DIRTY FAG OR DIRTY FOG (short story)


By John Life



“DIRTY FAG! Dirty fag,” hollers two-years-old Seamus.

His sixty-nine-year-old granddad, Woodie Mack, is leaning out the mini-mansion’s back door, with his left-hand stretching along the brick-fronted wall, trying to hide his cigarette from Seamus, his eldest daughter’s youngest.

The brawny old-age pensioner, still a big man for his age, is meant to be baby-sitting, but freshly awakened Seamus has come stumbling through the kitchen, and into the rear-entrance hallway.

“Dirty fag! Dirty fag!” shouts Seamus when he spots his granddad exhaling a smoky cloud out the back door into the drizzly afternoon.

“Fog, fog, you’re right, dirty fog,” exhales Woodie Mack, dousing his cigarette between his fingers, pocketing the butt as he swirls his huge working-man’s torso around to the wee boy, and says, “Fog! Dirty fog! Dirty fog! Look. Fog.”

Woodie Mack lifts Seamus up with his huge hands that resemble shovels, maybe because they have daily handled picks and shovels for fifty-five years. Woodie Mack turns the boy around to see the mists swirling up from the Lough, assassinating visibility and dampening the mid-summer’s Irish day down to a winter’s chill.

Seamus shivers.

“Dirty fog! Dirty fog!” says Woodie Mack. “Dirty fog! Dirty fog!”

“Dirty fog,” weakly repeats the boy, but he smiles widely when granddad offers him a chocolate bar, and both shout, “Dirty fog! Dirty fog!”


“SEAMUS SAID, ‘Dirty fag’,” states his mother, Bridget.

The mum-of-four is telling her father, Woodie Mack, the moment he arrives next morning at her six-bedroom residence that sits stoutly, surrounded by out-buildings and garages, on its own three-acres of grounds: an orchard, vegetable gardens, but mostly lawns; spreading green, as far as your eyes dare to look.

“Are you back on the cigarettes?” asks Bridget.

“Dirty fog, dirty fog,” immediately answers Woodie Mack, as he reaches for the keys from his son-in-law Peter’s super duper tractor mower that cost him a wee fortune so he can trim his acres of lawns each weekend, but it lies idle on weekdays.

“You got it wrong,” says Woodie Mack. “Dirty fog.”

“’Dirty fag,’ Seamus said.”

‘“Dirty fog,’ he said. You didn’t listen to him…”

“I listen to my children!” declares Bridget. “Seamus said, ‘Dirty fag’. Are you smoking again?”

“No, no, you got it wrong…”

“Dad, don’t tell me lies.”

“Seamus said ‘Dirty fog’,” pleads Woodie Mack. “Will you listen to the child? If you do you’ll hear, ‘fog’.”

“Fog. Fag. What’s the difference? Are you back on the cigarettes?”

“The difference is: fog. I had him by the window as it got all murky, and the day darkened with the mists. and I shouted, ‘Dirty fog’, and he shouted, ‘Dirty fog,’ and we both shouted, ‘Dirty fog…”

“I warn you, Dad, if you go back on the cigarettes you’re not getting Peter’s tractor. Say goodbye to the euros you make cutting lawns. Gone if you’re smoking again.”

“It’s fog, fog, listen to the child, will you?”


BABY-SITTING pays off for Mary and Woodie Mack.

Bridget’s husband, Peter, was very successful during the boom, and after the bust he kept going. He made money, and to thank his in-laws, Mary and Woodie Mack, for their endless baby-sitting while Bridget and himself attended various meetings and short-stay conferences abroad, Peter buys them a winter’s holiday on the Canary Islands.

Mary has never travelled outside Ireland. Woodie Mack had laboured all over England after his professional boxing career was cut short before its prime.

But he has never been outside Ireland or the UK, and he deeply worries, loosing sleep over it, would his stomach be able to stomach Spanish fodder for a week, or is it Portuguese, he couldn’t remember who owns the islands, and he doesn’t even know where the Canaries are.

