'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Thursday, March 02, 2006


Winter waited until spring before it finally showed up. There was a light covering of snow in the garden this morning, which was a lovely sight. The dog chose to look at the ice rather than at the garden. The icicles seem to have a hypnotic hold over him. We once found a spider who was fascinated by ice in a whiskey glass -- don't ask how we found such a spider. Actually, it's good advice not to ask about spiders and ice at all. The wife phoned her aunt to ask about it, but she was upset that we thought she'd know something about a spider staring at ice in a whiskey glass.

My cousin Charlotte was walking down a city street one day when she met Craig, another cousin. He was asking people to fill in a questionnaire, and she agreed to do it. He gave her a clipboard and a pen, and she read the first question: 'Is the man who gave you this clipboard wearing a fake moustache?'

She looked up at him, and he smiled. She answered 'no' to that one, but she knew he was up to something.

She mentioned this when she went to visit Aunt Joyce that evening. They were walking around the garden when Charlotte told the story of the questionnaire, and Joyce said she had already suspected he was up to something. Craig's girlfriend was the daughter of Joyce's neighbour, and Joyce had been getting regular reports of Craig's activities. He'd been seen wearing a fake moustache on numerous occasions.

Charlotte asked if she could use Joyce's phone to call Craig's girlfriend. She went inside to the telephone table in the hall. It was an old phone. Charlotte dialled the first number, and she looked at the dial as it slowly spun back around to its starting place. She smiled. When she dialled the next number she closed her eyes just to listen to the sound.

Craig was rehearsing with his brass band at the time. When the band first started, all of them played tubas, but they'd branched out into other instruments since then. Craig suddenly remembered a date with his girlfriend, Heather. "I'll be back in half an hour," he said.

He managed to fit the date into four short stages.

They met in the park. "I got you these flowers."


Then in the cinema. "This cinema is very, very sticky," Heather said.

They sat in a bar. She said, "But... Do you know what I mean?"

"Yeah." He nodded.

"It's just..." She moved her hands out.


He walked her home and they kissed goodnight outside her front door. Then he went back to the rehearsal.

Charlotte was still dailling the phone, and smiling at it. The hall was in near-darkness then. When she finally got through to Heather, she told her about the questionnaire. "I was just wondering if he said anything to you about the questionnaire, or... or anything."

"Actually, now that I think about it, he didn't say very much at all tonight... Although he did mention a horse called Nil Desperandum running in a race tomorrow. That's about all he said really."

On the following morning, Charlotte phoned her cousin Nicola and asked her to follow Craig. Nicola and her friends, Petra and Jen, went to see Charlotte in her office. Charlotte had a map on the wall with coloured pins to indicate where Joyce said Craig had been seen in the moustache.

"I sort of became more interested in the way the dots looked rather than where he was," Charlotte said. "I've arranged them so they look a bit like a flower."

Nicola, Petra and Jen stared at the map. Jen nodded.

"One place I know for sure he was at was near the cathedral."

Nicola, Petra and Jen stood on a footpath near the cathedral. The sky was grey. This was an old, quiet part of the city. No one passed by on the pavement until a man in a moustache ran past them. Nicola put a finger to her chin and looked up.

They followed him down streets and narrow alleys, but they lost him when he ran through a museum. They kept walking around the streets, hoping to find him. They stopped outside a radio station and looked across towards the other side of the street.

A man in a suit came up to them and said, "Excuse me, but I think if ye look around ye'll find him in the lobby of the radio station."

They turned around and looked in the window. Craig was sitting down inside, trying to hide from them behind a newspaper.

They went in and he said, "Ah, just the people I've been looking for. Would ye mind posting a letter for me? If you look at the stamp, you'll see a little dog, and it looks as if the dog is waving."

Nicola held the letter as they walked slowly away down the street. The three of them looked at the stamp.

The man in the suit came along and said, "I have a feeling this is just a distraction."

They noticed that the letter was addressed to Craig himself. Nicola opened the envelope, and the letter said: 'Yes, this is just a distraction'.

They ran back to the radio station.

Craig was being interviewed by the DJ. Nicola, Petra and Jen sat in on the interview too, wearing headphones.

Craig had his false moustache, and he was talking about being an artist.

"Bell-ringing. Ringing a bell. Door frames, and rugby players too, annnnd... Scottish people."

"Are you reading that from the back of your hand?" the DJ said.


He put his hands behind his back.

Nicola, Petra and Jen went to see Aunt Joyce after the interview. A friend of hers had asked her to look after three pet mice while she was going away on holiday, and Joyce was making tiny name tags for the mice when Nicola and her friends arrived. "It's the only way I'll remember their names," she said.

The mice ate the name tags.

"I'm still more likely to remember their names now that they've done that."

They went outside to the glasshouse, and they looked out over the fields as it started to rain. "The rain is always there," Joyce said. "Spring, summer, autumn. And then winter. There's always winter. Always another one. Or nearly always. You can only go through so many winters. The seasons take hold of this place. All of this land, this soil." Nicola, Petra and Jen looked down when she said 'soil'. "And the land takes hold of us, constantly reminding us of this home we need to live, our place in this world... I suppose everything I say will be overshadowed by the fact that the mice just ate their name tags."

They had tea in the kitchen and Joyce told them about some of the places Craig was seen. "Ye've already been to the cathedral, and then there was on top of a tall building, and standing by a fence, looking into a field, and there was the aquarium."

