'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Sunday, May 19, 2013
Here's another one.
It's a long story, but the bottom line is this: I had little choice but to agree to give a lecture about quantum mechanics to members of an Amateur Dramatics Society. I was very nervous before the lecture, partly because I knew nothing about quantum mechanics, but I would have been nervous anyway. I talk too fast when I'm nervous. I was afraid that I'd run out of things to say after a few minutes of my lecture, so I ended up preparing four times more material than I needed. To fit it all into the allotted time, I only used a quarter of each word. Most of the lecture was made up of four-letter words, so it was easy to divide them into quarters.
My speech was surprisingly well-received. Over the following weeks, I received many invitations to dinner parties and lunches, so I could expand on the ideas expressed in the lecture. To expand on my ideas I just had to double, triple or even quadruple the number of letters in my words. A woman called Monica invited me on a picnic. She took me to see a beautiful waterfall in the woods. We had our picnic on the soft grass near the bottom of the waterfall, and we listened to the music of the water's surrender to gravity. I took note of these things in my notebook. She saw some of the sketches I'd made, and she asked me to draw her. I took great care to make her look beautiful in my drawing of her as she sat on the picnic rug, but I left out the moustache. I felt that the picture was slightly imbalanced by the absence of the moustache, so I drew a dead squirrel on the rug. She was a little bit deeply offended by this. She remained violently silent for several minutes, but when she finally spoke, instead of attacking me she chose to attack my spider. "Your pet spider's legs are skinny," she said. "He needs to start eating fatter flies, or deep-fried battered butterflies, or battered caterpillars in a snail and mushroom sauce."
My vegetarian spider was horrified. He doesn't like mushrooms either. I said, "My spider's legs are skinny because he exercises three-hundred-and-sixty days a year."
"What about the other five?" she said.
"The other five what?"
"What other five days?"
"There are three-hundred-and-sixty-five days in a year."
"Since... I don't know."
"Is it something they only introduced this year?"
"No, it's been around for longer than that."
"I see... Leave me alone for a few minutes while I install these updates in my head."
She packed up the picnic basket and went home. I walked around the woods, trying to figure out what was happening to the missing days in my years. I wondered if quantum mechanics could explain this, but I didn't know enough about quantum mechanics to be able to provide an answer. I didn't know enough about quantum mechanics to answer the question 'What is quantum mechanics?'.
I asked the people who are always looking over my shoulder if they knew about the other five days. They said nothing about the missing days in my year, but one of them said, "Raindrops keep falling on my thumb." Another one complained that his dungarees had been severed. And then a woman complained that her audience were inappropriately dressed.
Before too long, word had spread that I was the man to go to if you had a complaint. I had to invest in a desk, a sign that said 'Complaints Department' and a nametag. The nametag was necessary because people could never remember my name. I'm very good at remembering names. The trick is to call everyone Eddie. Or you could call some people Eddie and some people Monica, if you're confident in your ability to tell the difference between men and women. I'm very good at this as well. But if you don't want to go to the trouble of differentiating between men and women, 'Eddie' will do fine for everyone. The more often you call them Eddie, the more convinced they'll be that you know their name, and they'll feel more re-assured in your company. It works on dogs as well.
I was spending all of my time hearing complaints. Some people made up complaints just so they could read my sign or my nametag. The people looking over my shoulder were disconcerted because they couldn't read either, and their whole reason for being people looking over my shoulder was to read things and to spread slanderous rumours about me.
I went to see a woman called Monica (not the Monica who didn't like my drawing with the dead squirrel). This Monica lived just down the road. She was known to be the wisest person in the whole county. Every day people would go to see her to ask for her advice on all sorts of problems. She had set up a desk outside her garden shed to deal with her clients.
I went to see her one evening, but I had to queue for over half an hour before I got to meet her. During that time I had to listen to the stupid problems that people brought to her. The man in front of me said, "Myself and the wife got tickets to see a singer who writes all of her own screams, but we can't go to that because we have to go to a party at my uncle's house tomorrow evening. We have to keep the uncle happy or he'll write me out of his will. It's very easy to get written out of his good books and out of his will. My brother got written out of the will because he wore a purple coat. In fairness, if you saw the coat you'd have sympathy for the uncle. So we can't go to the concert. We gave one of the tickets to the wife's sister, and I was just wondering, what do you think we should do with the other one?"
