'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Tuesday, February 23, 2010
I looked in the mirror. I saw my face. The book said I'd see something else, as well as my face. "'The book said'. That's all you ever say." The book said that. I didn't need a mirror to know there was a look of disappointment on my face.
I heard a train. I looked out the window to see it pass the house. It was slowing down as it approached the station. One carriage contained just a solitary passenger, a woman who wore an extraordinary red hat. It looked like a bird trying to fly away from her head. She glared at me when she saw me looking at her hat. If I were a bird I'd try to fly away from her as well.
A man was holding onto a railing at the back of the last carriage. He jumped to the ground before the train stopped. My view of his landing was blocked by gorse bushes. I went outside to make sure he was okay.
Before I reached the end of the path through the gorse, the man appeared again when he got to his feet. He looked slightly dazed, but he seemed to have avoided significant injuries.
When I asked him where he had come from he told me his life story in a history of dwellings. His name was Franz. When he was young his entire family used to ride around on a bike. Their father would pedal. All of their belongings would be tied to the bike. Franz, his mother, his brothers and his sisters would hold onto suitcases or boxes. At night they'd sleep in fields and pretend they were living in a glasshouse.
They settled in one place when they got a caravan. His father tried to pull it with the bike, but the caravan won. The deep ruts made by the tyres of the bike were a testament to his father's gallant effort.
When Franz left home he lived and worked in a depressing holiday camp where there was always a sign up saying there would be no tomorrow today -- it had been cancelled due to lack of interest. He didn't stay there long. He moved into a two-room bedsit in a forest. The roof fell down every autumn. The landlord was always promising to replace the leaves before winter, but there was always some excuse about the roofers who had to go away because they were being stalked by a famous actress who was always turning up at her house, and his cousin said he'd do the job but if his cousin did all of the things he said he'd do he'd be dead by now.
The people who rented the basements lived in dark, cramped conditions amongst the roots of the trees. The basement-dwellers would happily spend the winter blinking at the flashing lights of their external brains that worked on arguments for debates about whether or not sentimentology is a real science.
When Franz jumped off the train he had a bag with him, and the bag contained an external brain. He said he'd won it in a game of poker but he was afraid to use it because the man he'd won it from seemed more intelligent after he took the brain off. He was clever enough to stop playing poker then.
I suggested using it on an animal first. Franz attached the brain to the head of a stray dog, but the dog ran away as soon as the brain was switched on. He ran into a garden at the back of a house and he went through the open back door. We followed him, but our paths were blocked by a woman wielding a sweeping brush. She made a noise that sounded as if she'd rolled a sentence full of threatening words into a ball and thrown it at us. We retreated.
When we went to the front of the house we saw the dog disappearing around the corner at the end of the street. We spent the next hour trying to find him. We asked about him in the pub, and we were taken to a room at the back. The dog was sitting at a table, playing poker. He had an excellent poker face. The other players were trying to read something into the flashing lights. When the flashing got faster they thought it was a sign of a good hand, but they were wrong. The dog won nearly two-hundred euros, which Franz collected for him.
We went to a restaurant to dispose of some of the winnings. The dog looked as if he was able to read the menu. He pointed at what he wanted (he went for the turkey and ham). The waiters paid close attention to the flashing lights, hoping to gain an insight into the dog's reaction to the food. They wouldn't have paid the slightest attention to my opinions. I tried not to be too disheartened by this because the dog was paying for my dinner.
The book was right about the red hat.
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The Song of the Sirens
Jerry lived in a lighthouse. He installed the light on his roof just to annoy the neighbours, but they didn't mind. They pretended to be annoyed to humour him. The light was effective in keeping ships off his rockery, but it lured many old seafarers to his house. They'd arrive in droves on a foggy night or when a storm brought driving rain. Torrents of water would flow from their rain coats, flooding the floor in his hall, or else the seafarers would cough out all the fog they'd inhaled until he could barely see the walls. This greatly enhanced the decor. He considered painting all of the rooms in fog. Moving around the house in such conditions could be dangerous. He made miniature lighthouses with candles on top to keep his visitors from foundering on the rugs.
The neighbours would always call, supposedly to complain about the light, but they were really there to listen to the seafarers. After five or six hours of stories and songs, the neighbours would go home, but the sailors would remain. Jerry always struggled to get rid of them. Shouting at them wouldn't work because most of them had ear plugs growing out of their ears. There wasn't much point writing a note for them because only one of them could read, and he'd have to get out his reading glass eyes, which could take a long time as he searched in his pockets. He had bi-focal glass eyes, but he never used them because he was always putting them in upside-down. Things got even worse when someone glued contact lenses to his reading eyes. He'd have to hold the note a few feet away from his face to read it, and he wouldn't be able to see it in the fog then. He got corrective eye patches to counteract the effect of the lenses, but he needed very bright lights to read with them.