Mary and Woodie Mack make for the nearest Irish bar on arrival in the Tenerife resort. One street away they find Ned Kelly’s pub, and steak, chips and pints of Guinness become Woodie Mack’s daily diet.

The pensioners begin their days with full Irish breakfasts, well Woodie Mack eats most of Mary’s too, and at least three cigarettes each.

The first thing they both notice about Spain, or wherever they are, the fags are so cheap, so they resolve to smoke overtime. They spend their nights in Ned Kelly’s. Grandmother Mary drinking Bacardi and coke, and smoking twenty fags like there is no tomorrow, while Woodie Mack downs ten or eleven pints of Guinness while inhaling twenty cigarettes, and singing a few songs on stage.

The crowd love Woodie Mark’s rare voice serenading out of this big brawny man, and his songs are stories they’ve never heard before. But the audience laugh at his lovers and nearly weep with their heartbreaks, and Woodie Mark’s wins thunderous applause, and encores, and pints of Guinness linning up for him at the bar.

The first night they meet Denis from Drimnagh, and his wife Nadaline from downtown Drimnagh. They all get on famously and go to Denis’ apartment for after-hours drinking. Denis explains that they are cigarette smugglers. Nadaline and Denis will fly nearly seven thousand cigarettes to Dublin.

“No bother, Bud,” says Denis. “Pays for the holiday, you know what I mean? It pays for a few pints when I get home, and saves me a fortune from paying the rip off price of fags in Ireland. You know what I mean, Bud.”

Mary and Woodie Mack are gobsmacked.

“I am wondering, is it the drink?” says Woodie Mack. “Because you sound like a television drama. This couldn’t be real life? Someone telling us about a crime they are about to commit.”

“It’s a synch, Bud,” says Denis. “They have an x-ray machine for luggage.”

“Then they have caught you,” says Mary.

“But we fly in early morning when Customs are still asleep,” explains Denis, finishing off his rum and coke. “They’re not getting up at three a.m. to look at a screen, for feck’s sake. Why don’t you do it to Shannon?”

“What if we get caught?” asks Woodie Mark.

“Once you convince them the cigs are for your personal use, you’re not selling them on to anyone, then you are entitled under European law to bring them in, something like that, Bud.”

“Seven thousand fecking fags,” questions Mary, sipping her rum, and rolling her head with the wonder of all those cigarettes.

“Yeah, yeah, yeah!” says Nadaline. “It’s easy. They’ve just got to believe you’re going to smoke them yourself. Then they have to let you go, some law from Europe.”

“Seven thousand fags?”

“How much money have we, Mary?”

They have enough to buy a thousand cigarettes. Woodie Mack puts them all, and nothing else, in his suitcase. They have no problems departing Tenerife.

Woodie Mack walks ahead of Mary through Shannon Airport. The Customs officer looks at Woodie Mack’s boxer’s face and says, “Excuse me, sir?”

Woodie Mack continues walking, not turning his head to acknowledge that the Customs guy is trying to get his attention. Woodie Mack keeps making towards the exit door.

“Excuse me, sir,” repeats the Customs man, stepping out in front of Woodie Mack. “Do you have anything to declare?”

“No,” replies Woodie Mack as Mary slows her advance behind her husband.

“What’s in the suitcase, sir?”


“And what else?”


“Yes, besides the cigarettes, what else is in your case.”

“Cigarettes. Only cigarettes.”

“How many?”

“One thousand.”

“What? That cannot be for personal usage. A thousand cigarettes?”

“No,” says Mary, arriving at the Customs man. “There’s only about nine hundred left.”

“What,” stammer’s Woodie Mark.

“I smoked about one hundred.”

“You smoked behind me back. One hundred fucking cigarettes.”

“My one hundred fucking cigarettes,” retorts Mary, the Bacardi still parading through her bloodstream. “My pension paid for them. They are my fucking cigarettes.”

“Please, Madam. Sir. I am convinced the cigarettes are for your personal use. Please move on.”

