Mattie Kenelly sat and stared. Mattie never did anything else. That morning, as was usual, his mother had lifted him from his bed, washed him, dressed him, fed him, and placed him in his designated chair in the sitting-room. His positioning allowed him an unrestricted view of the many and varied events which might take place on the street outside, but all of this was of no consequence to Mattie. Mattie was batty. He had not however, always been batty. It was five years, nine months and eleven days since everything had stopped making sense to Mattie. Five years, nine months and eleven days since Mattie had exhibited any propensity to motion. Every bodily function which did not occur spontaneously and of its own accord was initiated by his mother with the occasional begrudging assistance of his sister. Beneath a pair of his father's trousers, conveniently two sizes too big for him, he wore an arrangement of absorbent nappies, towelling and plastic pants into which he would shit and piss at frequent and unpredictable intervals with no discernible indication of either effort or discomfort.
It had all begun with a chair. Not a chair bearing any resemblance to the one on which he now sat but a wooden, four-legged, straight-backed, rather plain, but eminently functional, dining chair. Sometime longer than five years, nine months and eleven days ago, the very chair which now rested quite inconspicuously by the table in the dining room had begun to cause some concern to Mattie. The chair had not done anything, nothing beyond being a chair and being in a position to be sat upon; nonetheless, Mattie had started to think about it and think about it and think about it and think about it and think about it until he couldn't get it out of his head. Although at first his ruminations on the chair had been relatively nebulous in form, they had gradually become one particular aspect of its existence. Specifically, what Mattie couldn't work out was, why the chair was a chair. He couldn't puzzle out the relationship between this word, chair, and the object which resided in the dining-room of Kenelly's boarding-house. In his mind he was unable to form any connection between the two and eventually they ceased to connect at all. Mattie found himself repeating 'chair' over and over in his head but was now totally incapable of conjuring up any image of the object to which the word related. He had never been particularly bright, but he was a strapping lad with a pleasant nature and not afraid of hard work and, with the aid of a bottle of whiskey and a significant donation to the Parish Priest's housekeeping fund, Mrs Kenelly had secured his engagement as a casual grave digger at Mountpleasant Cemetery. Mattie enjoyed his work immensely but so serious was his concern regarding this particular chair that one day he simply dropped his spade into the shallow hole of an unfinished grave and set off for home. He proceeded directly to the dining-room, removed the offending article from its place and, lifting it above his head, began a thorough examination of its form and construction. He scrutinised its legs, back, seat and all the supporting joints and still he could see no connection between the word and the object. His mother, naturally concerned to see him home at such an unexpected hour of the day and surprised by the absence of any greeting or explanation for his premature return from the cemetery, followed him into the dining-room.
"Mattie, what's the matter? What're you doing home at this time?"
"Chair," said Mattie.
"What're you going on about, Mattie? What're you doing home?"
"What're you talking about, Mattie? I know it's a chair. What's wrong with it?"
"Chair," said Mattie.
"Will ye put the feckin chair down, ye feckin eejit?"
Mrs Kenelly was somewhat irate by now and reaching up, grabbed the chair off Mattie and banged it down on the floor. She stared at Mattie.
"Chair," said he, pointing at the object.
"Mattie, will ye for God's sake tell me what the feck ye're going on about?"
It seemed to have totally escaped Mattie's attention that there were in fact, another eleven chairs, all bearing a remarkable resemblance to the chair in question, placed at regular intervals around the dining-room table, but they were of no import to Mattie. He picked up the chair and carried it to the sitting-room. There, he placed it in front of the window and, seating himself nearby, began his contemplation of 'chair'.
At this point, Mrs Kenelly, totally flummoxed, ran to fetch the Widow Kenelly. Sisters by marriage, Mrs Kenelly had had the misfortune to marry the widow's late husband's brother, a commercial traveller in animal feeds who, some years previously, had taken off with a farmer's daughter from Carrick-on-Shannon. Somewhat warily, the Widow entered the sitting-room and approached Mattie.
"Mattie love," said she, "What's de matter, Mattie?"
"Chair," said Mattie.
"Mattie, sure haven't choo gotchore mother in an awful state now? What on earth can de matter be?"
"Chair," said he.