"Burn it," Monica said.
"Burn the ticket?"
"I'm not so sure about that."
"What did your wife's sister do with her ticket?"
"She burnt it."
"There y' go then."
When my turn came around I said, "I'm having a little trouble with people who keep coming to me to..."
"Burn it," Monica said.
"Whatever it is that needs to be burnt."
"Yeah, burn it."
When I thought about it, it made a lot of sense. I wondered why I hadn't come up with that idea before. As soon as I got home I went to the shed to get the petrol can. There wasn't much left in it, but I thought it would be enough to burn a desk. I poured the petrol over the desk and set it alight.
Within seconds of the fire starting, I heard the sound of a siren, or of someone making a siren noise. It was one of my neighbours, a man called Eddie. He arrived on the scene with a fire extinguisher, and he put out the fire. He was wearing a homemade fireman's uniform.
I asked him when he had become a fireman and he said, "My brain is a thousand owls and one of them is trying to eat the other 999 because he thinks they're all impostors. I've got to keep that one owl occupied at all times. And if possible I'd like to keep the other 999 hidden. The only way to keep him occupied all day is to be constantly on the lookout for fires. I've built a lookout tower in my garden. I spend most of my nights up there as well."
People kept coming to me to complain, and they complained about the badly singed desk as well. This gave me more of an incentive than ever to burn the desk. I went to the petrol station to fill up the can, and then I went back to Monica. I managed to say the words 'I have' before she said, "Burn it."
"I don't need any advice," I said. "I just came to make a suggestion. I get the impression that you've become disillusioned with your work, and you'd like nothing more than a ladder to climb out of your rut, but you've burnt all your ladders."
"I've burnt every ladder and bridge I had and I regret it all."
"There's one thing you haven't burnt."
"Your desk. Just burn your desk and you'll be free."
I saw her face light up and her eyes catch fire as she imagined the desk going up in flames. She went to get a can of petrol and I hurried back to my house. A few minutes later I saw smoke rising from Monica's place and I heard Eddie's siren. That's when I set my own desk on fire. While Eddie was busy dealing with Monica's fire, there was plenty time for my desk to be consumed by the flames.
Later that evening, I went back to Monica's place. I was expecting to see a badly singed desk and evidence of Eddie's fire-fighting, but the desk was a pile of ashes and Eddie was tied to a tree. Monica told me that she had seen what he was about to do with the fire-extinguisher so she had no option but to subdue him with a snooker cue and tie him to the tree. I'd never seen anyone so happy to be tied to a tree. "The owl ate all the other owls when I let my guard down," he said. "I'm much happier now. I never liked all those other owls. They should have been happy to be eaten by someone who was superior to them. I feel so free now. Being tied to a tree is a beautiful way to spend a summer evening."
I took a note of that last point, but I didn't have time to be tied to trees right then because I was busy being happy as well. The destruction of my desk put an end to the stream of idiots with stupid complaints. I had no visitors until Monica called to see me five days later. She told me she had been thinking a lot about her life -- she had plenty time to think after her desk had been burnt. She said to me, "I am outlandishly in love with myself, but I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. It's good in some respects. It's better than hating myself. But I can't help thinking there's a happy middle ground where I'd be on first name terms with myself -- we might meet on the street every now and then and stop for a chat, and say we must meet up for a coffee sometime, but never get around to it."
"You're talking as if your self is someone else."
"You've got to be able to step out of yourself sometimes, and take stock of your life. That's what I've been doing and I've come to the conclusion that I'm madly in love with myself."
"Maybe you should spend more time dwelling on the negative side of your character."
"I'm perfectly well aware of all my faults and failings. It's not that I think I'm fantastic. I'm just in love with myself. It's like being in love with someone who's always drunk and who's constantly insulting your friends and family."
"Right. I can't really relate to that. My advice would be to step back inside yourself. Enjoy the ride -- that's my motto in life. Of course, ninety-nine percent of the time it isn't very enjoyable, but the other one percent makes it all worthwhile. You should be very wary of stepping outside of yourself. Do you know those identical twins who run the cafe?"
