Ray the chef was having trouble scooping out a pumpkin. Lunch had finished and he decided he had plenty of time to get ready for the pub’s Halloween party on Sunday night. The 4.40 at Haydock Park was two hours away. Loads of time to get a bet on.
“Ping!” Allie the Aardvark was playing with the microwave again when I brought in the last of the day’s dirty cups and saucers. He and it had a special understanding, it seemed. I couldn’t see the attraction myself. But then, my little blue friend found amusement in the strangest of places. Maybe there weren’t any microwave ovens where Allie came from. Which reminded me: as long as I’ve known the aardvark, he’s never really explained his origins. He was just…there. The winning prize of the pub’s weekly lottery and I somehow adopted him. Or he adopted me.
Whichever. I don’t really know.
Ray cursed loudly. “Whose bright idea was it to order a pumpkin?” he said.
“Mine,” Allie said. “Halloween is not Halloween until a pumpkin has been well and truly scooped.”
For those that don’t know, Allie is a one-of-a-kind; a talking aardvark that only I can hear. He loves playing up on this.
“What did he say?” Ray said.
“He said it was his idea,” I replied. “What’s the problem with it?”
“It’s as tough as my granny’s you-know-what,” he said.
“That bad, huh?” I didn’t want to ask what the ‘you-know-what’ was. Some things were best left alone.
“I need a chisel,” Ray said.
“You can’t take a chisel to a pumpkin, Ray. You’ll hack it to pieces.”
“It’s either that or it goes in the bin.”
“The bossman wouldn’t like that,” Allie said. “He spent twenty euro on a pumpkin. For that kind of money, he’ll want it to serve drinks, too.” Martin was the owner of the pub. He was as tight with cash as Ray’s granny’s you-know-what was tough. Real tight. Real tough.
“What did he say?” Ray asked again.
“Don’t use a chisel,” I said.
“He’s no bloody use,” Ray said. “Ask him to take a took at the 4.40, will you? I need a winner badly.”
“After the last time,” I said, “I don’t think that’s a good idea. Especially when you’re thinking of chiseling a pumpkin.”
One of Allie’s many talents is the ability to predict certain events, events in which he has no direct involvement – like horse racing. He found a winner for Ray the day after he got here and was sorry that he did. Even though the aardvark tried to dissuade him, Ray still tried to get one more winning horse from Allie.
“Let’s go, Jimbo,” Allie said. “I want to see what Halloween is like in Dublin.”
“I hope you like bangers,” I said.
My new friend wore my Stetson all the time. I brought it home from my trip to the States last year, but it suited him better than it did me. He had a head for hats. I just looked ridiculous. We took a bus into the city centre and got off at Marlborough Street. We crossed O’Connell Street, avoiding chuggers along the way, and strolled up Henry Street. The shop windows tried in vain to entice people to come in and sample the very latest in fancy dress. Allie walked toward one of the displays. His snout perked up.
“See something you like?” I said.
“I’m not sure,” he replied. “It seems to me that the latest fashion designs would have the Witches of Salmon weeping into their cauldrons.”
“The witches of who?” I sensed an aardvarkian history lesson on its way.
“Salmon,” he replied. “I mean, look at these.” He pointed at the mannequins. “If I didn’t know any better I’d say this shop sold school uniforms for Lady Gaga fans. Who in their right minds goes around wearing stuff like this?”
I didn’t know what was more surprising: the fact that Allie had an opinion on fashion or that he knew who Lady Gaga was.
“This is what happens on Halloween, Allie,” I said. “The young ones dress up like tarts, get blitzed on alcopops, and spend the next day throwing up monkey nuts.”
“Charming,” the aardvark said. “Wouldn’t happen in my day. The witches wouldn’t allow it.”
We continued our walk up Henry Street. On the corner of Moore Street, some guys were selling fireworks and bangers, despite this activity being against the law. One of the hawkers approached us.
“D’ya want some fireworks, bud?” he said.
“A witch’s curse be upon you!” Allie replied. “May your spawn suffer the ignominy of perpetual boredom!”
“What did he say?” the hawker asked.
“He said no.” I grabbed Allie’s snout. “Let’s go, you.” We marched further on. “What’s with the cursing? It’s not nice.”
“If the Witches of Salmon were here, such vendors would be afflicted with boils and plagues of locusts.”
“Yes, Jimbo. On the Feast of Salmon, all witches’ covens got together for their Annual General Meeting and debated ways of making their day of celebration more even and meaningful, less shallow. Hence the term ‘shallow evening.’ Of course, over the centuries, almost everything was lost. Shallow became hallow, Salmon became samhain.”
I stopped in my tracks. “You’re pulling my leg, aren’t you?”
“What, you think all this is to do with druids and ghosts?”
“Well, that and a good horror movie.”
“It’s marketing, Jimbo. It’s St. Valentine’s Day with vampires. The Witches of Salmon would…”
“I know, weep into their cauldrons. Hubble, bubble, boil and trouble.”
Allie’s stomach rumbled. “I need some M&Ms, Jimbo. All this talk of food is giving me an appetite.”
We retraced our steps. “You know, Allie,” I said, “if all this distresses you, you could always Hum them away.” Allie’s only weapon, as far as I knew, was his psychic Hum; a sound that penetrated people’s minds and hearts and made them do his bidding.
“I thought of that,” he said. “But it would cause more trouble that its worth. If I make these vendors go away, others will take their place next year.” He looked at me with those dark expressionless eyes of his. “I might not be here this time next year.”
I hadn’t thought of that. I felt my face fall.
“Don’t fret too much, Jimbo,” he said. “We have much to accomplish before I go anywhere. But first, I need…”
“M&Ms,” I said.
“Yes,” the aardvark replied. “And I want to have another look at those school uniforms.”