'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Lecture

The shed is completely dry now, not because I've fixed the holes in the roof, but we've had so little rain recently. There are small holes in the door of the shed too, and I discovered recently that my great-grandfather once screwed a knocker to the door. He did it because he didn't want to be disturbed, but the knocker provided a very effective way of disturbing him. People used to knock at the door and run away, despite that fact that he could guess with reasonable accuracy who had knocked at the door.

My cousin Charlie was going out with a woman called Grainne who had an interest in mathematics, and she convinced him to go to a public lecture one morning. The speaker was a famous mathematician who was talking about his latest research, or that was the intention anyway. He said, "Suppose we were to..."

He looked towards the window in silence for a few seconds, then he said, "I was once painting a window frame when I got an idea, and I wrote an equation on the glass with the white paint. I left it there too. I used to just look at the white numbers, illuminated by the sun."

He tore up his notes and said, "Things were so much clearer on glass." The rest of the lecture was just him staring at the window.

Charlie and Grainne walked down a corridor after leaving the lecture hall, talking about the mathematician. They looked back when they heard footsteps behind them. A friend of theirs, Martin, ran past them, and a few seconds later, three men in dark suits ran by too.

Charlie and Grainne were both keen on a bit of excitement after the disappointment of the lecture (not that Charlie was expecting mathematics to be exciting anyway), so they ran after the men.

Martin had been in a card game with those men on the previous night. During the game he noticed they were all wearing dark suits and lots of jewellery, and he was going to say that they looked a lot like the gangsters in films, but he thought it was the sort of thing they'd hear all the time, so he said nothing.

He was convinced he was going to win when he layed down his cards. "A straight," he said.

One of the men said, "Three sevens and a baby robin." He took a tiny bird from a box and put it on the table. Martin lost.

And now they were chasing him - he guessed it was because they wanted the money. Charlie and Grainne gave up the chase at the gates of the college. They didn't know which way Martin and the men had gone.

Charlie had told Aunt Bridget about a clock he saw in a shop. He thought it was just the sort of thing she'd like, and she did, but when she got it home she couldn't get it to work. Her daughter said she'd find what was wrong. "Nicola is conducting experiments on it," Bridget told Charlie on the phone.

Nicola put on a white coat and glasses. She started reading a long computer print-out in the light of the bay window.

Charlie and Grainne went to a cafe for lunch. He mentioned that his grandmother knew someone who could read tea leaves. "She always said the same sort of things. 'The badger is in the garden again'. Tea has always looked exactly the same to me."

Grainne looked into the tea as she stirred it, and she kept looking into it as the tea went around and around. She got a shock when Charlie coughed to attract her attention. He made a mental note: she's easy to hypnotise.

"My necklace is really, really nice," she said, and she looked down at that instead of the tea.

After they left the cafe, they walked down a street, stopping at every shop window to look at the glass, especially the glass with words on it. As Charlie looked at the word 'sun' on the window of a travel agent, Grainne turned around to look at a bin at the edge of the pavement. It was a new bin. Cars went by on the street, but she took no notice.

When Charlie turned around he said, "Why are you staring at the bin?"

"I... I don't know."

"Where did those glasses come from?"

There was a pair of glasses with red frames on top of the bin. She only noticed them when Charlie mentioned them. "That's probably why I was staring at the bin," she said.

They went to see Aunt Bridget to ask about the clock. Her son, Ronan, was there too.

"Have you reached a conclusion yet, Nicola?" Bridget said.

She looked up from the print-out and shook her head.

"How are you getting on with the voice-over?" Bridget said to Charlie.

Charlie was narrating a TV documentary about a man who lives on an island. "It's going very well," he said. "I'll be going to the studio this afternoon."

"Ronan can do a very good Hitler voice."

"Charlie can do Pierre Boulez," Grainne said.

"Who's he?"

"I don't know," Grainne said. "Charlie, who is he?"

"He's a French composer and conductor," Charlie said, and he did a bit of his impression.

"Wouldn't that be much nicer than doing Hitler?" Bridget said to Ronan.
"I don't do Hitler any more. I can do Man Headlift. He's a cartoon character."

"Do that for us so."

Ronan said in a very deep voice, "Silence!"

They looked at him for a few seconds. "That was very good," his mother said. "If anything, it was even better than Pierre Boulez."

"You don't even know who Pierre Boulez is," Charlie said.

"Well that's sort of the point of impressions, that you know who they are."

"Pierre Boulez is a famous conductor and composer. That's a cartoon character who makes sheep levitate."

"Can Pierre Boulez make sheep levitate?"

"Probably not. Can Man Headlift conduct an orchestra and compose modern music?"

She turned to Ronan and said, "Can he?"

He folded his arms and said in the deep voice, "Man Headlift can do anything."

"Can you do any impressions?" Bridget said to Grainne.

"Not really. Although..." She put on the red glasses and said, "It probably makes me look like Pierre Boulez; I don't know."

"No," Charlie said.

