The sun shined over the town of Mallow, cursing it with summer. It shined on the town’s old graveyard, turning the grass as brown as the stone of the ancient church. Neil Hickey was becoming more and more ill-tempered; it was hot and the hole he was digging was still only as deep as his knees. He started cursing with every spade of dirt he shifted, under his breath at first, but louder as sweat started pouring down his sunburned face. Sweat finally sprayed off his lips in a fine mist as he grunted an audible “Fuck!” and threw the shovel down into the hole. Pulling the red handkerchief off his head (where it was supposed to stop the sweat running into his eyes) and wiping down his face and middle-aged torso, he checked his watch and nodded: “The Olde Fiddle” would be opening soon. “It‘s too hot for this craic,” he muttered. Pulled his T-shirt on, ran his fingers through his thinning hair, and stomped out through the iron gate. Cut through the parking lot of the modern supermarket, crossed the road, and came to the red and beige door of “The Olde Fiddle,” just opened for Friday afternoon trade.

“Hiya Maureen!” Neil shouted a greeting to the empty bar as he strode in.

“Alright there, Neil,” came a woman’s voice from somewhere behind the counter. She was checking the flasks underneath the bar. She always checked the flasks just after opening, a habit that never ceased to bother Neil.

“Should ya not be digging ol’ man Murray’s grave then, Neil?” Maureen asked, her mop of black curls appearing above the counter. She was short, so there was not much else of her in sight.

“For the love of God, Maureen, why don’t ya open a window in here? It’s right stuffy!” was Neil’s reply.

“I don‘t want the ghost of Mr. Murray haunting this place now. He was a mean old bastard, he was.”

“Old wives’ tales and superstitions, Maureen; anyways, he‘s been dead now three days, his ghost is long gone, probably giving the devil himself all kinds of hell.”

“Jesus, Neil!” said Maureen crossing herself “Don‘t be saying that. But I suppose you‘re right; ‘tis stuffy in here.”

Neil, sitting at the bar, watched Maureen with more than casual interest as she reached up and opened the windows, letting in much needed fresh air.

“But you haven‘t answered my question, Neil: are ya finished?”

“Ah geez, Maureen, it‘s nearly 28 degrees out. I don‘t want to be joining Murray in his grave, now do I? It‘s too hot for that craic right now. Just give me a drink now, I‘ll finish up when it‘s cooler.”

“Right ya are,” said Maureen, sliding Neil a glass of cool black heaven. She was actually, as always, happy to have him there, aware that he had not taken his eyes off her.


At 2:30, the Friday afterwork crowd started trickling in; by three, they were elbow-to-elbow at the bar. Neil, quiet at first, sitting at the corner of the bar, just listened to the barroom buzz, in which the recently deceased Mr Murray featured prominently.

“That mean ol’ man’s gone paid his taxes!” a woman’s inebriated voice cut through the din and her companions laughed. It wasn‘t long before a slightly drunk suit sidled up next to Neil.

“I know you,” he said, pointing an unlit cigarette at Neil.  “You work for O‘Connell’s, right?”

“Yeah,” said Neil.

“You be burying Murray, then?”

“Yeah, well, we are the only funeral people in Mallow.”

“You make sure to put him down real deep now, you hear? We don‘t want that mean ol’ bastard crawling out his grave.”

“Well, I’m busy with his hole right now; just stopped ‘cause of the heat.”

“Is that right?” said the man, waving the cigarette under Neil’s nose. His face was flushed and his words a little slurred, but his suit, loosened tie and all, gave him an air of respectability. Something only rich people could be: respectable drunks.

“You just be sure to give him an extra t’ree feet, then.”

And turning to the bar, he shouted over to Maureen: “See that our man gets t’ree of whatever he’s drinking, right?” said the man, pointing to Neil’s empty pint glass.

“T’ree feet deeper now,” he said confidentially, then left to go smoke outside.

