The Fertile Imagination of Dee Walsh (Whimsical humor)

Dee Walsh was a small woman with a cute face, quick wit, ample breasts and more than enough energy to be clever.  When Dee’s husband died, the editor-and-chief of a small newspaper, a darkened gloom came over her. It was not the death of her husband or the closing down of the newspaper that brought on the gloom─it was her little village by pretty Lough Mulligan slowly dying before her eyes. There were no natural resources, manufacturing plants, nor tourist and no reason for them to visit. For some time now the young people of the village saw no future and they all moved away for better opportunities. Who could blame them?

When Dee talked to the merchants and city council in the village none were optimistic or cared to “beat a dead horse” and make the village prosperous. The feeling was nothing could save the inevitable.  Mr. Gleason, owner of the local pub, once the center of village social life, was forced to close two nights a week because the old people and the regulars couldn’t make it in like they use to. Pat McGee owned the eight room hotel which was only occupied when a bus broke down on the highway or the husband in a rocky marriage was shown the door with no place to go.  Francis Corcoran owned an “on-demand” twelve seat eatery, that is, it was only open when somebody knocked on the door and asked to be served. Sean Duffy made a meager living selling video rentals, used books and old maps. Paddy Shaw ran the petrol station and car repair shop that specialized in repairing cars older than thirty years because that was how long he kept parts before they were used. Even the village church was closed and only opened on high holidays or, like the eatery, on-demand and the only demand was funerals─most people asked to be buried in the next village graveyard because they were afraid in a few years their headstones would be forever overgrown with vines. There hadn’t been a wedding in ten years. There hadn’t been a baby’s baptismal in five years.

Dee felt the only hope was tourist, but what did the village and Lough Mulligan have to offer?  Saint Patrick never slept there and there were no Neolithic forts, ancient castles or Celtic ruins to attract bus loads of paying tourists. The only claim to fame the village had was Cromwell marched through there in 1649 and burned down all the houses and church, salted the land, hung two dozen men, women and children and, all in all, it was not something that brought tourists to any locale. The city council turned down Dee’s idea of “Cromwell Days” with actors and reenactments of burning houses and mass hangings, or as one council member pointed out, they didn’t have enough children to make the hangings look right. Still there must be something to bring tourists there. There must. Dee felt on a spring day Lough Mulligan and the gentle rolling hills were the prettiest and most glorious picture in Ireland. The small river that flowed out from the lough gently meandered to the sea not far away through more beautiful countryside. Dee sadly admitted to herself the natural beauty alone would not bring in tourists. What she needed was a scheme, no it was far worse than that, what was needed was a minor miracle to save her village from extinction. But what was that going to be?

Many a night before going to sleep her mind worked overtime thinking of what to do. All that came to her was sleep.

One night, when fast clouds raced across the half moon in the darkened sky, Dee walked with her arms folded across her chest, down the path that circled Lough Mulligan. She thought about the dwindling possibilities and the sad inevitability of the village’s dismal future and her own also. It was a shame. All was surely lost.  Perhaps she should sell out and move away to Galway or Cork. It was all so utterly hopeless.

Dee stopped walking, sighed and looked out over the tranquil water. She could see the strange moving shapes and shadows of the moonlight through the night clouds on the water. Then a small wind came up and the moving shadows became even bizarre; Dee stared at the sinister shades of moonlight and dark water. Suddenly Dee was electrified and her body trembled with fear─she knew what she had to do to save her village! She looked again at the moving shapes on the water. Yes, it was Divine intervnetion calling to her.

Then a dangerous and wonderful word slowly rose up through her throat to her lips─she feared saying the word─but it had to be said! She staggered to sit on a nearby wooden bench, her mind spinning out of control with the possibilities the word brought. Dee knew it was a word that would change her village and most of all the waters Lough Mulligan forever! It was a word that would save the village and bring immortality. But was she brave enough? The word was…shark.

Immediately Dee charged home, her nimble mind buzzing on how and what to do next. She knew she might work all night so she fired up her tea kettle and turned on her computer to surf the internet for sharks.

Yes, there were fresh water sharks. Bull sharks swam in both salt and fresh water. Another quick search and she turned up a shop outside of Dublin that sold small sharks for aquariums, not bull sharks, but fresh water sharks. For Bull sharks she read she’d have to go to a fish monger or talk to a commercial fishing boat. At dawn the next day she was on a train, and by late afternoon she was traveling back with six live sharks in plastic containers in a backpack. The six fish were small and hardly man-eaters, but they would do to start. To make sure the survival rates were high enough she traveled back the next week and purchased eight more. In one month’s time, the idyllic Lough Mulligan had, by Dee’s account, twenty-four sharks and was now “shark infested.”

But Dee knew she had to create some sizzle, get some press, and create a sensation to make her grand plan successful. She wrote a letter to the Irish Times newspaper asking if they knew anything about the shark sightings in Lough Mulligan. The letter got no response. So she wrote several more times using fictitious names and devious innuendos, intimating that there was some sort of cover up by the authorities in Dublin, and the reason for the missing children in the village after swimming in the lough. When a story finally appeared in the Dublin Times it was more tongue in cheek, the reporter still not convinced of the “fishy” accounts.

