The Malachy Mission by Karl MacDermott

Sunday, January 24, 2016
Malachy Mulroney, a man with questionable hygiene habits, has a unique strategy for holding on to his girlfriend; by Karl MacDermott.

Every time I met Malachy Mulrooney he had a cold. On the street always sneezing. Endless coughing and spluttering while waiting for the elevator. In a coffee shop I sometimes saw him use empty sugar sachets to clean his nose because he'd run out of tissue. On the disgusting human behaviour Richter scale - that's a seven. I was tired of all this, I mean we worked in the same building, shared the same canteen, stood (and exhaled) over the same food. So one afternoon I bumped into him in the john. He was coming out of a cubicle blowing his nose. I said Malachy, you've got a constant cold, what's wrong with you? He sighed wearily.


He started washing his hands. Didn't use the dispenser. Ignored the hand-dryer.

Tells me six months ago he met a woman. Darina. They were instantly attracted to each other. This was head-over-heels variety. Not only was the sex great, eight times in one night, he claimed - although I doubt that very much, I mean you'd be pronounced dead after that - but they also had similar interests, a passion for the outdoors, browsing in bookshops and a quirky obsession with boogie-woogie piano players of the 1940's. He was never happier in his whole life. She even moved into his place after one week. This wasn't whirlwind. This was vortex!

A fortnight later however, he spotted a change. She became less responsive. Ardour cooled. Near tundra levels. She gave him queer and funny looks. This puzzled him. Then he noticed something. Her sinuses had cleared. When they first met she'd had a head cold. This got him thinking. Was there some connection? He sought advice.


Malachy's friend and confidante, polymath and failed science-fiction author Bertram Cosmos knew a lot about things.

"They are what attract people to each other. The smell we emit attracts a mate. It's primal. It's nature."

Bertram's theory was simple.

"It is quite obvious that when Darina met you she had an acute viral rhinopharyngitis - head cold to Joe Schmoes like yourself. Her olfactory sensibility was all askew, she becomes inexplicably attracted to you, and from what I've seen of her, you are totally out of her league. Totally. Now, that her rhinovirus is clearing up, her sense of smell is returning - as well as her general common sense - and she realizes she is no longer attracted to your pheromones, in fact she is probably secretly repulsed by them."

So Malachy needed to think fast. The love of his life was about to walk out his door. Change to a stronger cologne? Bertram said it wouldn't work. Shower four times a day? No affect on the pheromones.

"Pheromones are like scents of the sub-conscious and once the pheromonal equilibrium has been upset, it is only a matter of time before the relationship ends and heartache begins."

This guy Bertram sounded like a bit of a jerk. Would be no friend of mine. As Malachy continued his story he started to scratch at his head until a small flour dust cloud gently landed in the silver chrome washing basin below.

Basically, he realized his choices were limited. For their romance to survive and thrive Darina would have to come down with a common cold, rhino whatever, each week for however long they were together. And since Darina was the love of his life and he never ever wanted to let her go, this meant... the rest of their God-given days. However, he was not deterred by this, possibly, decades long undertaking. He even coined his own term for it - 'The Malachy Mission'.

Seeing himself as an inveterate man of action and problem-solver, he saw no obstacle in this illness inducing snot-centric enterprise and adopted all kinds of strategies as the months went by. A small incision in her shoes so the wet from the ground seeped in and she unknowingly walked around the streets in damp socks. Ingenious on his part, but she just got better and went out and bought a new pair of shoes.

Winter arrived. The season was Malachy's natural ally. He suggested they take public transport as much as possible, given their love of nature and grave concern about the future of the planet. Even if it meant, at peak times, people sitting opposite them and coughing in their faces. Darina agreed. This led her being struck down for most of December with a particularly heavy strain of the coxsackievirus she picked up from a pair of wheezing identical twins in matching magenta anoraks.

Other ploys? Telling fibs about the immersion having been on. End result? She had tepid showers leading to another bout of the sniffles. Or leaving windows open. Another successful outcome, somewhat negated by that unfortunate burglary and theft of, amongst other items, their prized Meade Lux Lewis box-set. Begs the question - what 21st Century burglar would steal a Meade Lux Lewis box-set?

Malachy's most devious and monstrous scheme was to remove her discarded mucous filled tissues from the bin and hide them under her pillow case. Breathing in her own germs was a guaranteed way of prolonging her nasal turmoil indefinitely. I nearly got sick when he told me that one, I mean what else was in the bin? Did he do much rooting? I hope he wore latex gloves. On the disgusting human behaviour Richter scale? A definite nine.

No matter what he did, each time she eventually recuperated, which of course meant her sense of smell returned and she started to give him the queer and funny looks.

The pressure was becoming too much. The continuous manoeuvring was taking its toll. He was going out of his mind. Also, he was constantly coming down with a head cold himself because of his proximity to her.

He looked at me.

"Being in love is a stuffed nose hell."

As for the sex? Eight times a night had turned into no times a night. Nothing spelt disaster for an incipient orgasm like a violent sneeze.

Malachy shook his head and sighed. He had no idea what he was going to do. He was meeting Bertram Cosmos later. I wished him well as he exited the john.

I didn't see Malachy around for a while. Then two months later I bumped into him in the elevator. He was looking very healthy.

"Malachy, how are things with Darina?"

"We got married. And look. No head cold."

"How come?"

"It had nothing to do with the pheromones. Cosmos was talking through his Uranus. One night she sits me down and says stop being such a slob and we can stay together. She'd give me those queer and funny looks because of my intermittent disgusting human behaviour. I tell you, I'm a changed man."

He smiled, stopped picking his ear and flicked a tiny ball of earwax at the opening elevator doors.


  1. A very funny story with a good peppering of yuk factor!!!
    Well done,

  2. really good story, there´s someone for everybody, but it seems Malachy hasn´t changed completely!

    Mike McC

  3. I love this quote: "Being in love is a stuffed nose hell."
    -Kara Bright Kilgore

  4. Entertaining - a fun read. Thank you.

  5. Great I enjoyed the whacked out science of it..
    So true to men's desperate analysis of what they are doing wrong with women. I wonder whether it'd be better to say...she is out of his league...rather than the opposite?