Less about the world, more about me.

Month: November 2011

Milky Tea (Part Two)

Malachi and his mother sat staring at each other across their kitchen table. A mug of milky tea, remained untouched in front of the mother. Both appeared very troubled. Malachi sighed and shifted, causing his mother to look at him hopefully, but the hope disappeared as he just settled into a new position and the staring continued. Malachi sighed again and scratched his three day stubble.

“Well mother, I’m a feared you were right all a long”

“Ah sure, being right isn’t always a comfort Malachi my boy. We’re damned goosed and so we are. It’ll be the Poor House for us.”

Malachi nodded at his mother mournfully. He felt both anger and guilt. Anger that he had been so easily played and guilt that his naiveté would cost them both their house and the gruesome prospect of the Poor House. It had started, as these misfortunes usually do, with drink. He had stopped by The Widow McCarthy’s Shebeen, on his way back from town and he had gotten into deep conversation with a drover from out Knocknagoshel way.

The drover had a bullock left over from the Market and if he hadn’t been booked on a boat the America the next day, he’d keep the thing for himself. Fatten it up for six months and there would be clear profit at the Market or enough cured meat to do a family a whole winter. Malachi was well away by the time he was introduced to the beast in question and handed over every penny he had belonging to him and his mother. So proud was he of his purchase that he named the animal, Luke, after his sainted father. He led Luke home, his voice joining the singing in his heart. His mother would be proud of him this day.

That had been four nights ago. His mother, a patient and ever loving mother, had allowed him one day to recover from his Poitín, before gently taking him by the hand and leading him to the gable of the house, where Luke stood tethered and shivering. No words were necessary. Malachi could see the poor animal was worth less than the string that tied him to the wall.

Malachi spent the next two days trying to track the Drover down, but no sign of him could he find. Malachi uttered a curse against all Kerry men and looked at his mother apologetically.

“That’s grand, sometimes a curse is better out than in.”

He nodded at her and stood to make her a fresh mug of tea. As he lent over the kettle he was distracted by a noise from outside. His mother looked out a window and turned a pale face to him.

“Tis only herself from the Big House.”

Malachi dropped the mug in shock.

“But isn’t she out foreign?”

“Well she’s standing out there now Malachi, so out foreign she ain’t”

Malachi nodded and took a few deep breaths. His mother patted her hair and reached for her good shawl. They stood at the door and looked at each and nodded. Malachi opened the door and they both stepped out. There was no one there. They looked left and right and then at each other in confusion. Malachi raised an enquiring eyebrow.

“Whist now boy, I saw what I saw.”

They heard a hum from the gable of the house, where Luke was still shivering his life away. They walked to it and discovered Lady Lannigan running her hands over the animal, though being careful to not actually touch it. There was a look of intense concentration on her face. They watched the young, well dressed woman in silence. Her face was unfashionably tanned and her bustle scandalously small, but then she did own several thousand acres of land, so who would call her to task.

After several moments she stopped and slumped exhausted against the animal, unconcerned by her clothes getting soiled.

“Come away now Lady Lannigan, your beautiful dress will be ruined.”

Lady Lannigan smiled at her concern and pushed herself off of Luke, who lowed at her enthusiastically. His ears perking up with renewed energy. She cooed at him gently and patted him on the rump.

“I do apologise for the liberty of attending to your poor animal, my good people but I am powerless in the face of suffering.”

Malachi and his mother dragged their eyes away from Luke and nodded at her, before walking her into the house. Malachi returned to making the tea while his mother sat next to Lady Lannigan.

“We had thought you out foreign My Lady.”

“Oh I was. Two years traveling the marvels of The Orient. I would have stayed longer but the natives picked a war with our gallant army. When they have been quelled I shall return with all haste.”

Malachi set out the mugs.

“Sorry M’Lady we’ve nothing grand here for the tea.”

“Oh my good man, when I was in The Orient a mug such as this, with good honest tea, would have been a luxury.”

