The mushrooms are poisonous, but locals eat them, says the Gastronome Guide to Ireland.
I’m not a foodie. I plucked this guide from a free magazine stand at the Ballybunion bus station, and now I’m curious.
“Have you tried inkcap mushrooms?” I show the magazine article to the front desk attendant at my hotel, Royal Ballybunion.
He puts on his reading glasses. His sour visage and mannerisms reminds me that of Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. “Aye. They’re harmless if ye don’t drink alcohol with ya meal, sir.”
“Where can I find them…” I look at his name tag, “Fionn.”
“It’s pronounced Fen. O is silent. Inkcaps are in season. Most restaurants have them on the menu. Ah—“ his face lights up, “have ya tried the periwinkles yet?”
“Periwinkles? Tried how?”
He sours again. “Tried eatin’.”
“Nooh,” Fionn stretches the “o” from Ballybunion all the way to Dublin — a teacher fed up with his pupil’s ignorance. “The sea snails. They are also called periwinkles.”
“Ah. Thank you, Fen.”
“Sorry.” I retreat before Fionn’s patience runs out.
I work up my appetite on the promenade off the Men’s Beach and sit down on the patio of the Irish Luck restaurant for dinner. I’m not a romantic type, but the sunset over the water is splendid.
“Do you have mushrooms, the ones you can’t combine with alcohol?” I ask my waiter, a man of generous girth.
“Tipper’s curse? Yes, we do. They come as an appetizer.” He points to the item on the menu.
“I’ll have that and your periwinkles.”
“Not a good idea, lad.” He gives me a wry smile. “Periwinkles are cooked in white wine. You’ll get sick, so pick one or the other.”
“I’ll go with what-you-call-it, tipper’s curse.”
The inkcaps, I recall the name, taste like any other mushrooms I’ve ever had. The red-turn-crimson sunset over the Ladies Beach is something special, though.
Funny that my family and I always thought we were German, until the results of my DNA testing came. Turns out, I’m mostly Irish.
The next morning at my hotel, I go downstairs for breakfast, but I’m too nauseated to eat. My stomach feels rigid and my face is on fire. Back in my room, I vomit into the bathroom sink, on the floor, on my shirt. I cover the unsightly mess with towels. The shirt I put in the garbage bin.
At noon I call the reception. I ask for a doctor and curl in the fetal position under my blanket.
The maid comes and looks at me with horror, as if seeing a ghost. Next, Fionn appears before my eyes. He shakes his head as if saying, No soup for you. I don’t know what he means. But then, I’m not sure if he’s real or if I’m hallucinating.
People in white coats yank me out of my nest. I flap my arms and legs, and they drop me on the floor. My head threatens to explode. My vision is a night sky pierced by lightning bolts of pain. For a strange reason, the hard, cold floor is moving. I focus my eyes to see that I’m on a gurney, rolled into the elevator. The commotion stirs my stomach to life, and I regurgitate bile onto the white sheets.
It’s twilight outside. The sunset must be stunning, but today I won’t be enjoying the spectacle. Waiting for me at the curb is an ambulance the color of my vomit. For the first time in Ireland, I truly blend in.
The paramedics hoist me inside. Exhausted, I rest my 800-pound head on the pillow. Fionn was right. Should’ve gone with the periwinkles. The DNA test, however, must be wrong. I don’t know what I’m doing here. I don’t care for mushrooms or for seafood. Should’ve traveled to Germany instead. I love schnitzels and they are safe.
The ambulance shakes and squeals on the country road. I start shaking too. More like shivering cold. I must be running a fever.
“Where are we going?” I ask.
“Limerick.” A voice above my head says.
“But that’s two hours away,” I protest.
I look into the mirror above my head. It’s affixed at an angle that allows me to see the backs of my paramedic’s heads. The one in the passenger seat turns his head. His sky-blue eyes on the ruddy face show curiosity.
“Inkcaps… aye, lad. What did ya drink this mornin’?”
“Water,” I say to his reflection in the mirror.
“And what did ya do to ye face?”
“Nothing. Shaved, washed, put on an aftershave.”
“There you have it.” He smiles.
“Alcohol. In aftershave.” He chuckles. “My grand uncle came home after WW2 with a drinking problem. So my great grand aunt cooked him tipper’s curse mushrooms every day… cured his drinking in less than a month. Poor Uncle Tom developed liver problems, though.”
“Wonderful. I’m supposed to leave for Cork tomorrow. Do you think I’ll be—“
“No,” he interrupts. “Ye be lucky if yer start eating in a couple of days. Meanwhile, keep the IV fluids running and check yer liver.”
I look at my arm. The dressing is soaked in blood mixed with normal saline, and so are my sheets and blanket. No wonder I’m cold.
“I think my IV is out.”
“Don’t worry, lad. We’ll hang another bag when this runs out.”
I feel a pat on the shoulder.
The paramedic keeps expanding about Uncle Tom’s liver failure and his American relatives, who hate Guinness and beer. What a bunch of degenerates.
I don’t recall the Gastronome Guide mentioning anything about liver failure. More research would help. But if I die here, I’ll be buried in my ancestor’s land.
The thought fails to lift my mood. I’m not an adventurous type. Should’ve stayed home in Toronto. At least I know what to eat there.
Victor Bondar is a surgeon and author who writes in a variety of genres. His short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Prose, Every Day Fiction, and Culture Cult. He lives in Cherry Hill, NJ with his wife and two dogs.