"The Great Unexpected" by Dan Mooney is IrishCentral's July Book of the Month.

Is there a point at which it becomes too late to find yourself? Curmudgeonly Joel lives in a nursing home and he’s not one bit happy about it. Constantly being told what to do by nurses, a daughter and grandchildren who visit just once a week and whom he feels estranged from, and no longer at home with his late wife Lucey, the pensioner does not see much point in living for much longer in this place he regards as a prison. 

Enter new roommate Frank, the retired soap opera actor with a flair and passion for life that really grinds Joel's gears. And yet, Frank has a plan for escape that Joel can't help but go along with, sparking a camaraderie, and even a new friendship, Joel never thought he would again find. 

"The Great Unexpected" by Dan Mooney is IrishCentral's July Book of the Month and we can't wait to discuss this heartwarming and heartbreaking look at aging and finding yourself when you thought life was already over. 

Looking for Irish book recommendations or to meet with others who share your love for Irish literature and writers? Be sure to join the IrishCentral Book Club here and enjoy our book-loving community. 

You can pick up a copy of The Great Unexpected here. 

"The Great Unexpected" by Dan Mooney 

The Great Unexpected by Dan Mooney.

The Great Unexpected by Dan Mooney.

When he woke sometime later, early afternoon he figured, Joel observed two significant changes. One was that someone had changed the sports to some ridiculous soap opera. The second was that at the head of the bed across the room, there now stood a tall hat stand, populated entirely by scarves, at least fifteen in all. There was a dark navy silk one with skyblue swirls, a linen bronze scarf with floral patterns, a woolen scarlet scarf, and a white-and-black polka-dotted one. The hat stand swirled in a riot of conflicting colors that dangled down toward the floor. Of their owner there was no sign. Joel regarded them suspiciously for a time before the racket of the soap opera, an old episode judging by the quality of the footage, interrupted his thoughts. He reached for the remote control to switch the channel, only to find that it wasn’t on his bedside stand where it had lived for the last three years. Grumbling, Joel hauled himself from the bed and found it precisely where he feared he might. On the bed across the room. The sheets were a touch unkempt, as though someone had been lying on them; the owner of the scarves, Joel surmised.

He checked the wall clock to discover it was past three o’clock. He had slept for nearly six hours, catching up on his restless night the night before no doubt, and in the meantime, an interloper had sneakily arrived. As he climbed back into his bed, changing the television station on his way, there came a loud guffaw of laughter from the room next door, followed by the sounds of many voices all at once. He recognized Nurse Liam’s good humor among the laughers, and Una’s genteel chuckle; several others were unrecognizable, but louder than them all was a man’s deep and booming laugh. It was a reverberating baritone, a laugh of comradely friendship, and it had no place in Hilltop, not at such a sensitive time anyway. Joel knew it for the laugh of the interloper. He didn’t know how he knew; he just knew.

It would be his luck to get trapped in the same room as that laugh.

Joel settled back into his bed to watch the sports channels and placed the remote control on his bedside stand, where it rightly belonged, wondering whether or not he could get away with chaining it to his side of the room, and set to waiting for the newcomer. He tried to listen to the conversations coming from the room next door, but it was garbled and unintelligible to his admittedly less than perfect ears. From what he could hear, though, it sounded good-natured, friendly even. He maneuvered himself in the bed, leaning out the side toward the open door.

Unfortunately for Joel, he greatly overestimated his own dexterity and began to slip from the bed. He reached out for balance, his arse sliding out from under his sheets, all thoughts of the interloper vanishing as he desperately tried to keep himself from spilling onto the floor. His arms windmilling to find purchase on anything that would steady him, he knocked over his bedside stand, only righting himself when he managed to catch the frame of the bed.

The stand going down had also taken with it the remote, his unfinished tea from the morning, his glass of water for his pills and a framed photograph of Lucey, which all smashed on the floor. The crash alerted the gaggle next door, and the silence in its immediate aftermath was followed by the sound of them rushing into his room. Joel righted himself in the bed and adjusted his pajamas and covers before they could get in to him, trying to look as nonchalant as possible. His dignity reflected in his cool demeanor.

“Everything okay there, Joel?” Liam asked as he bustled over to Joel, fussing at the blankets and checking over him for injuries.

“I’m perfectly fine, thank you.”

“What happened?” Una asked, regarding the smashed glass and cup and the spilled liquid.

“Nothing,” Joel replied, before realizing how appallingly stupid that sounded. Too late to back out, he decided to stick with it.

“Nothing?” Liam asked skeptically.