"They're not really twins. They're a woman called Monica. One day she got bored and she wondered if she could climb over herself. So she stepped out of herself and climbed up her right arm. She stood on top of her head and then slid down her left arm. She was delighted with this feat, but then she wondered how she'd get back inside herself. She couldn't remember how she got out. Now she keeps working because she's afraid of getting bored again and making things worse. They keep that cafe open twenty-four hours a day. My advice would be to keep busy so you don't split in two."
"What about Jack? He's doing nothing at all these days and he seems perfectly content. He says he feels whole."
"Our former fireman."
"I thought his name was Eddie."
"No, it's definitely Jack."
"Well maybe he has split in two. Jack and Eddie. He sounds like a good one-man two-piece band."
"I'm fairly sure there's just one of him. He's cleared almost all of the owls from his head and his life is much simpler now."
"Right. Well it's different for everyone, isn't it?"
"I don't know. I've always assumed it was, but... I don't know. Sometimes I think I'm better off not knowing. Not knowing anything. Clear everything away and start with a blank slate. The only thing you'd need to know would be not to write anything on the slate this time. You have a piece of chalk in your hand but for God's sake, whatever you do, don't write on the slate."
"How would you clear everything away?"
"I don't know."
"Jack had a cannibalistic owl to do that job for him. But he only had owls to clear away."
"They weren't real owls, though. They were just ideas, thoughts, figments of his imagination. What we need is one idea that will consume everything else in our heads."
"What idea would that be?"
"I haven't a clue."
"I felt much better before I started talking to you."
"I know that feeling... I could teach you how to draw dead squirrels, if that'll make you feel any better."
"Well it couldn't make me feel any worse."
"Or dead owls."
"You could get arrested for killing owls. Especially if you eat them as well."
"Not if you're an owl yourself."
"This is making me feel worse. Could you just teach me how to draw a blank page?"
"I don't think I've ever drawn a blank page before. I suppose we could try."
These are some of the blank pages we drew:
I'm still trying to figure out what happened to my missing days. I'm keeping a diary this year, and hopefully that will help. I get the impression that my spider knows, but he isn't saying anything. I'm not going to ask the people looking over my shoulder because they'll just start complaining.
Monday, October 25, 2010
Jeff got guitar lessons in exchange for teaching Don, his instructor, how to cook. It only took two weeks for Don to become as good a cook as Jeff was. After two weeks, Jeff was as good a guitarist as Don's cat would have been if it had started scratching the front of the guitar instead of the back. Jeff felt inadequate. He wanted to show Don and the cat that he wasn't completely devoid of talent, so he got lessons from another guitar teacher, a man called Cliff. He taught Cliff how to draw in exchange for the guitar lessons. Before the first lesson, Jeff was afraid he'd be outshone by his new teacher/pupil, but thankfully Cliff was abysmally bad at drawing, which wasn't very surprising, because so was Jeff.
Jeff was much happier being taught by someone as inadequate as he was, so he gave up the lessons with Don. He told Don that he'd decided to give up the guitar and take up the trumpet instead. "I think it's probably for the best," Don said when Jeff broke the news. "You're bound to be better at the trumpet than you are at the guitar. At the very least you'll be better than the cat. At least I assume you will. I've never heard her play the trumpet. She got stuck in a tuba once and the noise she made was appalling. If you can make a more pleasing sound than that, you'll be able to put this whole guitar business behind you."
But Don found out that Jeff was still learning the guitar from another teacher, and he was furious. Jeff tried to convince him that he was still as bad a guitarist as ever, and that he'd abandoned Don because he held his former teacher in such high esteem. Don didn't believe this. The story sounded even more far-fetched when Jeff started talking about being intimidated by the cat. Matters were made worse by the fact that Don and Cliff hated each other. They used to be friends. They had made a lot of money busking together, but they hadn't spoken since undertaking another job as a duo, when Cliff's aunt Louise asked them to make a delivery to a friend of hers in the country. She promised to give them a hundred pounds if they successfully conveyed an antique chest of drawers to an isolated farm house. She supplied a bottle of whiskey and a van to help them on their way. Either of these things on their own would have helped them on their way (though not necessarily the right way), but taken together they proved to be a hindrance.
They returned to Louise without the van, the whiskey or the chest of drawers. The chest of drawers and the van were on an isolated farm, far away from any house. Far, far away from their intended destination. Louise blamed Don, even though Cliff had been driving. Cliff was happy to let Don take the blame, and this is what brought about the end of their friendship.