Charlie and Grainne went to the studio where he was recording the voice-over for the documentary. The film was projected onto a screen in a dark room, and Charlie was in a glass booth at the back of the room. He was narrating a scene where the man was cutting turf. "He cuts the turf, as his father and grandfather did before him. Time has stood still on the island." Charlie paused during a shot of a bird in the clear blue sky. "The turf will be the only source of heat during the cold winter months."

The director of the film, Conor, still hadn't finished the script. "I think you're going to have to do some of that again," he said to Charlie at the end of the recording. "'Time has stood still'. I hate that bit."

He was working at an old type-writer. Next to it on the desk was a pile of papers with alternate versions of the script. Grainne asked why he didn't use a computer. "Ideas come easier with this." He took a sheet of paper from the type writer, set on fire, and then he looked for somewhere to put it. He ended up throwing it out the window.

As Charlie and Grainne were leaving, Conor said, "Michelle says to say hello."

Charlie closed the door, and Grainne said to him, "Who's Michelle?"

She was a friend of Conor's girlfriend, and she had done a voice-over for the documentary too - she recited an extract from a book. They had all gone to the pub after the recording, and Michelle told Charlie all about a hat she found. Charlie didn't mention this to Grainne because it was just the sort of thing that would make her jealous.

He was just about to tell her about Michelle when he remembered how she had been transfixed by the tea earlier. He put on the red glasses and said, "Look into my eyes. Look deep into my eyes. On the count of five..."

"Are you trying to hypnotise me?"

"No, I..."

"Who's Michelle?"

"She's just a friend of Conor's girlfriend. She did a voice-over too. That's the only time I've ever met her."

"Then why did you try to hypnotise me?"

"I didn't try to hypnotise you. I was just... I wanted to try on the glasses."

As soon as they stepped onto the street outside, Martin ran past them, and the men in suits were still following him. Charlie and Grainne followed again, but they lost Martin and the men when they had to wait for a bus to go by as they tried to cross the street.

They walked on in the direction Martin was heading. They went to the edge of the city, where the evening sun shone on the concrete apartment buildings. A group of kids with skateboards were there. A newspaper blew by on the breeze. "Let's go somewhere for dinner," Grainne said.

They went to a restaurant in the city, and then they drove to Bridget's house to see if Nicola had got to the end of the print-out.

She got to the end of it shortly after they arrived. She tapped her chin and said, "Hmmm."

"What does it suggest?" her mother said.

"There's a pen stuck in it."

"Yeah, I thought so," Bridget said.

The repair man arrived to fix the TV. He had thick glasses, and he spent most of the time eating an ice cream as he looked into the back of the TV. Bridget told him about the last repair man. "He had a 'How to fix a television' video, and he wanted to look at that, but the television wasn't working, so he couldn't. And he had to go away."

The repair man nodded. When he finished the ice cream he took out a screw driver and got to work. It only took him a few seconds. He replaced the back of the TV again and turned it on.

It worked. They were looking at a quiz show with three contestants. One of the contestants was Martin and another was one of the men in the dark suits. They didn't recognise the third contestant in between them. The host said, "Why did Christopher Columbus set sail from Spain in 1492?"

Martin buzzed in and said, "Was it because he just doesn't have the money. He just does not have the money."

"I'm sorry, that's incorrect."

The man in the suit buzzed in. "It was because he's about to have an unfortunate accident if he doesn't pay the money."

"That's incorrect too."

The contestant in the centre looked from side to side, then he looked up. After a long silence he said, "Did he just find the money? In a bag or something?"

Charlie and Grainne ran from the room and went to the car. They drove to the TV studios in the city, but before they even got there they saw Martin running away, still pursued by the three men.

Charlie parked on the street and they got out. Martin ran into an art gallery on the next street, closely followed by the men in suits. Then came Charlie and Grainne.

They looked all around the place, but there was no sign of Martin. The front of the building was glass, and they ended up staring at that. The lights from inside reflected off it. Daylight was fading outside. They looked at the reverse words on the glass.

Charlie saw Michelle walking down the street, and he was afraid she'd recognise him so he asked Grainne for the red glasses.

"What are you up to now?" she said.

"Nothing. I just thought it'd be nice to look at the window through the glasses."

"You're up to something. And don't try to hypnotise me."

"No, I... What were you saying about your necklace?"

She looked down at it and said, "Oh yeah, my necklace is really, really nice."

As Michelle walked by outside she smiled and waved at Charlie. He waved at her. Grainne kept looking down at her necklace all the time.

They left the art gallery and walked down the street. As they were walking past the entrance to a cinema they heard a noise from inside. Conor was kicking a vending machine just inside the door. His girlfriend was a model, and she was doing a photo shoot nearby. "I go along to these things because you can't trust these bloody photographers. And then he sent me off to get something to drink. You can't trust any of them."

He kicked the vending machine again. Grainne saw Martin running into a hotel across the street, and they went across. They were just in time to see the door closing on an elevator. The three men were inside. Charlie and Grainne guessed that Martin was in another elevator, so they took the third one.