On one occasion the seafarers were there for over twenty-four hours before they thanked him for his hospitality, shook hooks with each other and left. He needed to find a way of getting rid of them at about the same time the neighbours left. He got a fog horn that was loud enough to get past the defence of the ear plugs they were cultivating, but the seafarers loved the sound. To them the fog horn's music was as sophisticated as Beethoven's. The one bright side was that it genuinely annoyed the neighbours, who had to start growing their own ear plugs. Some of them found that they had surprisingly fertile soil in their ears, and they entered their plugs in competitions at local fairs.
He finally found a way to get rid of them when he thought of the sirens who lured sailors onto rocks. It didn't take him long to find enough local women who were willing to sing outside his house to lure the sailors out. The songs the women liked held little appeal for the old seafarers. Even the two notes of a police siren were too sophisticated for their tastes. Only a good imitation of a fog horn or a song with superhuman levels of lewdness could lure them out. These sirens didn't have rocks between them and the sailors. Some of them had stun guns, but the weapons were rarely used, and even when they were fired they were aimed at a leg to remind a sailor which one was made of wood. The women welcomed the sailors. If the seafarers' senses hadn't been impaired by the glass eyes, patches, hooks, the natural plugs growing from ears and noses, plus the astonishing quantities of rum they consumed, then they might have found that the rocks were more tempting than the women. After hearing the song of the sirens outside, they'd leave Jerry's house with a spring in their wooden steps. They'd disappear into the fog to meet their fate.
Tuesday, February 09, 2010
Winning isn't everything
Dean took part in a cross-country race on a cold, grey November afternoon. He won the bronze medal. He didn't mind coming third because taking part mattered most, and taking wallets. He stole the gold and silver medals as well. Someone spotted him getting away with his haul, and the alarm was raised. He ran, and a huge crowd chased him. This crowd consisted of athletes and spectators. Dean knew there was a good chance that amongst their numbers were two people who'd just beaten him in the race. They'd want to win their medals back, and their wallets.
His fears were confirmed when these two athletes emerged from the chasing pack. They were gaining on him. The only thing he could think of doing was to keep running, and he didn't have time to stop and think of a better plan.
They caught him when he was trying to climb over a gate. The rest of the crowd were a long way back. Some of them had collapsed in exhaustion at the mere thought of running. Others ran with the enthusiasm of dogs let off the leash, but they had forgotten all about Dean when they started chasing a cat.
He returned the medals to the runners who had beaten him in the race, and he gave them back their wallets as well, but they started arguing over who should get the gold and who should get the silver. The man who had won the silver in the race had been the first to catch Dean, and he claimed that this entitled him to the gold. Their argument descended into a fight, and this gave Dean the chance to get away with the rest of his loot.
He started to put some distance between himself and his pursuers. A simple plan presented itself: he'd keep running until he was out of sight and then he'd find a hiding place where he could rest and think of a better plan.
The hiding place he found was a shed, and the straw inside provided a perfect place to rest. He fell asleep before he had a chance to think of a better plan. If he'd remained awake he might have realised that his current plan wasn't all that great. After he had disappeared from sight, his pursuers would start looking for him in good hiding places. The shed would have stood out like a sore thumb.
He realised this when he woke to find himself surrounded by the people who had been chasing him. They demanded the return of their wallets. He knew when he was beaten. He apologised for his behaviour and he reached for the bag that held his loot, but the bag was gone. He had left it next to him in the straw.
The crowd knew what had happened. Eugene, the man who had come fourth in the race, had been the first to reach the shed. He must have seen the bag next to the sleeping thief and he couldn't resist taking it. He could have made his getaway without being seen by going out through the door at the back of the shed. Dean was furious because the man who had come fourth in the race had taken his bronze medal. And then he noticed that his wallet was gone as well.
He joined the pack as they left through the back door of the shed. They saw Eugene running away through a field. Dean was confident of catching him because he'd already beaten Eugene in the race. He soon pulled away at the front of the pack, but he was surprised to find himself being overtaken by Henry, the man who had come fifth.
It was Henry who caught Eugene and returned the stolen wallets. He gave the bronze medal back to Dean, but Dean felt that he didn't deserve it. He put the bronze medal around Henry's neck. This gave Henry a sense of achievement, but returning the wallets provided him with a much greater sense of achievement. Seeing Dean in handcuffs gave him an even greater lift. The only thing to console Dean was the company of Eugene in the back of the police car.
Tuesday, February 02, 2010
One Day in Dugganascholar
It was a beautiful morning in Dugganascholar, a small town sliding down a hillside to the river on the valley's floor. When Gerry opened the curtains a spring-mounted summer Saturday popped up to greet him and send him somersaulting out the door and down the hillside, a slow, leisurely somersault that included a breakfast break and a back flip when he slipped on spilt milk. There was no point crying on a day like this. He met his friends, Gavin and Lorcan, and they discussed the best way to spend the day. They could climb to the top of the hill to see the view and fall a-slow down a steep sleep and stop with a plop in the river at the bottom, or they could stay in the shade of the trees on the banks of the river and spend the day fly-swishing.