Malachi poured the tea and fetched the milk. He sat down and waited awkwardly for one of the women to speak. His mother eventually broke the lengthening silence.

“Tell me Lady Lannigan, what were you doing with poor Luke just now.”

Lady Lannigan gave the mother a conspiratorial and even triumphant look.

“I learned some of the secrets of The Orient and I could not resist applying my new gift to that sorry looking cow.”


Lady Lannigan glanced at Malachi.


“Luke is a bullock M’Lady on account of him being castrated. A cow is a whole different order of animal.”

“Whist now Malachi, there’s such a thing as knowing enough and knowing too much.”

“Sorry mother, sorry M’Lady.”

“That’s quite alright I’m sure. I grew up round horses, so one cannot be too delicate about such things.”

She sipped her black tea in silence, Malachi cowering under the reproachful stare of his mother. When she relented her silent admonishment she looked at Lady Lannigan and asked again.

“You were at what exactly Lady Lannigan? With Luke that is.”

Lady Lannigan smiled mysteriously and set her mug down and took the jug of milk, and Malachi’s untouched black tea and placed them side by side on the table. She looked at Malachi.

“Your mother is partial to milky tea, is she not?”

He nodded, but on being tutted at by his mother, he spoke quickly.

“Yes she is M’Lady. Loves her milky tea she does.”

“Well imagine Luke as a mug of milky tea.”

Lady Lannigan poured a few drops of milk into the mug.

“Would this mug of tea meet your mother’s satisfaction?”

“Indeed and it wouldn’t M’Lady”

“That is how Luke is at the moment. Unsatisfactory. There’s not enough tea in the mix. But a skilled person, a person with true sight, can pour more milk through him and make him better.”

She poured more milk into the tea.

“This is closer to how your mother likes her tea, is it not? But still not perfect?”

Malachi nodded, but wasn’t tutted at this time.

“I will return tomorrow and I will direct more of the milk of the universe through Luke. I may have to return several times. He is a sickly cow.”


“Yes, a sickly bullock, but I have the power to see him cured.”

The mother stood up and gave an apologetic nod to Lady Lannigan.

“Excuse me My Lady, I have to attend to the Out House.”

Lady Lannigan smiled at her absently, before returning to the mug of tea. She poured more milk into it.

“Just like this.”

She smiled at Malachi as she lifted up the mug of milky tea. The mother quietly returned and retook her place at the table. Lady Lannigan was about to hand the mug to Malachi, when her face froze. Malachi quickly reached for the mug. She collapsed, face first into the table. The handle of the bread knife, jutting out of the base of her skull. Malachi handed the mug to his mother.

“She got your tea right anyway. Though it took her so long it’s probably cold.”

“Well the likes of us don’t rush Lords and Ladies. It ain’t done.”

“Did you see her necklace?”

“Worth a pretty penny I’d say, though you’ll have to travel a bit to sell it safely.”

“At least we won’t have to suffer eating Luke now.”

“Bad news there Malachi. I’m after finding him dead, just now.”

“Faith and he’ll take some burying.”

“Ah sure, call it a lesson to you. There’s one thing worrying be though Malachi.”

“What’s that mother?”

“With all her traveling in foreign parts, I hope it don’t leave a taste.”


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Milky Tea

Malachi straightened with a groan and reached behind him to knead his strained muscles. With the sun beginning to set and with his hands behind him, he stood looking at his field of freshly sown potatoes. He sighed in relief. He knew now, that he and his mother would stave off The Poor House for yet another year. With his back still aching, he began the trudge home. Beating the darkness by mere moments, he opened the front door of his cottage. No candles were lit and the fire had died. He stifled his immediate reaction and called to his mother. She didn’t answer and he began to feel fear.

He ran to her room, brushing aside the blanket that served as a her door and found her shivering in her bed. He knelt at her side and took her hand.

“Mother? Mother?”

She turned a deathly pale face to him and tried to comfort him with a smile.

“Ah sure, tis but an Autumn chill Malachi. I’ll be right as rain tomorrow. You see that I won’t”

Malachi smiled at his mother’s words and the effort she was taking to reassure him.

