember how long ago that
stopped. I thought maybe she didn’t want me near her because of the
operation on my prostrate. If that had been it I might have understood. 
I couldn’t understand why she didn’t come to Dublin airport to see our only son off to Canada last month. 
“It’s a pity your mother couldn’t come with us today. Since she got that part-time job with Jack Costello, we hardly ever see each other.” He just hitched his backpack onto his shoulders and tightened the straps around his chest without a word. 
“Will they let you bring that bag on the plane? “It’s fine, don’t be
worrying, Dad.” His eyes darted around the departure area full of
other sons and daughters hugging their parents. Then he fixed his
gaze on a lad in front of us. A grey-haired woman with fine motherly
breasts clung to him crying. It must have triggered something. 
“I saw them,” he said. “Saw who?” “Mam and some man. Didn’t get a
right look at him. In a black Audi, down by the river.” 
I wished then that he would just go before I started crying because I was very close to it. He gave me one of those awkward footballer’s hugs that he would give his opponent after losing a soccer match. I took the hug. Then he didn’t look back as he went through the security gate. 
I went into the disabled toilet before leaving the airport. Thank God for the roars of all those planes. They hid mine. Then I shuffled my way through the crowds back to the car and drove it home as if I was driving the hearse. I went to the solicitor the following week. He charged me ninety euro for a ten-minute conversation and I was still none the wiser. 
“Why would you be thinking about separating?” he asked as he scrawled on his yellow notepad. 
“I just want to know where I stand if it were ever to happen. What would she be entitled to?” 
“It depends on whether you settle amicably or go to court and then it can depend on the judge.” I pushed back the chair I was sitting on, stood and leaned over his teak desk. 
“Can you not give me a straight answer?” He dropped his pen and looked up at me. “More than likely she’d get half of everything.” 
The front door of the funeral home slammed as I was about to straighten
Jack’s tie. Maureen burst into the viewing room. 
“What are you doing here?” I said. “Something’s wrong with my Visa card.
I was in town this morning, saw a lovely leather coat and the card got declined.” 
“I must have forgotten to pay the bill.” “You never forget.” “There’s always
a first time.” “This isn’t funny.” She was about to start one of her rants when
she looked to see who was in the coffin. The surface of the rant gave way
to tears. She fumbled in her handbag for tissues, the bag with the
Guess label on it. Those shoes must have been something, I thought.
“What’s Jack doing here? I thought his funeral wasn’t till tomorrow.
Are they not waking him in the house tonight?” 
“No, his father wants it all done as quick as possible. Straight to the church from here this evening.” 
“What the hell are his two dogs doing in there?” she said, stumbling towards the coffin. 
Her tissue wasn’t providing much soakage for her tears. She started stroking his tie. 
“It’s a bit creased,” she said, her voice croaking. She never noticed
my creased shirts that lay in the laundry basket for days. I used to end
up having to bring them to the launderette. She told me she hated
ironing after we got married. Still, she was a great cook, always trying
out new recipes. Green curries, red curries, ragus, sweet and sour. You name it, we had it. I never knew what I’d get for dinner, but it was always tasty. I’ll miss that. She started to finger the buttons on his suit jacket. 
“Maureen, his family will be here soon. It wouldn’t look good for you to be here crying.” 
“Yes, you’re right,” she said, bending down to kiss him on the forehead. 
“Jesus, Maureen, there’s no need for that.” She looked at me and
I didn’t know what was in her eyes. The fact that they were half-closed
and still full of tears didn’t help. She came over to where I was
standing at the other side of the coffin. For a minute I thought she
was looking for a hug, and you know, I’d nearly have given her one.
Then I remembered our son’s words at the airport. 
“I saw them in a black Audi.” A black Audi. Jack had a black Audi.
Fuck, how could I have forgotten? 
“I canceled the card,” I said. “Why?” “The bank rang me last week.
For the third month in a row you’ve gone over the credit limit.” 
“It never seemed to bother you before. Business has never been better. It’s not as if you can take it with you when you’re in a wooden box like poor Jack.” 
“I’ve been checking the Visa statements. Bills for hotels we’ve never stayed in.” 
My voice was getting a bit too high for a funeral home. She took her hand off Jack’s body and used it to rub her eyes. 
“So are you going to tell me who it is?” I asked. She sneaked a quick
look at Jack’s face but I caught her. “It’s him, isn’t it? Or should I say
it was him,” I said, saliva hitting her in the face as I spit the words out. 
“It’s over now,” she said, turning to walk away. I grabbed her arm and
the blood left her face. I would have frightened myself as much as her
with my tight grip only that the picture of her and him in his black Audi
was tormenting me. If she had apologized or offered some sort of an
excuse, it might have helped calm me down. 
“I’m too upset to talk about this now. Anyway, I told Jack last week that I couldn’t see him anymore,” she said, trying to pull her arm from my hand. 
“Is that supposed to make everything alright? So what are we supposed to do now? Kiss and make up? Forget this ever happened?” 
I was shouting and laughing at the same time but didn’t loosen my grip. She didn’t answer and to be honest, I don’t think it would have done any good if she had. 
It’s funny but I can never recall what happened next. All I remember was thinking how they were a perfect fit, herself and Jack Costello. 
Her warm corpse clung to his, as I screwed on the lid of the coffin. It was a difficult job getting it shut. My heart was thumping and hands shaking. I managed to squeeze the Guess handbag between Jack’s shoes. 
I had to take the two dead dogs out of the coffin so there’d be enough space for Maureen. The weight of them nearly killed me as I dragged them out back and put them in the boot of my car. I’d bury them in the garden later, under her rosebushes. 
I put the photo, Jack’s niece had brought in earlier, on the coffin lid and sat down in the chief mourner’s chair to clear my dizzy head. The shock of it all ripped through my body like a tornado. I steadied myself, which was no mean feat, given the circumstances. Then I put on my undertaker face, stood up, left the room and locked the funeral home’s front door. I badly needed a pint before the wake.

Copyright © The Blue Nib 2019 
Cover Photo Meadow of Graves, Inishmore, County Galway
Reproduced by kind permission of the photographer, Claire Loade
The right of Anne Walsh Donnelly to be identified as the author of this
work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright,
Design and Patents Act of 1988 All rights reserved 
ISBN 9781072186281 
Dedicated to my loving parents,
Winne and Tom Walsh 

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