Very Slight Stories | Like short stories, only shorter.

'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, May 29, 2007


A Hairy Showband

   Alan was at a party. Seamus said to him, "Do y' know the witness protection program, like you see in films or on TV?" He couldn't remember what he was going to say after that, so he told his joke about the hamster.
   When Alan was talking to Sophie he couldn't think of anything to say, and he couldn't tell her the joke about the hamster, so he said, "Do you know the witness protection program?"
   "Y' know, you'd see it in films or on TV."
   "This is something they have in America. And maybe they have it here too. It's basically to protect witnesses, in trials."
   "Oh right... What about it?"
   Alan couldn't remember what he was going to say about it. He said, "Why... I mean... Why not just leave them unprotected. And just let criminals get to them. And let trials collapse so the criminals can get away. Why not just let all trials collapse, and just let everyone do whatever they want to. Just let anarchy reign. You might have a few more things to worry about, but you'd have a few less things to worry about too. You wouldn't have to worry about your garden because someone could come along and bury a cow in it, and there's nothing you could do about it. There's no point in cleaning your windows if kids are going to come along and break them. There's no point in worrying about revenge because there's nothing you can do. Or there's everything you can do. You can bury a cow in someone else's garden. You can do whatever you want. And the police can do nothing. Or why not just let the kids be the police. Justice would be completely random then. And you wouldn't have to worry about the kids at all. They're the ones with the guns. They're not going to waste time breaking windows if they have guns. No one would dare bury a cow in someone's garden if the kids are the police, because that's exactly the sort of thing they'd shoot someone for. A few innocent people would probably get shot, but overall, it'd surely be worth it. And you could easily bribe the kids too. You could do anything at all when the kids are asleep. It'd be back to the anarchy then. If there's a cow buried in someone's garden when they wake up, and someone says, 'He did it,' they're not going to waste time getting finger prints and things. Not that you could get finger prints from a cow anyway. Or maybe you could. That'd be the sort of thing kids would waste days trying to do, and then they'd just shoot whoever they felt like shooting. But when they're asleep, you could do anything. There's no point in wasting time worrying about being burgled or shot because it's probably going to happen anyway."
   "Yeah," she said, and nodded. "Have you ever noticed that when you're typing the letter 'I' on a computer, as in 'I', meaning 'me'; have you ever noticed the way it always makes it into a capital 'I'? But like, when you look at it, the small little one looks much more like a person, with a little head. I always use the smaller one when I'm typing. They've got no arms or legs -- that's the only problem."
   "Yeah... Excuse me a minute. I have to talk to John over there."
   He walked away, leaving her alone. She stared at a painting on the wall. She heard the sound of a violin, a slow tune. At first she thought it was in her head , but then she realised that someone was playing it in another room. She followed the sound.
   It led her to the room at the other side of the hall. The violinist stood in front of the fireplace, and when he finished playing he started crying. He left the room, and so did most of his audience. Sophie was left alone with Ray.
   She didn't know what to say to break the silence, and she no longer cared about what she said, so she told him about the lowercase 'i'. When she mentioned the lack of arms and legs, he said, "Unless you were looking at someone from the side."
   "Oh yeah. I never thought of that... Although for women it'd be like..."
   "Yeah... And for men too. Or maybe not for men."
   A brief silence followed. He broke it when he said, "I met a hairy showband once. A really, really hairy showband. They complained about the cold and I said, 'A really hairy showband would be better equipped to deal with the cold than a moderately hairy showband, a showband of average hairyness.' They said they met a really hairy showband in Kilarney, and they seemed completely oblivious to the fact that they were a really hairy showband themselves. They asked if they could borrow my kettle and I said they could. I wondered what the showband in Kilarney would be like. They must have been on the verge of being bears, roaming through the hills and valleys, catching salmon in the streams, getting into fights with other bears. When I got the kettle back I plugged it in to make a cup of tea. But just before I poured the water into the teapot I wondered if I really wanted to use the water from a kettle that the hairy showband had used. But I really wanted a cup of tea, so I tried to picture the hairier showband in Kilarney. I pictured two eyes staring out from beneath the coat of hair, and the hair was soaked from the rain and their tears, the gold rings on their fingers lost beneath the brown hair. They have the same conversations every day. 'What's for dinner tonight?' 'Salmon. If we can catch the feckers.' 'Where did it all go wrong? We could have been like Will and Grace. Although someone told me one of them was gay, but I doubt it. We'd have funny, evil friends who'd come to watch our showband. The audience would be glamorous. No one would wear a jumper their mother bought them twenty years ago when they were thirty. And our evil friends would probably kill them if they did.' And after picturing that, the showband who'd used my kettle seemed only moderatly hairy in comparison."
   She desperately wanted to get away, but she couldn't just leave him there alone. In that moment she thought she'd spend the rest of her life getting away from the ones who wanted to be with her, and being left alone by the ones she wanted to be with. It was more depressing than anything that could be expressed on a violin. She told herself that she should want to be with the ones who want to be with her, and that the ones who don't want her aren't worth knowing. She tried to see Ray in a different light, and he didn't seem so bad when she saw him as someone who wanted to be with her. She asked him if he'd used the kettle and he said, "Yeah, I've no trouble using it now. Some people refuse to drink tea I make with it. They say it's because a rat once died in my kitchen and I left it there. I don't know if they're put off by the dead rat or the fact that I left it there."
   Sophie needed all of her will power to keep the smile on her face and to stop her legs from taking her away, but after the urge to leave had passed, the smile stayed in place by itself. It wasn't all that bad. A dead rat was better than a live one.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007


