Enda Boyle was Born in County Derry Ireland in 1994. He was educated at Ulster University and Queen’s University Belfast. Pervious work has appeared in several small magazines.
The Cream of The Jest
Summer had largely been a non-event until on the last day of August when Johnny Magee woke up in the bed of Elizabeth Gerkan. He’d been vaguely aware of Elizabeth as a young woman who worked in his Great Aunt’s antique shop, but it was not until he saw her the night before at the comedy open mic that he had really noticed her. She had stood out among the other performers who mostly based their sets around dreary third-hand imitations of Bill Hicks and George Carlin (Atheism and Anal Sex). Elizabeth had come in wearing a 50s style polka dot dress with her red curls pulled under a black felt hat and deployed a high-pitched innocent voice which bypassed Disney and landed directly on Pollyanna to say bluntly filthily sexual anecdotes. Naturally, Johnny had to talk to her.
For once he was sober and clear-headed, getting up, he saw a Post-it notes on top of a stack of paperback Dean Koontz novels (well no one’s perfect). It reads ‘Gone to work come for lunch if you want cereal in top shelf help yourself.’ While Johnny was rummaging through the cupboards of Elizabeth’s public lavatory tiled kitchenette he reflected in the note, while Elizabeth would never win fame as a composer of abodes, she was an excellent absentee host.
Deciding to take Elizabeth lunch Johnny stopped at the corner shop near his great aunt’s shop. He purchased a ham sandwich, can of Coke and a large honeycomb chocolate bar. As he walked towards his Great Aunt’s place, he could not help remembering Elizabeth’s performance, the way she pulled a shocked Daily Express Mum's face after the punchline to her own jokes her little false coughs, her pale oval face. Johnny entered the shop with a cheekbone to cheek bone grin, which immediately shuts closed like a bear trap when he saw sitting at the counter not Elizabeth but his great Aunt Betty and her sister May.
If as Johnny often suspected woman over the age of fifty-five could transmit disapproval telepathically, then his two great Aunts were giving him full blast at the moment. Both women mentally cleaved humanity into the respectable and everyone else. However, they differed on how they spilt the sheep from the goats. May believed one could be justified by acts as long you had attended one of the local Catholic Grammar Schools, earned an annual income over thirty grand and drove a new car at least once in your life. Betty on the other hand had a much more Calvinist worldview, only those who bore the surname McDonald were counted amoung the elect. Needless to say, Johnny was dammed from both points of view. A few years back when he had earned a place to study at Ulster Univerity Betty had begun to speak more civilly to him ,prehaps hoping that though the process of higher education he would gain the same kind of rough facsimile of respectability the unmarried mothers who provided her home care as part of their social care course. This period of relatively warm relations ended when a picture of Johnny at a protest again the last G8 summit appeared in the local paper.
“Ah Betty look who’s come to see us today”. May pushed herself up from her steel backless stool and walked to the centre of the room to greet him. She was a large woman and now the middle of the seventh decade, she’d put on even more weight as if her body sensed the end coming and had expanded to give the Reaper a harder job carting her off. Her head was as round as a tennis ball and her arms were meaty and solid like two enormous pot marked anvils of pork. May put out a hand for me to shake. “May how it’s going you’re still giving Betty a hand on the weekends then then?”
“Yes, you’re as well working while you’re alive. Speaking of which, no word of a promotion for you yet?”
“Acch at the minute I’m not really bothered I only started with the National Trust at Easter time enough for all that.”
“Hmm, I suppose so”.
“How’s the shop going you must be coming into the busy season”
, “Things are going perfectly well, thank you” May snapped, she wanted to end this conversation quickly, clearly under the impression that I was about to ask for money.
“Listen May is Elizabeth about”?
When she heard this question, Betty looked up from her catalogue. “Indeed, she is not, she did not bother herself to come in today.” She pulled a face like a gargoyle sucking on a sour Gobstopper, Betty was one of those women who had a strong distaste for other woman.
“Well, you don’t happen to know where she might be?”
“I suppose I should have known she’d be a friend of yours. No, we do not know what that silly wee girl gets up to when she’s not here. If you do run into her today tell her not to worry about coming in tomorrow. Her attitude and work ethic has always been atrocious she was given plenty of chances and I will not be taken advantage of anymore”.
