'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Taking books to the shed.

I looked at the trees as the sun went down. The sun is staying up for longer these days. The bleak mid-winter seems like false advertising when you notice things like that.

My cousin Hugh bought a lamp for Aunt Bridget’s birthday. Uncle Harry had a party for her, but he wasn’t allowed say how old she was. “I don’t know,” is what he’d say when people would ask him. “I don’t care,” is what he’d say when people asked him again. When Hugh was walking up the garden path with the lamp, he couldn’t see where he was going because the box was so big and he tripped over a hose. The box fell and he heard something breaking inside, which he assumed must be the lamp. He hoped it wasn’t the lamp, but seeing as that was the only thing in the box it was unlikely to be anything else, so he wasn’t hugely surprised to find it broken. But just one small piece of it had broken off, so there was still hope of retrieving it. He thought it could be glued back together, and his uncle Harry gave him some glue. He went to a room upstairs and took the lamp out of the box. He put some glue around the edges of the broken bit, but then he dropped the glue into the box. He put his hand in the box and felt around, and he felt something sticky at the bottom of it. He said to himself, “Now what could that be?” He spent about a minute trying to figure out what it was, giving the glue plenty of time to set before he finally thought of glue. His hand was stuck to the bottom of the box, but with his free hand he put the broken piece of the lamp back in its rightful home, and he left it there to set. He went downstairs, and rather than admit that he had got his hand stuck to a box, he walked around with his hand in the box and he told people he was carrying it. Naturally someone eventually asked him where he was carrying it to and that was the one detail he didn’t think of when he came up with the story about carrying the box, so he just said the first thing that came into his head. “I’m carrying it to the shed.” And obviously someone eventually asked him the most pertinent question of all: what’s in the box? That’s the other thing he didn’t think of. This time he said, “Just some old books.” After spending twenty minutes walking around the house, bumping into people, he realised that the walking around the house and bumping into people was a major flaw in his plan, especially as he was telling them he was going to the shed with some books. But then all of the details in his plan fell into place. The thing to do would be to just go to the shed, so he did. On his way he met Uncle Harry in the kitchen. Harry said to Hugh, “I need your help. You’ve got to get everyone out of…” But Hugh interrupted him. “I’m taking some books to the shed,” he said, and continued on his way there. He was disappointed to find the shed locked, but that wasn’t a major problem because he didn’t really want to go to the shed anyway. He just needed somewhere quiet to think about how to rid himself of the box. He walked into the back garden and met his cousin Jane. She said to him, “Do I have a hairpin in my hair?” He suggested that she look in a mirror but she said she’d have to go all the way to the house to check that, and he asked her why she didn’t just feel her hair with her hands and she said her hands were wet. When he asked her why she didn’t dry her hands she said, “Same reason as the last one.” But then he thought that being stuck to a box shouldn’t prevent him from looking at someone’s hair anyway, so he looked and couldn’t find a hairpin. She thanked him, and he walked on down the garden path until he got to the point where the path forks off in two directions. Daisy and Graham, my cousin June’s kids, had put up a little signpost with two signs for Aunt Bridget’s pet peacock. One of the signs said ‘To the fair’ and the other one said ‘Some earth’. There was a little sun drawn in blue ink over the word ‘earth’. Hugh wondered which way he should go. He wanted to avoid the kids, and they’d probably go where the peacock would go, so he should go the other way. He tried to put himself in the position of the peacock, and wondered which path it would follow. Hugh thought it would go to the fair because it would want to show off its feathers in public, so he took the other one, but when he turned the next corner he came across a group of people watching the peacock fight with a small mechanical robot made of tin. It looked as if Daisy and Graham had arranged this. When someone asked Hugh what he was doing with the box he said, “I’m taking some books to the shed,” and he backed away from them. He retraced his steps and went down the other path. This one was much quieter. He sat on a garden seat and tried to figure out how to remove his hand from the box, but the sight of the peacock fighting with the robot reminded him of The Wizard of Oz. The robot was like the Tin Man and the Scarecrow in one - it seemed to scare the peacock anyway. And the path he was following wasn’t exactly the yellow brick road, but it was still a path he was following. He wondered if Jane was the lion. But then, that would make him Dorothy. He’d rather be the lion, and when he thought about it, it made more sense for Jane to be Dorothy. Instead of looking for home, she was looking for a hairpin. “But if I’m the lion,” he said to himself, “that would suggest that courage is the one thing I need.” The thing that this suggested to Hugh was that he should just pull his hand away from the box. So he put the box on the ground and stood in it, with his feet at either side of his hand. Just as he was about to pull his hand away, his cousin Chloe came along and asked him what he was doing. At first he was going to say the first thing that came into his head, but then he thought, no, have courage. “I’m standing in an effing box.” Only he didn’t say ‘effing’. Chloe was delighted with this. She shouted out, “Hey, come here. Hugh is standing in a box.” She didn’t say ‘effing’ or anything. Everyone came along to see him, and then he wished he’d told her the first thing that came into his head, which was that he’d lost his shoes, but that didn’t come into his head for about a minute after she’d asked him. Everyone stared at him for a while and then someone asked him what he was doing in the box. “What does it look like I’m doing?” he said, and Chloe said, “Apart from just standing in a box, it looks like you’re holding onto something.” This was heading in a slightly more promising direction for Hugh. He said he was holding onto Aunt Bridget’s birthday present but then someone asked him why he’d need to stand on it and he said he had to hold it down, so then someone asked him if this thing was alive and he said it was, and then someone said that if it was alive before then it surely wouldn’t be alive any more with Hugh standing on it. Hugh said nothing for a few seconds, and the breather gave him time to see the flaw in his plan. He should really be Dorothy, not the lion. There really is no place like home. So he headed straight for the house as fast as he could, which wasn’t very fast because his feet were still in the box and he was jumping along. Everyone else was walking just behind him. When he got to the end of the path he fell over a kerb, and his hand finally became detached from the box. Chloe picked up the box and said, “There’s nothing at all in this.” Everyone looked at Hugh, but the only thing he could think of saying was something about taking books to the shed, so he said nothing. Chloe said, “Wait a minute. He’s just trying to distract us from something.” Hugh remembered what his uncle said to him earlier, something about getting people out of something, so he said, “Maybe I am.” They all ran into the house, and they found Uncle Harry in the dining room. The dog was sound asleep on the sofa, with his paws in the air, and there was a strong smell of alcohol in the room. The birthday cake on the table looked as if it had been iced very recently. There was also a violin on the table. Everyone looked very suspiciously at Uncle Harry, but he just smiled back at them. Aunt Bridget asked him what was going on, and he said, “Nothing at all’s going on,” and then he winked a few times at Hugh. They all turned towards Hugh, looking very suspiciously at him, but he didn’t mind because at least they weren’t wondering how he stuck his own hand to a box.

The moose’s head over the fireplace looks bored. I’d like to be able to help him out in that respect, but what do you do to make the life of a moose’s head more interesting? Taking him for walks would be tricky. He doesn’t have the body to carry his own head, and carrying it myself would look odd. The wife suggested a pram but that wouldn’t be any less odd. It’d be difficult to think of a odder baby. I’m not sure he’d appreciate a walk in the woods anyway. He must have seen more than enough woodland in his life.