'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Santa's Igloo

I walked to the end of the garden as the light faded, and I looked out over the fields. I could see the lights and Christmas lights coming on in houses miles away. If I was miles away in the other direction I'd still see them. We haven't gone overboard with the decorations. There's a glowing Santa in the garden. The dog likes to look at it, and it's only there to distract him from the reindeer. He likes to sit in the sleigh and bark at them, which becomes annoying after about ten minutes.

My Aunt Joyce helped organise a Christmas pageant for the local kids. She was responsible for Santa's grotto, and she got my cousin Ronan to work as an elf. He didn't have much choice in the matter because his mother said he'd do it before he was even asked. He didn't like the elf costume, and he often complained about the fact that Santa was living in an igloo. "Eskimos live in igloos," he said to Aunt Joyce. "Can you imagine Santa running the biggest toy company on the planet when he lives in an igloo?"

"Well Santa is just like an Eskimo. He wears a fur coat and he gets reindeer to pull his sled instead of dogs."

"Eskimos probably kill animals to make their coats. What animal did Santa kill to make his bright red coat? Bright red animals wouldn't last long in the snow."

"He lives in Lappland. There tends to be a lot of snow and ice in that part of the world. So it's not all that unbelievable that Santa should live in an igloo. It's much more unbelievable that he'd employ you as an elf."

"They have houses in Lappland too. I've seen it on TV. Every kid would have seen Santa sitting next to his fireplace, smoking his pipe."

"Just get in the bloody igloo and hand out the toys."

She asked my cousin Hector to be Santa. He had just started his Christmas holidays, and his boss had given all of the employees a diary for the coming year. Hector was looking forward to an evening in the pub to celebrate the start of the holidays, and he decided to write the word 'pub' into every day of the diary, but he got tired of writing it after the first few pages, and he just tore out the remaining pages. He showed it to his wife, Liz, and she asked about the missing pages. He said, "I won't be able to remember the rest of the year after what I do in those first few days."

"What exactly are you planning to do in the pub?"

"I don't know... Drink, I suppose."

Joyce called around with the Santa suit in the afternoon, and Liz showed her the diary. Joyce thought it might be advisable to ask someone else to be Santa.

She stood in the back garden with Liz. In the field behind the garden, a man in a poncho ran after a sombrero as it blew away on the wind. Then a group of men in ponchos and sombreros ran by.

"Were they the Mexicans?" Joyce said to Liz.


A local man called Greg agreed to take the role of Santa. He was a friend of my cousin Jane, who was always looking for an excuse to spend time in his company.

Jane's friend, Claudia, had a small battery-operated keyboard. When Jane was putting up the Christmas decorations one day, Claudia arrived with the keyboard and said, "I wrote a sort of a disco theme tune for your step ladder."

She played it on her keyboard, and Jane pictured herself climbing the ladder to the music. The idea of climbing the ladder to such an energetic piece of music made her nervous. "I wish you'd written it for the table or the door," she said.

"I was going to do a rock version, but it ended up as a disco version."

"Why can't you just say it's for the door?"

"Because I wrote it for the step ladder."

"Well why couldn't you have written a relaxing piece of music for the step ladder?"

"This is just what came out when I started writing about your ladder."

Jane got out the step ladder to hang up some of the decorations, and when she put her foot on the first step, Claudia started playing the theme tune. She put her other foot on the first step too, but she was too nervous to go any further.

Claudia wrote theme tunes for other things too. The one for plugging in the kettle started off very calm and happy, but then it suddenly became dark and foreboding. After Jane heard it, her hands were shaking the next time she plugged in the kettle. Claudia also fancied Greg, and when she heard he was the new Santa, she wanted to keep Jane out of the igloo, so she wrote a very ominous theme tune for visiting Santa. It sounded a lot like the theme tune to Jaws. After Jane heard it she refused to go anywhere near Aunt Joyce's igloo.

Joyce was getting tired of arguing with Ronan about the igloo. She remembered seeing a photo of my cousin June's pet duck, Sleepy, wearing fake antlers one Christmas, so she decided to add the duck with antlers to her Christmas scene, just to annoy Ronan even more.

It did annoy him, but he knew that the sole purpose of Sleepy's presence was to annoy him, so he said nothing about it. He just looked for a way to annoy her in return, and when he was visiting Hector he saw the perfect way to do it. Hector's twin daughters, Alice and Grace, had been learning about World War One in school. Their teacher tried to explain it by getting her pupils to represent different things in the war. She said, "Let's say Henrietta is the Somme and Sarah... Sarah can be a soldier."

"Am I the river or the battle?" Henrietta said.

"You're... Let's say you're the river and Sarah is the battle, and Daniel... Daniel is a tank... No, let's start again..."

She confused herself as much as her class, and in the end she just randomly chose people to represent things like trees or barbed wire, and she left it at that.

When Alice came home from school she said, "I'm snow."

"And I'm a trench," Grace said.

Ronan brought the twins and some of their class mates to Santa's igloo. He said to Joyce, "This fake snow looks very fake, and I was wondering what we could do to make it more life-like. So Alice is here to represent the snow."

Alice moved her fingers about a bit, because she thought this would make her look more like snow (she thought she looked less life-like than the fake snow). "That's lovely," Joyce said.

