David Butler‘s novel City of Dis (New Island) was shortlisted for the Irish Novel of the Year, 2015.Arlen House is to publish his second story collection, Fugitive, in 2021.
Beset by bad debts, a man is at his wits’ end. He is in danger of losing his home. His family regularly goes hungry. The entire country has fallen on evil times. In despair, he turns to a moneylender, a stranger to the city. Some say the moneylender is in league with the Devil. Some say he is the Devil. The man shrugs off such stories. Nevertheless, he doesn’t tell his wife about this last recourse; merely that he feels certain things are at last about to take a turn for the better.
Late the next night, the man returns home. He is overjoyed. He has found the moneylender’s terms so unexpectedly generous; he considers he must be motivated by the purest altruism. How else to explain the golden bond that has been gifted him, to the full value of his debts? ‘Our troubles are over,’ he exclaims to his wife. ‘Tomorrow I’ll call to the bank and clear all the arrears.’
On the way to the bank the next morning, he is beset by doubt. What precisely is a golden bond? So, he goes back to the moneylender to enquire. The stranger is nowhere to be found. His offices have been cleared out. The visitor sits on the steps. From his breast pocket, he extracts the bond, and for the first time, examines the tiny print running along the top.
‘The value of this bond doubles every day until such time as the holder elects to cash it in.’
On his way back toward the bank, the man’s mind is racing. The golden bond is more wonderful than he can possibly have imagined. But can its promise be genuine? He passes a broker’s shop, and on an impulse, he calls in. The broker consults the latest bulletins, and sure enough, the bond is worth double what it had been on the previous day! Emboldened, amazed, the man returns home without having called into the bank.
And so, it goes on. Each morning, he sets out for the bank; at close of business, the nominal value doubles; each evening he returns, the uncashed bond in his breast pocket. Every morning his wife implores him not to come home without the cash; each night, a savage glint reignites at her calculus of how much more the bond will now realise.
That winter, when the bailiffs call to evict them, they find the emaciated bodies of the debtor and his family frozen beside an empty grate.