Jeff wanted to do something for Don to get back in his good books, which was why he stole Cliff's favourite guitar and tied it to the branch of an oak tree on an isolated farm. Don was touched by the gesture when he saw the photo of the guitar in the tree. All was forgiven, and he agreed to take Jeff on as a pupil again.
It was Cliff's turn to be furious. He arrived at Don's house in the middle of a lesson with Jeff. He was convinced that Don was behind the theft. Don felt sorry for his former friend after witnessing Cliff's display of despair when he saw the photo. The three of them agreed to set out straightaway to retrieve the guitar, even though it was nearly ten o' clock at night.
It was nearly ten o' clock on the following morning by the time they found the guitar. Darkness and a bottle of whiskey hindered them in their search, but the whiskey helped repair the damage done to Don and Cliff's friendship. They agreed to go busking together again, and they vowed to turn Jeff into a competent guitarist, but this didn't seem likely even when they were drunk.
Sunday, October 03, 2010
Marjorie was on her way to visit a friend who'd promised to show her a new trick he'd taught his mice. As she was walking past Ronald's house she saw that a party was taking place, and most of the guests were in the garden. They were meant to be watching the performance of a jester, but he just stood there, looking depressed. Ronald tried to prod him into action by poking him with a stick and saying, "I'm going to keep poking you with this stick until you start jesting." The guests soon got bored of this, and they went back inside. Ronald followed them in after telling the jester that he'd poked more jest out of a carrot.
Marjorie felt sorry for the jester, whose name was Jack. She asked him what was wrong and he said, "I've been depressed since I had a dream about an enormous red carriage that could carry thirty or forty people. For some reason, the man at the front was holding a wheel instead of reins, and he didn't need reins anyway because there weren't any horses. The carriage moved all by itself. It was a beautiful dream, but waking up to reality was horrible. I have a feeling that I'll always be sad until I get to ride on such a carriage."
"I know someone who might be able to help," Marjorie said. "Gilbert is an inventor. If we asked him to build a carriage like that there's no way he could resist the challenge, though there's no guarantee of success."
Jack sighed and said, "I suppose it's worth a try."
Marjorie was right about Gilbert being unable to resist the challenge. He spent the next three months working on the carriage in his workshop on a mountainside. Jack was delighted when Gilbert's creation was unveiled, even though it wasn't what he was expecting. This one was even bigger than the carriage he'd seen in his dream. Gilbert had added an upper floor, but the windows upstairs were covered by shutters. The only way up was through a spiral stairs. The top of this was blocked by a trapdoor.
Jack's delight faded away on the maiden voyage because the carriage didn't move. "Do you know anyone who can make invisible horses?" he asked Marjorie.
"You're much more likely to find someone who can make horses invisible. I don't know such a person, but my father can make a dog disappear. Sometimes when he makes the dog re-appear it has a fur coat and a cigar."
"This is never going to be anything like my dream if the carriage doesn't move."
"We could push it down the mountainside. And we could round up all the neighbours to be the passengers to make it even more like your dream."
It took about an hour to find thirty people who wanted to ride on the carriage. The passengers at the back pushed the carriage down the slope and then climbed on board at the back door. Jack's joy grew as they picked up speed. For Marjorie, gaining speed only nourished her fear. "How are we going to stop this?" she said.
"In my dream, the man at the front pressed a lever with his foot to stop it."
"Why didn't you mention this before?"
"I didn't think there would ever be a need to stop it because I wasn't expecting it to move."
Jack tried pressing what he hoped would be an invisible brake pedal, but it turned out to be an imaginary one. Panic spread amongst the passengers. Jack did his jester's act to take their minds off their impending doom, and he made them completely forget about careering down a mountainside in a carriage. They all laughed so much that no one noticed when they reached level ground and they slowed down, almost to a stop. Almost, but not quite. They rolled off the end of a pier and landed in the sea. While the passengers were busy screaming, Gilbert climbed the stairs and opened the trapdoor.
Calm was restored when they realised that the carriage could float. Gilbert appeared at the top of the stairs and invited everyone to follow him up. This upper deck looked more like the deck of a ship. A mast was raised and a white sail was unfurled. They sailed to the other side of the harbour. The fact that the carriage had become a boat didn't diminish Jack's joy, and when it became a ferry he was even happier because he could make a good living by entertaining the passengers on their trips from one side of the harbour to the other. He was perfectly content with life until he dreamt about a carriage that could fly. It had wings like a bird, but it didn't need to flap them. He asked Gilbert to start work on this, and Gilbert agreed, as long as he could make the wings flap.