The interloper looked like he was trying to stifle a laugh. Joel turned to him coldly.

“Something amusing?” he asked.

“Nothing,” the interloper replied, almost giggling.

Una suppressed a smile; even Liam looked like he might giggle. Joel clenched his jaw and fixed the interloper with a steady look of disdain. He wasn’t a tall man, nor was he particularly short. Average, and yet not average-looking. He had aged well; his face was lined and wrinkled like every other resident of Hilltop, but there was a youthfulness about him, a certain quality of energy and vitality that seemed to make a lie of all the wrinkles. His gray hair was still somehow shot with streaks of dark brown, and it was wavy, almost girlishly long, swirling down around his ears and the nape of his neck. He was, in truth, a handsome sort of fellow. His suit was obviously old and of poor quality but clean, complete with waistcoat that housed a small pocket watch. The word popinjay was the first to spring to Joel’s mind, and he said so:

“Popinjay.”

“No, sir,” the interloper replied. “I am Frank de Selby.” He paused after he said it, and then added: “Yes. The Frank de Selby.”

He stood there waiting, as if for applause. Una beamed at him encouragingly, and Liam smiled tolerantly. Joel withered him with another look, but if de Selby noticed the disdain he paid it no mind; instead he continued to wait for the ovation he apparently thought he deserved. Joel wondered how much of this lunatic’s brain had gone missing on him. His moment, however, was ruined by the timely arrival of The Rhino.

“Mr. Adams?” she enquired, no nonsense, as she approached de Selby.

De Selby coughed, embarrassed.

“Yes, well…de Selby is my stage name. Yes. I am Frank Adams.” He offered his hand.

Joel snorted his laughter at the popinjay. De Selby indeed. What an ass.

Frank’s discomfort lasted but a moment, and suddenly he was back into his dash and charm. He beamed a huge smile at The Rhino and kissed the back of her hand as she took his to shake, and extended one leg to bow with a flourish. The Rhino cocked an eyebrow at him.

“I take it the belongings in the hallway outside are yours?” she asked, ignoring the kiss and the popinjay and his stupid bow. She didn’t wait for de Selby or Adams or whatever he was called to answer. “If you need a hand carrying them, ask Nurse Dwight to help you with them. Nurse Dwight, see to this spillage, please, and then assist Mr. Adams with his belongings, and tuck in your shirt.” She demanded impeccable appearance from all of her staff.

Not bothering to listen for an answer to that either, she departed as abruptly as she’d arrived.

“Well,” Adams noted, with a raised eyebrow, “she is going to be tremendous fun.”

Then he winked impudently at Una, who laughed at his flirtation.

Joel stared balefully at him again. No one had consulted him. Again. No one had asked his opinion, or sought his permission or even given him a moment’s warning. Again. Just as they had after Lucey had died, they shoved the next person on the waiting list into his room without so much as a by your leave, and of all the people, this eccentric upstart with his fifteen scarves and his winking at Una and his soap opera nonsense. It was a complete insult to Joel. But before he could voice his opposition, Adams bent over—still surprisingly limber for an old one—and picked up the photograph of Lucey. Pulling an embroidered handkerchief from his pocket, he gently cleaned the frame of the spilled tea and water and polished the glass on the front, and tenderly placed it on the shelf above the bed. Even his handkerchief was over the top.

“Your wife?” he asked Joel without a trace of his impudent, irritating smile.

“She was.”

The past tense was obvious and awful.

“Sorry for your loss,” Adams told him, with complete sincerity.

Joel scanned the man’s face for signs of mockery or cruelty. There was none. He was taken aback. There was sentimentality in the act, and genuine feeling. It felt alien to Joel. Perhaps the interloper could be tolerated. The soap operas could not be, though. There would have to be a discussion about that.

“Now, Nurse Dwight, be a doll and fetch my things. I believe Ms. Clarke here is trying to get me on my own for a minute,” Adams told Nurse Liam, lapsing back into his foppishness. “We’ll draw a curtain so you don’t have to watch, old boy,” he finished, turning to Joel with a long wink.

“Oh, you’re just terrible,” Una laughed again.

Just terrible. Joel agreed with her.

Excerpted from The Great Unexpected by Dan Mooney. Copyright © 2019 by Dan Mooney. Published by Park Row Books. 

Looking for Irish book recommendations or to meet with others who share your love for Irish literature and writers? Be sure to join the IrishCentral Book Club here and enjoy our book-loving community. 

Irish author Dan Mooney. Ross O'Donoghue.