One day a cub reporter wandered into the village and was directed to Dee’s house. When he arrived Dee was ready for him. She took him over to the closed newspaper shop and laboriously salvaged through old stacks of pass editions of the newspaper. She had already printed several new fake stories on old yellow paper, with her dead husband’s byline in case anyone wanted to check,  dated fifteen years before. Her fictitious story referred to a strange fish that was caught in the lough. Then Dee produced another story she concocted about two missing young children. There was a deliberately bad photo that showed a torn shirt and several children’s shoes on the shore line.

“What happened? Did they find the children?” The reporter asked.

Dee answered, looking down through stacks of old newspapers. “As I remember, they showed up later with scratch marks on their arms and shoulders. The children were too young to explain, they said a dog came from the Lough when they were playing in the shallows and attacked them.”

Dee pulled another story about Mr. and Mrs. O’Malley, who disappeared one day fishing the lough. Their bodies were never found. Speculation was they drowned and their bodies carried to the sea. The reporter was intrigued but not convinced. But luck would have it, as the reporter stepped out to leave Dee’s house, he noticed a crowd gathering by the shore and upon further investigation spied a young boy holding up a strange fish he caught and it wasn’t a trout. The reporter took a picture of the small fish and wrote an article titled, “What is happening in Lough Mulligan?”

After a “shark story” article appeared in the Dublin Times, the Irish government did something they had never done before, they sent out their expert to examine and “confirm or deny” the story in the local newspaper. The talked about “fish” was kept in the McDougal’s frig and was to be examined by a Mister McCool from National Fisheries.

Mister McCool arrived one afternoon and waited in the pub for the fish to be brought to him. He was an odd lot of a man. Considering he was a Dublin man and a scientist, he was quit jolly and a lot like St. Nick. He was dressed in a faded brown tweed jacket and faded green tweed cap that angled to his bulbous nose. He never took the cap off, for vanity reasons no doubt.

The whole village was in the pub and as soon as McCool from National Fisheries had a cold beer in his hand he was one of the regulars, laughing and making good fun about the whole shark affair. Dee sat with her legs crossed and a smile on her face. She kept her eyes low wondering what the man from the National Fisheries had to say. Her heart beat fast and she knew this was it. In a few moments the world would explode with joyous celebration for her and Lough Mulligan. That is, she hoped and prayed.

“Now, Mister McCool, are there any sharks in our fair Lough?” One of the regulars started in.

“Ho, ho, ho!  If you catch me one, I’d like mine sushi.” McCool quipped.

The pub regulars and Dee laughed. Her nervous laugh was the loudest.

McCool asked the question again thoughtfully, “Are there sharks in those calm waters?” In good timing he said, “No, because Nessy ate them all.”

The whole pub laughed.

Again a question from one of the regulars, “How could sharks from the ocean swim up the river to Lough Mulligan?”

“Swim? I sure hope so. I’d hate to see’em roller-blading here.”

Again the pub roared and drank from raised beer glasses. It was all so impossible.

A regular said, “If it’s true, let’s import some “alley-gators” and snakes and make a swamp out of Lough Mulligan.”

Dee seconded the suggestion and Mister McCool raised his beer glass in mock saluted. Most of the regulars hooted and agreed it was surreal and comical to believe there were sharks.

Somebody hollered out to Mister Gleason, the pub owner what he thought. He chuckled and announced loud and clear, “Drinks on the house if it’s a shark.” The pub’s regulars went into a little uproar and Dee moved closer to the beer pulls.

Then Mister McCool from National Fisheries said calmly, “It is all quite possible.” A hush went over the crowd. “There are fresh water sharks in Lake Managua in Nicaragua.  There was one bull shark caught, a two meters long, and 3500 kilometers up the Mississippi river in the United States. How far are we from the ocean here?”

Dee answered, “Oh, about 50 kilometers.”

The pub got even quieter then.

Mister McCool continued, “The bull shark is the third most aggressive shark right behind the Tiger and Great White. A shark is not something you want to dither with, no sir.”

All the regulars froze like they were in a tableau, their eyes widened and not one person lifted a beer to drink; they were all off in their minds pondering the possibility.

In the utter silence Mister McCool finished his beer and pushed the empty glass away. “Yea, imagine some wee innocent boy or girl in the water, they get a bloody finger, there’s blood in the water and…” His voice dropped away. “And once a shark gets the taste of flesh, well, there is no catch and release those fellas… Vicious, killer sharks are. Heartless killing machines that have no mercy whatsoever.  A small baby would be ripped to pieces like a piece of meat? And some of you chum the waters to draw fish. Any blood in the water and . . . . You must have seen the movie Jaws.  Certain times of the year the female sharks go into heat and the male sharks will go berserk and strike at anything white in the water. And the Irish being one of the whitest people on Earth, well, consider yourself bait any time you go for a swim.”

