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U3A Writing: The Confessions Of Mrs O'Malley

The recital of Mrs O'Malley's sins bores Father Hennessy as he here's her confessions week by week. Then Mrs O'Malley tells the priest that her brother has died in the United States, and she has been named a benificiary in his will..

Patrick Hopton, a born story-teller, presents a deliciously wicked tale.

‘Bless me Father for I have sinned,’ confessed Mrs O’Malley to the silhouette behind the purple veil.

‘Yes, my child?’ came the reply. The simple words, uttered with the merest hint of a sigh of resignation, were the signal for her to launch into her weekly litany of the peccadilloes for which she craved forgiveness.

Week in, week out she proclaimed the same tired old list, always ending with her uncharitable thoughts towards her neighbours - towards Mrs O’Rourke in particular. About the latter she sounded more boastful than contrite, it has to be said, for Mrs O’Malley hardly considered it a sin at all. Sure now, didn't all the world know that Rose O'Rourke was no better than she should be.

The woman had arrived in Ballyblarney three years ago - nobody knew from where - to run the general store. Quite scandalously, each evening she held court in Michael O’Hagan's bar, a lone woman surrounded by an admiring circle of men, their laughter overflowing out onto the street. This in itself was sufficient reason to earn her the hostility of the womenfolk of the village; but lately there was more. Rose O'Rourke's already ample figure had begun to swell unmistakably, causing many a wife to cast a questioning look at her own husband.

Brazen was the word to sum up Mrs O'Rourke. Mrs O’Malley bristled at the memory of the encounter on her way here to church that very morning, when, as she had tried to slip past the store unnoticed, that woman had accosted her. She had come to the doorway and stood there, hands on hips, grinning boldly at her. ‘Yet more sins, Mrs O’Malley?’ she had called out. ‘I wonder the Good Lord doesn’t lose patience with you.’

Of course she had pretended not to hear the disgraceful remarks, or the mocking laughter that followed her down the street.

She became aware that Father Hennessy was awaiting some response from her. ‘Is that all, my child?’ he asked a second time.

‘What? Oh, sorry, Father!’ She gathered her thoughts. ‘Well, there is something: not a sin actually, but a matter of conscience.’

‘Yes, my child?’ the priest invited.

‘Well, I had a letter today from some solicitors in Dublin. They say my brother Pat has died in America.’

‘That’s a sad loss to be sure. I shall pray for him, and for you.’

‘Thank you, Father.’ She hesitated. ‘It seems he’s after leaving me money in his will.’

‘Is he now?’ There was no doubting the heightened interest behind the veiled grille. ‘Would that be a considerable sum are you thinking?’

‘I was told I’m a . . . I’m a . . . benefictiary I think they called it.’

‘A beneficiary. Are you indeed? And Pat was a wealthy man was he not?’

‘Maybe so, Father; I can’t be sure. I haven’t had contact with Pat for years. But Liam - that good for nothing husband of mine, God rest his soul - he visited him one time in America. Liam boasted how Pat had taken him to a club he owned. It was full of gambling machines and drink. Worse still, there was a stage full of naked women dancing. I feel my brother's money represents the wages of his sins and it wouldn’t be right for me to accept it.’

‘And what would happen to the money then, my child?’

‘Well, apparently there’s a divorced wife and a so-called girlfriend. They’re also benefictiaries, so the solicitor says. Perhaps I should be letting them have my share too.’

‘Don't be too hasty now,’ the priest said anxiously. ‘Think of the good that you could do with that money, of all the worthy causes you could help - the sick, the poor, even our own church here, where the roof is letting in the rain. There are so many ways you could use it to gain God’s blessing. On the other hand, if these women get their hands on it they will, as like as not, spend it on their own selfish pursuits.’

It suddenly seemed so simple. ‘You’re right, Father; thank you. I don’t know why I didn’t see it that way before.’

Minutes later, light of conscience, having shed the twin burdens of sin and tainted inheritance, Mrs O’Malley emerged from the church and started homewards.

Several Fridays later, with her weekly list of sins duly confessed and absolved, Mrs O’Malley paused before leaving.

‘Might I be having a quick word with you before I go, Father?’

‘Of course, Mary,’ the priest replied. Her legacy had not been mentioned since that first occasion, and he was impatient to hear more about it.

‘Well, I’ve been after getting a letter from the solicitors this morning. They say the matter of the money has been settled.’

'Do they now?’ he said, a touch eagerly.

‘I have it here. I’ll read it to you.’ She rummaged in a bag and produced the letter, holding it up to the dim light above her head. ‘It says: Dear Mrs. O’Malley, We are pleased to inform you that the matter of the estate of the late Patrick Brennan has now been settled. It then goes on a bit, Father, until . . . ah yes, here we are: A full statement showing the precise details of the estate will be sent to you when one or two loose ends have been tied up. In the meantime I can inform you that after deduction of all charges and duty, both here and in America, and the settlement of the two other legacies, you may expect to receive a sum not less than one million three-hundred thousand pounds.’

‘Holy Mother of God!’ exclaimed the strangled voice beyond the grille. She heard the priest pour a glass of water in order to compose himself. ‘Forgive me, Mary; please continue.’ Whether the plea for forgiveness was addressed to the penitent or the Virgin was unclear.

‘We await your instructions,’ Mrs O’Malley went on, ‘regarding the transfer of the money to your bank. Yours sincerely, Joseph Partridge, for Partridge, Partridge and Partners.

How helpful Father Hennessy had been, she thought happily as she made her way home some minutes later. He had been able to advise her on many practical aspects regarding her legacy. Such things were not easy for a woman living on her own.

On her way to unload her sins on the following Friday Mrs O’Malley did not have to run the gauntlet of Rose O'Rourke: unusually, the shop was not yet open. Thankfully she hurried on towards the church, intent on giving Father Hennessy good news. In the post that morning had been a letter from the solicitors confirming that Pat’s money had been credited to the bank.

When she entered the confessional, instead of being weighed down by her sins, her thoughts gave flight as she happily contemplated the worthy things she would do with her new wealth. For once, the priest was already in his place.

‘Bless me father for I have sinned,’ she intoned in the darkness.

‘Yes, my child?’ It was not the voice of Father Hennessy that answered her through the grille, but the voice of that fussy Father Mullen from Kilproddy. She paid scant attention to her confession, reciting her well practiced list mechanically, her thoughts distracted.

‘Father, would Father Hennessy be ill then?’ she asked as she stood to leave.

‘Not at all, not at all,’ was the reply. ‘He would appreciate your prayers, though, poor man. He telephoned me last night to say he had to fly suddenly to England. His brother has died over there; God rest the poor fellow.’

As Mrs O’Malley walked through the village on her return journey, she was thinking of Father Hennessy. The news of his loss was so sad. And he had been so supportive in the matter of her own loss too. Loathe though she was to do business with the O’Rourke woman she would pop into her shop to buy him a tin of his favourite tobacco, just to cheer him up . . . no, a bottle of whiskey, she could afford such luxuries now. Sure it wasn't every priest who, because she lacked one of her own, would have allowed her to use the parish account at the bank in Kilproddy.

Rose O’Rourke's shop was still closed as she neared it. A small notice was pinned to the door and she stooped to read it:

So that woman had suffered a loss too – and in England! What a sad coincidence! ‘I must try and be kinder to her,’ Mrs O’Malley admonished herself as she continued on her way.

It was not until she was passing Michael O’Hagan’s bar that an unworthy thought struck her.

Patrick Hopton Wells U3A


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