The rain cleared and the sun came out in the afternoon. Nicola, Petra and Jen stood on top of a tall building and looked down on the city below.

They stood by a fence and looked into a field full of horses. The man in the suit came along and said, "Now this horse here looks to be very fast, but he can only run in circles. When you see him in the field, you just think, 'He can run very fast.' You don't think, 'He can only run in circles.'"

They watched as the horse ran around and around very quickly.

Nicola, Petra and Jen walked down a quiet street in the city. They were tired after all the walking and running they had done. They stopped in front of a shop, and they and saw three men in the window. The men were dressed in black, with dark sunglasses and black berets. They were arguing about something.

The man in the suit came along and said, "They're a jazz band, and they're arguing about whether or not Craig is trying to insult them when he tells people that they always set fire to their beards during shows. And he is."

The jazz band looked out the window.

In a library, the man in the suit sat at a desk with books open in front of him. Nicola, Petra and Jen stood behind him, next to the jazz band. The man in the suit was making notes. He showed the band a sheet of paper and said, "Yeah, he's definitely trying to insult ye." The band looked at the paper. "If ye actually had beards, that would make a difference. And if ye always set fire to those beards during shows, then he'd just be stating a fact."

Craig's bandmates continued their rehearsal in a big white room as the jazz band chased Craig all around them. When Craig ran out the door, the jazz band followed, and the rest of the brass band followed with their instruments. They ran through the streets.

They all stopped to look at the fish in the aquarium. Nicola, Petra and Jen were there too. They looked in at the fish with the two bands, and the fish looked back out at them. No one noticed when Craig slipped away.

Charlotte was still in her office. She dialled her phone with a pen, and she twisted the curly wire around her finger as she waited for her friend Alison to answer. "Hi. I just dialled the phone with a pen... Yeah. Do you want to go to the races?"

There was an evening race meeting on at the track. The first race was at five. Charlotte put money on Nil Desperandum in the five-forty, and he won.

Nicola looked through a newspaper outside the bus station. Petra and Jen stood next to her, staring ahead. Nicola drew a red line around an ad for an outdoor concert by the river.

The three of them turned up at the concert in identical disguises: white silk scarves and dark sunglasses.

They listened to one of the brass band talk about a lecture Craig gave on being an artist. "It was mostly about ringing bells. About how you had to ring the bell and things."

When Craig arrived he was counting money.

Nicola, Petra and Jen were still wearing their disguises when they met the jazz band. They danced together in a bar, and they went for a walk through the park. Nicola and her friends made name tags for the band and for themselves, so they'd all remember each other's names. The band came close to smiling as the walked around with the pieces of cardboard that said 'Steve', 'Edgar' and 'Conrad'.

Nicola, Petra and Jen went to Aunt Joyce's house. Charlotte was there, and she told them about her win at the races on the horse that Craig had mentioned. "And I've got these photos of Craig too. Heather sent them to me."

She showed them the photos on her phone. One of them was of Craig with the fake moustache and a name tag that said 'My name is Conrad. I'm an artist'.

"I bet he owes someone money," Charlotte said, "and he used that disguise to hide from them. And Heather also told me that his band is supposed to play at a charity dinner with the jazz band. Lots of famous people will be there. He's spreading the rumours about the band because he wants to gig all to himself and his band."

"That's probably it," Joyce said.

"I'm going to call him and tell him I know what he's up to. Can I use your phone?" Charlotte said, putting her own phone behind her back.

"Yeah, of course."

Charlotte smiled and ran to the phone in the hall.

They stood in the back garden. The shadows got longer as the sun descended. "This is the only place to live," Joyce said. "This land, these sights that live on in my mind long after I close my eyes. That's where home is. This land, the sun, the moon and the stars, and then there's us... I made these name tags for the mice for when they're asleep. They just say 'zzz'."

They went inside and Joyce got them all drinks.

Nicola, Petra and Jen stared ahead with glasses in their hands, sad longing faces and silence. Jen looked down. Nicola and Petra still looked ahead.

They went back outside. The sky above the horizon was red, and above that a pale blue, and then black.

Nicola suddenly put a hand in the air and said, "Oh, ah, I... ah..."

"What is it?" Joyce said.

"Is it just that Craig bet lots of money on the horse that runs in circles because he thought he was really fast, and then he owed someone lots of money because of that, so he was hiding from this person. He was probably afraid. He wore the moustache and a name tag with 'Conrad' on it. The only Conrad he knew was the one in the jazz band. That Conrad is an artist, and that's what gave Craig the idea to write 'I'm an artist' on the name tag. But he had trouble keeping up the pretence. He ended up giving a lecture on being an artist, and doing the radio interview. And he got the gig at the charity event as Conrad the artist. That's why he wanted to get rid of the jazz band, because they know who he really is and they'd tell everyone he's a fake."

The man with the suit walked over to her and said, "That's it exactly."

Nicola applauded herself, jumping up and down.

The moose's head over the fireplace has no interest in the coloured lights on the window pane. It took me a while to explain their origin. I tried watching 'Lawrence of Arabia', hoping that would help. When the wife asked if I'd found an answer I said, "If..." For a second I thought I could explain it by using something I saw in 'Lawrence of Arabia', but when I tried to put it into words there was nothing there. "It's just the DVD player." That's what I said an hour later, but I'm sure the moose's head knew all along.