Then in what looked like slow motion, Mr. McDougal walked in with a small shoe box and the regulars parted like the Red Sea for him. He laid the box on the bar top and stepped back. Not a person dare breathe. All eyes were on the man from the National Fisheries.

Mr. McCool stiffened up, smiled and announced, “Well, let’s see what the good Lord put in these waters.”  Dee knew the answer already.

From his pocket he took out a pair of white rubber gloves slid them on his hands and carefully removed the small fish wrapped in paper out of the shoe box. Cautiously he unwrapped the fish, examined it closely, turned it around, looked at it head-on and opened its small mouth with his fingers. He shook the fish, looked at it closely again and tenderly put it back in the shoebox and put the lid back on. He rubbed his chin, looked around and said a clear voice so all could hear, “Shark.”

Dee was on the crest of the wave that hit the bar for the free beer.

Another article appeared in the Dublin Times and shortly tourists flocked to the little lough with sharks and wanted to go fishing. Most caught trout, but any fish that got away was most certainly a shark, and a big one. When another shark was caught and another and another Dee had to restock the lough of sharks every other week. But it was a price she would pay to save her little village.

First, people in the village started remarking to Dee that they had always suspected there were sharks in serene Lough Mulligan, but were afraid of saying anything. Others admitted seeing strange creatures that may have been related to the Lough Ness monster. Soon people all over the village were talking about seeing large shark fins sailing across the waters’ surface and old man O’Hare swore he pulled out a 100 kilo shark he caught a number of years ago but didn’t know what it was. Every day at the market and on the street old women began telling high tales of poor inhabitants of the village, long since dead of natural causes, now savagely torn apart by sharks while swimming. Dee began to doubt her own sanity. Were there sharks already in Lough Mulligan?

Then stories started popping up in other newspaper articles from around the world about the “dangerous waters of Lough Mulligan.” It certainly had something to do with the evolution of the species, overfishing of oceans and global climate change. There was talk National Geographic was sending out a crew and underwater photographers to take pictures. The Jacque Cousteau Society wanted to float their ship there and send down divers. Some of the village parents worried about their children swimming alone and circulated a petition to drain Lough Mulligan and be rid of the sharks.

The City Council quickly posted signs by the shore that swimming was dangerous. Of course, every time a shark was caught it only reaffirmed that the waters were shark infested. In her frantic search to constantly restock the lough Dee found several larger sharks in Cork for sale on the internet that had grown too large for home aquariums. She quickly bought them and released then into the lough under the cover of darkness.

Pictures began showing up on the pub walls of people holding large sharks that they had supposedly caught from the lough, but were obviously ocean sharks. It didn’t matter now; the legend of Lough Mulligan had a life of its own now and growing every day.

The hotel was booked every weekend.  Francis Corcoran’s eatery had shark sandwiches.  At Duffy’s bits and pieces shop, he made a steady income selling paraphernalia including shark magnets for the frig door, shark head beer bottle openers, shark pot holders and sun visors that were in the shape of a shark’s head. Paddy Shaw at the petrol station and repair shop started renting boats, bait and tackle and neon lures guaranteed to catch the “grand daddy” of all the sharks. On the road coming into town Dee had a large sign painted, in the shape of a shark of course, “Home of the Lough Mulligan sharks.”

The regulars started coming back to the pub, now open every day of the week and late on weekends, because they knew whenever a bus load of tourists rolled into the village they would eagerly buy the regulars a cold glass of beer for their fanciful “telling of shark stories.” The stories started innocent enough but quickly the regulars began trying to outdo one another with taller tales. Like the time Jimmie Galway in his small boat caught a big one and the fish dragged him around the Lough Mulligan for two days until somebody got close enough with a sharp knife to cut the line. Or the disappearance of the Brown family who were having a party on the beach one pleasant afternoon when, from evidence in the sand, the family was taken by a shark so hungry it swam up out of water on the shore to eat them. The topper was the IRA had put sharks in the water to dispose of bodies. Whenever a tourist remarked there were very few children in the village the regulars would give an all-knowing smile and say, “You notice that, do you? We keep warning them not to go into the water.”

But Dee’s grand plan, like the soccer’s apprentice, made her constantly buy sharks to keep the deception alive. Dee discovered a fishing fleet out of Dingle and she contracted with them to keep all bull sharks they caught alive so the special van she hired could bring them back to be put in the lough. One day a 20 kilo dead shark was found washed up on the lough’s shore; another shark was caught a week later and was Lough Mulligan’s the official record holder at 32 Kilos.

One day Dee was leaving her little cottage to buy more sharks in Dublin when a huge double-decker, red touring bus cruised by and she heard a thousand clicks of a hundred cameras and a tour guide’s pleasant voice announce, “On the left is Lough Mulligan, one of the few bodies of water in the world and the only one in Ireland to have fresh water sharks. We will be stopping in the village and do not go swimming or wadding in the water there has been a rash, I am told, of shark attacks. The death toll is now up to 153 innocent victims of shark infested Lough Mulligan.

That’s when Dee Walsh knew her grand plans were a success and her little village was saved forever.

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