'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 22, 2006


It's cold again, and according to the weather forecast there's a chance of snow. A few months ago they were saying this would be a very cold winter, but it hasn't turned out that way, and we've already got one foot in Spring. The days are getting longer again.

My cousin June took her kids, Daisy and Graham, to the park in the Autumn. They walked along the paths in the bright sun, a strong breeze blowing the leaves all around them. Daisy had a book about birds. They looked at the birds in the trees and compared them to photos in the book.

"That one looks just like the one on page ten," Graham said as he pointed at a bird.

"I don't know," Daisy said. "His eyes look slightly more sinister."

"No, it's him alright. He has that little bit of yellow."

"I don't know."

They left the park and walked along the footpaths to where the car was parked. June drove to her parents' house. My cousin Hugh was there. His fiancee, Annabel, was talking to Aunt Bridget about the weather. The news was on the TV, but the volume was low. A news reader in glasses read from a sheet of paper, a serious, monotonous voice. Annabel heard a few words of it when she looked over towards the window.

Hugh was in an attic room with June's sister, Rachel, and her friend Sarah. The room was being re-decorated, and Rachel was showing them some of the colours she was thinking of using on the walls. She had painted lots of different colour samples on one wall. "I love that grey," she said.

"It's not exactly a 'colour'," Hugh said.

"On its own it wouldn't be much of a colour, but it goes so well with the blue."

The volume was still turned down on the TV below. There was a photo of a bird behind the news reader's shoulder.

Rachel's brother, Ronan, was in the back garden with his friend Matt. They watched the leaves and confetti swirling around on the breeze.

"Is that confetti?" Matt said.

"It looks like it."

"Why would there be confetti on the breeze with the leaves?"

"That's the question to be answered alright. And there has to be an answer if you just ask some other quewstions... I'm going to solve this one just like that woman in 'Murder, She Wrote' would solve it."

June took Daisy and Graham to visit the ruins of a castle. A tour guide showed them around the place, but there wasn't much to see. "As you can see, it's basically just the ruins of a castle," the tour guide said. "And that there is just a fence, and that's a fence, and so is that, and that was a fence until someone... I don't know what they did to that." She stopped to look at a plane pass by overhead.

"Can you tell us any more about the history of the place?" June said.

"History. Yeah... There once was a sailor..."

"Is that him?" Graham said and pointed at a sailor in the field.

"I don't know."

"Will we ask him?"


Rachel, Sarah and Hugh stood in a concrete courtyard near a tall building. Sarah was wearing a light blue coat. Her make-up contained many different shades of blue. She stared straight ahead, with the sun on the side of her face. A few grey clouds passed through the sky above.

"That's not bad," Hugh said. "But it's not going to look so good in the room."

The TV was still on, but Annabel spent an hour looking at her fingers and hands against the light of the window. Then she noticed that her engagement ring was missing. She was sure she had it on earlier. She wondered how she could have lost it while she was looking at her hands all the time.

Ronan had drawn the chalk outline of a wedding cake on the concrete outside the back door. It included the outline of the tiny plastic couple on the top. It seemed like the sort of place where the woman on 'Murder, She Wrote' would start her investigations, but it didn't help Ronan. He went back inside and stood in the hall, in silence apart from the sound of the wind outside the door. He looked up at the ceiling in the shade way above, and he remembered seeing a dance in the library. He had meant to ask about that at the time, but he forgot.

He wrote a letter to the library that said: "What's with the dance?" As he wrote the address on the envelope, he could hear the sound of the television and Annabel's voice as she told him about her ring.

Rachel, Sarah and Hugh stood in an empty car park at the side of a quite road. The breeze carried the dust and the smell of perfume. They looked out over the fields. The three of them were wearing green coats. June, Daisy and Graham were there too. The kids were wearing green sun visors with the words 'Ruins of a castle' in white.

"We should have asked the sailor," Graham said.

Ronan looked out the window, throwing the chalk in the air and catching it again. His mother said to him, "Did you post that letter to the library?"


Matt smiled. There were stamps all over his face.

Ronan threw the chalk in the air again. "The ring!" he said, and forgot about catching the chalk. "Annabel said something about losing her engagement ring. And we saw confetti on the breeze. You wouldn't need to be the woman in 'Murder, She Wrote' to spot the wedding link there."

Ronan went to Annabel and told her about the confetti, the ring, the chalk outline of the wedding cake and 'Murder, She Wrote'. When he finished talking, she got the impression that he was waiting for her to respond, but she didn't know what to say. She looked around for inspiration. She picked up a sheet of paper, but it was blank. She looked at it anyway.