The shop where Bridget got the clock was open late, so she went back there with Nicola and Ronan. She explained the problem to the shop assistant. "There's a pen stuck in it."

"Are you sure?"

Nicola held up the print-out and nodded.

Charlie and Grainne ran down a spiral stairs in the hotel. Charlie wondered if Grainne would get hypnotised. He was going to tell her to slow down, but he couldn't find the words.

"I think they went this way," Grainne said on the street outside. "I was starting to think I'd be hypnotised going around and around those stairs."

"He cuts the turf, as his father and grandfather have done before him."

"Who does?"

"Time has stood still on the island."

"What island?"

"The turf will be the only source of heat during the cold winter months."

"Aha! You've been hypnotised by the stairs. You thought you could hypnotise me, but you got hypnotised by a stairs."

"His donkey is old now, but still able to carry a full load of turf."

Charlie's narration went on as they walked down the street. They met Bridget, Ronan and Nicola, and Charlie told them about the social aspects of island life.

Martin came around the corner and ran towards them. Just like earlier, he ran past them, but this time Charlie and Grainne went with him. As they ran away, Grainne said to Bridget, "Do something to distract the men in suits."

"This sounds like a job for Man Headlift," Bridget said to Ronan.

When the men arrived they asked Bridget, Ronan and Nicola if they'd seen anyone running by. Ronan folded his arms, and his mother waited for him to do something, but he did nothing.

"I thought you said you could do anything," Bridget said to him after the men went on again.

Conor's girlfriend was posing in front of a fountain. The photographer was kneeling on the ground beneath her. When Grainne saw them she got an idea.

The men in suits went past the photo shoot a few seconds later. They didn't notice Martin and Grainne posing at either side of the model. Charlie was there too. He was still reciting Conor's script for the film. "The population of the island continues to fall. There are too many attractions on the mainland..."

The men took no notice. They walked by, and Martin was starting to think he was safe at last, but then Charlie saw Michelle walking towards them. Something in his subconscious told him there was trouble ahead. He started reciting the script from a scene about a small row boat in a storm at sea. He was almost shouting.

The men stopped and turned around. They went back, and they looked at Charlie as he continued his narration. "He's Pierre Boulez," Grainne said.

"The small boat rises and falls with the waves, at the mercy of nature's mighty force. They've come a long way since his grandfather's day when they made their boats with seaweed, but when the force of the sea..."

"They never made their boats out of seaweed," one of the men in suits said.

Charlie just repeated the line in a louder voice. "They've come a long way since his grandfather's day when they made their boats with seaweed."

"How could they make a boat out of seaweed? They might have used it to seal the gaps between the boards."

"They've come a long way since his grandfather's day when they made their boats... with seaweed."

The argument was starting to get heated. The man in the suit poked Charlie in the shoulder when he said, "You can't make a boat out of seaweed."

This was settled in the lecture hall that Charlie and Grainne had gone to in the morning. The man in the suit gave a lecture entitled 'You can't make a boat out of seaweed'. He drew equations and diagrams on the board to back up his case. After talking for forty minutes he said, "And this proves that you can't make a boat out of seaweed."

Bridget said to Nicola, "Is he right?"

Everyone looked at Nicola. She put on her glasses and looked at the print-out, which was just a jumble of paper then. She shrugged her shoulders, but they kept looking at her. She looked at the print-out again, then looked up and nodded her head slowly.

Charlie remembered the end of the film, the soaring music, the scenes of valleys and hills, wooden gates and stone walls, piles of hay in the fields, the vast ocean and the crash of the waves against the coast. He hadn't recorded the voice-over for it yet, but he'd read through the script, and he remembered bits of it then. He stood up and said, "Man has left his imprint on even the most remote corners of this planet, but here they understand how insignificant that imprint is. They respect the forces of nature, a respect born from wonder. They stand tall beneath the vast blue dome around this defiant patch of land in the ocean. The sights all around are part of their home; the birds against the golden sun, the endless shades of green, the barren ground battered by the winds from the sea, but where life refuses to die, a way of life that goes on, defiant, completely forgetting about the money Martin owes, or why I didn't want Grainne to meet Michelle, a place that's forever their home, no matter how far away they might be."

He got a standing ovation for that.

The moose's head over the fireplace is doing his best to remain expressionless. He's always like that when the wife's niece is around, and in fairness, he's very good at it too. She always says things to him in the hope of making him react, but it hasn't worked so far. She practises on the cows. She says things like, "There's a fire right behind you," but the cows just look back at her. When the moose's head fails to react she says to him, "Why can't you be more like the surprised looking hen in the painting?" It works on the dog. He once fell off the chair when she said a worm was setting up home in his kennel, but I think he was just trying to get away from her. She caught me out once too. She said, "Sting is in the drawing room with a candle stick." I said, "But we don't have a drawing room." She nodded and said 'yeah'. I asked her if she was thinking of the study and she said, "Ha! You thought Sting was in the drawing room with a candle stick."