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June 20, 2015 / hbrowne4

Alter Ego? by Stephen Brady

When the doorbell rang, I stiffened inside.

It was eleven thirty on a Tuesday morning. Too late for the postman and too early for the Jehovah’s Witnesses. When you get to my age, you become suspicious of unsolicited callers.

The bell rang, again.

I silenced Jeremy Kyle (“Identical Twins Love Triangles”), and heaved myself up. My bones ached from the exertions of the previous day. They are not gentle, the Boys in Blue, even on  a lady of a certain etcetera.

I went to the door, and pulled it back on the chain.

“Yes?”

“Madge? It’s me. It’s Kitty.”

Oh Mother of God. This was, as the young people say, all I needed.

“Kitty. What’s up with you?”

“Open the door, Madge. I need to talk to you.”

Muttering under my breath, I opened up.

“Well. I suppose you’d better come in.”

I led my neighbour into the kitchen. The last thing I wanted was Kitty Gillespie in my house nosing around. She was widely known, on the terrace and beyond, by the unflattering nickname “Sky News.”

“I wasn’t expecting a caller at this hour,” I told her snippily. “I suppose you’ll be wanting a cup of tea?”

“Lovely,” she said, and sat down for herself.

While I filled the kettle, I thought briefly of the Material. The things I kept, for the other business. Momentarily I panicked. Did I leave anything out?

No. No. It was all locked away, under the stairs.

“Well!” I clicked the button, and turned around. “What ails you, Kitty Gillespie?”

She was looking right at me, with mingled fear and fascination.

“I don’t know how to say it, Madge, so I suppose I’d best just come out with it.”

“What? Spit it out.”

“I was in town yesterday for a bit of shopping. I was going across Dawson Street and a Garda car went by me. Nearly ran me over, it did.”

My mouth had run dry. “… And you came over here to tell me that, did you?”

“You were in the back, Madge.”

Ah.

I opened my mouth but, for once, she was faster.

“Don’t even think of denying it! I know it was you. Sitting in the back, you were, with a big bull of a Guard beside you. I’d know you anywhere.”

I turned away from her and made the tea. While I did, I looked out in the garden.

“You’ve a pair of sharp eyes on you, Kitty Gillespie. Did you broadcast this up and down the street?”

” I did not.” She had the cheek to sound indignant. “I’ve told nobody.”

“Well what do you want me to say?”

“I just want to know what happened, Madge. Are you in trouble?”

I put the steaming mug in front of her, and sat opposite. Folded my hands on the wood, the way I used to when I looked at troublemaking pupils back in the day. That was another thing the young people said. Back in the day.

 My mind was working at lightspeed.

Anything. Anything at all, but the truth.

Shameful, I thought. She’ll believe that the easiest.

 “Alright, I’ll tell you.” I sighed. “But you’re not to breathe a word.”

“I promise,” she lied.

“Alright. I was in McKenna’s.”

“The jeweller’s?”

“Yes. I was after something for Ruth, you know. The graduation. They showed me a chain, oh it was a beautiful thing. Two thousand euro, it was.”

“And…?”

“And I’d… a moment of madness, I suppose. I grabbed it and ran for the door. I don’t know what came over me. They’d the barriers down and the alarms off in two seconds. The guards were there in no time.” I hid my face in my hands. “Oh Kitty, I’m so ashamed.”

“I see.” She believed that as well as if I’d told her I’d gone to Mars for the shopping.

She didn’t have to believe it, though. As long as it wasn’t the truth, it would do.

“Well!” She stood up. “I don’t believe I’ll have that tea after all. I’ll show myself out.” She moved to the door, and that was when I saw it.

Hung up on the wall, beside the kitchen door, was a smiley mask. It mocked me with its paper grin.

At the door, she turned back. “I must say I’m surprised at you, Madge d’Arcy. And you a Prinicpal, once on a time.”

I looked away. “Please go, Kitty. I don’t deserve to be spoken to.”

She sniffed, turned and left.

I tried to breathe. And assess.

She’d had her phone. I’d seen in the bulge in her tracksuit bottoms. She’d be on it before she got to the gate. And by tonight, it would be all over. Madge d’Arcy, Jewel Thief!

Twenty-four hour rolling news, indeed.

 I took the smiley mask down off the wall and looked at it. Grinning its vaudeville grin. It knew everything, far more than Kitty Gillespie ever would.

I put it down and went out in the hall. Unlocked the cupboard under the stairs and opened it.

The boiler suits were folded neatly. The acid-resistant boots lined up beneath the shelf. The placards propped to the right, the ones that spoke of sovereignty and traitors.

On the forums I am known as “nonpassiveresistance.”

Oscar Wilde wrote that “the truth is never pure and rarely simple.” Even at this time of my life, I am startled  by how half-true that statement has the power to be.

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