portion of the artwork for Valerie O'Riordan's fiction

The Man in the Keith Moon T-Shirt
Valerie O’Riordan

Under the banner—Singles of the Parish Unite!—the church hall smelled like urinal cakes. The strip lights flickered and Father Damian flapped, arranging platters of triangular sandwiches. He spotted Pauline, lingering on the porch.

“Now,” he shouted. “Now! Here we go! It’s all on!”

One arm shot up and the Great Milltown Girl Guides’ Brass Band kicked into a windy rendition of The Kids Are Alright. There was nobody to dance. Pauline could have stayed at home with the same track on headphones. But here was Father Damian, advancing upon her.

“Isn’t this the ticket, Pauline,” he cried. “Your good mother said you’d be down.”

“Yes,” she said, “well—”

He said, “Come on, Pauline, come on! Now, I have a sight for you!”

She could have stayed at home with her videos. But here she was, a fool for compliance, following the priest across the empty room, following his bustling arse towards the toilets.

“Now,” he cried, “this is Fergal!”

And there was a man, after all. Pauline considered it. A freckled, stocky little chap, more head than hair, with red, sagging earlobes.

Father Damian said, “Now, Fergal, you can rely on Pauline! No high-jinks. No big city fandangos for her. No fancy men! Am I right, Pauline? Twenty-eight, you know, and her mother’s getting worried. All those funny hobbies you’ve got, Pauline! But we’ll get you settled!”

Fergal was squinting at her.

Father Damian said, “Pauline—Fergal is my brother’s eldest. A lovely young fellow.”

Pauline was unconvinced.

But Father Damian had one damp hand clamped around her wrist, the other around Fergal’s forearm, and he was pulling them both towards the foot of the stage. He said, “Let’s shift you kids into the light and get a good look at you!”

Pauline said, “I can’t stay, Father—”

But then she saw Fergal’s T-shirt—a very tight white number with a close-up photograph of Keith Moon’s face. The belly protruded, making the drummer’s chin jut out. Keith looked particularly defiant as the Girl Guides honked into their chorus.

Pauline said, “I fucking love The Who.”

Fergal said, “What?”

She was already taking off her coat. She said, “And Madonna. I fucking love Madonna.”

She grinned at him. She had on her best outfit—the old school blouse with the pair of triangular PG Tips promotional teabag boxes sellotaped underneath. She cupped them in her hands and beamed.

Fergal said, “Damian. Damian!”

Father Damian said, “Oh, Lord have mercy.”

Pauline’s happiness faltered. The artificial pine smell of the hall rushed back over her and she felt like she was being swept off in the back of a lorry—dizzy and unmoored.

The priest said, “Enough of this guff, Pauline! Do you not want to be happy? Do you not want a nice, good fellow?”

Fergal was scuttling back towards the toilets, his arms folded over his chest. Pauline said, “But—his T-shirt, Father.”

“His T-shirt! Sweet Jesus. Pauline, I had to get that from the fat one up there on the tuba! Didn’t he spill tea over his nice, clean shirt, the useless little bastard—”

He clapped a hand over his mouth and scowled at her.

“Now!” he snapped, muffled, “You’ve ruined the evening, Pauline. It’s all over. Tell your mother—this is the end for you! Does this make you happy?”

Pauline hesitated. The Guides, entranced, had laid down their instruments. The fat child sat bare-bellied in a grey training bra, the tuba not quite shielding her. The whole assembly heard Father Damian say, “Well? Will you fix this? Pauline?”

She nodded. But then she thought of herself at home, quietly folding nice, clean shirts, with Fergal expecting his tea, and Father Damian expecting his tea, and everybody saying, “There, Pauline! Now you’re happy!”

And, then—she was on stage. She was standing behind the drum kit and the Girl Guide percussionist was saying, fuck off, you mad bitch, but Pauline kicked her in the knee-socked shin, and the girl dropped the sticks. Now Pauline was Keith Moon. She beat those cymbals like the dirtiest of rugs. Below her the priest bellowed, but Pauline didn’t hear. Bass drum, ride, snare—rhythm-less, wildly, she battered on. She was sweating; her cardboard bra bounced. Fergal lurked somewhere in the dim far corner of the hall, but here, beside her, the tuba began to toot.

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FRiGG: A Magazine of Fiction and Poetry | Issue 39 | Winter 2013