“One hundred fucking cigarettes,” repeats Woodie Mack, shaking his head, fully stopped now.

“My fecking fags,” states Mary.

“My fucking cigarettes you smoked.”

“Please, sir. Madam, please, move along, please.”

“Right so. You’re saying she can smoke one hundred cigarettes behind me back.”

“My fucking cigarettes!” explodes Mary.

“Please, madam. Please move along. Sir, madam please move along.”

“One hundred cigarettes,” says Woodie Mack, making for the exit with his back to the Customs and a smile spreading across his tanned face.

“I suppose then,” says Mary, catching up with Woodie Mack, “we’ll have to go back to that island again.”

“Right so.”


HOLY SMOKE would be a good name for Mary and Woodie Mack’s cosy Council house in Greenfence – a small village, fifteen miles from the nearest town – with smoldering cigarettes seemingly always alight and holy pictures, like the Sacred Heart, on the walls of the neat home.

The old age pensioners have six daughters, six son-in-laws, and sixteen grandchildren living within five miles of Greenfence. So baby-sitting, in the Council home or in the children’s mini-mansions, has become a full time career.

The six son-in-laws have survived the economic downturn and are succeeding again, though not like the frenetic years when they built their mini-mansions with stables for their herds of 4X4s and BMWs, and all the toys, like the tractor mower.

Woodie Mack adores the shiny red tractor. He loves riding it. Even though it’s the high-end version, Woodie Mack still looks like a big kid on a small kid’s tricycle.

But Woodie Mack is in great demand for cutting lawns before they turn to jungle in this rain forest climate.

The mower is the most pleasant piece of machinery Woodie Mack has ever encountered, especially with its noise, because it gives him peace from his six daughters nagging him to stay off the smokes.

“Dad,” calls Bridget, just as Woodie Mack has the tractor loaded onto his shaky trailer outside her garden shed, well garden hangar. He’s borrowing the mower for another lawn cutting cash job.

“Dad,” says Bridget, coming right up to Woodie Mack. “Are you still on those fags? Is Mary on them too? Has she gone back on those disgusting fags?”

“God, girl, can’t you see I’m loading the mower?” replies Woodie Mack. “I haven’t time to breath, don’t mind time to smoke.”

“Seamus,” says Bridget, and Woodie Mack instantly stops to look at her.

“Seamus pointed to the chocolate bars in the supermarket today and said, ‘Dirty fog’.”

“There I told you,” replies Woodie Mack.

“I pointed to the cigarettes. Seamus said, ‘Dirty fags’.”

“Fog, fog, I told you Seamus said, ‘Dirty fog’.”

“Are you giving him chocolate?” asks Bridget as Woodie Mack squeezes himself into his car. “Dad, you know, I have told you so many times, my boys cannot take sugar. Andrew and Seamus are already hyper active but they go berserk with high dose sugar intake. Are you smoking? Dad, don’t tell me lies.”


WOODIE MACK pulls off, happy with the tractor behind him on his rickety trailer. He lights up and is so happy to be traipsing through the country lanes to his next odd-job.

He spends the next two hours happy, driving the mower and smoking to his content with only the engine noise to bother him – and that’s not as much as his nagging daughters.

Mary and Woodie Mack had both given up the fags, after a barrage of abuse from their daughters, led by Bridget. The pensioners even went to the gym; three times a week, starting off, then a couple of days a week.

After one gym session, Mary and Woodie Mack called to smoker friends, and they all puffed merrily. The pensioners did give it a good try to give up the smokes.

But Woodie Mack is back on them big time, especially when he is on the mower, a big kid on a small kid’s bike, with a fag constantly on the go, puffing his way around the grass; and his odd jobs are in demand now with the countryside vibrant with green growth.

Mary perseveres, and stays off the fags. His daughters have banned smoke from his kitchen, because of Mary going cold turkey, cutting down from about 40 a day to nothing but fresh air.