Tuesday, September 07, 2010
Vera and Victor's kids
Laurence had a small farm. He had a few cows and cattle, some hens and geese, two fields of potatoes and a small field of turnips beyond the cow shed. When he was out picking turnips one day he found a silver teapot. He was excited by his find, and he wanted to show it to someone, so he went to Vera and Victor's farm just down the road.
Vera and Victor had a large family. Kids would appear all over the place every time Laurence visited. Tiny doors would open and young faces would peer out. Heads would pop up out of trap doors and then disappear again. It was impossible to know how many kids were there. Laurence estimated that there must have been over twenty, possibly more than thirty, but not all of them belonged to Vera and Victor. Some of them were wild kids who came to the farm to be fed. Visiting the farm could be a nerve-wracking experience, especially if you were nervous around kids who were free to make their own weapons without any adult supervision. When some of the kids started to get tired, they all got tired. Drowsiness was contagious. There would be a lull, and this was the best time to visit the farm. Vera and Victor loved the sense of peace that pervaded the atmosphere when the noise ceased, but Laurence still couldn't relax when he was on the farm during a lull. He was always afraid that he'd do something to set them in motion again. A noise could trigger an explosion of activity, and they'd be worse than ever after their rest. One minute all would be calm and the next minute you might see a tangle of children rolling out of a hay shed, or a swarm of kids taking a tractor apart in seconds, moving so quickly they're just a blur. Laurence always tried to visit during a lull and to leave before they got going again. He could hear them from his farm. He'd wait until the noise stopped before venturing anywhere near Vera and Victor's farm, but after finding the teapot he was so excited that he went straight there.
The kids had recently emerged from a lull, and the noise was deafening. Victor stood at the back door with his arms folded, seemingly oblivious to the mayhem around him. Laurence showed him the teapot he found in his turnip field. When Victor saw it he smiled and said, "So the stories my father told me about Seamus were true."
Victor took a pipe and a bag of tobacco from his coat. The noise ceased when the kids realised that their father was going to tell a story. Some of them sat on the ground around him or on the roof of the porch above him or on the roof of the house above that. Heads popped up out of chimney pots. Kids hung out of windows and clung to branches of trees. After they'd all taken their places they remained silent and still as they waited for their father to begin his story.
"A man called Seamus owned that field many years ago," Victor said. "He used to bury things in his sleep. For a long time he was completely unaware of this, but when he realised what he was doing he wasn't too concerned because he didn't have anything of value. He'd wake up in the morning and see that a teapot was missing, and he'd assume he'd buried it somewhere during the night. If he lost an old leaking teapot, at least he'd discover that he could make tea in his kettle and he wouldn't have to drink it off the floor. It's not much fun trying to stir sugar into a puddle of tea on the kitchen floor.
"It took another two months before he realised that he was stealing things in his sleep as well, and then burying them. His neighbours had plenty of valuables to steal, but Seamus never tried to dig up anything he had buried because he was afraid of being caught. He built an alarm system that would wake him up if he tried to leave the house at night. It was a complex mechanism involving a church bell, parts of a pipe organ, bats and twenty billiard balls. He'd stolen all of these things from the church. This system worked very well, but one night he took it all apart in his sleep, and he buried all the parts, everything except for the bats. He never tried to re-assemble the system because the bats woke him up if he tried to leave the house. Even if he remained in bed they'd wake him up."
Laurence had a lot to think about that night. His field might well be full of stolen goods, but all of those things were stolen a long time ago, and their owners would be dead. He could dig everything up and then dig up the owners to return their valuables, but it might be better for all concerned if he just dug up the valuables and kept them for himself.
That night he dreamt of this other hoard of treasure in his turnip field, as well as the turnips. He was woken in the morning by a noise that could be heard ten miles away, and when he looked out the window he was horrified to see that his field and most of his turnips had been destroyed. The kids had dug up the whole place. They'd retrieved all of the parts for the alarm system and they'd just succeeded in making it work again. Some of the younger children filled the role of the bats.
