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The Ballad of Danny Malone

FFO fave Nicky Murphy is back,

with a tale of heartbreak and ghosts from the past.

The Ballad of Danny Malone by Nicky Murphy


My wife has fallen for another man. A younger man. 

Alice is not on her own, mind you. Half the women in this town are infatuated with Danny Malone. Ever since he turned up having run away from a drunken father somewhere upstate, they’ve talked about nothing else.

He’s an odd-job man, fixing a dripping tap here, a blocked drain there. Our garden has never been so bloody immaculate. She encourages him, feeding him like a stray dog.

I need to tell her she’s making a fool of herself. I can see the attraction – the mussed-up hair, the baby blues, the inability to keep his shirt on in warm weather – but she’s old enough to be his – well.

I get home from work one hot day, and guess what? Wonderful Danny is in the garden and my wife is in the kitchen filling a glass with homemade lemonade. Homemade! There’s a plate with a couple of cookies, and I bet they’re homemade too.

“Look, Alice, this has gone far enough,” I say.

She turns around, picks up the glass and plate.

“Same age as Jack would’ve been, doncha think?” Her eyes are dry and her chin trembles just a little.

I watch as Alice takes the lemonade and cookies over to Danny, who’s digging out a stubborn patch of weeds. She’s right, of course – the same age, if our son had lived, rather than being born too soon for this world and dying in my arms, being too weak to even cry.

Danny takes the glass, drinks deep, then kisses her gently on the cheek. He looks over and gives me a hearty wave.

Despite myself, I wave back. Ah, dammit. If she wants to get a bit gooey over Danny then let her. No harm done.

***************

It’s Thanksgiving, and Danny is sharing our meal. After the pumpkin pie, he says he’s met someone.

“Her name is Nadine,” he says, handing me a photograph. “Isn’t she just a peach?”

All I see is a hard-nosed little tramp with cold eyes.

“Yup, she’s a peach alright,” I say.

“We met at the drive-in.” He strokes the photo and sighs happily. “She says she’s going to show me the world.”

***************

Christmas comes, and the old year shivers into the new.

During spring, Danny still mows the lawn and trims the shrubs, but I notice he’s missing swathes of grass, or churning the lawn to mud. One afternoon, Alice reports he spends two hours pruning a rose bush, leaf by leaf, twig by twig, until there’s nothing left but a stump.

He shuns lemonade and cookies and his face looks like a skull. His baby blues redden. His shirt stays on his back. And he stinks.

I’m not sure what world Nadine is showing him, but I think it looks like hell.

***************

One night there’s a knock at the door. It’s Danny, and he looks like death warmed over. There are large smudges of dark grey under his eyes and his skin is the color of day-old grits.

Alice sits him down with a cup of coffee, which he nurses but doesn’t drink.

“I have nowhere else to go,” he says, then he begins to cry.

It turns out that Danny owes $5000 to the kind of man who doesn’t like to be kept waiting for his dues. The kind of man who thinks nothing of putting an extra hole in someone’s head.

“Danny, we just haven’t got that sort of money,” I say. “I wish we had, but -”

“Yes we have,” Alice says. “We have savings, there’s my pension, we could sell something—”

“No!” I slam my hand on the table. “No, Alice, I will not give our money to help Danny kill himself, no!”

She stands up, and there’s something in her quiet stance that scares me. 

“It won’t be our money, it’ll be mine,” she says.

I stand up too and we stare at each other.

“I said no, Alice.” I point at Danny. “He is not Jack. He is not our son, no matter how much you want him to be.”

I turn to the lad, and the pleading in his eyes cuts me to the quick. “I’m sorry, Danny, but you should go.” 

“Please!” Alice grabs her handbag, starts pulling out the bills. “Here, Danny, this is all I have on me. I’ll get you more tomorrow.” She pushes them into his hands and stares at me defiantly.

“I said no.”

“And I said—”

Danny gets up and makes for the door. “It doesn’t matter,” he says. “I shouldn’t have asked you, it’s not fair.” All the same, he carefully places the bills into his back pocket. “I’ll try talking to him, ask him for a little more time.”

***************

Two nights later, there’s a hammering on the door. We’ve just gone to bed; me in our room, Alice in the spare room, as that’s how it is now.

I throw on a robe and open the door.

It’s Frank from across the road. Danny’s body has been found by the crossroads, a single efficient hole in his chest. He thought we should know. Sandra, Frank’s wife, is beside herself.

I tell Alice. She starts to keen, and I would sell my soul to never hear that sound again.

***************

Alice mourns for another lost son, then leaves me soon after the funeral.

I move away to another town, the memories of that beautiful boy too hard to handle. And sometimes I sit on my porch, watching the moths kill themselves against the light time and time again, and wonder if being right was worth it.




Nicki Murphy lives in the UK, and dreams of giving up the rat-race and just writing full-time. Inspiration comes from the dark side. Her mum wonders why she can't write about fluffy kittens, just once. Likes red wine and Sharknado. Don't judge her too harshly.