The Background

   Karen had a thing about a magician. This can be expressed another way: she threw a dart at him, but she missed.
   He looked behind him at the dart stuck in the wall. It was next to an old black payphone. He dialled a number on the phone and said, "I'd like to make a complaint about a woman... Yeah... Yeah, her... Yeah, a dart."
   She put on a pair of dark sunglasses with big lenses and she slowly backed away. She left the building, and she tried not to look conspicuous. She walked down a busy street lit up by the afternoon sun. She stayed at the shady side of the street, and she went into a shop through glass doors. Some of the customers made ringing noises as they went around the shop, and others buzzed. The shop assistants wore black clothes and they remained completely silent. They blended in with the background. They were very difficult to spot. You'd need a keen eye if you had to shoot one of them with a tranquiliser dart.
   She only noticed the shop assistants when she bumped into one of them. She told them she had to lay low for a while, and they said they'd help her blend into the background. They took her to the motorbike races in the suburbs, where the people spoke to each other via postcards. The postman who delivered the cards only had to travel three or four yards for each delivery. He liked to live in the background, where he had affairs with the women who hid there. They broke into museums and art galleries at night. They loved being able to spend time together in the background layer without ever being noticed.
   Karen and the shop assistants noticed him. She loved being invisible too. She was free to travel to other points in the background and look out into the foreground. She thought it was like going down into a tunnel and emerging in a completely different place.
   Neil was in a restaurant overlooking the mouth of a river. The shutters were open to let the sun and the sight of the river flow in. People sat at tables outside and read newspapers. All the conversations emanated from the same world and he had to go home and put his head in a hole for a much smaller but different world. When Karen saw Neil with his head in the hole she told him there was no need to do this, unless the hole was a tunnel. He just had to enter the background.
   The press photographers dress in moody browns or black and create worlds and works of art. They don't talk to people who are mere furniture, unless that furniture would match the decor of the world they're creating on that particular day, a very carefully designed modern world. They spend most of their time discussing the artistic merits of these worlds.
   Karen, Neil and the shop assistants met the photographers in the background. The shop assistants in black and Karen, with her dark glasses, fitted into the world the photographers were designing. They weren't too keen on Neil, but they took photos of Karen and her new friends anyway.
   Neil saw a path he had never noticed when he was in the foreground. They followed it, and it led them to a garden, where a woman sat at a white table and drank tea. Her name was Eva, and she told them she wished she had a cook who had her own head instead of borrowing one from a friend who used it as a rolling pin. A man lived in the background of this background world. He came out of his layer and played a small keyboard whenever Eva wanted to fill some time. He emerged from the hedge and played a song while she drank tea.
   A man entered the garden from the path. He was a hunter with a gun that was loaded with a tranquiliser dart. Karen wondered if it had anything to do with the complaint made against her, but he was really hunting down the shop assistants to return them to the shop. They all stayed still, like statues in the gallery, but he saw them. He had been hired because of his knowledge of the background.
   The hunter hit a photographer with the dart. As he was re-loading the gun, the keyboard player took the others into the background of the background. To blend in, he got them to wear anoraks. The shop assistants and photographers said they'd rather die than wear an anorak. But the thought of wearing something as unfashionable as a tranquiliser dart made them change their minds.
   They wanted to make a complaint about what the hunter did to the photographer. One of the other photographers wrote the complaint on a postcard. They needed to find the postman and get him to deliver it, so they went to the art gallery. They were completely invisible in their green anoraks and blue jeans. No one noticed them on the way, and the security guards in the gallery looked right through them. Only the statues saw them. They posed as statues themselves, and they waited until the gallery had closed. The postman arrived with a woman after dark, and they gave him the postcard.
   They spent the night in the gallery, talking to the statues and to the other people hiding there. They forgot about the complaint until the following day when they were following the lost man of the mountains who'd lost all of his clothes. He wore a fur coat that he'd found, and his life was like pinball, with him starring as the ball, bouncing from one drama to another, with treks through the mountains in between.
   They followed him up the side of a mountain. When they looked back they saw the hunter. He was being chased by men who wore black suits and carried guns. They felt guilty about their complaint against the hunter, so they gave him an anorak and they helped him hide in their background layer. The men in the suits wondered where he went to, but they didn't wonder for very long. They shot the lost man instead, although they thought he was an animal. The bullet hit a coin in the pocket of his coat. He slipped out of the coat and ran in circles, screaming as he ran. As the ball in the pinball machine, this was typical of the sort of thing that happened to him, but it still came as a shock. It came as more of a shock to the men in the suits. They were frightened by the screaming naked man who emerged from the animal they killed, and they ran away.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Mark and Ingrid