"He's not right Mary", said she turning to Mrs Kenelly. "I tink y'id better get de doctor in."
There followed some debate on this matter concluding with the decision that it might be better to call for the nuns first. Within the hour, Sister Monica of the Holy Order of Merciful Mothers of God was on the doorstep. Ushered in to the sitting-room, Sister Monica made the mistake of sitting on the chair. Mattie's right arm shot out and, gesticulating furiously at some undefined point between the nun's legs, yelled at the top of his voice, "Chair, chair, chair, chair, chair, chair. .. ", stopping only when the nun, not in the habit of being addressed in this most undignified of manners and with an indecency of haste known only to those in the righteous service of their god, leapt from the chair and seizing both Mrs Kenelly and the Widow by the arms retreated to the dining-room.
"He's definitely not right," she affirmed. "This would be a matter for Father Mulcahy."
On reciting five decades of the rosary and finally being persuaded to accept five pounds for her trouble, Sister Monica departed.
The Parish Priest, Father Mulcahy, met with a similar response and, having anointed Mattie with holy water and offering numerous devotions for the healing of the afflicted, finally accepted ten pounds for his strenuous efforts and suggested that, whilst it was highly unlikely anything could be done in such matters of the spirit, it might be worth consulting a member of the medical profession on Mattie's condition.
So it was then that Mrs Kenelly placed Mattie under the care of Doctor Shine, Chief Consultant in Affairs of the Spirit at St. Patrick's Institute for the Emotionally Distressed. Despite many months of intensive therapy, Mattie's condition worsened. Whilst he no longer craved the presence of the chair, he also no longer spoke. Not even to say 'chair'. He did not move and would not eat or drink of his own volition. Having been persuaded to accept seventeen hundred and fifty-six pounds for his undoubted troubles, Doctor Shine eventually concluded that it would be best for Mattie to return home. Mrs Kenelly took it upon herself, with the assistance of Mattie's younger sister Eileen, her only other offspring, to care for him as best they could in the relative comfort of the Kenelly boarding house.
Mattie's existence revolved around consumption and expulsion. Both were problematic. Feeding him by traditional means had eventually proved too time-consuming for Mrs Kenelly. He would neither chew food nor swallow liquid without the intervention of another party. This necessitated the manual manipulation of his jaws until each mouthful of food had achieved the necessary consistency and then tilting his head back at a sharp angle until a quantity of liquid could be presented which would expedite its progression to his stomach. Needless to say, with the responsibilities of running the house and of attending to its guests weighing heavily upon her, Mrs Kenelly was forced to devise some other, more efficient way of feeding Mattie. After some considerable thought she developed a system which seemed to satisfy the needs of all concerned. Having first pureed the ingredients and placed the resulting mixture in a deep jug, Mrs Kenelly would, rather in the method of a siphoning system, suck the liquid into a long plastic tube. Having lubricated the end of the tube she would then slide it down Mattie's throat until it entered his stomach. To some extent the food would then proceed of its own accord from jug to stomach. As was often the case however, the presence in excess of lard and other indefinable masses in Mrs Kenelly's cooking, would slow or prevent the smooth progress of the victuals and at this point Mrs Kenelly would blow quite forcibly down the other end of the tube clearing any blockages and so ensure its safe passage into Mattie. At no point did Mattie ever show any sign of pleasure or displeasure either at the method of his feeding or the nature of his food. The expulsion of the comestibles was a much less involved procedure. Mattie simply shat and pissed at will. For Mrs Kenelly, however—Eileen would have no part in this—it was a much messier operation. Mattie seemed to produce quantities of liquid excrement which seemed proportionally impossible in relation to the quantities he consumed. Nevertheless, it was a task which had to be performed and despite the qualities of absorption claimed by various manufacturers of adult disposable nappies, there was always a faecal coating of concrete consistency to be scraped and scrubbed from Mattie's arse and general genital area. Its odour was certainly unique and pervaded every room of the house.