Laurence was devastated at the loss of his turnips, but the other hoard of treasure did provide some consolation. The kids had no interest in all silverware and jewellery they dug up. They only wanted the alarm, so Laurence claimed possession of the treasure. It took him years to clean and catalogue the leaking teapots and silver teapots and all of the other items. His new hobby occupied his mind and kept him calm while all of the neighbours within a ten-mile radius were driven mad by the alarm.
Tuesday, August 24, 2010
Every three weeks
I've decided to update this site once every three weeks instead of every week.
Tuesday, August 17, 2010
Gary found a monkey in one of the trees in his back garden. It took a few hours to win the monkey's trust. He kept speaking in a gentle voice, and he offered the monkey some bananas. A jam sandwich finally enticed him down from the tree and into the house.
It didn't take long for the monkey to make himself at home. It looked as if he was planning on a long stay, so Gary thought he should give his visitor a name. He'd never feel comfortable sharing a house with a creature who could use a knife and fork but didn't have a name, even if the monkey only used a knife and fork to clean himself. Gary decided to call him Mulligan.
As well as using a knife and fork for personal grooming, the monkey kept trying to cut his own hair with a scissors, so Gary took him to a hair dresser. Mulligan liked his new hair style. On the following day he had an entirely new look. When Gary went downstairs in the morning he found Mulligan sitting at the kitchen table, wearing a suit. He would have looked very sophisticated if he wasn't trying to get something out of his ear with the handle of a fork. He started smoking cigars. Fortunately, he believed that carrots were cigars, and he never tried to light them.
As the weeks went by, Mulligan's wardrobe grew. Gary had no idea where he was getting the clothes until Jack, one of his neighbours, turned up on his doorstep one day. Jack was a ventriloquist. He was with his dummy, and they were both angry. Mulligan had been stealing the dummy's clothes. When the dummy demanded the return of his clothes, Mulligan responded by blowing imaginary carrot smoke into the dummy's face. Jack was outraged, and he chose to vent his anger on Gary rather than on Mulligan. "You haven't heard the last of this," he said. "Watch your back. Especially the shirt on it."
Gary went to the pub to meet his friends that evening. When he got home after midnight he went straight to bed. He couldn't remember if he took his clothes off before going to bed. This seemed like an important point on the following morning, because he wasn't wearing anything when he woke up, and when he looked in his wardrobe he discovered that all of his clothes had been stolen. Jack was obviously the culprit. Gary did his best to convince himself that he had taken off his own clothes before going to bed.
He had to get his clothes back, but he couldn't be seen outside without them. He made some improvised underwear from a newspaper. He still didn't want to be seen outside, so he made his way to Jack's house through the gardens behind the houses. He had three gardens to get through before he reached his destination. He climbed over hedges and walls. Mulligan went along as well, and he had no trouble scaling the walls. Gary's task was made more difficult by a fear of losing his newspaper. As he was lowering himself from a wall he was focussing all of his attention on the newspaper, and he didn't notice the bucket and shovel on the ground. He knocked them over. He was afraid he'd attract the attention of the house's owner (a woman called Judy, who had recently moved into the area) so he climbed a tree. Mulligan waited down below.
Judy came out to see what was going on. The presence of Mulligan brought her to the tree, and she saw Gary sitting on a branch in his newspaper underwear. She tried to re-assure him, but she couldn't be certain that he understood her language. She won his trust by offering him bananas. The jam sandwich wasn't necessary to lure him down.
She took him inside and made him some breakfast. She gave him some clothes her dead husband used to wear. Gary became a regular visitor to her house, though he never showed up in newspaper underwear again. Mulligan found a friend in Judy's cat. They swapped bad habits. Mulligan taught the cat how to smoke and the cat taught Mulligan what a cigar was. Smoking cigars wasn't good for his health, but he did start eating carrots.
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
An Anniversary Surprise
To celebrate their tenth wedding anniversary, Howard and Gillian went to see how Gillian's uncle Iggy was getting on with the volcano he was building (he'd climbed a mountain and started digging a hole at the top). They'd been walking for three days when their path was blocked by a granite wall. They walked along the length of the wall until they came to two pillars with sleeping stone cats resting on top of them. The gates had been removed, but a tiger lay on the ground in between the pillars, and he proved to be very effective at the task the gates used to perform.
"Good afternoon," the tiger said. "Would I be right in thinking that ye want to get to the other side of the wall?"
