'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Fig Ringbow-Shed

I stood in the orchard as the sun went down. It gets very dark in there, and it’s getting dark earlier these days. I could see a few stars above through the leaves.

My cousin Ronan met up with another cousin, Gary, on one Saturday afternoon, and they were talking about some of the things they used to do when they were young, like looking for stupid names in the phone book, and calling the numbers. Ronan said, “Do you remember Fig Ringbow-Shed?” “No.” “That was one of the names.” “That’s stupid.” “Yeah well that’s why we phoned his number.” “You just made that up.” “I didn’t. I’ll prove it.” Ronan got the phone book and looked through it, but he couldn’t find Fig Ringbow-Shed, or any Ringbow-Shed. Gary said, “You’re just imagining it.” But Ronan was determined to prove it. He was sure that Fig Ringbow-Shed lived not too far away, so he asked everyone if they’d ever heard of him. Uncle Ben said, “I once knew someone called Delia Ringbow-Shed.” “Did she have a brother called Fig? Or a sister?” Ben thought about it for a while and said he couldn’t remember anyone called Fig Ringbow-Shed. Gary said, “That’s because Ronan made it up.” Ronan said, “Well I didn’t make up the surname.” “Yeah, but how likely is it that someone would be called ‘Fig’?” “It’s more likely than someone having ‘Ringbow-Shed’ as a surname. And someone does.” “Yeah, but how likely is it that someone would have ‘Fig’ as a first name and ‘Ringbow-Shed’ as a surname?” “Very likely. Because someone does.” Gary still insisted that Ronan was just imagining it. Ronan kept asking everyone if they had heard of Fig Ringbow-Shed, and his mother, Aunt Bridget, was getting sick of it. When she was talking to my cousin Jane, she said, “If Ronan asks about Fig Ringbow-Shed, just change the subject.” Jane had no idea what her aunt was talking about, and she didn’t want to ask. She didn’t know how to change the subject either, so she said, “I have to go and play a game of tennis now.” She left to meet her friend, Claudia, and they went to the tennis courts. At deuce in Claudia’s first service game, just as she was getting ready to serve, she said, “There were all sorts of snow ghosts in the last four miles.” Then she served and it was an ace. Jane didn’t even move for it. She said, “You just said that to put me off.” “No I didn’t.” “You did. Why else would you say it?” “What’s off-putting about it?” “You just said that to put me off.” “What did you think I said?” Jane wondered if she heard it wrong, and she didn’t want to say anything about snow ghosts, so she said, “Just get on with the game.” When Jane was serving at a crucial point in the next set, she said, “Fig Ringbow-Shed is coming around for tea,” and then she served an ace. Claudia said, “Why did you say that?” “What did you think I said?” “It sounded like ‘Fig Ringbow-Shed is coming around for tea’.” “That’s right.” “You definitely just said that to put me off.” “I didn’t. He is coming around for tea. Tomorrow.” “Who’s Fig Ringbow-Shed?” “He’s a friend of mine.” “I’d love to meet someone called Fig Ringbow-Shed.” “Fine. You can come around for tea too.” Ronan and Gary were due to call over that evening, and Jane thought she could just ask Ronan if he’d introduce her to Fig, but then she remembered that Bridget said to avoid the subject of Fig Ringbow-Shed. When Ronan and Gary arrived, Claudia and Jane were talking to them in the back garden, and Jane said nothing about Fig at first, as she was trying to figure out how to approach the subject. But then Claudia said that Fig Ringbow-Shed was coming around for tea tomorrow. Ronan was delighted with this news. He said, “So Fig Ringbow-Shed does exist?” and he looked at Gary as he said it. Jane said, “Of course he exists. He’s coming around for tea.” Ronan asked if he could meet Fig, and Jane said of course he could. As she tried to find a way out of this mess, the phone rang inside and she went to answer it. David, a friend of hers, was on the phone, and she thought about asking David if he’d pretend to be Fig Ringbow-Shed, but then she remembered that Claudia knows David too. But she found a way around this problem. She asked him if he’d pretend to be Fig on the phone, and when she went outside she said, “That was Fig Ringbow-Shed on the phone just now. He can’t make it for tea tomorrow.” Claudia said, “Because he doesn’t exist,” and Gary nodded. Jane said, “No, he does. You can talk to him on the phone if you want, Ronan.” “That’d be just perfect,” Ronan said. So Jane dialled the number for him, and when