'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Churchill in a Quarry

Another evening in the garden, looking at things in the wind, like the trees moving from side to side, or the clouds going by above. Asking the dog if he knows where the watering can is, but that blows by on the wind too.

My Uncle Cyril once saved a drowning dog from a lake. The dog never liked the way the swans were looking at him, and when his owner threw a stick in front of him, he seemed to think that the stick was thrown at him. He immediately blamed the swans for this. He jumped into the water, and it came as a bit of a surprise to him and to his owner that he couldn't swim. That's when Cyril walked into the water and pulled him out.

The dog's owner was an artist, and she painted a picture of Cyril holding the dog in his arms, with the lake in the background. He hung the painting on the wall in his dining room. He had told very few people about saving the dog, but he was hoping that someone would ask about the painting so he could tell the story.

When my cousin Jane called around with her friend, Claudia, she looked at the wall and said, "Is there something different about that wall?"

"As a matter of fact, there is," Cyril said.

"Yeah, I thought you'd painted it. It's a sort of a cream colour, isn't it?"

"That's not cream," Claudia said. "It's a shade of green."

"Green? There's no way that's green. It's definitely cream."

They spent the next ten minutes arguing about the colour, and neither of them noticed the painting. When Jane got home she told her mother about how Cyril had painted his dining room a cream colour, and how it was very definitely a shade of cream, not green, and only stupid people would think it's green. Most of the relatives heard about Cyril's cream wall, although some of them saw a shade of green when they saw it. He was sick of people talking about the colour of the paint and not the painting, so he painted the whole room white.

The next time Jane and Claudia came around, Jane said, "It's looking more cream than ever now."

"It's green," Claudia said.

"I don't know what you're looking at. You must be looking at something green. You can't be looking at the wall anyway, because that's definitely not green."

"It's white!" Cyril said. "It's obviously white."

"There's no way that's white," Jane said.

"Yeah," Claudia said. "It's a very light green."

"It's cream."

Cyril installed lights on the ceiling to illuminate the painting, but the next time Jane saw it she said, "The lights aren't going to make the wall look any more white."

My cousin Ted and his wife, Anne, had been putting up wallpaper all over their house at about this time. Anne's uncle worked in a wallpaper factory, and when he retired he got some top quality wallpaper. Jane and Claudia went to look at this too. Anne showed them the wallpaper in the hall and said, "What do ye see in the pattern?"

They stared at the pattern for about a minute before Anne said, "It's Winston Churchill sitting in a quarry."

Jane said, "I can't make out either Winston Churchill or a quarry."

"That's because it's Winston Churchill in a quarry, not either one or the other."

They looked again. "Oh yeah," Jane said. "I can see it now."

Cyril's wife, Aunt Joyce, was telling Jane's mother about the painting of Cyril on the wall, and when she told Jane and Claudia about it, they both thought it was something in the wall, like the pattern in the wallpaper. "That's why he got those lights to illuminate the wall," Jane said.

They went back to Cyril's house, and when Jane saw the wall this time she said, "Is that a portrait of you?"

"It is," Cyril said. "With a dog."

"Oh yeah. I think I can see the dog alright."

"He's in my arms."

"Oh right. I'd never have recognised either you or the dog, but I can see you with the dog."

"So that's what it is," Cyril said. "I was wondering why no one noticed me before."

"That's what it is. And is there a car in there as well?"


"Sorry, that's just me."

Claudia looked closely at the wall and said, "Jane, can you see Santa on a water slide?"

"Oh yeah," Jane said. "I think I can."

"Do you?" Claudia said. "Because I can't see that at all."

"It's behind Uncle Cyril with the dog."

"I can't see that at all."

"Uncle Cyril, isn't that Santa on a water slide behind you with the dog?"

There was something in the background of the painting that he couldn't make out. "Possibly," he said.

"That's what it is alright."

He wondered what this could mean. He hadn't taken much notice of the background before, but when he looked closely he saw something that looked just like a kettle drum. He remembered the time he had a conversation with a kettle drum after drinking too much at a party. He didn't actually remember the incident himself, but he remembered everyone reminding him of it, and laughing at him. He had no idea what Santa on a water slide could mean, but the kettle drum would remind everyone of that conversation.

He thought about taking the painting down, just in case someone else noticed the kettle drum. But then they might wonder why he took it down, and think he was trying to hide something.

Jane and Claudia called back to see the wall a few days later. During those few days, they'd been arguing about the presence of Santa on a water slide on the wall. The argument continued in Cyril's dining room. He let them argue, and he hoped they wouldn't notice the kettle drum.

For a while he thought that Jane had spotted it when she said, "I've been meaning to ask you this for ages. Who's the man with all the sheep?" She pointed at the painting of Cyril with the dog (the artist tried to make the swans look menacing, and they did look a bit like sheep), but he thought she must be talking about something in the wall, like with Ted and Anne's wallpaper. He'd seen that too, and he thought he saw a lampshade in the pattern, but Anne insisted it was Churchill in a quarry.

He looked closely at the wall and said, "Is it Churchill?"

"It doesn't really look like Churchill. Unless he's in a quarry or a caravan or something."

"What about... Eisenhower?"

"That's who it is." Jane had no idea what Eisenhower looked like.

All of the relatives heard the news that Cyril had a portrait of Eisenhower in his dining room, and he was quite happy with this because at least they couldn't spot the link between him and the kettle drum. A few people noticed the kettle drum in the background, but no one said anything about it because they could see no connection between Eisenhower and a kettle drum.

The moose's head over the fireplace seems to be laughing at me every time I come into the room. I was looking for a coin on the carpet the other day and every time I looked up at him, he was smiling. He obviously knew where the coin was, and it was obviously in a very obvious place, so I stopped looking rather than look stupid. I tried dropping a pen on the ground just to get a chance to look for the coin, but I think he saw through that.