A Little Learning, flash fiction by JPK at Spillwords.com

A Little Learning

A Little Learning

written by: JPK


A little learning can take you a long way, as his mother used to say. He missed her cheerful, optimistic approach to life even though it was of little practical value in his current situation.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, his dear departed father had been prone to reply. This too had merit as aphorisms go and might, indeed, have been helpful in preventing him from getting into this predicament in the first place had he paid attention to it.

He had not.

Of course both were quite right. It was certainly a long way from Leitrim to Las Vegas and the hotels, casinos and bright lights of the Strip had more peril in each mile than the River Shannon held in its entire length (if you discounted Limerick). In his defence Tim McCarthy, formerly of Drumshanbo on the banks of that river, guessed that no young man who had ever run away from a firm of accountants to join the circus had listened attentively to the advice of his parents.

In retrospect, and what better time was there to be retrospective than when your entire life was flashing before your eyes, the fact that ‘Bluff your way in Lion Taming’ had seemed a much more interesting title than ‘Frank Wood’s Business Accounting Volume 1’ was scarcely a valid basis for a career change.

So here he was, centre stage – or at least centre ring. The thousand eyed beast that was the audience fixed its gaze upon him. The bright lights that blazed from the cavernous heights of the big top picked out each cold bead of sweat on his brow. The harsh voice of the barker extolled his reckless bravery.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls. We regret the unavoidable indisposition of our famous and celebrated Lion Tamers, Grimnir and Graham, and assure you that they will once again entertain us here in the centre ring of the Circus, Circus hotel providing their extensive surgery and intensive therapy proves successful.

Tonight, however, we have for you a most worthy replacement. Brought here at great expense from far away Europe, from the Old Country, from the land of Éire, from the very place from which the serpents were cast out in the days long gone by. He has endured long and rigorous training in the deepest of secrets, suffered hardships and privations, crossed oceans and continents to be here with us tonight, so that he can display for your entertainment and edification the mystery and mastery of the ancient art that gave man dominance over the wild and savage beasts.

I give you, my friends, without further ado, The Magnificent Macati and his Fearsome Felines.”

There is a scattering of applause and a little shiver of anticipation across the raked seats around the ring.

And so the cage door opens and Tim, desperately recalling ‘Chapter 1 – Show no fear’, enters with a decorative chair in one hand and a flaming brand in the other. The cats seem far bigger than the ones around the back of Monica’s Lounge in Drumshanbo, though it has to be said that they also come across as less aggressive. Perhaps they don’t suffer the discomfort that a diet rich in bacon and cabbage can cause to the feline digestive system. Perhaps they are sated, having recently consumed a fair quantity of Grimnir and Graham and lack the incentive to hunt. But there’s a Barbary lioness (P203 – Lions to look out for) and a Transvall male (P229 – Back away slowly and don’t let them hear you praying) sauntering casually towards him and giving scornful glances towards the chair and the flaming brand. The cage door clangs shut, the lions, following their leaders, approach and the murmur of the crowd rises to a horrified crescendo.

At Monica’s Lounge in Drumshanbo on a Friday night you may spot an old man who sits on a stool at the end of the bar. When you look at him closely you might realise that he’s not as old as he looks, it’s just the shock of white hair that frames his haunted and care lined face that ages him. He runs a small accountancy firm and makes a decent living, though he limits his client base. After all, juggling receipts, invoices, tax papers and the like is time-consuming and difficult work, especially for a one-armed man. But he’s happy to be living in a place where people look after each other. Indeed he’s rarely called upon to buy his own pint, though he’s not slow to put his one hand in his pocket to buy a pint for someone else. He volunteers at the local secondary school, giving sound career advice to the youth of the community.

“Remember” he says “the world is your oyster, you can do what you want, where you want, if that’s what you really want. But do your research first. As My Mam and Da used to say a little learning can take you a long way but a little knowledge is a dangerous thing.”

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