“Are you warm enough?”

“Well I’d be lying if I said I was.”

He nodded.

“I’ll be right back.”

He returned to the kitchen and began to rescue the fire. He shuttered the windows and when the fire caught, he put the kettle on. He found the leaves and began preparing the mug of tea that was precious to his mother. He was disturbed by a shout from the bedroom. He rushed in to see his mother vomiting onto the hard-packed soil floor. She looked up at him apologetically. He gently took her shoulders and settled her back onto the bed. He found a bucket and began to scrape the vomit into it. He threw it and the bucket out the front door and sprinkled several handfuls of turf-dust onto the floor.

“Thank you son.”

“Tis a doctor you need Mother. We’ve some money put by and with the spuds set, we’re good for the rest.”

He looked at his mother, worry crowding the deep tan of his forehead.

“So no arguing. I’ll have the doctor here in three hours.

She turned her face to him, her body wracked with shivers.

“That’s all we have in the world Malachi. You’d throw it away on a bit of a chill?”

“Mother! You’ve never been sick a day in your life. You need a doctor.”

She beckoned him close and put her hand on his face.

“You’re a good man to be so worried about your old mother, so I won’t argue with you. All I ask is that you wait till morning.”

He looked at her. Worry and confusion overwhelming him. Then his shoulders dropped and he relented.

“Till morning then.”

“That’s a good boy. Now go make me a mug of milky tea, just the way I like it.”

He grinned at her and returned to the kitchen. The kettle was steaming as he poured the boiling water into a mug. He allowed it to steep for a count of two hundred, as he had done several times a day, every day, for near forty years now. Then he poured a generous measure of milk into the brew and returned to the bedroom. She was fast asleep. Her breathing regular, but loud and raspy. He stood and watched her for several minutes, the tea growing cold in his hand.

He put the mug down and got into the bed with is mother and held her close. As he fell asleep he noticed her shivers lessening. He woke next morning with a groan. His back reminding him of the field sown. As his eyes adjusted to the near total darkness he remembered his mother. He leaned over to find her sleeping peacefully. He sighed in relief and quietly got out of bed.

He made his breakfast and sat silently eating it. When the sun eventually filled the house with light he heard his mother call him. She was doubled up on her bed, clutching her belly in agony. She struggled to speak.

“Go. Go get the doctor.”

He left without pause. He would need to run the twenty minutes to Hegarty’s farm, where he would borrow their horse and then ride for an hour to the town, where the doctor held his practice. He hadn’t gone half a mile before he was forced to bend over a wall to empty his stomach. He tried to run on, but his legs were as jelly and though his belly was now empty, it still forced him to stop every few steps to bend and retch. Tears of anger and frustration began to fall from his eyes. He was reduced to crawling before he had to admit defeat. He felt a growing despair that his mother would die alone, with him curled up on this road. He punched the ground in grief and turned back. He began the slow agony of returning to his mother. If he could not save her, he would at least hold her hand at the end.

It was the longest hour of his life, but he did reach the house, His knees and hands were bloodied, but he got there. At the front door he struggled to his feet and was about to enter when he heard a noise behind him. He jerked round to see a young man, atop a horse, staring at him.

“Sorry to disturb you Sir, but you seem to be in some distress?”

Malachi nodded. He took his hand off the door to face the rider but without the support, he fell heavily to his knees. When he came to, he was laying on the floor of his kitchen. The fire was blazing and he was covered with a blanket. He looked around him warily, trying to make sense of the situation.

“Ah Malachi, you’re awake.”

Malachi looked up at a young man who was smiling down at him. The man had taken off his jacket and had rolled up his shirt sleeves.

“Who are you?”

The man reached down a hand to Malachi.

“I’m Doctor Bartholomew Smythe. Pleased to make your acquaintance.”

Malachi shook the man’s soft hand silently. He then tried to stand. The Doctor helped him to his feet and led him to this mother’s bedroom. She was asleep and deathly pale.

