[It was Mongrel editor Michael Freeman who came up with the idea for the ‘And Finally...’ articles. Each month, for the back page of the magazine, he would ask a different writer to contribute 650 words on any subject they wished. The only catch was that the piece had to reference the same random photo (right) and incorporate the same ludicrous pull quote “like a ferret trying to escape from a jar of silly putty". To this day, I still don't actually know what silly putty is...]
Anne Marie Mularkey. The gorgeous Anne Marie… Jaysus, now you’re taking me back. Swanned into French one day like she was God’s gift. Threw her schoolbag on an empty table and plonked down on a chair. Anne Marie was tall and elegant, with the saddest brown eyes I’d ever seen. She had a face like a shovel, of course, but that only added to her allure. Girl blew that fringe out from her eyes and swung back in the chair. And, with that, I fell in love.
She wouldn’t give me the time of day at first. But I persevered. They said she’d been a boarder at the Presentation in Tuam. But there’d been some problem with the nuns – no one knew what exactly – and she ended up slumming it with us. Her family had only moved to town the year before. But her father’d played for Mayo and her mother was a former Rose of Castlerea. Brendan said she was too good for me. He was probably right.
Serendipity intervened. Our mothers sang together in the parish choir. And one day they got to talking about Anne Marie. With all the disruption, her mother said, Anne Marie had fallen behind on her school work. My mother mentioned she had a son in the same class and that maybe I could help. They decided there and then. Me and Anne Marie would study together once a week. She’d get the school bus with me and Brendan would drop her home.
Anne Marie was not enthusiastic about the new arrangement. But there was this French exchange trip she wanted to go on. So she didn’t rock the boat. Beneath that bored exterior though, I sensed some deeper anguish. I remember once we were doing English. It was Oscar Wilde. The Sphinx Without A Secret. And Anne Marie just didn’t get it.
“So what was the secret?” she scowled.
“There was no secret. That was the whole point.”
For a moment, the saddest look passed across her face.
“Yeah, I hate it too.”
God, I adored her – ma belle inconnue.
“Do mind me asking Anne Marie… How come you left boarding school?”
“Ah, you know” she equivocated. “It was an all-girls school and…”
She trailed off. I blushed. Outside on the gravel, Brendan pulled a handbrake turn. It was his dickhead way of telling us our time was up.
“Sorry about my brother” I said. “He’s such an idiot.”
Anne Marie didn’t reply. She just stared absently out the window.
In them days, I used work as a labourer for my uncle on a Saturday. He’d pick me up in the Hiace at eight. It’d be dark when we got back. Fifteen quid a day I made. So, I’ll tell you, a fair few blocks were lugged paying for those earrings.
In retrospect, they were hideous. But they cost £65 and that bitch in the jewellers said they were the business.
I gave them to Anne Marie the day we went to Ballyhaunis to have our passport photos taken, and I presumed then we’d kiss. But we didn’t. We got our photos taken and then Anne Marie blurted out that she didn’t fancy me and she was shifting my brother anyway. Then her mother pulled up, and she got in, and I was left standing there like someone had punched me in the nose.
The next bit of the story I didn’t find out about until much later, after the Mularkeys had left town quite suddenly. They brought Brendan into this weird room in the school with all pictures of the Virgin Mary and made him promise not to tell. But I got it out of him eventually. The night before the French trip, Brendan and Anne Marie had gone in to Ballyhaunis to see Turner & Hooch. Afterwards, they went kissing in the carpark. Now, I dunno did he get her drunk, or was she swept up in the moment, or what happened. But he dropped the hand and she let him at it.
He opened the fly on her jeans and put his hand into her knickers. And there – like a ferret trying to escape from a ball of sticky putty – was Anne Marie Mularkey’s penis.
[Postscript: My sister almost had a conniption when this story came out. It's, obviously, a complete work of fiction. But it turned out that there really was a girl called Anne Marie Mularkey in our school at the same time that I was there. To say that this story, therefore, was potentially libelous, would be something of an understatement. Thankfully, the lawsuit never materialized. But let me just reiterate for the record that this is 100% a work of fiction... Except for the bit about my mother being in the choir. Oh, and I really did earn €15 a day as a labourer for my uncle (except that he's not actually my uncle, he's my second cousin!)]
[Post-postscript: Former Mongrel film guy Jamie Hannigan emails to say "Actually, I think this was my idea. The photo was a complete surprise though..." Apologies, Jamie. The photo reminded me a bit of transsexual Big Brother winner Nadia Almada, which is probably where I got the idea for the gender bending twist...]