'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Steve McQueen

Out in the garden with the trees and the sky, complete silence, apart from the sound of the birds, which is nowhere near silence. There are hundreds of birds around the place and they’re about as silent as big metal things hitting off other big metal things. You wouldn’t choose to locate your garden around big metal things that hit off each other, but you get used to the birds.

My cousin Jane once made little straw hats for the garden gnomes in her parents’ garden. When she lifted one of the hats on a beautiful July morning, she saw that the gnome beneath was wearing a tiny pair of sunglasses, and she wondered where he could have got those from. She went for a walk down a quiet road with her friend Claudia, who said she had a vague memory of picking blackberries on this road a few summers ago when a man who looked just like Steve McQueen went by on a motorbike just like the one Steve McQueen used in The Great Escape. Jane said, “You probably just dreamt it.” When they got back to her house, she told Claudia about the tiny pair of sunglasses on one of the garden gnomes, and she lifted the hat to show her, but the sunglasses were gone. She lifted the hats on all of the other gnomes too, but there was no sign of the sunglasses. Claudia said, “You’re the one who’s dreaming things… I’m sure I had a straw hat when the man who looked like Steve McQueen went by.” When they met again in the afternoon, they were both wearing straw hats. They went for a walk down the road to pick some blackberries. They used the hats to hold the berries, but they regretted this after about twenty minutes. The sun was strong, and they really needed the hats on their heads. They were talking about a film they had seen, but they stopped when they heard a buzzing sound from somewhere. They thought it was a bee or a wasp, but the sound was getting louder all the time. They turned around and saw a tiny motorbike with a sidecar coming down the road. One of the garden gnomes was in the sidecar. A small plastic man was on the motorbike, and he was wearing the sunglasses. Jane’s younger brother, Tommy, was standing in the front garden of their house with his friend Darren, who was holding the radio control for the motorbike. This was Darren’s birthday present. They put the garden gnome in the sidecar and they were playing with it in the garden, but they turned their backs for a few seconds and when they turned around again it was gone. Jane and Claudia watched it go by and disappear around the corner. Neither of them said a word. They were both afraid to mention the motorbike in case the sun had affected their heads and they were just imagining it. Jane eventually broke the silence. She said, “I liked that bit with Keanu Reeves and the garden centre.” “Yeah.”

The moose’s head over the fireplace has been staring straight ahead for days. It started when a nephew of mine stood on a chair in front of the fireplace and swung a watch in front of the moose’s eyes. When he stared straight ahead, I thought he was just pretending to get rid of my nephew. That’s what I did, although the plan broke down when he told me to bark like a dog. I ran like a man trying to get away from my nephew instead. He told the moose to make the sound a moose makes, something he hasn’t been doing in a while, but the moose retained his dignity by staring straight ahead. He made my nephew look like a bit of a fool, standing on a chair with the watch in his hand, and to retain his dignity he said to the moose, “Just stare straight ahead instead,” something he’s been doing pretty much non-stop ever since. I tried all the usual things, like snapping my fingers in front of his face. Actually, that’s the only thing I tried because it’s the only usual thing I could think of. There’s horse racing on the TV today. If that doesn’t snap him out of it, nothing will.