“Is she going to live Doctor?”

“I certainly hope so Malachi, I’d hate my first ever patient to die on me.”

Malachi could hear the attempt at humour but chose not hit the doctor for it. If this man was saving his mother then he’d endure his stupid words.

“Did you give her medicine?”

“I administered medicine to you both Malachi and I am confident you’ll both pull through.”

They returned to the kitchen and sat at the table. Malachi struggled to make conversation, never having had to entertain a guest like Doctor Smythe before. The good Doctor sensing Malachi’s discomfort took pity on him and asked him several inconsequential questions about the weather, his farm, local politics and his mother. This could only serve for so long and the uncomfortable silences grew longer. As evening approached however their awkward society was interrupted by Malachi’s mother walking into the kitchen, looking hale and hearty.

“Jaysus mother, tis as if you were never sick.”

She laughed and took a seat next to the Doctor.

“Make the tea Malachi and we’ll start the settling up, with the good Doctor.”

Malachi nodded and put the kettle on for boiling. He got three mugs and the leaves and put them on the table. His mother turned to the Doctor.

“Well Sir, you have our gratitude and you’ll have some money out of us too. What you asking for?”

The Doctor looked uncomfortable at the direct questioning and answered hesitatingly.

“Well, you see Ma’am, I am a Doctor newly raised and I am a practitioner of a new kind of medicine, so I am a little unsure of the charge.”

Malachi poured the boiling water into the three mugs and went to fetch the milk.

“A new doctor and a new medicine you say? That strikes me as expensive. Tell us abut this new medicine.”

The Doctor’s face lit up and he sat straighter on his chair, enthusiasm lighting his face.

“Well, Ma’am, I’m glad you asked, as it’s part of my job to spread the word to all and sundry about this most splendid invention. The efficacy of which, both you and your son can now bare witness to.”

Malachi sat down at the table, holding the jug of milk. The Doctor took the milk from his hand.

“If you will allow, I will demonstrate the principal that underpins this wondrous breakthrough in medicine, using this milk.”

Malachi and his mother watched the Doctor warily. Curiosity warring with their fear for the precious milk in this sop’s hands.

“I assume that the Lady of the house, is partial to milky tea?”

Malachi nodded.

The Doctor, with a broad grin, dipped a spoon into the jug of milk and then held the spoon over one of the mugs of tea. A tiny drop of milk fell from the spoon and he then used another spoon to stir the tea vigorously.

“The key is dilution. The less of an active ingredient the better.”

Malachi and his mother watched the Doctor blankly, as he took another spoon and dipped it into the stirred tea and added a drop of that tea to another mug. He again stirred that mug and repeated the process to the third mug. As he was stirring the third mug he looked at Malachi in triumph.

“Now, I would ask you to imagine another one hundred mugs and then ten times that many again. One drop progressing the whole way through entire.”

He stopped stirring and lifting the mug, he showed it to Malachi.

“Then at the final mug we have the milkiest tea possible as that mug of tea would have to remember the milk all the harder.”

Malachi quickly reached for the mug and took it from the Doctor’s unresisting fingers. The mug safe, the Doctor collapsed forward, his forehead slamming onto the table. Only then did Malachi see the handle of his mother’s favourite carving knife protruding from base of the Doctor’s skull.

Malachi put the mug on the table and poured a generous measure of milk into it. He then handed it to his mother. She took a sip and smacked her lips in satisfaction.

“Tell me Malachi, did you empty your bowels today?”

“Yes Mother and messy it was too.”

“I think we’ll be having words with Hegarty about that side of bacon he sold us.”

“Well I did say it smelled a bit.”

“True, but you’re a known picky eater.”

Malachi nodded in agreement as he sipped his black tea. He looked again at the Doctor.

“Do you think he believed what he was shite’n on about?”

“I don’t know, but at least we know this meat is fresh.”

“True enough, true enough. I’ll get the bucket.”

“Good boy Malachi, but make sure you give it a good wash first. We don’t want it remembering vomit.”


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