"Good afternoon," she said. "My diamond engagement ring has inexplicably disappeared, somewhere in the vicinity of the living room. The ring was reported missing earlier today. Its owner is said to be upset, yet hopeful of its imminent return. She appreciates all the support she's received. Efforts to find the ring have already begun. And now the weather."

Ronan's brother, Alan, had gone into town with his girlfriend, Sonia. She arrived back on her own, and Ronan told her about the engagement ring and the confetti. "And there's the chalk outline of the wedding cake too," he said. "Although I did draw that one myself."

"Yeah. I know this might sound a bit... odd. But Alan has just agreed to do a modern dance."

"He did what?" Ronan said, and a piece of chalk landed on his head.

"Y' see, he only did it to get out of a play he agreed to do. It's Shakespeare. I think he was supposed to play one of those people who jump around a lot. He agreed to do the modern dance to get out of that because he thought it would be easy to find a way out of the dance. But when I left him he was wearing a leotard."

"Forget about the confetti and the ring. This is where we've got to focus all of our attention now: forming a plan to get Alan out of the modern dance."

Ronan used a blackboard to outline his plan. He drew an escape route with the chalk. "We just need someone to distract the choreographer while we lead Alan away."

Graham hadn't been listening to what Ronan was saying, but he said, "You should ask the sailor."

"The sailor?"


"Yeah well I'll bear that in mind."

"Do." Graham nodded.

But Alan had a plan to get out of the dance himself. During the rehearsal he stood at the end of a line of dancers. This was the same dance group that performed in the library. The choreographer said, "I'll need an extra special effort from you. And you, and you and you and you too. Aww, a little bunny."

Alan ran away when she went towards the bunny, but it was just a cardboard cut-out of a rabbit. He went to the costume room and put on the first clothes he could find: a police man's uniform that was way too big for him.

Rachel, Sarah, and Hugh were on a golf course. Hugh was kneeling on the green, lining up a putt, but he didn't have a ball. Rachel held the flag and Sarah stood next to her with a putter resting on her shoulder. They stood still as a cloud passed in front of the sun. Their clothes were mostly white, with many shades of red, surrounded by the dark green of the golf course.

Annabel was looking at the washing machine as it went around and around. She looked away briefly to read a business card that she found in her coat pocket, but that still said same thing it said when she looked at it ten minutes earlier: 'Gardens'.

Alan was being chased by some of the other dancers. He ran into a poetry reading, but he stopped at the door when a man at the podium pointed at him and said, "You!"

After Alan left, the poet said, "That was basically my poem." He got a round of applause.

Rachel, Sarah and Hugh stood in a park wearing tennis outfits. "White is only slightly better than grey," Hugh said. "Neither of them are exactly what you'd call colours."

"I don't know," Rachel said. "I like the white with these red and grey wrist bands."

"Yeah. Except no one would wear red and grey wrist bands with the white."

"I'm sure I saw Tracey 'Tennis' Austen wearing them once."

"Why do you call her Tracey 'Tennis' Austen?"

"To distinguish her from the Tracey Austen who works in a bookshop."

"Well we're not going to be able to ask Tracey 'Tennis' Austen what she thinks of them."

"We could ask the Tracey Austen who works in the bookshop."

Tracey was all alone in the shop, looking up at the ceiling as evening approached. When Rachel phoned, Tracey said she'd love to go and see their tennis outfits.

Ronan, Matt and Sonia were in the middle of their plan to rescue Alan when they realised he wasn't there. Sonia was trying to distract the choreographer. She said, "There are trees there, lots of lawns, gates and fences and things, annnnd..." She looked at a shopping list. "Milk. So... I don't really know any of them."

"Will ye be part of my dance?" the choreographer said.

"Ahm, okay," Sonia said. The choreographer turned around before Ronan and Matt could use the escape route.

"You'll have to take the stamps off your face," she said to Matt. "Although..."

Some members of the group were out chasing Alan, and others called to his house to see if he was there. Daisy and Graham were in the kitchen, looking at paperclips on the table.

"I like these paperclips," Daisy said. Graham nodded. "Let's re-arrange the pens."


They re-arranged the pens and looked at them, completely oblivious to the dancers dancing with the leaves just outside the window.

"Will we re-arrange the paper clips now?" Graham said.

"No, we'll never get them as good as that."


