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Death of a Leprechaun

by tinypika 

Posted: 16 January 2005
Word Count: 2055
Summary: Life and Death of Tulley the Leprechaun

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Death of a Leprechaun

Tulley the Leprechaun sat on a stool at the counter. His green shoes twinkled and the bells on the tips of the shoes softly chimed as he kicked his feet against the pole supporting his seat. His legs were too short to reach the floor and he had to lean forward to rest his arms on the counter. His knotted walking stick leaned beside him against the counter.

Mathew walked in through the back door and winked at Tulley. Tulley waved his arms, pulled a quarter from behind Matt’s ear and sang in an undecipherable language.

“How are you today, Matt?” Tulley sang.

“Phantasmagorical, Tulley.”

“Correct, you get a wish. What will it be?”

“I want to win this pool game,” Matt said.

Tulley waved his thumbless hand and muttered some leprechaun spell. “It shall be done,” he said. “Maybe after the game you would like to accompany me out.”

Matt nodded and walked toward the pool table. I saw them outside once while taking out the trash. Matt was lifting Tulley into the canoe on top of his car. They sat on each of the seats, facing one another and smoking out of a pipe. They looked to me like fishermen rolling down the Snake River. I would have been surprised if Tulley could swim.

In one swift mov, Matt removed his pool cue from its protective cover and waved it about over the table for more luck. He screwed it together and waiting for an opponent. Matt lived in his car in the parking lot. He slept in the canoe in the summer. I gave him my sleeping bag to keep him warm. I did not expect him to return it. He smiled the day I gave it to him. He was missing his two front teeth. He was a fighter and I don’t think he remembers the fight that claimed his teeth. He was also Tulley’s best friend and protector.

Tulley claimed that leprechauns don’t have friends by nature of being the keepers of sevrets. But when one of the drunks at the bar on the other side of the large room got friendly enough with Tulley to try to pick him up or pat him on the top of the head, Matt was there holding not a pool stick but a pool ball. It would do more damage, he said.

Tulley sipped his coffee. “Too hot,” he shouted to no one. Matt turned an observant eye toward the counter. Tulley turned on his swivel seat and saw the children at the table behind him staring at his sparkly green vest, ballooning pants and green sequenced shoes that came to points and ended in bells. His dirty brimmed hat bounced with his spirited leap to their table.

I watched from behind the counter as he pulled his thumb on and off to the children’s amusement. I was one of the few people who knew his secret. He told me in a weak moment. Actually, he is slipping. One day as he performed the trick the fake thumb slipped off his finger and I caught it before anyone saw through his magic. It was our secret. I also knew how he lost his thumb.

Tulley blew a yellow balloon giraffes for one of the kids and a blue frog for the other. He took the tip the parent offered and returned to his seat, exhausted. He lit a cigarette and barely inhaled before a coughing fit took over his lungs. He shook with it.

“Water, Tulley?” I asked.

“Certainly not. Fuck you.” His outburst stung. Tulley grabbed his coffee and headed towards a table where Carol, the Angry Bead Lady, and Diane, the ex-con, sat with their own coffee.

We were the only diner in town open 24 hours and that offered free coffee refills, which was necessary to keep people all 24 of those hours. We were also the closest diner to the homeless shelter and the only one where the homeless felt at home. Tulley was no exception. Although he had his own apartment, he drifted around, not claiming anyplace his home. He would disappear for months and return telling stories of dragons and rainbows.

“I’m hungry,” Tulley yelled. I threw a bag of onion rings in the fryer and grabbed a coffee pot to give them a refill. I knew that soon Tulley would calm down. It was only recently that his mood fluctuated from the dancing leprechaun to the angry man. He was dying and we all knew it.

“I have to walk up three flights of stairs to my apartment. Three flights. I called Social Services to get moved to an apartment on the first floor. No response.” Tulley’s voice grew louder with everything syllable. I poured their coffee. “Sorry about what I said. I didn’t mean it.”

“I know, its ok.”

Diane smiled sweetly at me as I poured her coffee. She was like a bodyguard to me. The café got pretty rowdy around 2:30 a.m. and she was always there to keep the drunks from drooling on me too much. She only recently returned to the café from prison, angry and a lesbian.

Diane had a friend who wanted to commit suicide. She was sitting across from his in his living room. He reached for the gun on the table and she reached for it to stop him. The gun went off and when the smoke cleared, he had been shot in the face and she was carted off to prison. Some, including the jury, believed she shot him over drugs. I believe her story.

She came in to the café when she first was released but she walked in the door, punched an old acquaintance in the face breaking her jaw and was again carted out, this time through the front door of the café. She was 86’d for a month. But she has been around a while since then and I am grateful. She tries to get me to visit her at home but I prefer to know her through work alone.

