'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Strawberry Jam

September is just around the corner. The grass is slowing down now, in its upward growth. It never really moves any other way, and I’m all in favour of that. One direction is enough for it.

My cousin Isobel had a go at growing strawberries in a field behind her house, and she was very happy with the crop she produced. She tried making strawberry jam, and she was even happier with the results of this. For weeks she was taking jars of jam around to her relatives and friends, and telling them about how she made it. When she met my cousin Hector she spoke for half an hour about the finer points of jam making, and he couldn’t get a word in edgeways. He was trying to tell her about a helicopter ride he’d won in a table quiz at his local pub. He was the only one who knew how many times Bobby (one of the barmen) tried to climb a lamp post outside the pub on the previous Christmas when he was trying to get in through an upstairs window. Hector was glad he counted.

After she left, he decided to try some of the jam, but he couldn’t get the top off it. His brother, Albert, was there too (he was going to accompany Hector on the helicopter ride), and he had a go at it. He couldn't get it off either, but he didn’t give up so easily.

Isobel had also given some of the jam to my cousin Jane, and she was supposed to call around with another jar of it. When Jane was in the back garden with her friend Claudia, she said, “Isobel will be calling around with her snoozeberry jam.”

“Why do you call it snoozeberry jam?”

“Because it’d put you to sleep when she talks about her strawberry jam.”

“Oh… Is it something she puts in it?”

“No, it’s nothing to do with the jam itself. It’s just the way she goes on and on about it.”

When Hector was in the helicopter, he noticed a tree he’d seen before. He said to Albert in the back, “There’s the tree where you said that squirrel was looking at you.”

When he looked back, Albert was still trying to get the top off the jam. “Leave that thing alone,” Hector said. He looked down again, and he saw a familiar figure walking on the road. It was Isobel. He asked the pilot if they could get out for a while, so they landed in a field. Hector and Albert went out. Hector just wanted to see if Isobel could open the jam jar. He was hoping she would, just to embarrass his brother, but she couldn’t open it either. She wasn’t paying much attention to it really. She had never seen a helicopter land in a field before, and she was even more surprised when her two cousins came out of it. She didn’t know what to think when they asked her to open a jam jar.

She looked dazed when she arrived at Jane’s place. Jane said, “Have you any more interesting stories about the jam?” and she winked at Claudia.Isobel said, “On my way here, a helicopter landed in a field next to the road. Hector and Albert got out. They asked me to open a jam jar, but I couldn’t. They thanked me anyway, and then they got back into the helicopter and flew off again.”

She stared ahead as she spoke. Jane stared at her for a while, then she said, “Why don’t we go inside for some tea.”

When Isobel was out of earshot, Claudia whispered, “She’s definitely putting something in the jam.”

“Well maybe she is now,” Jane said. “Because she’s never come up with anything as interesting as that. Her stories are normally just about making jam.”

They went into the kitchen and Jane made the tea. She was very tempted to try some of the jam that Isobel brought, and so was Claudia, but they thought it might be dangerous. Isobel was still staring into space. Claudia eventually whispered, “I’ll try some if you do too.”

So they both made sandwiches with the jam, and they ate the sandwiches at exactly the same time. They didn’t move for a few minutes, waiting for the effect of the jam to take hold. Jane smiled and nodded, and then Claudia nodded too, and laughed a little bit. They went outside in the back garden again, moving very slowly, carefully examining everything they saw.

As they stood on the grass they saw a butterfly in the sky. As it got nearer, they could hear the sound of a helicopter, but they kept staring at the butterfly. “The colours are beautiful,” Jane said. The sound got louder - it sounded very much like a helicopter landing right behind them, but they didn’t turn around. They looked at the butterfly as it landed on the back of a chair. It flew away to the sound of a helicopter taking off, and the three of them kept looking at it until it disappeared, the sound fading away.

They only turned around when they heard voices behind them. Hector and Albert were standing there, and Albert was covered in jam. “I got it open,” he said.

“He also got us thrown out of the bloody helicopter,” Hector said. “Not literally. But now we have to walk home.”

Jane, Claudia and Isobel just stared at them in silence. They kept looking at them as Hector and Albert walked around the side of the house. It was Jane who eventually broke the silence. She said to Isobel, “You must show me how to make that jam.”

The moose’s head over the fireplace likes this time of year. He always looks very relaxed in September. This will be the first September in the house for the surprised hen in the painting, and I don’t think there’s much chance of it ever looking relaxed. It still looks just as surprised as ever. Surely it should have adjusted to its surroundings by now. Although the wife once asked it if there was anything it would like to talk about, and that certainly surprised me.