Six racy, colorful stories from award-winning Irish poet and playwright Mathews that plunge gloriously into the psyches of precocious children, aging single women, and flinty old priests-- and through to the bedrock of the human condition beneath. A boy travels from his home in Ireland to Germany, full of visions of Jews being transported along the rails to the death camps, but finds an unimagined use for a piece of track when he arrives (``Train Tracks''). A family holiday on the Riviera takes a bizarre twist when an old acquaintance of the father befriends the curious, impressionable son (``Elephant Bread and the Last Battle''). In failing health, a withered but alert priest is given the hope of doing a final christening when a young family approaches him, until his confession of a previous bout with madness puts them off--except for the couple's daughter, who asks him to baptize her tortoise and in front of whom he dies (``Moonlight the Chambermaid''). Most probing of all here is the title story, which chronicles a plucky middle-aged schoolteacher's discovery of long-awaited romance with a dashing gynecologist, and her devastation when her lover is killed after their only night together. A lyrical, offbeat debut--tainted at times by clichÇs and stereotyping--but generally full of wit and a profound understanding of the darker ironies of life.