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

Wednesday, February 09, 2005

The Story Book.

The frost stays on the ground for hours in the shade, but it’s much warmer where the sun shines. The dog is digging holes where the trees are at the end of the garden, as if he’s trying to find something he lost. I hope he doesn’t find the watch I lost there. He’d never give it back. I’d rather never find it again than give him the satisfaction of refusing to give it back to me.

My cousin Mike and his wife Louise bought a bike for the their son, Scott, on his birthday. Scott’s aunt gave him a pop-up story book. He didn’t bother reading the words, but he did enjoy looking through it to see the things that pop up. When his aunt asked him if he’d read it he said he had, but then his mother asked him what it was about. He remembered seeing a church steeple, a piece of cheese and a wolf, so he said, “There was a mouse in a church and they set a trap for it but he took the cheese from the trap, so then they sent in a wolf to kill the mouse, but they joined forces and they held the priest hostage for days until their demand for… for more cheese was met.” Scott’s parents both looked at his aunt. She said, “I’m sorry. I had no idea it was like that.” Louise had a few geese and she used to talk to them every morning when she fed them. She’d talk about the weather, or tell them how fat they were getting. But then one morning she seemed upset about something. Scott could clearly detect this in her voice as she told the geese about how all the coffee was gone and there was plenty of coffee there yesterday but this morning all the coffee was gone. And she always used another word just before ‘coffee’ (that’s how Scott knew she was upset about something). He wondered how she went from talking about the geese getting fat on one morning to complaining about the missing coffee on the next (‘missing’ wasn’t the word she used). After his success with guessing the story in the book by filling in the blanks between two points, he decided to use this technique here. He came up with an explanation within seconds. If she was talking about the geese getting fat yesterday and the missing coffee today, then the geese must have eaten the coffee. Whenever his mother wanted him to admit doing something wrong she’d say things like, “I have no idea who could have broken the flowerpot. It’s a mystery.” So she must have been telling the geese about the missing coffee so they’d feel guilty and admit it. There didn’t seem to be much chance of that happening. And Scott would have thought the idea of geese eating or drinking coffee would be unlikely too, so he decided to put that to the test. After his mother got some coffee in the shop, he made a big bowl of it and gave it to the geese, and they loved it. Scott went inside, but a few minutes later he heard a noise from the back garden. He looked out the window, and something was clearly upsetting the geese. They were running all over the place, flapping their wings and trampling on the flowerbeds. The most likely explanation for this would be the coffee. He went outside with his mother and she said, “What’s wrong with them?” Scott said, “Now let’s see if we can work this out. Yesterday you told them how fat they were getting, and today you told them about the coffee…” “Oh my God! They must be upset because I was upset. I never knew they were that sensitive.” On the following morning, Louise spoke to the geese in a very calm voice. She talked about how it was going to be a fine day, and how they were getting fat, but fat in a good way. She said they were looking better than ever. A few days later, Scott found a piece of string in the back garden. He picked it up and followed it, rolling it up as he went, but it led nowhere, so he put it back down again. The geese stared at him as he did this, wondering what he was doing. He didn’t really know what he was doing himself. There was nothing at the start or at the end of the string. If he knew the start or the end he could make up the middle. But now he has the middle and it’s just a piece of string. He talked about the pointlessness of the string, just lying on the ground, with nothing at the beginning or the end. He went back inside, but a few minutes later he heard the geese in the garden. They were upset about something again, and Scott wondered if it was because of what he said about the string, about the pointlessness of it. Maybe they really are that sensitive, he thought. He went outside and spoke to them about how nothing was really pointless, but it didn’t calm them down. He remembered how they just stared at him while he was rolling up the string and putting it down again, so he did that, and the geese started to calm down. Scott rolled up the string and then put it down where he picked it up, then he rolled it up and put it down again. He kept doing this, and the geese stared at him all of the time, but Scott found it depressing because it was so pointless. The only reason for it was to calm down the geese. He tried to think of a good reason for the string on the ground, but when the middle was just a piece of string he found it difficult to come up with a good beginning or end. He remembered the story he came up with about the pop-up book, and he realised that he could have been completely wrong about that. He went inside to get the book, and he brought it out to read it in front of the geese. They were fascinated by the things popping up from the pages, and they stayed completely quiet as he read. The story was actually about a woman who lived near the church. She left a piece of cheese on her kitchen table, and then she remembered how much her cat likes cheese, so she asked him not to eat it. But he did eat it and he blamed the mouse, and when he knocked over a bottle of milk on her front door he blamed a wolf in the woods. When he met the wolf, the cat ran away because he was afraid the wolf would be angry after being blamed for breaking the milk bottle. Scott thought about the piece of string again and he saw a possible explanation for it then. He told the geese that there was a wolf in the neighbourhood and his mother had tied it up with a piece of string to keep it away from the geese. She suspected that the string wouldn’t be strong enough to hold the wolf, so she asked it not to break free. After she left, the wolf did break free, and that’s why the geese get upset every time Scott goes into the house. The wolf must be hiding somewhere and he comes out every time Scott leaves. Scott was delighted with this explanation, and the geese looked happy too. Louise had gone for a walk with her sister and her sister’s new dog. They walked around the side of the house just then, and the dog barked when he saw the geese. He was only a Jack Russell, but Scott had never considered that his story might be true until he heard the bark. He ran away screaming through the fields. The geese just stood there and watched him go.

The moose’s head over the fireplace always seems to get a bit of a shock when the phone rings in the hall. And then when I come back into the room after talking on the phone it almost looks as if he’s on the verge of falling asleep. I suppose the sound of my voice from the hall does that to him. He looks intrigued by the sound of a tap dripping in another room - it must be a bit of a mystery to him. He takes no notice whatsoever of the sound of a swan ringing a bell. Maybe he would if he knew it was a swan.