Neil, watching him through the window, wondered to himself. He knew Murray was not well liked, but the conversation he’d just had was truly unbelievable. In all the years that he had been dealing with dead people (and some of them were right bastards), he had never experienced such fervour, such outright damnation of the deceased as he witnessed this afternoon. It just didn’t sit well with Neil, ol’ Murray was unfriendly, unsociable, unmarried, and just about every other -un Neil could think of, but to be so happy about a man’s death just wasn’t right.  I must talk it over with Maureen; she‘s got the skinny on everything that happens in Mallow. But Maureen was busy, the bar crowded and the punters thirsty. He would have to wait ‘til she closed at 5:30; he always hung around during the two-hour break on Fridays anyway. Neil watched the man flick his cigarette butt out into the sun-drenched road and come back inside, his cheeks crimson and his forehead encrusted with fine diamonds of sweat. Neil signalled him over. “So why do you’s hate ol’ Murray so much?” Neil said, getting straight to the point; he was on his third pint. The other man looked at Neil quizzically, uncomprehending, but waited for him to finish his long draught before retorting:

“What ya mean?” he said “We don‘t hate him…we’re just glad he’s dead is all.“

“Kinda sounds a lot like hate to me.”

“Well now, that mean ol’…well, he…ya know…uhm? You don‘t speak ill of the dead, alright. You just make sure you dig his hole deeper.”

“Right ya are,” said Neil.

The man wandered back to his group of friends, leaving Neil alone at the bar. The third pint was having more of an effect on Neil. Waves of well-being ebbed up from his feet; the sunlit pavement through the window began to shimmer. It was good to be alive, good to be out of the heat. He forgot about mean ol’ misery Murray for the time being and fixed his gaze on Maureen, who was busy pulling another pint. She‘s a fine woman; we should make it official sometime. Take her out, see what she looks like in the sunshine. Maureen, suddenly aware of his gaze, said: “Don‘t ya be smiling at me, Neil Hickey; I ain’t giving you no more drink.” But Neil knew that his smile would get more than just a pint of Guinness if he wanted, and the way she stretched to reach the glasses made the smile on his face stay and ol’ Murray’s detractors, like an intruding roommate, were sent from his thoughts out into the cold. His smile needed space and a little privacy. Maureen flashed a smile back at him, a smile that said “later…Neil Hickey.”

At five, she rang the bell for the afternoon break. She ran the pub alone and needed the respite. It was the nicest pub in Mallow, so the punters didn’t complain; indeed, most had already left. After the last client left, Maureen locked the door, dimmed the lights, and walked over to Neil. “Well, now?” was all she said.

“Say,” said Neil, reaching out and touching her side: “Are those whales on your T-shirt or what?”

Her T-shirt was decorated with little pictures of various whales.

“They sure are,” replied Maureen, “they sure are,” taking him by the hand and leading him upstairs.


It was just before re-opening time, and Neil was checking the flasks beneath the bar when he finally asked Maureen about ol’ man Murray: “Why is everyone so happy to see him dead?”

“Well, you know he owns all those flats? Now they can get to buy them is all.”

“Is that what all this fuss is about, then?”

“Yeah…he never would sell, the ol’ miser.”

Well, half of them they couldn’t afford to buy. Lets see what they think when a real bastard like O’Connell buys them up. Oh well… thought Neil, snapping a hose onto a flask of Guinness. He never could understand people.


The usual Friday night crowd started filling up the bar, as well as a large throng of “We’re glad that   ol’ fecker is gone” revellers; louder, drunker, and more generous with drinks than the afternoon crowd. The “party“ continued all the way ‘til closing, when Neil came staggering out, boozed to the gills, but determined to get the job of digging ol’ bastard Murray’s grave done and dusted before the   morning. “I’ll bury the fucker,” Neil mumbled under his breath as he stumbled through the dark   cemetery. The drink and the intensified animosity of the evening customers towards “ol’ fuckface    Murray” had swung the feeling of indifference in him towards Murray into absolute loathing.     “Yes…I’ll get your hole dug. T’ree feet deeper. Even if it fecking kills me.”

