A Dash of Colour by Eamonn Keane

Eamonn had a rich Irish imagination and enjoyed telling stories writing stories and reading them on the radio. This one he told me a few times before committing it to paper in 1959. Notice how fairly readable this is. He had no typewriter and submitted the piece like this for consideration by the BBC and Radio Eireann. I do not know if it was accepted but love to think so. With Eamonn’s rich baritone voice and cheeky delivery he lifted it from the page.

A DASH OF COLOUR

Short Story by Eamonn Keane

You all know, of course, don’t you who Michael Angelo was? But do you know who Timothy Mulligan-Somers was?.. Ah! I thought not. Well, Timothy Mulligan-Somers was our local painter, the unnoticed rainbow spanning small midland town and cattle-minded countryside. He lived in a shabby two-storey house in the Square. Unknown, unhonoured and unbought.

Timothy was forever telling the infidels down in Market Bar about Michael Angelo. “Ah yes!” he’d say wistfully, “Michael A. painted for Popes, Kings and Princes of the Church and State. And I” – he sighed through his beard – “I’ve to submit my masterpiece to the ignorant gawking of bogtrotters, country boys and returned Yanks all with their mouths open, gaping. Very distressing!”

Timothy had as little time for your Moderns. “Botches-and-daubo”, he’d declare, “that wouldn’t know a pigs head from a head of cabbage!”

Now, Timothy had a point there. If he were to paint a head of cabbage, it would be recognisable as such; a genuineness completely absorbing from earth-clotted stalk to leaves cosseting pale belly-heart in pampering green ruffles.

Timothy Mulligan-Somers did paint a head of cabbage once, and for a whole day, it hung in the market-place. But there were no buyers. However, one could hardly blame the public, since the genuine article itself could be bought for sixpence a head at any old stall in the market.

…Having failed to stimulate a love of beauty in the public mind, Timothy appealed to its stomach. On the Big Fair Day, he exhibited a mouth-watering study in green and pink. It bore the homely title “Bacon and Cabbage Ensemble”. This was an immediate success. Whether it was the cabbage that highlighted the bacon, or the bacon the cabbage it was hard to say. What is certain is that the painting was purchased for two pounds by a pork butcher who assured the proud Timothy that “You could hang that little picture anywhere”

Next day, the pork butcher hung the picture outside his downtown premises. Above it appeared the headlines “YOU CAN HAVE THIS ON YOUR TABLE TOO!

That evening in the Market Bar over a glass of whiskey, Timothy gave a groan of despair. “Oh Judgement, thou art fled to brutish beasts, and men have lost their reason,” he told the company and explained “Shakespeare again!” giving credit where credit was due.

But Shakespeare cut no ice with Coffey, the local housepainter. “I’ll lay you a fiver,” – he sidled up to Timothy like an asp – “I’ll lay you an even fiver that you don’t make a ha’porth of the money I make, an’ I” – a scutty sneer here – “I have no beard!” “I am not interested in money, Coffey.” “Sure don’t I know, doesn’t the world know, you can’y be interested in what you haven’t got!”

Hurriedly, Timothy drank up his whiskey, and turned towards the door. But Coffey got there first. “Ah now, now, now, don’t walk out on the company like that. Sure I’m only trying to put you in the way of making a few quid. I likes to see no man down-an-out. Now listen to this:(Timothy listened): “there’s a man wanted by the Council to whitewash the insides of a new lavatory they’re building at the cross roads -.”

The sentence died in the grip of Timothy’s hand on his throat. Coffey felt himself being lifted up to where an advertisement posted stated “LOONEY’S STOMACH POWDER WILL BRING YOU PEACE.” Before he had time to digest the good news, Coffey heard a voice from heaven in his ears: “WHAT IS MY NAME, YOU VARNISHER?” “I- I- Timothy.” “Yes! And you do know what Timothy means in the original Hebrew?” Coffey began to pray for a happy death. “Timothy means the beloved of God. D’you hear that?” The beloved of God, so I can pitch ye all to the devil.” He pitched Coffey into a barrel of salt meat.