Matt approached the table, gave a slight nod toward the back door and Diane and Tulley followed him out for a ride in the canoe. While they were gone, the Angry Bead Lady continued to weave her hemp jewelry and mumbled something about the eyes in the trees. When the trio returned, Tulley walked a little slower and smiled a little bigger from underneath his over-sized hat.

Tulley once again was pulling his thumb on and off his hand. One minute it was there, the next there was a scar that ran the length of his forearm and no thumb to be seen. This was Tulley’s favorite trick. I thought it was the saddest.

A couple months ago he lost his fake thumb and I found it. When I returned it to him, he sat real low at the counter and whispered to me his secret. He was a tunnel rat in Vietnam. He is very small and the perfect size to burrow through the tunnels and seek out the Vietcong. At some point, he can’t remember exactly, a grenade was thrown his way. There was no way to get out of the tunnel but backwards so he faced the blast head on, holding up his hand for protection. The grenade blew off his left thumb, tore off most of the skin on his arm and blew out his left eardrum, deafening him for life.

I saw Tulley as human, not a leprechaun, for the first time. I watched Tulley and almost wished I didn’t know the truth about his injuries. I wanted to believe he was a leprechaun. It had nothing to do with all the wishes I had acquired over the years of saying ‘phantasmagorical’. Everyone who met Tulley wanted to believe in something more than what was in the café. When Tulley was not there, there was tremendous sadness at every table. People stumbled in the door, out of the snow, and reached into their pockets and searched for change enough to buy a cup of coffee. When Tulley was there, wishes came true.

The onion rings were done and I took them to Tulley, and then paid for them from my tips. Three hands, those of Diane, the Angry Bead Lady and Tulley, reached for the onion rings in a frenzy. The shelter only offers food twice a day and I knew they were hungry.

The next day Tulley walked in the back door carrying an oxygen tank with one hand and his walking stick with the other. Matt was at the pool table and yelled ‘phantasmagorical’ before Tulley asked. Everyone knew you only got a wish when asked.

Tulley wheeled his tank up to the counter and leaned it and the stick against his stool. He took the tubes off his nose and lit a cigarette. I brought him coffee.

“Have I ever told you about my daughter?” he asked. He poured the three packets of sugar and splash of milk into his coffee.

“I don’t think you have, Tulley.” I had tables to clear and people to wait on. I stayed for his story.

“She lives in California.” He reached for his wallet and handed me a magazine picture of Marilyn Monroe. “She is an executive of some sort. I think she got her business sense from me. I made twenty dollars yesterday with my balloons.”

“She is lovely,” I said, handing back the picture.

“I think she is coming to see me soon. I called and told her I am running out of time. She said she would be right here and get those Social Service people straightened out. I need to live on the first floor. I can’t walk up those steps anymore. Especially with this thing.” He gave the tank a kick and his shoes rattled.

Tulley only used to wear his leprechaun outfit when traveling and on St. Patrick’s Day. He is a legend in Butte, an Irish Catholic mining town a couple hundred miles away. This year he didn’t go. He couldn’t manager hitching rides in the cold.

“I am dying.” He studied the metal container of milk on the counter. “I’m dying.”

“I think you are strong as an ox, Tulley. Too many people need wishes for you to leave us so soon.”

“God damn it, I’m dying.” I saw tears surging up in his eyes. “Leprechauns don’t die. We stick around long after everyone else is gone. Here, take my wishes.”

He handed me little circular disks which I immediately recognized as tokens to ride the farris wheel downtown. He handed them to me with such reverence that I felt maybe he had instilled in them some sort of magic.

“I will give them out wisely.” I said.

Tulley missed a couple days at the café. I would have assumed that he was wandering but I knew he wasn’t. Matt tried to visit him at home but he was gone. Soon, Diane found him at an assisted living facility. Tulley didn’t want anyone to visit him. He wanted us to remember him as the Leprechaun and not as a sick old man being waited on by nurses and doctors. He had lost control of his body, coughed for hours and wet his bed.

I handed out wish tokens to those I felt needed them most. Matt, Diane and the Bead Lady got most of them. But I also gave them to beggars instead of giving them change.

When Tulley died, the newspaper did a story on his and disproved the myths about his life. He never was in Vietnam, had lost his thumb in a work accident. He had no family other than those people who loved him at the café.

I prefer not to know the true story of Tulley the Leprechaun’s life. I prefer to think of him as a Leprechaun who gave wishes and sang songs. He didn’t belong in a nursing home, he didn’t deserve to have his life told any way other than the way he claimed he lived. He was robbed of his mystery by a reporter seeking the glory of a good story.

To me, Tulley the Leprechaun died the way he lived, mysteriously and full of magic.

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