A man is staying with us. He’s a friend of a priest dad knows in Western Australia, and he’s staying with us because he was studying to be a priest and then he couldn’t stand it any more. He’s had a kind of a nervous breakdown. He stays for a week, and then he still doesn’t seem to be getting ready to go home.
“Why doesn’t he go home to Western Australia?” we ask mum.
“He just needs a bit of a rest,” she says, “he might go back into the Order when he’s had a bit of a rest.”
We can’t see why he can’t go back to Western Australia to have a rest.
Mum says to Mrs O’Neill,
“The poor fellow, creeping about with the weight of the world on his shoulders, a man with a nervy temperament like that’s the last person to go into the priesthood.”
We know she doesn’t really want him in our house because he gets her down and she’s got enough to do anyway, but dad’s friend asked us to take him in for a while. She tries to have a chat to him when they’re having a cup of tea together but he just says, “Yes” or “No” and stares into his teacup. If we bang the door when we come in from school he jumps as if we’ve rung a bell in his ear. Mum’s always sticking her head into our bedroom at night and saying, “Shh!” pointing with her thumb to the other side of the corridor where he’s already gone to bed. They kicked Markie out of there to make room for Neville Allsopp. I say to Jenny, “We should be allowed to make a noise in our own house if we want to. I bet the other priests didn’t worry about upsetting him if they made a noise.”
“But priests don’t make a noise,” Jenny says, “so he wouldn’t be used to it.”
It annoys me that everyone thinks they have to be so careful of Neville Allsopp. He’s a grown man, so he should be able to stand on his own two feet. I say to mum,
“Sister Jerome would say he just has to knuckle under and not go round whining if things don’t suit him. Why doesn’t he just get married or something if he can’t stand being a priest?”
“It’s not that easy,” she says, “he’s a tortured soul.”
“Some people just are.”
One Saturday afternoon dad comes home from the pub with a puppy in a cardboard box. He comes in with a small grin on his face and says,
“I thought you kids might like a pup.”
He puts the box on the floor and a skinny-legged dog climbs out and falls over straight away, like a baby horse. It’s black with ginger eyebrows and ginger paws and one white sock falling down on its front leg. It rolls over and tries to grab dad’s boot, but his foot is too wide for its mouth so it just lies there on its back with its paws hooked down and its mouth wide open in a smile. Mum says,
“It’s going to be as big as a horse! Who landed you with that?”
“Len Bidstrup’s son on the farm had a few pups to get rid of. Len thought these kids might like it.”
Mum just turns her eyes up into her head and blows upwards. We know she doesn’t like Len Bidstrup. The puppy jumps up and snaps its teeth and starts chasing its tail round the room. Its paws make a loud scratching noise when it skids in the corners..
“Who’ll be feeding the thing and taking it to the vet when it gets hit by a car because the gate doesn’t close properly?” says Mum.
Neville Allsopp comes into the room, washing his hands round in front of him. The puppy stops running round and puts its bottom down on the floor and growls.
“My husband’s brought the children a puppy!” says mum in a cooing kind of voice as if she likes the dog.
“You’re all right, aren’t you, pup?” says dad to the dog and it looks at him as if it loves him already.
“Well, I won’t have it stamping about all over the dinner table,” says mum, “it has to stay outside in the laundry.”
So while we’re having dinner that night we shut it in the laundry and it howls and howls.
“You hear that, it’s a singing dog,” says dad, and it does sound a bit like singing because it wobbles up and down like Mrs Hebden in the choir at church.
“It sounds like Mrs Hebden,” I say, “we should call it Hebden.”
“No,” says Markie, “we should call it Soppy!”
“What gave you that idea?” says mum.
“Because Mr Allsopp doesn’t like it,” says Markie and he laughs in a silly way, like he does when he’s getting too excited.
“Don’t be so rude!” says mum, “I’m sorry, Neville, Mark, say sorry to Mr Allsopp for being so rude.”
“Why?” says Markie.
“Because I said so,” and she rushes at Markie and pulls him out of his seat and makes him stand in front of Neville Allsopp.
“I’m sorry, Mr Allsopp,” says Markie but he doesn’t sound very sorry and he looks sideways at us to see if we’re laughing.
Mum’s red in the face and she starts talking to Neville Allsopp in a put-on kind of voice as if everything’s all right really.
After dinner the puppy is still whimpering. Mum says,
“Don’t you go out there stirring up that beast!”
“We just want to give it a drink,” Markie says, but the pup is waiting just inside the laundry door and it rushes out into the breakfast room and tries to climb up on dad’s lap, and puts its nose into his custard and blows, so that custard flies all over Neville Allsopp’s glasses. Mum claps her hands and shouts ferociously,
“OUTside, you!” so the dog gets a fright and rushes back into the kitchen and out through the screen door into the back yard. Markie and Jenny and I run after it, but it’s getting dark and we can’t see where it is, we can only hear it rushing about and panting like a wolf. Then it stops near the fernery and starts to growl and bark.
“It’s got a snake!” says Markie and Jenny runs back inside to tell dad.
Dad comes out with a torch with a very weak light, and we can see the pup crouched down trying to push its nose under the trellis of the fernery.
“It’s got a snake!” says Markie.
“There aren’t any snakes in there,” says dad, “it’ll just be a possum or something,” and right then something starts crashing round in the fernery and there’s a terrible cracking from the trellis and part of it falls down on top of the pup. Dad grabs hold of the trellis and puts his hand under and pulls the pup out struggling and trying to bite him, and carries it inside, holding it under his elbow like bagpipes. He throws it into the laundry and bangs the door, and we can hear the pup throwing itself against the door and barking like mad. It sounds as if it’s saying “Geoff! Geoff! Geoff!”
Mum’s in the kitchen crashing things round in the sink and she says,
“Didn’t I tell you to leave the creature alone? I’ll be the one that has to explain it to the neighbours when they come knocking on the door saying they can’t get a wink of sleep.”
“The fernery fell down,” says Markie, and she gives a loud sigh and keeps crashing round in the sink.
We can still hear the dog howling and scrabbling at the laundry door. Maybe Neville Allsopp won’t be able to put up with it, and he’ll go back to Western Australia. Maybe he’ll decide that he likes being a priest better than having to get married and have all the worry of children.
“If that thing’s going to stay, the least you can do is make a kennel for it. I won’t have it dirtying up the laundry and tearing all my washing to shreds.”
“I’ll make it a kennel,” says dad in that complaining voice that means he was going to do it anyway, she doesn’t have to keep telling him. And the next day he starts making a gigantic kennel mum says is big enough for an elephant.
*This is an extract from Gert’s unreliable memoir 32 Park St. We’ll continue the trials of Neville Allsopp at the hands of the Quinn children in later posts. Names have been changed to protect those incapable of defending themselves against our lies.