'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Giving up smoking.

I walked all around the garden yesterday, along the paths. The grass is too wet to walk on, after all the rain and sleet and snow. Snow isn’t so nice when it comes with sleet and rain.

My cousin Charlotte decided to give up smoking, but some of her friends and family questioned her resolve, which only increased her resolve to give up smoking. But they were right to question her resolve. She couldn’t go a whole day without a cigarette. She still kept up the pretence that she had given them up, so she was always looking for chances to get away from the friends and family to have a smoke. Her parents, my aunt Joyce and uncle Cyril, had a party and invited all the family. A lot of them were staying for the whole weekend, so Charlotte knew she’d have very few chances to be on her own. On Friday afternoon, she went for a walk in the fields behind the house with a few of her cousins and friends. She was looking for a chance to get away to have a cigarette, but she noticed that the others seemed to be looking for something. When she asked them what it was, one of them said, “A jazz band.” They went on with their search and she returned to hers. She finally found a way out when she remembered that she’d promised to help her mother make some sandwiches, so she told them she had to go and left. On her way back to the house she went to the shed, lit a cigarette and sat on a deckchair. It was her last chance for a smoke until after midnight, when she slipped away from the party for a while and went into the back garden, but her cousin Hugh came out and caught her. She asked him not to tell anyone else about the smoking and he agreed. He said to her, “If you want to hide the smoking, coming out here in the dark is the last thing you should be doing. I saw a red light in the darkness and straightaway I said to myself, Charlotte is smoking again. Or if people think you’re acting suspiciously, going off on your own and that sort of thing, they’ll know what you’re up to. They’re all waiting for you to start smoking again. So don’t go off on your own. You should be doing the opposite of that. If you smoke in an environment where smoking is completely natural, and lots of other people are smoking too, no one will notice it.” Charlotte wasn’t so sure of this. She said, “People will notice me smoking.” But Hugh said, “They won’t if you’re completely natural about it. Come back into the party and casually light up a cigarette, and I guarantee no one will notice it.” Charlotte decided to give it a try because she knew she couldn’t hide the smoking for ever. So she went back into the party, lit a cigarette as casually as she could, and Hugh was right – no one noticed. He was delighted that his plan worked so well. He was talking to Joyce as Charlotte smoked, and she didn’t notice at all. She was even smoking herself. She was telling Hugh about how Cyril promised to cut down on the drink, but she had a suspicion that he was drinking behind her back. She said that when she came into the room the other day she had a feeling that he’d just hidden something under the sideboard, and she got a smell of drink from his breath. She was looking for a way to catch him red-handed. Hugh felt he could solve any problem then, and even as she was talking a plan was forming in his mind. He said, “What you need to do is leave a small red light in the back garden, then tell him you’re going out to have a cigarette. You go out and turn on this red light, then he looks out the window and thinks the light is your cigarette, so he thinks it’s safe to have a drink. Then you come back in and catch him in the act.” Joyce liked the idea, and she said she’d give it a try on the following evening. Charlotte had left the party again because she found it too nerve-wracking to be smoking in front of all those people. She preferred smoking on her own, even though there was a chance she’d be caught. She’d just have to look for excuses to get away from everyone for a few minutes. She went shopping in town with some of her cousins on the following afternoon, and she was able to go off on her own then. She had a beret and dark sunglasses in her handbag, and she put these on when she was smoking, just in case she bumped into anyone she knew. Her mother was shopping for a small red light, but she couldn’t find any. She had a battery operated lamp at home, and she bought a small red lampshade for that. When she brought it home she realised that it would look too big to be a burning cigarette if she left it in the garden, so she’d have to leave it in the field behind the house instead. She decided to test it in the evening just after the sun went down. She went into the field with the lamp and a small round table to hold it. Charlotte was already in the field, having a cigarette, and when she heard her mother coming she put it behind her back. She said she was just there to admire the sunset, and she never wondered why her mother had the small lamp on the table because she was more concerned about the cigarette behind her back. She couldn’t keep her hands there forever, and she started to think it was time to give up the pretence about giving up the cigarettes, but then a jazz band appeared over the hill. They walked towards Charlotte and her mother, and as they got closer, Charlotte could see that they looked very dishevelled. Their clothes were torn and dirty. They seemed to be exhausted too. The drummer carried a snare drum and some cymbals, and the cymbals made a noise with every step. Charlotte still had the beret and dark glasses in her handbag, so she took them out and put them on. She put the cigarette back in her mouth, and started snapping her fingers and nodding her head to the beat of the cymbals. When the jazz band reached Charlotte and Joyce, they all stopped. They were too tired to say anything. The trombone player fell over and Charlotte applauded. Joyce put down the table with the lamp and applauded as well.

The moose’s head over the fireplace looks as if he has to put a lot of effort into staying awake. The wife’s uncle was here last night and he has a very monotonous voice. Even though the things he was talking about were quite interesting, it was still difficult to stay awake because of the voice. After he’d gone, I was alone in the kitchen and when I heard the buzzing of the fridge I thought he said something about an otter dying in an unplanned explosion. I said, “Yeah,” and nodded my head. The moose’s head obviously hasn’t recovered yet.