   It rained relentlessly for three weeks. Mark hired a brass band to play at his funeral, but then the sun came out and he decided to have another birthday instead. All of his friends came to the party, and they all brought presents. The brass band played, and there was no shortage of food or drink. Mark was delighted with the way things were going until the band and the caterers demanded to be paid. He hadn't planned this far ahead when he was planning his funeral. He suddenly remembered he had to be somewhere else.
   He went to see a man in Mexico and then he played poker in Germany. He lost the shirt on his back and the trousers he wore over his head. He felt he was exposing himself when he revealed his face, and so he was. One of the other players pointed at him and said, "You're the man who stole the painting from my house in Mexico."
   He ran away, and the other players chased him through narrow alleys and gardens and cathedrals. He stole a pair of trousers from a clothes line. They provided the perfect disguise when he put them on his legs. He stood on a footpath outside a house and all of his pursuers ran past him without so much as a glance in his direction.
   When he looked back over these experiences he found that he had become engaged to a woman called Ingrid. He thought it must have happened when he was without trousers. He took her to a mountainside, via Berlin, Monaco and London, where he won Wimbledon. As he walked next to a mountain stream with Ingrid, the other poker players finally caught up with him. They had seen him win Wimbledon on TV, and they were able to recognise him on the mountainside because he was the man with the men's singles trophy.
   Mark and Ingrid were able to evade capture and they made their way to the coast, where they borrowed a yacht. They sailed the world. They visited many ports and met a lot of interesting people. Mark stole a diamond necklace from a pirate's skull while the pirate slept with his eye socket open. His glass eye was in a glass of water on a locker. The pirate was furious when he woke up and noticed that his head felt empty. After this incident, he kept a Chihuahua in his head at night as a guard dog. Many people chose to put their fingers into his eye socket rather than into his mouth and were still bitten.
   Mark and Ingrid sailed to an island in the ocean. They explored the place, and they found a pair of spectacles that belonged to a horse. The horse had been separated from his spectacles by a witch's spell. She did this for his own sake, so he wouldn't be able to read the reviews of his play. Mark and Ingrid spent months looking for him, but, because of the spell, they'd never be able to find him as long as they had the spectacles. On one occasion they were at the back of a house when the horse was at the front. When they went to the front, the horse went to the back.
   The pirate arrived on the island looking for the thieves who stole the necklace, and he met the horse. The horse asked him to read the reviews, but the pirate couldn't read, so he just made something up. The horse was satisfied with what the pirate said. There was no longer any need for the spell, so the witch lifted it. Mark and Ingrid met the horse within minutes, but they also met the pirate, who drew his sword and told Mark he was about to meet the sharks. Mark could hear people approaching through the trees, and he came up with a plan. He appeased the pirate by presenting him with the Wimbledon trophy. The pirate posed for photos, and there were tears in his eye. When the poker players arrived, one of them said, "There he is! Get him!" And they chased the pirate away.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007