Had it not been for the arrival of Frankie Devaney, it can only be assumed that the day-to-day pattern of Mattie's life would have remained unaltered until either he or his mother died. As things turned out, however, that was not to be the case. Being a young man fresh from the country and new to the ways of the city and city people, Frankie was at first quite shy, even reticent, in his dealings with both the Kenellys and the other residents of the house. As he found his feet though, he realised that each could offer new and exciting forms of distraction. Mattie would always be stationed in the sitting-room of the house from before the guests would have their breakfast until after they had retired to their rooms. Mrs Kenelly found it preferable to have the room to herself while ministering to her son's needs. It was customary for the guests, after the evening meal, to spend a couple of hours in the sitting-room. It was a ritual entirely of Mrs Kenelly's contrivance and existed only to afford her the opportunity to interrogate her residents politely on the progress of their various employments and assure herself of their ability to pay the rent. Mattie, of course, was present at all of these gatherings, being unable to remove himself from the room and Mrs Kenelly being of the opinion that the company of others could only be beneficial to his condition. Inevitably, the subject of Mattie would arise in some of these conversations and by dribs and drabs Frankie eventually familiarised himself with the full circumstances of Mattie's plight.
At first Frankie simply sought to spend time alone with Mattie. He would sit and observe him. At times even attempt to engage him in conversation, all of course to no avail. Mrs Kenelly was delighted that a young man like Frankie should demonstrate such compassion for the spiritually tormented and was more than happy to allow him to spend as much time as possible with Mattie, even to the extent of shooing the other residents off to their rooms at an unnaturally early hour. Frankie welcomed this alteration in the balance of the Kenelly household. As time went by, he was further encouraged to spend more time with Mattie and even allowed to assist Mrs Kenelly and Eileen in the ritual of feeding. Frankie could see an unlimited number of possibilities opening up before him, all of which would satisfy his craving for distraction.
His interference with Mattie took a relatively limited form to begin with. He was well aware of the extent to which Mrs Kenelly yearned for some sign of improvement in Mattie and endeavoured to offer her some indication that a change might be in the air. One night, while Mrs Kenelly was busy in the kitchen and he and Mattie were alone, Frankie crossed Mattie's right leg over his left leg. Then, saying goodnight to Mrs Kenelly, he adjourned to his bedroom. The next morning Mrs Kenelly was full of it. She couldn't believe it. Mattie had moved! It was a miracle! The hand of God was in the house!
Galvanised by the effect of his opening move, Frankie determined to continue in his manoeuvrings of Mattie. Two nights later he not only crossed Mattie's legs (left over right this time—simply for variation) but folded his arms as well. The outcome was spectacular. Mrs Kenelly was in raptures. She began offering novenas to Saint Anthony, prayers to Our Blessed Lady of Dolours, Saint Joseph and all the Apostles. Even the quantity of food provided for her guests increased.
Whilst this was all very entertaining to Frankie, somehow he felt that there must be something more he could do. One of the greatest pleasures in becoming more involved with Mattie was that it had furnished him with the opportunity to observe Eileen Kenelly at closer quarters. Whenever her mother was too busy to tend to Mattie, Eileen would assume responsibility for his nutritional well-being. Frankie would sit in an armchair, watching, waiting, praying for the feeding tube to block. Eileen was a buxom girl with a propensity to tight blouses and Frankie derived intense pleasure from the sight of her inhaling deeply, filling her lungs, and expanding her wonderful chest before taking the plastic tube between her sensuous lips and blowing pureed semolina as hard as she could into Mattie's gullet. On occasion Frankie would suggest that it might be helpful if he held Mattie's shoulders from behind while she blew and this presented him, if the blouse was suitably cut, with an exquisite glimpse of her heaving cleavage. He began to wonder if there wasn't some way in which he could combine his penchant for distraction and his distraction with Eileen to some greater, more satisfactory purpose.
Keeping that thought in mind, he decided to be a little more adventurous in his doings with Mattie. He'd been crossing and uncrossing legs and folding and unfolding arms and tilting and untilting heads and clenching and unclenching fists and closing and opening eyes for several weeks now, but was finding that, whilst each new development was initially greeted with ecstasy by Mrs Kenelly, eventually the shine would wear off and things would revert to their familiar state of mundanity.