"That's exactly where we want to get to," Gillian said.
"Vera!" the tiger shouted. "They want to go through the wall."
A woman emerged from a small hut near the pillars. She walked quickly to where the tiger lay, and she stood next to him as she blew up a balloon. There was a face on the balloon. She kept inflating it until it was three times the size of her head, and then she started letting some of the air out. Howard and Gillian heard a voice, and it seemed to be coming from the balloon. Vera's lips never moved. It was the voice of a very sophisticated woman. She explained that it wasn't safe to use this entrance, and that they should walk half a mile to the south, where they'd find a light blue brick in the wall. If they removed this brick, a door would be revealed.
The voice ceased when Vera stopped letting air out of the balloon. Howard said, "Aren't you afraid of the tiger? At the very least he could burst the balloon."
The tiger said, "If I wanted to frighten Vera I'd mention the crows staring at her."
Vera was obviously terrified of crows. She let go of the balloon, and the remaining air that emerged from it sent it flying away in a haphazard trajectory. It landed in a field at the other side of the wall. Instead of going to retrieve the balloon, Vera ran straight to her hut.
Howard and Gillian said goodbye to the tiger and they went to the blue brick. After removing it from the wall, a timber door appeared next to it. They were able to go to the other side of the wall through this entrance, and they walked back towards the pillars to return to their path. Howard found the balloon in the long grass, and he started inflating it. When he let the air out, they heard the woman's voice again, but the words she used could only have come from Howard's brain. She spoke about the time he sat on a magnificent salmon when he was young. The voice faded away as the balloon deflated. Howard blew it up again, and this time the voice narrated the story of the car he built when he was five. He was delighted. "It's like having my memoirs read out loud by Judy Dench," he said.
During the rest of their walk that day, he kept inflating the balloon and letting the voice narrate his life story. They set up their tent near a river, and as they sat around their camp fire that evening he still hadn't grown tired of listening to the balloon, but he seemed to get a shock when the voice said, "I first met Agnes..."
He let go of the balloon and it flew away.
"Who's Agnes?" Gillian said.
"I don't know."
"It's your life story. You should know."
"I had completely forgotten about the car until she mentioned it. I can't remember who Agnes is."
"Then why did you let go of the balloon?"
"I didn't. It slipped out of my hand."
"Aren't you going to try to find it?"
"No. I'm bored with it now. And I'm tired. It's time for bed."
Gillian couldn't sleep that night. She kept thinking about Agnes. She was convinced that her husband was having an affair with this woman.
In the morning, Howard went to get some firewood so they could boil the kettle for their morning cup of tea. While he was gone, Gillian went outside and found the balloon. Howard had an inflatable cushion that he used to support his neck while he slept in the tent. He had inflated it before going to bed on the previous night. Gillian used the air from the cushion to inflate the balloon. There was just enough air for the voice to say, "I never thought I'd be buying three-hundred red roses, but Agnes has that way about her, a certain charm that I can't resist. Every time she speaks..."
Gillian didn't mention Agnes again. She hardly said a word to Howard for the rest of their walk to the volcano/mountain. It took them another five days to reach her uncle's workplace, and for most of that time she was thinking about pushing Howard into the volcano, regardless of whether or not he could get back out. She wondered how much progress Iggy had made with the hole. He'd been on top of the mountain for years, so the hole would be very deep if he had been digging all that time, but it was possible that he lost interest early on and abandoned his plan.
When they got to the top of the mountain she didn't want to look in. She just wanted to push him and let fate be the judge of his actions. But before she had a chance to do anything, the volcano erupted. Gillian wondered if fate was wreaking revenge on her as well as on her husband, but then she realised that they were being showered in rose petals rather than lava.
"Happy anniversary," Howard said. He had paid Agnes to organise this anniversary surprise for his wife. She had gone on ahead of them with the roses, and she'd been working with Iggy to create the eruption.
Love had flowered once more and all was well again. When all of the flower petals had settled on the ground, Iggy and Agnes emerged from the shack where Iggy lived. It seemed as if love was just blooming for them. Female company was exactly what Iggy needed after years working on the volcano. Despite all the work he'd put into it, the hole wasn't deep enough to cause a serious injury to anyone pushed into it. Most of the work had taken place in his mind as he contemplated the implications of being able to build a volcano.
The Tree and the Horse
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises