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

Christmas Carols

The garden can be very quiet in the mornings, when the grass is covered in frost and the dog is still asleep. My great-grandfather used to say that the garden was haunted. That's probably just something he used to say to keep people out of the place. He once said that a bottle of brandy was haunted too. He took it into the garden.

My cousin June's kids, Daisy and Graham, got Christmas presents from their father's sister in America. Daisy got a toy Indian and Graham got a cowboy, but the cowboy's eyes were always closed. Daisy said, "Is he asleep or is he dead?"

"He'd hardly be dead," Graham said.

"I think he's probably dead. If you get a cowboy and an Indian together, one of them is going to be dead and the other is going to be alive. And the Indian is obviously alive. Look." Daisy held up the Indian.

This was two weeks before Christmas, and at about this time, a neighbour of theirs called Neil was trying to organise an afternoon of carol singing in the park. He had asked the new church choir if they'd take part, but he regretted this decision when he heard them perform. They'd only been singing together for a week, and the only thing they could think of doing was singing 'Rambo' over and over again, which they did.

Neil was looking for a replacement act, and June suggested her cousin Craig's new brass band. There were only four people in the band, and they all wanted to play the tuba, but four tubas seemed better than a choir singing 'Rambo' over and over again.

He doubted this when he heard them play. There was a very strange rhythm to their music, but at least there was a recognisable tune and no suggestion of Rambo, so he decided to use them instead of the choir.

Graham's cowboy still hadn't opened his eyes after a few days. The kids often used to listen to the conversations of cows in the fields behind their house. They'd look back and forth as the cows mooed at each other, and they'd say things like, "That one just bought a new radiator." They went out to the cows with the cowboy and the Indian, and after listening to them for a while, Daisy said, "They're all saying that the cowboy is dead. They're glad the cowboy is dead."

"He's not dead," Graham said as he held the cowboy up for the cows to see. "He's just sleeping. Look."

The cows looked at the cowboy, but they didn't react.

The kids went with their mother to see Craig's brass band practise the carols. They listened to one of Craig's friends play a solo, and then Daisy said, "He just said that the cowboy is dead too."

Then another member of the band played a solo, and Graham said, "Well he said that the Indian is an idiot."

June didn't believe that the tuba players were saying anything about dead cowboys and stupid Indians, but she did get the impression that they were communicating with each other through their music. And then she realised that it sounded just like Morse code. She phoned a friend of hers called Becky who knew Morse, and she asked her to come down to listen to the band.

The band had been communicating with each other in Morse for the previous few weeks, ever since they were at a party, and one of them, Kenny, convinced his girlfriend to sing a song. No one said anything about her singing ability after the song. When they met up for a rehearsal on the following day, no one said a word about anything at all. They had all learnt Morse code in the boy scouts, and Bill started playing in Morse on the tuba. The others translated it as: 'She should try to master talking first'.

Craig picked up his tuba and played in Morse: 'He's got a point there'.

Then Kenny used his tuba to say to Bill: 'Yeah well your last girlfriend thought a xylophone was a wrestler'.

They continued communicating through the tubas, and they never said a word about Francine, Kenny's girlfriend, when they stopped playing. Most of the tunes that Bill and Craig played were about Francine, and Kenny always responded to those. The fourth member of the group, Shane, tried to be the peace maker. He played things like 'there's no need for that'.

Becky listened to them play during the reahearsal for the carols, and Neil asked her what they were saying. Bill had just suggested that Francine will do almost anything when she's drunk. Becky didn't want to repeat what he said, especially not in front of the kids. She said, "Ahm... They're just saying 'Rambo' over and over again."

Neil shook his head at them, but they were still better than the choir because no one would know what they were playing.

The choir were angry when they heard that the tuba players were just playing 'Rambo' over and over again. They had been dropped for doing just that, but they were determined to regain their place. They turned up at a rehearsal in the park on the morning of the performance. They told Neil that they'd put a lot of work in, and now they could sing 'laissez-faire' as well as 'Rambo'. He let them sing, and he was impressed when they sang 'laissez-faire' over and over again. He thought this would be better than the four tuba players, but for the chorus they just sang 'Rambo' again, and he decided to stick with the brass band.

The choir stayed to listen to the band. Becky was there to translate, and the choir shook their heads and clicked their tongues when she said they were just saying 'Rambo', but then Daisy said to her, "Didn't he just say that the dead cowboy is dead?"

"That's right," Becky said. "He said that the dead cowboy is dead."

Bill played another piece. Becky said, "And he said that the dead cowboy doesn't like the Indian anymore, because he's dead now."

Becky continued interpreting their statements in terms of the dead cowboy and the Indian.

Kenny was saying something about one of Bill's former girlfriends as the rehearsal came to an end. Becky was translating it as: "He'd rather look at the dead cowboy than her..."

At that moment, a bird was flying past Kenny, and nearby someone shouted at a dog who was running away with a hat. The bird looked to the side, and Kenny turned in that direction too. The bird flew into his tuba and got stuck there. Kenny blew as hard as he could, trying to finish his statement and get the bird out, and eventually it fell out and flew away. Kenny finished the note.

"Shoulders," Becky said.

Neil wondered if he should use the choir after all, but the chances of that happening again seemed unlikely, so he stuck with the brass band.

The choir turned up for the performance that afternoon, and they told Neil that they'd been practising over the past few hours and they had come up with something just as good or even better than the brass band, but he told them it was too late to change now.

A big crowd had gathered for the performance. The band started playing, and they were still communicating in Morse, but when Kenny tried to respond to a comment about Francine, no sound came from his tuba. He blew as hard as he could, but something seemed to be blocking it. June said to Graham, "Is that the dead cowboy?"

Graham smiled and nodded.

Kenny was on the point of collapse when the cowboy came out of the tuba. Graham went over to pick it up, and the cowboy's eyes were open. "He's alive!" Graham said. Then he turned to Kenny and said, "You were just as wrong as the cow."

Then Bill played the following line on his tuba: 'I didn't know Francine had an opinion on it too'.

Kenny finally lost his temper. He attacked Bill, and Craig joined in too. Shane tried to calm things down, but all four of them were still holding their tubas, and it looked as if all four were fighting.

Neil moved them out of the way, and he got the choir to take their places. They started singing, and they had moved a long way beyond just repeating 'Rambo' or 'laissez-faire' over and over. They sang: "The dead cowboy is dead and..."

But they stopped when Graham stood up and said, "He's not dead. He's alive. Look." Graham got the cowboy to nod a few times, and his eyes opened and closed.

The choir just looked at each other. There was a few seconds of silence, and then they started singing, "Ram-bo, Ram-bo, Rambo Rambo, Rambo..."

Neil wondered if he should bring back the fighting tuba players. Most people were looking at them already, and the choir singing 'Rambo' did seem like an appropriate accompaniment to the fighting. It was more appropriate than the carols anyway. So Neil left it as it was, and everyone there enjoyed the performance.

The moose's head over the fireplace likes this time of year, when we start to put up the Christmas decorations. He loves the tinsel on his antlers - I think it keeps him occupied. I don't know how the surprised hen is going to react when it sees the turkey. Well no, actually I know exactly how it's going to react.