He was right; he would dig the hole three feet deeper, and it would kill him.

Neil stumbled down into the shallow grave, grabbed the shovel, and attacked the ground with short-lived enthusiasm. The alcohol in his body eventually slowed him down, but he carried on. Spade after spade of dirt was shovelled up and over his head until it finally became impossible. The newly dug gravel would just come flying back down into his drunk, cursing face.

“That’s deep enough, then,” Neil said out loud, throwing the shovel, then himself, to the floor. He lay there in ol’ Murray’s grave, his head spinning, his whole body feeling like it was slowly sinking underwater. A feeling of loneliness and sadness started building up inside him, compressing and squeezing out his eyes as tears. He had dug hundreds of graves for all sorts of people. Burying the young ones was never easy, that was for sure. He would always feel like a tightly-sprung iron trap had shut inside, but the feeling usually passed after a few hours and a couple of pints. This time, there was something different. To be sure, he had been boiling with hate less than an hour ago, but the feeling was transient; it had moved off someplace else. He now felt an overwhelming sense of unease. All the animosity and derision towards ol’ Murray in the pub gnawed on his insides. You didn’t speak ill of the dead, you just didn’t, and he had done his fair share that evening, mainly for free drinks. He was not a superstitious man, but suddenly, the thought of being in Murray’s grave filled him with fright. He tried to scrabble up, but he kept sliding back down; he was too drunk and too tired and, after all, it was three feet deeper. Eventually, he just flopped to the floor, breathing heavily, and as he relaxed and calmed down, he started thinking of Maureen: her black curls and freckles, her half-moon smile. He started feeling better; the black, alcohol-intensified dread lifted.

Ah, Maureen…they had been circling around each other for nearly two years now. He would bury Murray in the morning and then go talk with Maureen. God knows she could use some help with the pub. He lay down on his back in Murray’s grave and covered himself with soil. The feeling that he was underwater came back, a feeling of deep peace; he slipped deeper down into the water and slept: the semi-coma of the gravely intoxicated. He dreamed of Maureen and the little whales on her T-shirt.


Mr. O’Connell, a portly, disagreeable-looking man with a rotund nose, started sweating. He was standing in the morning sun with Father Maguire, who was unfazed by the heat. O’Connell irritably dabbed at the sweat on his forehead; he had been trying to get hold of Neil all morning. His mobile went straight to voicemail and he was not home in his flat. In agreement with the priest, they had decided to put Murray in the ground two hours earlier than normal. No one had paid their respects at the funeral home and no one was expected at the funeral. Mr O’Connell had called on the priest at 09.30 and said, “Let’s just get on with it and bury the bugger before it gets too hot and we all die a flaming death.”

Father Maguire, who had a strong distaste for the blunt funeral director, agreed none the less. It meant he could get an extra two hours on the golf course. The heat didn‘t bother him; the only problem was the missing Mr. Hickey… “Ah, go on then, I will give ya a hand,” said the priest. The thought of spending some extra time negotiating the dogleg on the 11th hole was just too sweet a prospect. Besides, ol’ Murray didn‘t weigh more than his bag of clubs, anyhow.

And so Father Maguire and Funeral Director O’Connell performed the shortest funeral service of their respective careers. They lowered the coffin. “God rest his soul.”

Filled it in, patted it down, and parted ways; Father Maguire hustling to the vestry to get changed and load his clubs in the car; O’Connell to the comforts of an air-conditioned breakfast in the shopping mall, where he would ogle the waitresses and complain about the food.

Neil dreamed of the whales on Maureen’s T-shirt; he was stroking the blue whale on the bulge of her breasts. He had identified them all, except the one just above her navel. It had a box-like shape and round, prominent eyes.

Ah..yeah…sperm whale…but he didn’t like the way it was looking at him. It slanted its eyes and started growing in size—massive, it blocked out all the light—and opening its gigantic mouth; it turned and swallowed him down into the darkness.

Neil tried to scream as he tumbled down into the black, but the pressure of the darkness was too much and no sound left his mouth.