“That man Galvin’s a bloody idiot!” Thus spake Doctor Fingal Flaherty O’Reilly. He was standing in his favourite corner of the bar of the Black Swan Inn, or, as it was known to the locals, The Mucky Duck. O’Reilly’s normally florid cheeks glowed crimson and the tip of his bent nose paled. Somehow rage seemed to divert the blood flow from his hooter to his face. I thought it politic to remain silent. I’d seen the redoubtable Doctor O’Reilly like this before.
He hadn’t seemed to be his usual self when we’d repaired to the hostelry after evening surgery, and now, after his fourth pint, whatever had been bothering him was beginning to surface. “Raving bloody idiot,” he muttered, taking a generous swallow of his drink and slamming the empty glass on the counter.
After six months as his weekend locum and part-time assistant, I’d learned my place in O’Reilly’s universe. I nodded to Brendan the barman, who rapidly replaced O’Reilly’s empty glass with another full of the velvet liquid product of Mr. Arthur Guinness and Sons, St. James’s Gate, Dublin.
“Ta,” said O’Reilly, the straight glass almost hidden by his big hand. “I could kill Seamus Galvin.” He rummaged in the pocket of his rumpled jacket, produced a briar, stoked it with the enthusiasm of Beëlzebub preparing the coals for an unrepentant sinner, and fired up the tobacco, making a smokescreen that would have hidden the entire British North Sea fleet from the attentions of the Panzerschiff Bismark.
I sipped my shandy and waited, trying to remember if I’d seen the patient in question.
“Do you know what that benighted apology for a man has done?”
From the tone of O’Reilly’s voice, I assumed it must have been some petty misdemeanour — like mass murder perhaps. “No,” I said, helpfully.
O’Reilly sighed. “He has Mary’s heart broken.”
Now I remembered. Seamus Galvin and his wife Mary lived in a cottage at the end of one of the lanes just outside the small Ulster town where O’Reilly practised. Galvin was a carpenter by trade and a would-be entrepreneur. I’d seen him once or twice, usually because he’d managed to hit his thumb with one of his hammers. I said the man was a carpenter; I didn’t say he was a good carpenter.
“Broken,” said O’Reilly mournfully, “utterly smashed.”
This intelligence came as no great surprise. Mary Galvin was the sheet anchor of the marriage, bringing in extra money by selling her baking, eggs from her hens, and the produce of her vegetable garden. Galvin himself was a complete waster.
O’Reilly prodded my chest with the end of his pipe. “I should have known a few weeks ago when I saw him and he was telling me about his latest get-rich scheme.” The big man grunted derisively. “That one couldn’t make money in the Royal Mint.”
I could only agree, remembering Galvin’s previous failed endeavours. His “Happy Nappy Diaper Service” had folded. No one in a small town could afford the luxury of having someone else wash their babies’ diapers. Only the most sublime optimist could have thought that a landscaping company would have much custom in a predominantly agricultural community. Galvin had soon been banished from his “Garden of Eden” lawncare business — presumably because his encounters with the fruit of the tree of knowledge had been limited. I wondered what fresh catastrophe had befallen him.
O’Reilly beat carelessly at an ember that had fallen from the bowl of his pipe onto the lapel of his tweed jacket. “Mary’s the one with sense. She was in to see me a couple of weeks ago. She’s pregnant.” He inspected the charred cloth. “I’ve known her since she was a wee girl. I’ve never seen her so happy.” His craggy features softened for a moment. “She told me her secret. She’d been saving her money and had enough for Seamus and herself to emigrate to California.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Aye,” said O’Reilly, “she has a brother out there. He was going to find Seamus a job with a construction company.”
I’d read somewhere that California was prone to earthquakes and for a moment thought that this unfortunate geological propensity had been transmitted to Ulster before I realized that the pub’s attempt to shimmy like my sister Kate was due to O’Reilly banging his fist on the bar top.
“That bloody idiot and his bright ideas.” O’Reilly’s nose tip was ashen. “He’s gone into toy making. He thinks he can sell rocking ducks — rocking ducks.” He shook his head ponderously. “Mary was in tonight. The wee lass was in tears. He’d taken the money she’d saved and went and bought the lumber to make his damn ducks. That man Galvin’s a bloody idiot.”
O’Reilly finished his pint, set the glass on the counter, shrugged and said just one more word, “Home.”
About a month later, I met Mary Galvin in the High St. She stopped me and I could see she was bubbling with excitement.
“How are you, Mary?”
“Doctor, you’ll never believe it!” She had wonderfully green eyes and they were sparkling. “A big company in Belfast has bought all of Seamus’ rocking ducks, lock stock and barrel.” She patted her expanding waistline. “The three of us are off to California next week.”
I wished her well, genuinely pleased for her good fortune. It wasn’t until I’d returned to O’Reilly’s house that I began to wonder. He was out making a house call. For the last week he’d taken to parking his car on the street. No. No, he wouldn’t have …?
When I opened the garage door, a bizarre creature toppled out from a heap of its fellows. The entire space was filled to the rafters with garishly painted ducks — rocking ducks. It only took a moment to stow the one that had made a bid for freedom and close the door.
When I introduced Doctor O’Reilly, I described him as, among other things, a crypto-philanthropist. Now you know why.