'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2004


I put the watering can on the ground and turned on the tap. I looked up at two birds flying into a breeze in the blue sky above me, rising slowly and diving quickly. I only looked down when the watering can was overflowing.

My aunt Audrey once told me a story about bees. Whenever I say that to people they say, “No, Henry. She didn’t tell you a story about bees. You were just stung by a bee.” But no, they’re thinking of another time. She did once tell me a story about throwing a shoe at a bee. She was staying with her son, Hector, and his family. He has two daughters, Alice and Grace. Their mother taught Alice the difference between a hare and a rabbit and she loved being able to identify them, but she hardly ever got a chance to identify hares because she rarely saw them. There were plenty of rabbits around. She started identifying things as not being hares. With almost everything she came across that wasn’t a hare she said, “That’s not a hare.” But she got bored with putting everything into the non-hare category, so she started identifying things like tables or spoons as hares. She used to make little ‘hare’ labels and leave them everywhere. Hector would often walk around the fields with Alice and Grace, and Alice would identify things as hares. “That’s a hare, and that’s a hare. That’s a hare too, annnnd there’s another hare.” “But that’s a rabbit,” Hector would say, and she’d say, “Oh yeah. But there are too many rabbits as it is. Let’s say it’s a hare.” Hector knew two people called Betty-Sue. He’d often meet them in the pub, and he’d boast to everyone about how he knew two people called Betty-Sue. He once saw both of them changing a light bulb and he came up with a joke about how many Betty-Sues it takes to change a light bulb. It wasn’t really a joke. He’d just say, “How many Betty-Sues does it take to change a light bulb,” and laugh. He was in the pub one evening when one of the Betty-Sues walked in wearing a T-shirt with ‘Mary-Lou’ written across the front. Hector had had a few drinks, and he couldn’t quite get his mind around the sight. He thought he might be able to understand it better if he looked at the T-shirt with his reading glasses, so he took them out, but he found a ‘rabbit’ label stuck to them (Alice had got sick of too many hares). This confused him even more. He looked up at the ceiling. One of the light bulbs was gone, and he wondered if this had something to do with the fact that one of the Betty-Sues had become a Mary-Lou, but he was too confused to work it out. He went home early that evening. The girls were playing Monopoly with their mother and their grandmother, my aunt Audrey, who was staying with them for a few nights. Alice had put a ‘rabbit’ label on all of the pieces on the Monopoly board, including the dog. One of the light switches upstairs used to make a buzzing sound every time it was turned on, and the light flickered. Grace came to believe that somewhere there was a switch to turn on the bees too. Alice said it was a stupid idea, but she was secretly hoping that her sister would find the switch so they could turn the bees off. Grace tried a lot of different light switches in the house to see which one was for the bees. The only switch left to check was the one for the living room, where they were playing Monopoly. It was starting to get dark when Hector arrived home, and his wife asked him to turn on the light in the living room. He went to the light switch. There were too switches on the wall – one for the kitchen and one for the living room. One of them had a ‘rabbit’ label attached to it and the other had a ‘bee’ label (Grace had crossed out the word ‘rabbit’ and written in ‘bee’ – she didn’t want to turn on the switch herself because she knew that this must be the bee switch). Hector was more confused than ever when he saw the switches. He couldn’t figure out which one to turn on, so he went for the ‘rabbit’ switch because that sounded better. The light came on in the kitchen. Grace was keeping a very close eye on this. She looked into the kitchen and saw a moth flying around the light. Hector still stared at the switches. Grace got a pen and crossed out the word ‘rabbit’ on the label. She replaced it with ‘moth’, and she underlined the word ‘bee’ on the other label. Alice came over and looked at the labels on the switches. She said, “That’s not a moth. That’s a rabbit.” Grace pointed to the moth in the kitchen and said, “No it’s not. It’s a moth.” Alice wasn’t going to give in to her sister. She said, “It’s clearly a rabbit.” The confusion in their father’s mind grew even further. Alice said to him, “Dad, that’s a rabbit, isn’t it?” “Ahhh…” Alice was afraid that he was about to say ‘no’, so she said, “Or a hare.” That's when it started to make sense to Hector. “Yeah,” he said, “that’s what it is. A hare.” Alice crossed out the word ‘moth’ and wrote ‘hare’. She said, “And this one is a hare too.” She crossed out the word ‘bees’ under the other light switch and wrote ‘hare’. Suddenly it all made sense in Hector’s mind. “Of course! Betty-Sue was just wearing a Mary-Lou T-shirt. It was still the same Betty-Sue beneath the T-shirt.” “How do you know about that?” his wife said. He tried to explain it but he sounded more confused than ever. And then my aunt Audrey threw a shoe at a bee. But some people say it was a moth. I was stung by a bee when I hit my head off a tree.

The moose’s head over the fireplace seemed to be falling asleep as I came into the room, but when I looked at it, it woke up suddenly. I stood at the window and looked out at the fields. The window was open. I could hear the sound of the birds and smell the evening air. Out of the corner of my eye, I could see the moose’s eyelids drooping.