"And I'm a trench," Grace said.

Joyce kept smiling, but Ronan knew it was forced. The smile became more strained as the other kids told her they represented things like artillery or war correspondents or the Somme.

Joyce knew she had to get back at Ronan. She remembered seeing Sleepy staring at a rake as it went back and forth. "It’s good exercise for him," June had said. Sleepy was falling asleep a lot at the igloo, so Joyce asked June to rake the fake snow. She said it was to keep Sleepy awake, but it was really just to annoy Ronan.

He was annoyed when he saw the duck staring at the rake, but he didn't show it. Instead he tried to think of what he could do in response. He remembered hearing Claudia's theme tune for going into the igloo. That seemed like the perfect addition to this scene, so he called her up and asked if she'd play. She was delighted with the chance to spend time with Santa. She said to Jane, "I'm going down to Santa's igloo to play this song, if you want to come along."

She played her ominous theme tune, and Jane said, "No thanks."

But when she got to the igloo her theme tune had changed. It was very calm and happy, and Joyce enjoyed this latest addition. She knew that Ronan was defeated, and she wanted to reinforce her victory even more. She phoned Jane and asked her to perform the rap versions of carols she did when she was young. Jane refused at first, but when Joyce mentioned that Greg was playing Santa, Jane figured out what Claudia was up to with the theme tune, and she said she'd be there within minutes.

Claudia's music became very foreboding when she saw Jane. Joyce couldn't even force a smile then, but Ronan was the happiest of all the elves. Jane asked Claudia why she was playing such a dark song for something as light and happy as meeting Santa, and Claudia said, "What's light and happy about going into an igloo to meet an old man in a beard?"

"Hmm. And who might that man be now?"


"Santa, hmm. And who's playing Santa here?"

"I don't know. He's wearing a beard."

Claudia's music became very calm again when Greg came out of the igloo and walked towards them, but she suddenly reverted to the dark version when Greg stood on a rake in the fake snow. The handle flew up and hit him in the face.

He took off his beard, and Jane said to Claudia, "Aha! That's why you wanted to keep me away from Santa's igloo."

Greg's nose was bleeding, and he had to go home. Ronan was delighted with this. Jane and Claudia were arguing with each other and Santa was on his way home without his beard but with a bleeding nose. There was no way Joyce could recover from this, he thought.

She had no intention of giving up. She needed to find another Santa, so she phoned Hector and asked him if he'd do it. He had just woken up after his night in the pub. His head was sore, and he had just a vague memory of the night before. He looked at his diary and saw the word 'pub' written into the first few pages, and the rest of them were missing. He didn't know what to make of that. And then Joyce called and asked if he'd be Santa. He was sure this had all happened to him before. He agreed to do it, and he remembered agreeing to play Santa on another occasion too.

After getting off the phone, he sat down at the piano and played random notes. "I'm playing Groundhog Day on the piano," he said to Liz.

"I didn't know it was a song."

"It's a song?"

"You're playing it on the piano."

Hector ran away screaming.

Joyce was waiting for over an hour before he arrived at the igloo. Liz had tracked him down in the fields and brought him there, but he was still nervous. He put on the Santa suit and went into the igloo.

Jane and Claudia were still arguing outside. Claudia said, "This is the song I wrote to represent what it's like to spend time with you." She played a very dark, depressing song.

Jane took the keyboard from her and said, "Yeah, well this is your brain." She just played random notes.

Hector heard it from inside the igloo. It sounded just like the song he had played earlier on the piano. He screamed as he ran from the igloo, and they could still hear the scream for over a minute as he ran through the fields.

One of the elves had a very broad smile. Joyce said to him, "I'm glad you're happy. The whole thing is ruined now. We've lost our Santa and our Santa suit."

"It's you're own fault for putting him in an igloo," Ronan said. "That's why he's running away. He just realised he's an Eskimo."

"If you could have just accepted the possibility that Santa might choose to meet people in an igloo, none of this would have happened. No one else had a problem with it. No one has a problem with the idea of Santa flying through the sky with his reindeer either."

"That's a different matter entirely. Flying through the sky with reindeer is part of the whole Santa thing. Igloos are part of the whole Eskimo thing. They have nothing to do with Santa. You're just confused."

"What you're saying might have more weight if you didn't look so stupid in your elf costume."

Jane and Claudia were arguing too, but June brought both disputes to an end when she said, "Look, the kids are playing football with the Mexicans, just like the Allies playing the Germans in no-man's land on Christmas day in The Great War."

There was silence as they all looked at the kids and the Mexicans. It seemed to put everything into perspective. "I'm sorry I criticised your igloo," Ronan said to Joyce. "It actually looks very good."

"I'm sorry I said you looked stupid in your elf costume."

Jane and Claudia apologised to each other too, and Joyce offered them all cigarettes.

The moose's head over the fireplace loves looking at the Christmas lights as they flash on and off on the tree. He didn't look so impressed when the wife's uncle told a story about the time he stole Christmas lights after losing a game of poker. He lost a lot of money on the game, and he suspected he'd been cheated, so he took the lights and ran. He once stole a silver jug when someone bet him he couldn't go around the world in eighty days.