Annabel didn't know what to say when she saw the dancers. She picked up another sheet of paper, hoping for some inspiration from that. It was the letter with the line 'What's with the dance?'. This would have been the perfect thing to say in this situation, but she couldn't say anything.

Tracey walked down a wide pavement, whistling and swinging her bag. A man on a bench said to her, "Excuse me, I fell on the street and I think I sprained my ankle. Could you call a doctor?"

"Of course." She got out her phone.

At the train station, two people waited the arrival of someone to take part in a high jump competition. One of them held a small flag with 'Someone' on it. But the man they were waiting for never got off the train. He missed the stop because he was talking to Tracey on the phone. She called his number by mistake when she tried to phone the doctor -- his number was on her phone.

"So if the fox was friendly, I suppose I would try to put a bandage around his head," he said to Tracey. "You know I'm not really a doctor, don't you?"

"Yeah. What would you do if a squirrel broke his leg?"

"I don't know. Do squirrels have legs?"


"I don't know. I suppose I'd look for a bandage anyway..."

Uncle Harry looked at the dancers, and he wasn't entirely sure what to say in this situation either. He said, "I think it was Shakespeare who said..." He stopped to take a long drag from his cigarette. Annabel handed him the blank sheet of paper. He stared at that. "I've forgotten what I was going to say now."

When Tracey met Rachel, Sarah and Hugh she said, "I need someone to do a favour for me. I just got a call from some friends of mine who are on an athletics team. Their high jumper pulled out because he'd have been competing mostly against women. He thought it sounded a bit girly. He agreed to take a part in a Shakespearean play just to have an excuse to get out of it. He had a chance to do a modern dance too, but that would have been like going out of the frying pan and into the fire. And then they arranged for someone else to take his place in the high jump competition, but he missed his stop on the train. And now they really, really need someone to take part in the high jump."

While Tracey was on the phone earlier, Alan ran past her down the street. The man on the bench didn't notice anything odd about the over-sized uniform. He said to Alan, "Excuse me, Officer. Could you find a doctor for me? I think I've sprained my ankle."

"Yes, of course," Alan said. "How did you sprain your ankle?"

"It's a funny story actually. I thought I saw something on the ground, and I said to myself, is that a key..."

He continued telling his story even as the dancers dragged Alan away. When Tracey got off the phone she said, "Sorry. I called the wrong number."

"That's okay. A police man said he'd find a doctor for me."

Rachel, Sarah and Hugh were at the athletics track. They convinced Sarah to do the high jump, and Hugh was trying to explain it to her. She just stared straight ahead. "You've got to somehow try to jump backwards. It's like... you go... you've got to just jump backwards. Like, backwards."

Alan went back to the costume room to return the police man's uniform, and while he was there he came up with a plan to get all of them out of the dance. He found some cardboard cut-outs of people. He dressed one in the uniform, and he put stamps all over the face of another.

The choreographer walked in front of the line of dancers and said, "You'll be the most important part of this show. And so will you. And you and you." Then she came to the cardboard police man. "And you too." She sounded unsure about that one. She realised what was going on when she saw the cut-out with the stamps. "Do ye honestly think I'm going to be fooled by these?"

Alan, Ronan, Matt and Sonia tip-toed away while she looked at the cut-outs. The other dancers stood there for a few seconds before running away.

As they left the building, Alan said, "I've just got to find a doctor for the man I met on the street."

"We'll ask the sailor to stand in for the doctor," Ronan said.

Rachel, Sarah and Hugh arrived home wearing yellow coats. "There's no way I'm going with yellow," Rachel said.

Bridget asked Sarah how she got on with the high jump. "Someone came along and did it for me," she said.

As Annabel looked out over the garden, she noticed a bird trying to fly away with her ring. He kept dropping it and picking it up again.

"I told you there was something sinister about him," Daisy said to Graham.

Annabel wondered what to do. She took the business card out of her pocket, hoping to find some idea in that, but it still said the same thing. She looked at the blank sheet of paper again, and yet again it provided her with the inspiration she needed.

A paper airplane just missed the bird, but it was enough to frighten him. He dropped the ring and flew away. Hugh picked up the ring and put it on Annabel's finger. The breeze blew leaves and confetti around them as they kissed.

The moose's head over the fireplace looks relieved to be wearing his headphones. I know exactly how he feels. There's been too much music in the house recently, most of it produced by people who are stretching the term 'musician'. The wife's uncle played the trumpet, and her niece said, "I could do better with a jug of water." In fairness, she could too, but no one wanted to admit that.