'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

It's Santa... Or...

The word ‘severe’ has started to reappear in the weather forecast. We had our first severe frost of the year over the weekend. I don’t mind the cold because at least it means the skies are clear. The setting sun lights up the branches of the bare trees in the garden. With a sky full of stars I watched a full moon rise from behind the trees.

My cousin Ted fell in love with a woman called Anne, but he believed it would always be an unrequited love. He thought she was out of his league. Everyone else thought so too. I certainly did. I remember saying that to him on more than one occasion, and his friends used every possible occasion to remind him. He knew that one day she’d slip beyond his grasp forever, and he saw that day fast approaching when she entered a beauty contest called Miss Today. Past winners were given the title Miss Yesterday Today, and the press referred to the favourite for the contest as Miss Tomorrow. The contestants always thought that the title Miss Tomorrow sounded better than Miss Today because it made them seem younger, so they all focussed on being Miss Tomorrow. At first this wasn’t a huge problem for the organisers of the contest because the person regarded as Miss Tomorrow was always the most likely to become Miss Today, but on one year a contestant called Misty Morrow was crowned Miss Tomorrow based on photographs, radio interviews and her name. She seemed perfect as a Miss Today, but she was focussing completely on becoming Miss Tomorrow, and in the Miss Today contest she revealed that one of her legs was three inches shorter than the other. She couldn’t really avoid revealing it then, given the nature of the dress code. Nobody noticed this in the photos because she was always sitting down with her legs crossed. All of the contestants were required to exhibit some skill, such as singing or playing a musical instrument. Hers was running in circles. The organisers of the contest realised that they had to do something to make the crown of Miss Today more attractive than Miss Tomorrow, and they went for the most obvious way. They doubled the prize money. Anne was desperate to win, and a lot of people thought she’d do it. She received a lot of attention from the local press in the months leading up to the contest, which only made Ted even more depressed about the situation. She seemed to be climbing further up the league table all the time, slipping out of his grasp. His friends used to make fun of him. They were in an elevator one day and one of them got out a marker and wrote: ‘Anne Murphy loves Ted Seaward-Shannon. That’s the other Anne Murphy – the one with the wooden shoulder.’ My cousin crossed out the bit about the other Anne Murphy, so it just said ‘Anne Murphy loves Ted Seaward-Shannon.’ A film was shot in the area a few months before the contest. The budget was running low near the end of the filming, and they still had to shoot a scene in a space craft. The director decided to film it in an elevator, as they went up and down. He thought this would make the weightlessness look more realistic. He didn’t notice the graffiti in the background, but everyone noticed it when the film came out. This was just a few weeks before the contest, and Anne was becoming a bit of a celebrity at the time. The press tracked down my cousin, and Anne received more attention than ever, so she played along with the story. She pretended that she loved Ted. It must have been a very difficult pretence to keep up, but she was hoping to be an actress, so she probably saw this role as practise. They spent a lot of time together before the contest, and she found that he wasn’t as stupid as she’d always believed him to be. She was starting to like him, but it was a long way from the love he felt for her. She narrowly missed out on the Miss Tomorrow title, but she was confident that she’d excel in the actual competition (Miss Tomorrow was only five foot tall). During the pageant, all of the contestants were asked questions about current affairs, and most of them didn’t understand the questions, but they all memorised the same sample question: “Which is better, good or bad?” And they memorised the answer ‘good’. In the pageant they chose the answer closest to ‘good’. It would be fatal to their chances if it looked as if they didn’t understand the question – giving the ‘bad’ answer would be preferable to that. The contestant before Anne was asked, “If war and peace fell over on the street, which one would you help to its feet first?” She didn’t even try to understand the question. She just said ‘peace’ straightaway and the audience applauded. Anne was doing a PhD in early English literature, and she thought she’d get by without memorising the sample question and answer. But the question she was asked was: “If Santa, the Easter Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and a leprechaun were stuck in an elevator, who’d win?” All of the other contestants had answered their questions straightaway, but Anne just stared at the host. He eventually said, “Do you want me to repeat the question?” She said, “Yes, please,” and he read out the question again. This time she looked down at the stage, with her finger on her chin. After about thirty seconds, the host said, “Take as much time as you want.” She looked up at the lights above her and said, “Ahmmm…” Again there was a long silence, before she eventually said, “I’m not sure I understand the question.” It was the host’s turn to stare at her then. There was complete silence from the audience. Anne didn’t win the contest and she wasn’t one of the runners-up. She felt as if she’d slipped way down the league table, hovering above the relegation zone. Ted was there to talk about how stupid the whole contest was and how if he was in the elevator he would have won. That’s how he won her heart – the blow to her self-esteem and his claims about beating Santa, the Eater Bunny, the Tooth Fairy and a leprechaun in a lift.

The moose’s head over the fireplace looks slightly confused. I was working on a thousand-piece jigsaw in the room a few days ago. It was a photo of horses in a river, and as the image gradually took shape I could see the moose’s head becoming increasingly concerned. I had forgotten how much he hates horses. So I covered his eyes with a cloth and replaced the jigsaw of horses with one of a shovel. I think that’s the source of his confusion.