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The woggan stick, the maggottypie, and all the broken china

By John W. Sexton

Sean was on his way to Granda’s house, making his way through the wet, sedge-fringed field by the river, when he heard someone calling his name.

“Shawn, Shawn, Shawn,” came the voice.

As Sean stopped and turned he could see a magpie coming down through the air toward him. Its shadow fell over him and he could hear it calling quite clearly: “Shawn, Shawn, Shawn.”

The Magpie landed on a nearby willow tree, began to cock its head in Sean’s direction.

“Stop it,” said Sean. “You can’t talk, you’re a bird.”

The Magpie gave a tumbling giggle of a laugh and took off from the tree. As it flew out of sight towards the river it began to call again.

“Shawn, Shawn, Shawn, Shawn...”

Sean made his way towards Granda’s house. Granda was in the orchard by the eastern gable, halfway up a ladder picking apples.

“How’s yourself, Sean?” asked Granda, rubbing an apple against his sleeve.

“There was a Maggottypie ginn mese trouble, Granda.”

“Oh, was there now?” said Granda, coming down the ladder. “And what trouble did he give you? Did he peck at you, did he?”

“No, Granda. He was calling me, Granda.”

Granda looked worried. “And what did he call you?”

“He called me name, Granda. He kept calling ‘Shawn Shawn Shawn.’ ”

Granda took a bite from the apple and his face collapsed into a grimace. “My God, but that’s a bitter one. He called your name did he? The blaggard! Well, we’ll just have to fix him, won’t we?”

“Will we fix him with the hammer, Granda?”

“Oh no, Seanín, the hammer’s no good for that old Maggottypie. What we need to fix him with is the walking stick. You better go and fetch it for me, lad. It’s by the fire.”

Sean went out of the orchard and up to the house. The kitchen door was a bit stiff, so he called to Granda.

“Granda, the door won’t open.”

“Ah, that’s just the table in the way. Give the door a good banging with your fist. That’ll settle it,” called Granda, once more up the ladder, his head lost in a tree.

Sean began to bang impatiently on the door. “Gerrout, ya silly table ya.” Inside the kitchen Sean could hear the legs of the table scraping against the stone floor. Eventually it moved back and Sean could squeeze into the kitchen. As soon as Sean was in the kitchen the table made its way back against the door, pushing it closed. Sean went over to the fireplace and took Granda’s walking stick, a fine piece of blackthorn, then carried it over to the table. He gave the table an almighty whack and it began to shuffle out of the way, freeing up the door once more.

In the orchard Sean was indignant. “I had to whack the table wit the woggan stick, Granda.”

“Ah, that table needs fixing, that’s for sure,” said Granda, coming down from the ladder. “Here, have an apple, Seanín,” said Granda, passing Sean an apple.

Sean bit into the apple and immediately he could feel his tongue turning to fur.

“Yurrrrggghh, it’s sour, Granda!”

“Ah, isn’t it now. Finest, sourest apple you’ll ever taste. Not a single worm could survive in an apple as bitter as that one. Go on, take another bite.”

Sean took another bite and it was as bad as the first.

“Yurrrrggghh, it’s sour, Granda!” said Sean, as if tasting the apple for the first time.

Just at that moment a dozen fleeting shadows passed over the ground. Granda and Sean looked up. Over their heads was the Magpie, who began to call as loud as it could.

“Shawn, Shawn, Shawn, Shawn...”

“Granda, it’s the Maggottypie, he’s callin again.”

“Never mind his cackling, Seanín,” said Granda, an urgency rising in his voice. “He’s throwing his shadows at us. Mind that none of them peck at you. Beat them off with the walking stick. As quick as you can.”

But Granda was too late; already Sean could feel a pinch on his ear. As he looked at the ground he could see the shadow of a magpie pecking at the shadow of his ear. Then he felt a nip on his shoulder, and sure enough, there was another magpie-shadow pecking at the back of Sean’s shadow. In a moment, magpie-shadows were all about the ground at his feet. Sean began to wallop the ground in a panic. And each time he hit the shadow of a magpie it would disappear. Wallop, wallop, wallop, went Sean with the stick.

“That’s it, Seanín,” said Granda. “You keep at them with the walking stick.”

Sean was vehemently thumping the ground with the stick, when suddenly a large grey cat sprang at his feet. The shadow-magpies scattered, but as they were stuck to the ground the cat was able to pounce on them all.

“That’s it, Granda!” said Sean. “Eat the lot of them, Granda!”

And each time the grey cat bit at a magpie’s shadow, a black spot appeared in its fur, one black spot for every shadow of a magpie that it ate, until finally the large grey cat was completely black.

“That’s it, Granda, you’ve ate the lot of them,” cried Sean. In a moment the cat was gone, but the Magpie began calling again.

“Shawn, Shawn, Shawn, Shawn...”

Sean looked around. The Magpie was perched on a nearby tree, calling at the top of its voice, “Shawn, Shawn, Shawn...”

