'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Sound of the Wind

Work on the garden is starting to take up more time, but we have the extra daylight to do it. Although it feels like a waste of time when you spend half the evening looking for something the dog hid in a bucket.

My cousin Rachel was modelling a new dress at her sister’s house one evening. June, Rachel’s sister, has a pet duck called Sleepy, and he was in the kitchen too, but he shook his head when he saw the dress. Rachel was very disappointed with this reaction, but June said, “Don’t take any notice of what Sleepy thinks. He’s just a duck. And he’s asleep anyway.” Sleepy walked across the kitchen and flew onto a chair. “He’s sleepwalking,” June said. “And sleep-flying.” But Rachel didn’t believe her. June said, “The opinion of a duck doesn’t really matter when it comes to dresses. He just likes bright coloured clothes. Or bright coloured anything. If you were wearing a bright red cardboard box he’d prefer it to the dress.” At the same time, my cousin Ronan was sitting at a bare wooden table with some friends of his. The only sound was from a clock ticking on the wall. There was no carpet on the floor. Ronan looked towards the window. The wind howled outside. When a woman coughed they all looked towards her, and she looked down at her hands. Ronan was the first to break the silence. He said, “I know people have accused us of being too self-critical in the past, but this must be the worst performance of Grease ever.” The audience woke up and said, “Is it over yet?” “You can go home now,” Ronan said. The other members of the Amateur Dramatics Society hadn’t spoken in the past half-hour, and it was another ten minutes before a woman sitting at the table said, “Why don’t we do ‘My Fair Lady’ instead.” They all agreed to that because they were sick of Grease. The next time Rachel visited her sister, she wore a brighter dress. Sleepy didn’t shake his head this time, but he didn’t nod either. “He still doesn’t approve of it,” Rachel said. Sleepy has always admired Alec Guinness, and June keeps a photo of him on top of the fridge, just in case she ever needs to distract the duck. So she picked up the photo and held it over Rachel’s shoulder. Sleepy started nodding his head, and June said, “See. He does like the dress.” Rachel nodded too. Ronan was on the stage, pacing from one end of the set to the other. He stopped at the window and looked out at the painted landscape, a bleak winter scene. There was a tear in the eye of one of the women sitting at the table. “This is even worse than Grease,” Ronan said. “At least it’s just a rehearsal.” The woman at the table broke down in tears and Ronan said, “We might as well go home now.” As he walked home he thought about giving up on My Fair Lady, but when he stepped into the kitchen, the first thing he saw was a teapot with ‘I’m a little teapot’ written on it (his mother had just bought it) and he realised where they were going wrong with the musicals. The set on the stage was just a room with bare floorboards and a bare wooden table. It looked too depressing, and they needed something much lighter for Grease or My Fair Lady. So the next day he took the teapot to the theatre and put it on the table. It lightened the atmosphere, and he kept adding in little things, like flowers or bright curtains. Rachel was doing her best to impress the duck. Every time she visited she wore a very colourful dress, and she even started wearing flowers in her hair. June kept holding up the photo of Alec Guinness, and Rachel was always happy when Sleepy nodded. When Ronan saw Rachel wearing a very bright dress with a flower in her hair, he asked her if she’d take a part in My Fair Lady. She could sing too, and Ronan realised the other thing that had been missing from their attempted musicals - music. On the day of the first performance, Ronan thought of one other thing he could add to the set to lighten the mood. A sleeping duck on the stage was just the thing he needed. June agreed to allow Sleepy make his musical debut, but she suggested hanging a photo of Alec Guinness on the wall if Rachel was to be in it too. Rachel didn’t mind sharing a stage with Sleepy because she got to wear a bright dress and a hat with flowers in it. When June saw the set with the photo on the wall, she was reminded of the film version of Great Expectations with Alec Guinness. That was one of Sleepy’s favourite films. The duck was asleep on the stage when the curtain rose, but he woke when Rachel started singing. He looked around him and started shaking his head. He turned around and walked away, shaking his head as he looked down. June got the impression that he was thinking, “This must be the worst performance of Great Expectations ever.” He sat down at the edge of the stage and went to sleep. Rachel had been watching him out of the corner of her eye. She stopped singing when she saw him shaking his head. There was a coat hanging from a hook on the door. When Sleepy went to sleep, Rachel put the coat on, put the hat on the ground and sat down at the table in silence. The only sound was from the ticking of the clock and the howling wind outside.

The moose’s head over the fireplace seems to be enjoying the extra daylight too. It’s nice to be able to stand at the window in the evening and look out at colours other than black. I’d have thought that the moose’s head would find the extra daylight sad because of the memories it would bring of summer days in the hills and valleys when he had a body, but he seems quite happy on the wall, as if he’s in retirement now. You could understand why the hen in the painting would be surprised to see a moose’s head in a retirement home on a wall over a fireplace.