'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, December 15, 2004

With a mop.

When you go to the back of the garden you can see for miles around. It’s nice to stand there as the sun goes down, sometimes looking at the lights of a car on a distant road, and not seeing any Christmas lights at all. Just occasionally it’s nice not to see Christmas lights.

My uncle Ben went to boarding school when he was young and he was always seen as the intelligent one in the family because of his expensive education. His grandson, Scott, went to a normal school, but his parents often worried about the quality of his education. When he came home from school one afternoon, his mother said to him, “What did you learn in school today?” Scott held up his finger. There was a piece of Selotape stuck to it. His mother asked him again what he’d learnt. He pointed to his finger and said, “We learnt how to do that.” She just stared at him for a while, and then she mentioned something about the benefits of boarding school. She didn’t really mean it, but Scott believed there was a real chance he’d be sent away if he didn’t improve academically. So the next day when he came home from school and his mother asked him what he’d learnt, he held up his hand and this time there was a pencil case stuck to it. He thought this was a huge improvement on the piece of Selotape, but his mother just stared at him again. At first he wondered if it was a look of awe or pity. The longer the look went on, the more he went for the latter. He could feel the possibility of boarding school growing all the time. On one Saturday, my cousin Hector came to visit with his wife and his two daughters, Alice and Grace, and they were able to take Scott’s mind off things. He had a pet mouse called Mousey (he couldn’t think of a better name), and they spent a lot of time playing with Mousey. Grace always associated mice with blindness because of the song ‘Three Blind Mice’. When the mouse got tired of playing with them, Grace said, “He’s probably just blind.” Alice asked her why she thought the mouse would be blind, and it was only then she realised that the only reason she associated mice with blindness was because of the song, so she said, “Three out of every… four mice are blind.” Scott had never thought of that before, but it would explain why Mousey runs around aimlessly at times. Scott’s grandfather, my uncle Ben, dropped by too. The kids always asked him questions when he was around because he was so intelligent. There was a painting of a ship in the hall, and Grace asked Ben how they clean ships. He said, “With a mop.” A few minutes later, Alice asked him how they clean horses and he also said, “With a mop.” That was the answer he gave when they asked how trees, mice and roller coasters are cleaned, and the kids started to wonder if he really was as intelligent as everyone believed him to be. What finally convinced him that he wasn’t very clever was when Grace asked him how they clean space ships and he said, “With a mop.” Scott realised that he if could convince his mother that his grandfather didn’t benefit intellectually from his stay in the boarding school, then she’d forget the idea of sending him there. He told Alice and Grace about his problem and they said they’d surely come up with some way of highlighting Ben’s lack of intelligence. They saw the perfect opportunity when they met Ben in the hall later in the day. He was looking back and forth between a barometer and his watch. He said that his watch was slow and he wanted to find the right time. Scott said that the clock on the mantelpiece in the sitting room is always right, and Ben said he’d check it later. Alice came up with the idea of putting the barometer on the mantelpiece instead of the clock, and if Scott’s mother, Louise, saw Ben looking at the barometer and saying, “This clock doesn’t work,” she’d see that he’s not as clever as everyone thinks he is. So they took the barometer from the wall and put it on the mantelpiece. They hid the clock. Scott had Mousey with him, and he put the mouse on the mantelpiece as they were making the switch. As the mouse was walking across the mantelpiece, he went behind a vase, pushing it forward. It rocked for a while and then fell over, breaking on the tiles below. “See! I told you he was blind,” Grace said. They were able to glue the vase together again, and they put it back on the mantelpiece. They just had to leave the room for a while and wait for Ben to come in and try to check the time on the barometer. As they were leaving, Grace saw Mousey on the ground. She thought he’d get lost if he was left to run around on his own, so she caught him by the tail and put him into the vase for his own safety. They went to watch TV in another room. When Ben went into the sitting room to check the time he went to the barometer, but he couldn’t make head nor tail of it. This was just like the clock in the hall. He wondered if this clock had stopped, so he bent over and put his ear near it to listen for a ticking sound. He couldn’t hear anything from the clock, but he heard a noise from somewhere else on the mantelpiece. He slowly moved over towards the vase and he heard the noise again. He put his ear up against the vase. He could hear something scratching on the inside, but he couldn’t figure out what it was. In the other room, the kids were watching a documentary about space. An astronaut was talking to the camera, but the kids were much more interested in what was going on in the background. Another astronaut was cleaning the space shuttle, floating around the place with a mop in his hand. The kids realised that they were wrong about Ben. He really was as clever as everyone believed him to be. They rushed to the sitting room where they had left the barometer. Louise was already there, and so was Ben. He was walking around the room with the vase stuck to the side of his head and Louise was just staring at him, with a look of awe on her face, or at least that’s the way Scott read the look. He resigned himself to going to boarding school then. There he was, sticking pieces of Selotape to his finger or pencil cases to his hand, and he never once thought of sticking something to the side of his head, let alone a vase. The mouse raised his head over the top of the vase and Scott put his head in his hands. He just stuck a piece of Selotape to his finger and his grandfather stuck a vase with a mouse in it to the side of his head, a blind mouse. Scott saw his grandfather as a genius after that, but he never was sent to boarding school. He assumed it was because his parents believed that he’d never reach the academic heights of his grandfather.

The moose’s head over the fireplace is looking very happy with himself after he had a good laugh at my expense. I was looking around the room for my glasses, and every time I turned my back I thought I heard him laughing. The thought eventually dawned on me that he was laughing at me because I’d left the glasses on top of my head, but when I put my hand on my head they weren’t there at all. I found them a few hours later. They were hanging around my neck. I didn’t even know I had one of those things for hanging them around my neck.