They chose to laze with the trees and dream of a world where the 'have-not's have lots and the 'have's have nits, while all around them people of all shapes and sizes had found more industrious ways to pass the time. Dogs were digging for buried trousers. Kids were fighting boredom by carefully constructing tantrums and throwing them at each other. Mrs. Deasy was knitting with earthworms who'd find themselves re-incarnewted as creatures like frogs or mice. Sometimes she'd surprise everyone with a Labrador.
A man called Gilbert met Gerry and his friends at the river and he told them he had a gardening job for them. Money would start them on the path between the 'have-not's and the 'have's, and it might help them do something about the nits, so they agreed to do the job. They followed Gilbert to his house.
He showed them a plan for the garden. "My grandmother designed this," he said. "She became a garden-designer of renown. She gave me this plan twenty years ago but I never got around to implementing it during her lifetime. I kept putting it off and putting it off, and then she died, and I kept putting it off and putting it off and putting it off. And that brings us to today. I'm putting it off no longer. It's a beautiful design. If hundreds of monkeys were playing hundreds of rainbows they'd eventually produce a garden like this. Ye should have an advantage over monkeys because ye'll know what ye're doing."
Gerry doubted that they'd have much of an advantage over monkeys, but he didn't say anything. They started work by digging a trench. There was a militaristic feel to the design. Gilbert said that this was because his grandmother kept having visions of him dying in a war.
They were still digging in the afternoon when the clouds with dark-grey beards appeared and poured their contents into the trench. Gilbert came out to watch them work and listen to the sound of raindrops dripping down on his drumbrella, a growing breeze strumming the trees, becoming a storm. Gavin was exhausted. His brain displayed dream-like scenes. He saw things that looked like mechanical diggers and he had a feeling that these things actually existed, but he couldn't find the words to ask Gilbert about them. He always found shovels easier to use than words. Books caused aches and pains in his brain when he tried to read them. He'd throw them instead, but they only caused more headaches when people threw them back at him.
When his shovel hit a metal box it took a while for him to realise he wasn't dreaming. Gerry had already opened the box by then. He found a key and a note for Gilbert. This note was from his grandmother. It congratulated him on finally getting around to creating the garden and it outlined how to collect his reward. He'd have to spend a night in an isolated haunted house, a place where people feared to put their feet unless their legs were long enough to keep their heads half a mile away. A ghost would point him towards the reward.
Gilbert was overjoyed when he read the note. It all seemed slightly Scooby dubious to Gerry, but he insisted that himself and his friends get an equal share in the reward. Lorcan pocketed the key to strengthen their position in the negotiations. Gilbert was sorry he didn't get the mechanical digger, but he agreed to divide the treasure between the four of them because extricating the key would be tricky and he didn't want to be alone in the haunted house. He'd give them their share to avoid pick-pocketing, lock-picking or bucket-kicking.
They went to this abandoned house at ten o' clock that night. Hours went by without so much as the gust of a ghost or the merest shadow of a shade, let alone the electric shock of unmistakable spectral activity. They drank beer and thank, thinked or thunk thoughts until they were slightly drunk (they're not entirely sure what they did to those thought-like things squirming around in their heads, but these things are dead now). At three o' clock in the morning, Gavin staggered to his foot and swayed unsteadily before he found the other foot just as he was about to fall flat on his pancake (he'd been busy in the kitchen while the others were dizzy with ideas dying in their heads). The sight of a wraith was written all over his face in words even he could read. A man in a see-through suit was descending the stairs. Fortunately, the man was see-through too, or else they might have had to flee, still not beerful enough not to be fearful of a man made of a faint light flaunting things that only worked as ornaments after death.
They followed him into the wine cellar. He went through the door, but Lorcan had to open it with the key. This recently-deceased wraith had a scent of aftershave to make an impression in the afterlife. If he'd known his first job would involve writing words on Gavin's face he mightn't have bothered being buried in his Sunday best. Gavin's Saturday worst smelled as if it was concealing recently-deceased creatures. He might not have had any squirmy things to kill inside his head but there were plenty of them underneath his clothes.
Their ghostly guide pointed at a stone protruding from the wall of the wine cellar. When Gilbert pushed the stone a secret door opened in the wall. It led them to a room full to the brim with paintings of cats, cases of whiskey and various other items that reflected Gilbert's grandmother's interests in life. They spent the rest of the night dividing their treasure.
When Gilbert went home in the morning he noticed that a hole had been dug at the bottom of the trench in his garden. It could have been dogs digging for trousers, but maybe his grandmother had played a trick on him. She might have buried an even greater treasure underneath her note, something intended for his sister. The ghost could have visited Gilbert's sister before appearing at the haunted house, and informed her of the buried treasure.
When his sister bought a sports car, Gilbert did his best to convince himself that it was just dogs. Digging for trousers.
The Tree and the Horse
A Walk in the Rain
The East Cork Patents Office
Words are my favourite noises