“Not a problem, listen, Betty Elizabeth told me to meet me here I’m going to have a look for her if she does come by could you tell her I was looking for her?”
“Very well, I suposse it is too much trouble for you to stay and give your two elderly Great Aunts a hand running the shop for the day. Say hello to your mother for me.”
Johnny left the shop without saying goodbye, for a few minutes after he left, he stood outside facing the road taking deep breaths. The standard protocol in the extended family was to remain calm when dealing with Betty and May and Johnny always felt he was pretty good keeping his head anyway. However, he had reached the limits of his patience despite the fact that there would surely be repercussions when the rest of the family heard about it, he was about to go back inside and unload twenty-three years’ worth of boiling anger on top of the auld bitch’s heads. His hand was on the doorknob and he was about to turn when an Eggcorn hit him in the dead centre of his forehead.
Rubbing his head, Johnny stared at the industrial bins outside the café opposite the shop trying to see who threw the Eggcorn at him when he heard a familiar English-sounding voice behind him. “Are you looking for Oscar The Grouch”? Johnny did not turn around; he did not want Elizabeth to see the tears that were forming in his eyes. He blinked a few times before replying.
“Careful now this street is clearly a hotbed of poltergeist activity I’ve just been whacked in the head with an Eggcorn.”
“Yeah, sorry, that was me I, was aiming for the window of the shop.
“Most people use a brick when they want to vandalize their former employers store fronts, but then you like to put your own individual stamp on everything you do.”
“Well when I came in this morning the two charming old women who own and operate that establishment told me that they did not like my face that it was only a matter of time before I stole something, and it would be better if I just left and never came back I had one of flare of anger. After I crossed the street the Eggcorn was the first thing I saw”.
“Okay, aye, I can totally understand that reaction my Great Aunts must have been extermly hard to work with”.
“OMG sorry I forgot you were related to Betty and May; I’ll won’t say anything else”.
“Nah, it’s not a problem in fact I, was going to go in a chew them out for how they talked about you when you hit me in the face. However, I’m a bit confused, May, and Betty told me a slightly different story about what happened this morning. I had brought you some lunch to eat at the counter, but as that is now no longer an option. Shall we grab a descent lunch somewhere”?
They went to a nearby Chinese Restaurant and availed of a lunch time offer, Elizabeth shoved pieces of sweet and sour pork into her mouth with alarming speed. In between bites she explained that May’s pathological lying was not simply a family affair, she did it in the shop as well. She had apparently accused Elizabeth of stealing money from the till on a number of occasions and last Tuesday a vase went missing during her shift. At first May had told her not to worry about that she and Betty knew Elizabeth had nothing do with it. Then that morning as Elizabeth had had to gone in to open, she found the two of them already inside and ready to blame her. They claimed that they knew she had stolen it and that they did not want to see her again. Elizabeth paused to finish the last third of her Tiger beer in a single gulp. “And that’s when I hit you in the head with an Eggcorn. Sorry about that by the way it’s just, you know, sometimes I get these flashes of anger and I have to do something about it”. She stopped talking for a moment and looked me directly in the eye. “OMG yes that’s right I saw you when you were outside the shop, your casket was ready to pop off as well this is perfect you can help me, we can be a team”.
“I’d be more than happy to, provided of course you tell me what I am supposed to be helping you with.”
“With my revenge, of course. Look even if I had been able to break a window with the Eggcorn I still would not have been satisfied I need to do something else something bigger. Running into to you, a fellow artist who also has a reason to dislike the crones McDonald has given me an idea. Why spend ten seconds committing a petty act of property damage when you can write, rehearse and perform a sketch tearing the shite out of them?”
“Right things are becoming a bit clearer. I assume you want us to write some sort of piss take of my Great Aunts and perform it at next month’s open mic.”
“Aye, I must admit I’m tempted by the idea my current is getting a bit old and I do feel the need to vent a little. But you must understand in my family, we keep Omerta, if we do this you might away safely, but I’d be found a few days after the performance skinned a with my balls stuffed inside my mouth.”
“Oh, come on, what’s the point of being a young artist if you can’t kick against your background a bit”.
“But what do you do when your background kicks back.”
“You do what every other Irish artist did and go into exile. I urge to do this by telling you that it will be a laugh, but that may rather trite.”