The Leprechauns

   Eddie was walking home on a quiet road when he came across a small wooden box. He brought it home and when he opened the box a blue butterfly flew out. The butterfly went outside through the open door and Eddie went after it. He followed it for twenty minutes, always looking up at the butterfly rather than down at the ground, but he never tripped or encountered any obstacles. He had no awareness of where he was going.
   When the butterfly landed on the ground, Eddie found himself in a clearing in a forest. He saw a little man mending a shoe. His first thought was: 'It's a leprechaun. Grab him and make him lead me to his gold'. But he hadn't moved an inch when the little man produced a shotgun and said, "Don't even think about it."
   "Think about what?" Eddie said.
   "I know you're looking for gold, but I'll give you something better." The little man took a pair of shoes from a sack and said, "These shoes were made by The Silent Cobbler of the Blaskets. He can hammer a nail into a shoe and you'd sooner hear the nail fall on a carpet of grass. He hasn't said a word in fifty years, since the day when the village where he lived was blown away in the great storm that followed the three days of the black cats, and even then the word he said was 'the'. These shoes will take you to places you wouldn't find in a hundred years."
   Eddie put on the shoes and they started moving. He let them take him down a narrow, twisting path through the trees and out into the open fields, and then they descended into a valley. He crossed a stream on stones and climbed a hill. The shoes took a path into another forest. The path ended in a clearing where another little man was mending shoes. Eddie grabbed him and said, "Lead me to your gold."
   "The other fella sent you, didn't he?"
   "He gave me the shoes and they led me here."
   "It's one of his favourite tricks. He's always sending them to me, but I haven't a penny to my name. He's the one with all the gold."
   "You must have something."
   "I do. I'll give you something even better than gold." The little man took a pair of shoes from a sack and said, "These shoes were made by The Laughing Cobbler of Listowel. His shoes won't make a sound when they touch the ground. He made The Silent Cobbler of the Blaskets go silent, forever listening for a laugh or the sound of a step from a shoe made by The Laughing Cobbler of Listowel."
   Eddie put on these shoes and they led him back the way he came. He ended up in the first forest, and he came across the first little man again, but this time Eddie's arrival was completely silent. He was able to sneak up behind the man and grab him. "Lead me to your gold," Eddie said.
   The little man led him on a path that entered a cave of thorn bushes. Eddie had to crawl along the ground until they came to a tree. The little man lifted a carpet of moss around the roots and revealed a pot. "There it is," he said.
   Eddie lifted the lid of the pot and a bird flew out. He followed the bird, always looking up at it rather than down at the ground. The bird left the forest and flew over the fields. Eddie ran after it. The chase went on for over five miles, until the bird landed on a gate and Eddie looked around. He cursed the leprechaun.
   As he was walking back towards the forest he met a man called Owen who said, "I saw you running after the bird. I've never seen any man run as fast as that."
   Eddie ran to the end of the field and back again and he was amazed at how fast he could move. It was the shoes that gave him such speed. Owen got Eddie to race a man so quick that cows would fall over when he ran past them. Eddie beat him, and he won a small fortune for all those who had bet on him. He travelled the country, running against anyone who would challenge him. He ran against a horse that had won seventy-three races, including the famous race from the steeple in Donneraille to the famous place where The Excitable Man of Bantry heard the word 'sardine' for the first time. Eddie beat the horse by ten lengths.
   He used his winnings to buy gold. He thought it was appropriate that he should have a crock of gold, given the way he got the shoes. He married a wealthy heiress who wouldn't touch him with a barge pole when he asked her to touch him with a barge pole. She said he was sick, and she left him for a man who counted sheep. But he still had his gold and his shoes, and there were still people willing to race him.
   One day he met an old man who challenged him to a race across a field. The man had a crock of gold and he said, "If you win, you get this crock of gold, but if I win, I get your gold."
   Eddie agreed, but as soon as the race started, his feet felt like rocks. He realised that this old man was really the two leprechauns. One was standing on the shoulders of the other. He could hear them arguing with each other. They had put a spell on the shoes to make them feel heavy, and Eddie couldn't even un-tie the laces.
   Just as it looked as if he was going to lose, a blue butterfly appeared above him. He followed the butterfly, dragging his feet along the ground. The shoes left two deep tracks in the field. The two leprechauns looked up at the butterfly too, but the one on the bottom tripped and they fell over. Eddie won the race.
   When he had two crocks of gold he realised that all he really wanted was his wife. He took the gold to her house and he stood beneath her window. He said, "I'll give all this gold to the next orphan I see if you just take me back. And I'll never mention the barge pole again."
   She had been getting tired of the man who kept counting sheep (he was up to five-million), so she took him back.
   As luck would have it, two orphans were passing by at just that moment. They had an unhealthy and misfortunate look about them. Their faces were wrinkled, despite their youth. They both had a fine pair of shoes, but their clothes were just rags. Eddie gave them the gold and they skipped away with glee.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007


