Daily Archives: May 7, 2012

Altar Rail

by James Claffey


The mirror in the bathroom reflects a veil of pimple juice on the Old Man when he goes to shave this morning. “Ah, you dirty little blackguard, have you been squeezing your acne in here?” he cries.

“Sorry, Da,” I say, half-hidden in my bedroom doorway.

“Have you no regard for your mother? Doesn’t she have to clean up after you like a fecking skivvy?” He slathers Brilliantine on his palms and claps them together, slicking back his hair. A fine spray of misty oil haloes his head. “Come down here and clean your mess,” he orders, cuffing my ear with his hand when I get close enough.

I use the hand towel draped over the back of the bathroom door, the clean one for guests, to clean the mirror. There’s a puddle of cold water on the linoleum floor where the Old Man stood a few minutes ago. I hate you. Go back to the oil rig and I hope it explodes. My thoughts are shrill pains in my head and I want them to stop. My hand wipes the mirror from side to side, the large wart on my thumb crusted and brown with dirt.

Today I shall get some dandelion juice and spread it on there. Mam says the dandelion juice is a placebo and that the only cure is to burn the wart off with a match. Dr. Fanagan gave me some cream once, but it stank and didn’t work at all. The Old Man tried to cure the warts with a healthy dose of Sloan’s horse liniment, but it only made the boys at school tease me and call me “giddy-up.”

At breakfast the Old Man reads a story from the paper about a shop in town charging ten shillings for a bag of espresso beans. “More than the price of a meal in the Shelbourne Hotel,” he says.

“What are espresso beans, Da?” I ask.

“Fancy coffee rich mucky mucks drink. Nothing to concern us,” the Old Man gripes.

Mam kisses me on the forehead as I go out the door to school, not forgetting to dip two fingers in the Holy Water font and bless myself.

On the roof of the church a blackbird’s shrill call catches my attention. The bird perches on a tiny cross above a globe and in the bottom right corner of the large stained glass window above the church doors a beautiful mermaid bleeds from her side. It’s a bit far away, but I’m just about able to make out her bust, and she is lovely.

I walk in the doors of the church to say a prayer for the black babies in Africa dying of the famine and Father Mulcahy says, “Don’t forget to wipe your muddy feet, young boyo.”

Altar rail.

I kneel and Hail Mary into the silence.








James Claffey, born and raised in Ireland, received his MFA from Louisiana State University, where he was awarded the Kent Gramm Prize for Non-Fiction. His work appears in many places including The New Orleans Review, Connotation Press, the Molotov Cocktail, and Gone Lawn. You can read him at http://www.jamesclaffey.com.