The tea did not work as well as Frankie had anticipated. Having gone to the trouble of sneaking down to the kitchen in the middle of the night, risking all manner of repercussions had he been caught, and placing a half-drunk cup of tea on the locker by Mattie's bed, Frankie was utterly dismayed when no mention was made of the incident. He could only conclude that Mrs Kenelly assumed that she herself had left the tea there when putting Mattie to bed. This called for something more drastic. Still persisting with his manipulations of as many of Mattie's limbs and organs as he feasibly could, Frankie waited a week and then, on the pretext of needing some fresh air (an understandable requirement given Mattie's tendency to random evacuations), Frankie left the house. A short time later he returned and went directly to his room. Concealed about his person were two saveloys, one fishcake, and a large portion of chips with salt and vinegar. After consuming more than half of his purchases Frankie sat and waited. When a suitable interval had passed and the house was quiet he entered Mattie's room where he deposited the bulk of the remaining food on the bedside locker. He rubbed a couple of chips and half a saveloy vigorously around Mattie's mouth and then dropped them down the front of Mattie's striped pyjama top.
The pandemonium which ensued the following morning was beyond Frankie's wildest imaginings. The residents were woken by a veritable torrent of expletives as Mrs Kenelly exploded at Mattie. She dragged his limp and utterly unresponsive body from the bed and slapping him by turn on both the left and right sides of his face decried him as a fraud.
"Ye durty feckin wee shite! Have me for a feckin fool, woodje? Ye bastard. Ye're no feckin son of mine."
"Ye lyin little fucker. I'll have ye're fuckin guts fer garters."
And so on, until Eileen eventually dragged her from Mattie's flaccid frame and calmed her enough to point out that whatever he may have been up to during the night, he certainly wasn't responding now. Frankie was delighted. Now he felt truly at liberty to advance with the next stage of his plan.
There was one other resident of the house for whom Frankie had cultivated a particular dislike. Maurice Donoghue was one of the longest standing of Mrs Kenelly's guests. A junior clerk in a firm of conveyancers and the son of an assistant under manager in the Ballyratoath branch of the Bank of Leinster, he had certain notions of superiority which were a constant source of irritation to Frankie. Donoghue also had ideas of getting into Eileen Kenelly's knickers. Now Frankie had already been in Eileen's knickers. Unfortunately for him though, not while she was wearing them. Eileen had just completed her secondary education but had long since completed her sexual education and in accordance with that, as Frankie discovered, had a chest of drawers containing a diversity of underwear sufficient to stock a small, but undoubtedly popular, chain of lingerie shops. Whenever the opportunity arose, Frankie would avail himself of some appealing item from this chest and after an extended period of masturbation, ejaculate copiously into it before returning it to the drawer. Whether Eileen was aware of this, Frankie neither knew nor cared.
As soon as he reasonably could, Frankie acquired from Eileen's drawers, seven pairs of panties (of varying colours, design and material, but including white satin, red nylon triloball, and a particularly fine pair in black polyester trimmed with lace), one pair of mauve knickers in the French style, one basque, three brassieres (two black, one flesh-tone), and four pairs of stockings. He was well aware that Eileen could not fail to notice the absence of these items and that speed of execution was paramount if his plan was to succeed. That evening during Mrs Kenelly's post-dinner interrogation, Frankie excused himself and went to his room. Keeping aside only two pairs of panties (white satin and black polyester), Frankie took the rest of the underwear and secreted it at the bottom of Maurice Donoghue's wardrobe. Returning to the sitting-room Frankie stayed until everyone else had left for bed and even helped Mrs Kenelly feed Mattie. Later, in his room, Frankie sat on the edge of his bed playing with his cock. Wrapped around the glans was the pair of white satin panties. Once his enjoyment was complete and the panties were liberally coated, Frankie made his way to Mattie's room. He pulled back Mattie's bedclothes and, undoing his pyjamas, wrapped the panties around Mattie's penis. As a finishing touch, Frankie took Mattie's right hand and, with perhaps an unnecessary degree of precision, moulded it round the pantie-encased penis. This task accomplished, Frankie returned to his room and, with a contented smile, relaxed and awaited the following morning's developments. Certain they wouldn't be missed, he kept the black polyester knickers for himself.
© Colm Berrill
"Chair" appeared in the University of East Anglia short-fiction anthology BABEL; new writing, a CCPA paperback, published in Great Britain.
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