Next day, Coffey put a villainous rumour in circulation that very quickly had the town by the ears. Old Miss McGuff, who spent her time in between religious pilgrimages looking for signs of fertility in courting females, had it on her plate for the Canon. “Such a thing, Canon dear!” she flapped, “Oh such a thing!” “What a thing?” demanded the Canon, who didn’t like flapping. “That fellow with the beard, Timothy Mulligan-Somers, he’s – he’s – he’s painting naked pictures of females inside in his house, Canon!” The Canon eyed her drily for some time. “What you mean to say Miss McGruff, is that that fellow Timothy Mulligan-Somers is painting pictures of naked females inside his house. Is that not so?” “Sure isn’t that what I”m after telling you, Canon dear?” Some day, Miss McGruff,” said the Canon quietly, “I’d advise you to make a pilgrimage to an Ear Specialist, and get your ears stuffed.”

Later that day, the Canon paid a call on Timothy. “I am told, Mr. Mulligan-Somers, that you are spending your time of late in delineating pictures of a – shall I say – a revealing nature.” “Oh thank you Canon,” beamed Timothy, not knowing what it was all about. “Now look here my good man,” continued the Canon, “don’t you feel, deep down, that your God-given talents should be directed into a more sacred channel? What are the perishable things of the flesh, I ask you, compared to the ageless spiritual beauty of the Church on earth?”

Timothy was overwhelmed. Seraphic harp strings strummed in his heart. “Oh, thank you Canon. You inspire me. Never again will I sink to bacon and cabbage!” “Hum!”Said the Canon, “is that what they call it?”

For some days before Christmas Timothy was stricken with lumbago. It was while applying lineament to his aching back one morning that he saw the link between himself and Michael Angelo. Here he was, on the flat of his back on a sofa in the Surrealistic Sixties, – and there, in the classical Middle Ages, on the flat of his back on a scaffolding, painting the roof of the Sistine Chapel was Michael A. The great man seemed to wave to him across the centuries.

Timothy rose up painfully, and crossed to the window. He looked out thoughtfully at the grey Square boxed up in December frost. They did not have a Sistine Chapel in the small midland town, but they did have – yes! They did have a church. No! Let’s be tolerant, they had two churches. There in the middle of the Square, one Catholic, the other Protestant, a dividing space of less than six yards between them. Timothy put the cork back on the bottle of lineament. He had an idea.

Timothy Mulligan-Somers began the execution of his greatest masterpiece that very night. The snow fell heavily on the streets outside, and he watched it sometimes as he worked. Timothy’s pet cat, an amoral Persian named Shah, was returning at dawn from the fulfilment of a kitten contract, just as the master added his last doting caress to the masterpiece. When some hours later, it was mounted and framed to his satisfaction, Timothy propped the painting of the Two Churches against a butter-box in the big front window facing the Square. The words “For Sale” appeared on a small placard nearby. In a little while he fell asleep, and dreamed of civic honours, papal titles, and Michael Angelo.

Timothy awoke at mid-day. The Square outside was a meadow of snow, pockmarked with footsteps, or criss-crossed by the cart-tracks of the Christmas Eve shoppers. In the space outside the front window, the crowd was reverent to the point of silence, as is the crowd before the shrine of a saint. Timothy, who hadn’t yet bought his Christmas goose, decided it was about time he made his appearance in the doorway.

What are you asking for the painting?” The speaker was Brophy, the dairy farmer, a noted buyer of statues a mission-stalls. “Only ten guineas!” “Oh!” said the farmer, turning on his heels and walking away. Reverence was one thing, but ten guineas was another.

The evening wore on. Still no buyers. Timothy switched on the window lights. Two great bulbs threw a pool of sheer white radiance around the painting.

He resumed his vigil at the doorway. A cold dewdrop slithered from his nostrils, snail-crawled inside his shirt collar, and made him shiver. Now and again, he heard the quarter-hour strike from the illuminated clock in the Protestant Church. Half-past ten struck. (And the pubs would close at eleven.) Twenty-five minutes to eleven. The clock with its guillotine hands moved on.