Johnny finished his own beer and ordered two more from a passing waiter.
“Ok”, he said, “but only if you agree to stop talking in monologues.”
Johnny and Elizabeth spent the next few weeks preparing their new act, the writing of the script only took a few days, they both had a wealth of material to draw upon. After they had enough written it, they took it to the organisers of the open mic, surprisingly they were given the extended headlining slot. This meant that they spent four evenings a week rehearsing and re-writing their act. When the appointed evening came around Elizabeth told Johnny that she had a gotten her hands on some special costumes and set dressing, she wanted them to be a surprise. Therefore, Johnny was sent downstairs to pick up drinks while she set up. Coming up from the bar Johnny first saw Elizabeth’s creation. He almost fell back down the stairs, somehow, she had managed to create a rough re-creation of his great Aunt’s shop. She had found the same kind of backless steel stools with the same purple and green striped cushions on them. Off Grey net curtains were hung from the railings behind the stage. A square from a fluffy beige carpet had been placed under the stools. To top it off draped over the lighting rig were two long sleeved Paisley Pattern dresses one very petite and the other extermly large.
Johnny went over to the table nearest to the stage and placed Elizabeth’s vodka and coke down on the table. “Thank you darling, maybe you’re useful after all. By the way when I was coming in this evening, I saw that relative of yours the one who is always hanging about the shop. It looks like he’s going to watch the show tonight.”
“Fuck you don’t mean George”.
“Is that his name your Aunts never introduced us”.
Johnny’s cousin George was the only member of his family he detested more than Betty and May. He had always been one of those guys with an inherent understanding and love of hierarchy. At school, at work and especially within the family circle George always naturally understood who was in charge and how to ingratiate himself with them. If he saw Johnny performing a parody of Betty and May in front of a small group of people, then word would come back to the two Aunts in such a way that would further elevate George in their eyes while Johnny was permanently cast into the outer darkness. “I suppose I’d better go over and say hello then”.
Johnny found George preached on a back-cushioned chair near the downstairs bar. He was studying the bar menu and was wearing a face which seemed designed to get him elected to the office of High Pontiff of Peevishness. “How’s thing George “?
“Oh, Hello Johnathon it’s good to see you, I did not see you upstairs, so I came down here to get a drink and a bite to eat. Do you come here often?
“A few times a week after work and on the last Friday of every month for the comedy, why?
“Very nice that must be very relaxing for you, but don’t you find the menu somewhat limited”?
“Nah, it’s just good bar food, try the chili cheese fries.”
George took a twenty-pound note from his wallet, placed it in his right hand and stretched his arm over the bar to get the attention of a member of staff.
“Portion of chili cheese fries and Spitfire pint of, thanks”
He placed the bank note on the table, then turned his back away to face Johnny.
“I must say I’m looking forward to seeing you perform tonight; we were all talking about you last night and we all think it’s nice to see you doing something constructive.”
“Thanks man, listen I have to go and get ready things are kicking off soon.”
Johnny went back up the stairs smiling it would be intresting to see if the various members of his family still thought that his performing stand-up comedy after tonight.
The performance was supposed to be the climax of something, Johnny had expected an ill-defined big thing to happen. Yet half way though the routine Johnny paused for a moment and looked out at the crowd the expected catharsis would not happen. In fact, very few people seemed to be laughing, a few tables seemed be giggling out of pity. The plain fact was the routine was simply not very funny. It was not ready, Johnny looked round at Elizabeth it was clear that she also clear that she was beginning to realise that it was not working as well. They would just have to get through it.
After the open mic a few friends had come over to awkwardly congratulate him. Elizabeth flatly thanked him for his help before buying him a whisky. She clearly wanted him to stay behind to rework the act. It was obvious to Johnny that it was unsalvageable. However, the seed of a new one was planted in his mind, he thought about Betty and May’s haughty demeanour on the day Elizabeth lost her job or the look on George’s face as he left that evening. Bores were everywere, like hydrogen they were a universal constant. They had an unbreakable grip on the world. These types of people could force themselves on to everyone else though sheer brute will, frequently our only resources we had to fight against them were internal. The trick was to perform alchemy, Johnny would transform his web of dismal familial relations into threads of comic gold. From the outside it looked like he was losing but the cream of the jest would come when everyone saw him joking though his own failures.