Darcy and O'Mara

   Darcy heard about a river where the fish could whistle, and if you put your head into the water you could hear the beautiful harmonies they created. Darcy was too refined to put his head into anything. He set out for the river one morning with his fishing rod. O'Mara stayed behind. He had fallen in love with a beautiful woman who used to walk through the woodland and meadows, talking to the wild flowers and birds. He was going to spend the day following her, waiting for a chance to meet her.
   After she left the woods she came to a hole in the ground. She couldn't see the bottom of it, so she knelt at the edge of the hole to look down into it. As soon as she peered over the edge, her head felt weightless. She put her hands over it, and they felt as light as feathers. She dived into the hole, but instead of going down, she went up, floating away, heading for the sky.
   It was a beautiful feeling at first, but then the thought crossed her mind that she wouldn't stop, that she'd disappear into the sky, just like the earth that had once filled the hole. She longed for gravity, and she tried swimming through the air to get out of the glare of the hole with its anti-gravitational force. She was exhausted by the time she returned to the safe arms of gravity, but she was happy. This feeling lasted until she realised that she was falling at an alarming speed.
   O'Mara saw her falling, and he knew he had to act quickly. There was a French man on the road nearby. He was leading a pony who was pulling a cart, and on the back of the cart there was a mattress. The mattress had been specially made for a woman who could throw her own hands away. Her arms would always follow the hands and then retract to return the hands to her side, like a dog fetching a stick. She spoke in extravagant gestures, unwittingly throwing her hands away. She was always accidentally hitting people who stood too near. She used to talk in her sleep, and her hands would be thrown all around the room. She had often hurt them when they hit the wall or the floor, so she started sleeping in the centre of a huge room with a soft carpet. This protected her hands, but she thought there was something living in the carpet and in the mattress. Whatever it was, it used to steal the rings from her fingers. She demanded that the carpet and the mattress be destroyed, and her French servant was taking the mattress to a cliff to throw it into the sea.
   When O'Mara asked him if he could use the mattress to save a woman's life, the French servant said he'd have to get his mistress's permission. He took a small cage from the back of the cart, and from the cage he took a pigeon. He said to the bird, "I need you to go back to the castle. This is very, very important. You need to ask if I can give the mattress to a young man who desires to save a lady's life. Do not laugh. You must try to remember this. Do you understand me?" The pigeon stared back at him. "Good. You must try to express this using the system of blinks I taught you."
   The pigeon left for the castle. O'Mara and the French servant sat by the side of the road as they awaited its return. They smoked pipes and spoke about strange growths they'd seen on people's heads.
   It was nearly dark when the bird returned with a note. The servant unfolded the paper. "It says 'The pigeon said something about camels'." He turned to the pigeon and said, "You stupid bird!" He read the rest of the note. "'The mistress agrees to your request'. Ah! I knew you would not let me down." He kissed the pigeon.
   O'Mara and the servant took the mattress from the cart and ran to the edge of the hole. They put the mattress on the ground just before the woman landed on that spot, but she just bounced back over the hole and started floating away again. O'Mara reached out and caught her foot, but he floated away with her. The servant caught O'Mara's foot, and he was four feet in the air before he realised he was floating away with them.
   It was at this point that Darcy returned from his fishing trip. He saw the three of them rising to the sky. He cast his fishing line into the air and the hook caught the boot of the servant. He reeled them in, and the three of them landed on the mattress. Something in the mattress said 'ow!'. When they got to their feet, the woman went straight to Darcy and kissed him on the cheek. O'Mara wasn't happy with the way she was giving him all the credit for her rescue. The pigeon didn't like it either.

The Tree and the Horse
Henry Seaward-Shannon
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises




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very slight stories

They Met a Bear
  They stopped in a small seaside town and they went for a walk. They met a bear.
  This is one version of the story. In another version, they met a sailor, and in this one they ended up being held at gunpoint on a speedboat and becoming unwilling participants in a diamond robbery while disguised as a cow, and sharing in the proceeds of that crime.
  So when they tell the story they just say, "We met a bear. He waved at us."

The Story of the Fortune Teller and the Alarm Clock
  A fortune teller threw an alarm clock at me. This story is deliberately lacking in details to mock the predictions of the fortune teller. Although she was right when she said she'd throw an alarm clock at me.

  One. Two. Three, the study. Four, a candle stick. Five. Six...
  Seven is missing, presumed dead. One has taken up the case, and two is helping him in his investigations. They both suspect six. Seven was last seen next to six in the garden.
  But seven isn't really dead. He's consumed half a bottle of whiskey and he's currently in the orchard, talking to a rabbit. "One of us is as boring as a gate post," he says, "and it's not..." He stops to count on his fingers. "No, actually it is me."
  Eight nine ten.

Debbie and his dog
  Debbie was sick of people mistaking her for a man.
  "Is your dog my parole officer?"
  She was sick of people asking her that too.

Very Slight Stories: like short stories, only shorter

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