And then it happened. At twenty minutes to eleven, two elderly gentlemen turned the corner, and came to a halt outside the window. There was no mistaking them as they stood there: the Canon and the Parson, their heads sheltering under an open umbrella, quite oblivious of the fact that it had stopped snowing a long while ago.

Well and what did I tell you, Mr. Adamson?” began the Canon. “Beautiful isn’t it?”Indeed it is Doherty. Your information was unimpeachably correct. It really passes my comprehension how Mulligan-Somers achieved such spiritual overtones, such –” But the clock in the Square interrupted him to remind mankind it was a quarter to eleven. The Canon turned confidingly to Mr. Adamson, “Well if you must know, it’s because he’s dropped that horrible bacon-and-cabbage business.” “Eh? Oh, see what you mean. As a nation we eat far too much of it.” Timothy rubbed his hands hopefully in the doorway as the Parson began a closer inspection of the painting. “It’s -it’s quite delightful, as if the artist were trying to show our two communities united in a sort of eternal handshake. Yes, yes indeed, this I must purchase. Or perhaps you wish to -,” he broke off questioningly to the Canon. “Never mind me my dear Adamson. It’s your privilege. I know that no-one will appreciate it’s message as thoroughly as you will – in time.”

Some moments later the Parson presented Timothy with a cheque for ten guineas, and Timothy thankfully bustles the painting into the old gentleman’s hands. He banged the front door shut, wished Canon Doherty and Mr. Adamson a holy and a hurried Christmas, and legtailed it around the corner to the Market Bar.

The Canon and Mr. Adamson slopped through a desert of slush across the Square, past the two churches, up the great snowy height, and in exemplary togetherness, arrived at Mr Adamson’s residence. “Do come in Doherty, have a little Yuletide night-cap, there’s a good fellow.” “No my dear Adamson. Not tonight thank you. Duty calls; and besides, this is something” -indicating the painting – “which you must enjoy alone.” Mr. Adamson nodded, turned the key in the door, and let himself in. Canon Doherty waved, and faced off towards his church, to prepare himself for the celebration of Midnight Mass.

Meanwhile, Mr. Adamson had entered his drawing-room. Tenderly and with loving care he placed the painting on the great white marble mantlepiece, where it shared the company of a Dresden shepherdess (head missing), and statuette of King Billy on a three-legged horse. He then called to his wife, who was shelling peas in the scullery, to come up at once out of that, and see what a beautiful Christmas present he had got her. “What is it dear?” and she stepped brightly into the room. “It’s a painting , my dear, for you.” The smile on her warm brown eyes touched him like velvet. She moved closer to the painting, examined it, and heard her husband say. “You see my dear, how tastefully the two churches are presented? The spire of the Catholic Church is, as you know, more than twenty feet higher than the spire of our church, and yet the excellent fellow has sketched the spires as of equal height. Two churches growing up together into the heavens in a spirit of perpetual Christmas. Is it not well-called “Brothers in Religion!” Canterbury and Rome, so to speak.”

I am looking at the snow, Henry.” Puzzle, he let her arm go. “The snow?” “The snow in the painting Henry. If you’ll just -.” ‘ Pshaw, the spires woman!” “Henry please look at the snow.” He sighed “Very well, I’m looking.” “Well – what is it about the snow that strikes you Henry?” “A-hum, a-haw, it’s eh -eh – it’s very snowy as snow goes, suggestion of off-white.” “No Henry it’s not that. It’s the footsteps.” “The footsteps woman?” The smile in her brown eyes was warmer now. “You didn’t see the footsteps at all, did you Henry?” “The footsteps? Yes, I see them now. What about them?”

Why don’;t you see dear! All the footsteps are leading into the Catholic church; there are none leading into” – But she was now so full of laughter that she couldn’t continue.

Timothy Mulligan-Somers got very drunk that night drinking toast after toast to Michael Angelo, and the glorification of the church on earth.

                                                                                 -o-

                                                                                                             Eamonn Keane,

                                                                                                                 18 Chalcot Road,

                                                                                                                      Regent’s Park, NW1