“How’s the wife, Woodie Mack?” asks the lawn owner.

“Querulous,” replies Woodie Mack, loading the mower onto his trailer, thanking for the cash, and dashing to baby-sit Andrew, Seamus’ older brother.

Well Andrew is no baby but a five-year-old boy bursting to be let loose on the world, as if he couldn’t wait for his arms and legs to develop fast enough to catch up with his desires.

As Woodie Mack pulls up to the ‘garden hangar’ he sees Bridget departing in her over-sized jeep with bull-bars big enough to go into ranching. After unloading the mower he has a cigarette, and it is only lit when Andrew saunters his body into the shed.

“Dirty fag! Dirty fag! Dirty fag!”

“Will you whist,” says Woodie Mack. “Whist! Whist!”

“Dirty fag! Dirty fag!”

“Dirty fog, dirty fog, dirty fog,” says Woodie Mack.

He unwittingly takes a bar of chocolate out of his pocket. Andrew’s eyes light up. He goes to grab the bar, but Woodie Mack pulls it back, and attempts to put it back into his pocket.

“Dirty fog,” says Andrew.

Woodie Mack stops, looks at the youngster, and says, “Sure a bit of chocolate never harmed a child in my time.”

“Dirty fog,” squawks Andrew, grabbing the bar.

He has it unwrapped and up to his mouth in no time. Andrew yaps into the chocolate with a big smile on his face.


“I’VE HAD enough of this lying,” states Woodie Mack.

“You’ve been at it for half a century,” replies Mary, sitting in their small kitchen, close to the warm range.

“That was to keep the Dole off our backs so I could go make a living,” says Woodie Mack, as he watches TV with Mary sitting on the far side of the range. “It’s the cigarettes I’m talking about. I’ll tell the girls the truth. I’m smoking again.”

“Yes,” says Mary. “You tell the truth after half a century.”


“WHAT! WHAT!” shouts Patricia, the second eldest daughter, when Woodie Mack tells her the next day. “You deceiving… How could you be so deceptive?”

Patricia dials her smart phone, and Sheila, the third eldest, answers, listens until Patricia hands Woodie Mack the mobile, saying, “Here, you tell her.”

“Hello, hello, hello,” Woodie Mack speaks into the mobile as if it’s about to bite him.

“What did she say?” immediately asks Patricia. “Did she call you a liar? Oh, when I think of it, all this time you have been lying to me, to my sisters, to our children, to our husbands, to our whole family, you are just a liar. Well, what did Sheila say?”

“Nothing,” answers Woodie Mack, handing the mobile back to Patricia. “Sheila hung up on me.”

Patricia dials her smart phone again, and Bridget answers.

“He’s admitted to smoking. He has been lying to us.”

“Is he there with you?” asks Bridget. “Put him on.”

Woodie Mack gingerly takes the mobile as if it will snap his fingers off. Patricia can clearly hear Bridget shouting into Woodie Mack’s ear.

“Andrew and Seamus are shouting, ‘Dirty fog, dirty fog.’ Dad, I have told you so many times, my boys cannot take sugar. Andrew and Seamus go berserk with high dose sugar intake. Did you give Andrew sweets, chocolate, sugar? Dad, don’t tell me lies.”

Woodie Mack is totally silent until Patricia slaps him on the shoulder and asks, “Well did you?”

“Dirty fog, it was just so you wouldn’t know I was smoking,” pleads Woodie Mack into the mobile.

“Dirty fog!” hollers Bridget back. “Your dirty fog gave my Andrew a sugar boost and he went berserk. He took a sharp knife from the kitchen, went into the garden, and stabbed the trampoline. He cut into it, stabbing up into the trampoline. It can’t ever be used again. Too dangerous.”

“Oh, I’m sorry, Bridget,” humbly replies Woodie Mack. “This is my fault. My deceptions deceived me. This will never happen again.”

“Dad, no more dirty fag or dirty fog.”



©  2014   John Life




Twitter: John Life @JohnLife13


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