David answered, Ronan said, “Hello, I’m looking for Fig Ringbow-Shed.” “Yes. My name is Fig Ringbow-Shed.” When Ronan made those prank phone calls he’d just say something like ‘you’re Fig Ringbow-Shed’, then laugh and hang up. This didn’t seem appropriate any more. Earlier in the day his mother asked him if he knew anyone who wanted to buy a kettle, because a friend of hers had one to sell. He had said, “Why would I know anyone who wants to buy a kettle?” When he was on the phone and under pressure to come up with something, this was the only thing he could think of, so he said, “My cousin Jane was saying you wanted to buy a kettle.” David thought he should play along with this too, so he said, “Yes. I do.” Ronan said that he had a kettle to sell, and they arranged to meet on the following day. This would have been okay, but Claudia said she’d like to meet Fig, and Ronan said she was more than welcome to come along. Jane came up with another idea. She just had to keep Claudia away from David while Ronan was around, so she suggested that they meet Fig at a town fete in the park on the following day. She thought she had a better chance keeping people away from each other with so many distractions around them. Ronan went home to ask his mother if he could buy the kettle. At the fete on the next day, Jane wanted to get rid of Claudia, so she said she heard that Darren was there and Nicole was spending a lot of time with him. Claudia left straightaway to find Darren. Jane waited for Ronan and Gary to arrive so she could introduce them to David, but before they got there, Uncle Ben arrived with a woman who Jane had never seen before. He said, “I’d like you to meet Delia Watson, formerly Delia Ringbow-Shed before she married Billy Watson. I had completely forgotten about this, but she used to be known as ‘Fig’ because of… Why did you get that nickname?” “I’d rather not talk about that,” Delia said. Jane said, “It’s lovely to meet you,” and then she turned to her uncle and said, “But I don’t think you should introduce Delia to Ronan. He’d be very embarrassed after making those phone calls.” Ben said, “That’s exactly why I brought her along,” and Delia said, “And that’s exactly why I came along.” Jane looked around and saw a way of getting rid of Ben. She pointed at someone and said, “Isn’t he the bee-keeper who made fun of your attempt to keep bees?” Ben said, “Oh yes. I need to have a word with him,” and he left them. Jane said to Delia, “He could be gone for a while. Why don’t I introduce you to Ronan.” They went over to where David was waiting and Jane said, “This is my cousin Ronan. Ronan, this is Delia Watson, who used to be Fig Ringbow-Shed.” She winked at David, and he said, “I’m very pleased to meet you.” Delia said, “I’m glad you’re so happy to meet me now. I’m delighted you got so much entertainment from my name alone. And I’m very pleased to meet you too because now I can get that same entertainment from just looking at you.” David said, “Look, I just came here to buy a kettle, not to be insulted.” Jane got rid of David by saying that Nicole was there and Darren was spending a lot of time with her. Jane and Delia found Ben with Aunt Bridget, and Delia said, “I just met Ronan. He told me he came here to buy a kettle, not to be insulted.” Bridget said, “I’d love to know what he’s buying all those kettles for. I knew he was up to something.” Jane thought she might just get out of this, but then Ronan and Gary arrived, and within seconds, Claudia and David came over to join them. Jane was afraid that Ronan would ask her where Fig is, that Bridget would ask Ronan what he was up to with the kettles, that Claudia would call David by his real name, or… She was sure there were lots of other things she didn’t want to happen too, and she was sure at least one of them would happen before too long, so before anyone had a chance to say anything, she said, “The snow ghosts looked very, very happy, not to mention numerous, and tall, taller than when I last saw them, but then the spider lights would have made them seem… and the man from the sound…” They all stared at her. She pointed at something behind them and said, “Look at what Darren and Nicole are doing in front of the girl guides.” When they all turned around she just ran away.

The moose’s head over the fireplace has been trying to look dignified recently, while the wife is painting his portrait. Yesterday the dog coughed up a shoe lace in front of the fireplace. The moose’s head tried to ignore him, and continued looking dignified. But he seems slightly less dignified than he was before.