“You stop that calling,” screamed Sean, waving the walking stick above his head. But as he shouted at the magpie he noticed something stirring in the branches behind it. It was a cat, a large, black cat. As Sean watched, the cat began to edge closer and closer to the magpie. But the Magpie, seeing Sean gawping at something in the tree, looked behind himself just in time. Seeing the cat it flew off in a flurry, scattering some of its feathers.

Sean watched it for a few moments, climbing higher into the sky, when suddenly he was distracted by the voice of his Granda.

“Sean, bring the ladder quickly,” called Granda, “Quickly, before I fall and break me puss.”

As Sean looked up he could see Granda caught in the tree, holding onto a branch for all his life.

“Don’t worry, Granda,” called Sean, “I’ll help you down. I’ll gets the ladder.”

Sean ran as fast as he could to the orchard, but the ladder was gone. He ran back to Granda, who was still desperately hanging from the tree.

“Granda, Granda, Granda...” wheezed Sean, “The ladder’s gone, Granda.”

“Ah, wouldn’t you know it, I knew those woodworms’d eat it sooner or later,” said Granda, finally losing his grip and falling to the ground. As he landed there was a sound like falling plates.

“Granda, Granda, are you all right? What’s the noise, Granda?”

“Ah, that’s just me bone china,” said Granda. “When you get to be my age you’re always breaking the bone china.”

Granda stood up and there was a sound like cups and saucers smashing to the ground. Sean looked at him in wonder.

“Well, it’s no good standing here like two ate kippers, we best be off to get that worthless Maggottypie,” said Granda. With each step Granda took there was the crunching sound of broken crockery.

“Stop making that noise, Granda,” complained Sean. “It’s making my teeth hurt.”

“It’s no good, Seanín,” said Granda, finally falling down in a heap. “I think I’ve broken every bit of bone China in me body. You’ll have to help me, Seanín.”

“But what will I do, Granda?” asked Sean, sounding very worried.

“You’ll have to go to the house and bring me the glue. It’s in a big brown pot on the windowsill. Hurry now, while there’s still time.”

Seanín ran as fast as he could back to the house but as soon as he got to the door he found he couldn’t budge it. Getting a milking stool that lay in the yard, he climbed up on it and looked through the kitchen window. The table, the four kitchen chairs and even the kitchen press were rammed up against the door. There was absolutely no way that Sean was getting into the kitchen through that front door. And as he watched he could see Granda’s bedside locker come sliding out from the bedroom to join all the other furniture.

Sean looked down through the window and could see a large earthenware pot on the windowsill just the other side of the glass. The window was opened a crack but the frame was swollen and Sean couldn’t budge it. Then he thought of the walking stick. Putting it into the gap of the window he pulled against it with all his might. Each time he pulled, the window opened just a little bit more. Eventually he could pull it open with his two hands until he had enough room through which to pull the pot of glue. By the time he got to Granda he was out of breath.

“Granda, Granda, I’ve got the glue,” breathed Sean.

“Ah, that’s the good little man,” said Granda. “Now, open it up and I’ll drink the lot.”

Sean opened the earthenware jar and his nostrils were assailed with the sweetest smell. Inside was a thick golden liquid. Granda began to drink from the jar, the thick syrupy glue dripping down his chin. Within a minute the jar of glue was empty and Granda was covered in bees.

“Granda, you’re covered in wopsis. They’ll bite you, Granda.”

“Nah, those old wopsis will never bite me,” said Granda, “sure, I’m far too bitter to bite, from all those bitter apples I’ve eaten. And that’s why I eat them, to keep those wopsis from biting me. Now me man, we’d best be getting you back to your Mammy. She’ll be wondering whatever became of you.”

Back at Sean’s house his mother greeted them in the yard. Sean’s Granda left them and made his way back home. As he left the yard he could hear Sean telling of his day’s adventures.

Granda smiled. He doubted that Sean’s mother would believe a single word of it. Well, that young boy had a wild imagination, that was for sure.

When Granda got home he could hear a mad scuffling in the kitchen, as if someone was arranging the furniture, but when he stood in the doorway everything was as it had been before he’d left. And on the table was his old friend Maggottypie, laughing like a river.

John W. Sexton (Republic of Ireland) is a poet, short-story writer, dramatist, children’s novelist, radio scriptwriter, and broadcaster. He is the author of three collections of poetry, The Prince’s Brief Career (Cairn Mountain Press, 1995); Shadows Bloom / Scáthanna Faoi Bhláth, a book of haiku with translations into Irish by Gabriel Rosenstock; and, most recently, Vortex (Doghouse, 2005). He also created and wrote The Ivory Tower for RTE radio, which ran to over one hundred half-hour episodes. His novels based on this series, The Johnny Coffin Diaries and Johnny Coffin School-Dazed are both published by The O’Brien Press, and have been translated into Italian and Serbian. Under the ironic pseudonym of Sex W. Johnston he has recorded an album with legendary Stranglers frontman, Hugh Cornwell, entitled Sons Of Shiva, which has been released on Track Records. He is Fiction Editor at The Cork Literary Review.

John is a frequent contributor to VerbSap.

Photo "Abode of Crow" courtesy of Steve Ford Elliott, Mountshannon, Ireland Eire.

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