THE BIG SWITCH
By Mattie Lennon
Patrick P. O’ Reilly was giving a final dusting and polishing to the, already gleaming, surfaces in his Funeral parlour. William Smyth of Smyth & Miller, Commissioners for Oaths had passed away in a Dublin hospital. The remains would be arriving tomorrow morning and the elite of County Cavan would be calling in large numbers while the prominent citizen reposed.
The distorted silhouette of “Skin” Brady, a farmer “from out the road” could be seen through the translucent Michael-the-Archangel etched on the glass door. (“Skin” was an abbreviation of “Skin-the-louse” a sobriquet not attributed because of generosity.)
“Skin” was a regular visitor who would usually reply to Patrick P’s “How’s it going”? with “I’m trying to deprive you of a job for as long as I can.”
Today was different. “I’m not the best . . Poor Philly Galligan that has worked with me for 20 year is after droppin’ dead at eleven o ‘clock this mornin’” He has no one belongin to him and the least I can do is to take care of his funeral. I know you’ll do the job for me an’ ye won’t be too hard on me. Times is bad.”
Arrangements were made and “Skin” went on his way.
The next day he called in to the Funeral home to carry out a “progress check.” There were two open coffins. William Smyth resplendent in pin-stripe suit, white shirt and red tie was in one.
Philly Galligan dressed in the brown habit of Saint Frances, his gnarled fingers entwined by a Rosary beads was in the other.
“Skin” payed his respects, made a token sign of the cross, and went into Patrick P. in the inner office. As the undertaker lifted his head from the desk, “Skin” got down to business without preamble. “Patrick, d’ye know what I was thinkin”? The question was, or course rhetorical and treated as such. “I was thinkin’ that Philly was a good an’ loyal workman for twenty year. Sure didn’t he work up to eleven o clock the mornin’he died.” Patrick P., knowing there was more to come didn’t comment. “I was lookin’ at him there in the oul brown habit. Sure what’s the point. It looks kinda drab. It was different when there was an Indulgence for wearin’ it. Would you put in some kinda suit. Something like ye have on Smyth. Now . . ye needn’t go mad price-wise, but somethin’ fairly dacent.” Patrick P. nodded in agreement and “Skin“ departed.
When he returned in the evening William Smyth’s coffin was being wheeled out to the waiting hearse,followed by well groomed men of substance and fur-coated women, with a few of the peasantry bringing up the rear.
Philly Galvin lay in his coffin dressed in suit, shirt and tie,better turned out than he ever was in life. “Skin” expressed his satisfaction to Patrick P. “ Fair play to ye, Ye did a good job . . how much extra is that”?
“It’s OK” says Patrick P. “It’s on the house.”
“Shin” knowing that he was now on safe ground made an elaborate theatrical gesture as if reaching for his wallet retorted, “ It must have cost ye something . . what do I owe ye”?
Patrick P. dismissed him with a wave of his hand. “It’s all right . . I switched the heads.”