'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 15, 2006

The Pencil

It's always nice to walk around the garden at this time of year. The daffodils appear from nowhere. My great-grandfather once wrote a poem about daffodils. He nailed it to the side of the shed with two six inch nails he found in the ground when he was digging a hole. My great-grandmother pointed out that if the poem had been any good he would have put it in a frame and hung it on the wall instead of nailing it to the shed. He probably would have hung it on the wall if he could have used a big enough nail. The line 'We'll need a bigger nail' would sum him up. The daffodil poem was just a minor blip.

My cousin Alan played a game of pitch-and-putt with his friends, Eric and Jim, one Saturday morning. On the way home, he called to see his girlfriend, Sonia, and they went for a walk in the woods. He told her he was afraid of wolves. She got out her notepad and pen and wrote that down. "Afraid of wolves. Okay."

She clicked the top of her pen and put it back into the top pocket of her coat. She put the notepad into her handbag. "Is there anything else I should make a note of?" she said.

He was going to tell her never to believe Eric when he says you should go to see the swans in the park, but he didn't want to put her to the trouble of getting the pen and notepad out again. "No, that's about it," he said. "I'm afraid of wolves."

After their walk, Sonia went back to the painting she was working on. It was a still life that featured fruit, vegetables and a few pencils, but one of the pencils was missing from the scene she had arranged.

She looked all over the place for it, but she couldn't find it. The only way it could have gone missing was if someone took it, and the only reason someone would take it would be to write something. She looked at pieces of paper for any words in pencil, and on the windowsill she found a note that said 'Gone to get a lamp shade'.

She remembered a huge birthday card she got for her last birthday. It was signed by over thirty people. She looked at that and tried to find a match between the handwriting on the note and the signatures.

She found a near-perfect match in Eric's signature, so she went to see him. He was looking at a new lamp shade. She said to him, "What have you done with my pencil?"

"I haven't done anything with it."

"You wrote this note, didn't you?"

"That's not my handwriting."

"Show me your handwriting so."

She gave him her pen and her notepad. He wrote 'my handwriting' in very bizarre letters.

"You're deliberately writing differently," she said.

"I'm not."

"I'm going to prove you stole my pencil. And then I'm going to kick you on the shins."

Her friend Dave was a laboratory assistant, and she went to the lab where he worked. "Could you prove that this note was written by Eric?" she said. "Here's another example of his handwriting." She gave him the piece of paper and the birthday card.

"We'll have a go anyway," Dave said.

He looked at the note and the card for a few minutes after Sonia left. Then he put them down and said to Aaron, another lab assistant, "I've often thought that this lab would make the greatest cocktail lounge ever."

He made a sign on a piece of cardboard that said 'cocktail lounge'.

"What about the drink?" Aaron said.

"What do you think all these bottles are for?"

Eric was worried he was in for a shin kicking. He had to find the pencil, or just get a replacement and hope she wouldn't notice the difference. He went to a pet shop and he asked the woman behind the counter if they sold pencils, but he realised his mistake, and he knew what she'd say even before she said, "This..."

"Oh yeah, this is a pet shop. Sorry."

He went to another shop, but he couldn't find an appropriate pencil. The only other option was to find the original pencil, but he wasn't entirely sure how he lost it. He had met his friend Sarah earlier, and she asked him if he'd seen her dog. He asked what it looked like and she said she'd draw a picture. So she used to pencil to draw a picture of a smiling dog.

He hadn't remembered seeing that dog, and when he asked her for the pencil she was fairly sure she had given it back to him. Eric couldn't remember that either, but he thought the pencil would turn up in his shoe or something. He searched both of his shoes later, but there was no sign of it. The most likely explanation was that Sarah still had it, but he couldn't find her.

Sonia went back to the lab in the afternoon and she asked Dave if he'd found the proof. He stared back at her for about ten seconds, completely expressionless, and then he said, "A pigeon took it."

"Which way did he go?"

It took another few seconds for Dave to say, "Up."

Sonia looked up at the ceiling.

She left the lab, and as she was walking down the street she met Eric. "Are your shins ready to be kicked?" she said. "My foot can't wait."

"I've just been to the park and there was a peacock in with the swans, but they haven't noticed he's not one of them. I think they're suspicious alright. He spreads his feathers every time they turn their backs."

"I've got to see this," Sonia said, and she started to walk away, but she stopped and said, "Wait a minute. Are you just trying to get rid of me?"

"Absolutely not." He smiled.

She thought he was up to something. She took out her notepad and looked at the note that said 'Alan is afraid of wolves', and at where Eric had written 'my handwriting', but neither of them were much help. "Okay," she said, and she walked on again.

There was no peacock in the park. There weren't any swans either. She sighed and resigned herself to losing the pencil, but then she remembered a film about a leprechaun who didn't give up so easily, and she knew she shouldn't give up so easily herself. She went to see Alan and she got him to phone Eric and ask where he was. Eric told him exactly where he was, and then he said, "You're not going to tell Sonia this, are you?"

"No no no... Well, yes. That is sort of the whole point of this."

Eric was with Jim. They were looking for Sarah in the fields where she was looking for her dog.

When Sonia and Alan arrived, Eric said, "Ah, I'm glad I met you. About this whole handwriting thing, that writing on the birthday card is my handwriting from last year. But I've been going to caligraphy classes since then, and it's completely changed the way I write. When I wrote this morning I didn't have my reading glasses, and my writing tends to go all over the place then because the caligraphy requires so much attention. Here's an example of my handwriting now."

He held up a piece of paper with very ornate writing on it. In his other hand he had a pair of glasses.

Alan said, "You just wear those glasses to frighten off a horse you don't like."

Behind them, a horse was walking towards Eric. He put on the glasses and turned around to face the horse. He moved his fingers about and made ghost noises. The horse turned around and walked back the way he came.

"I know you took my pencil," Sonia said, "and as soon as I get proof I'm going to kick you on the shins."

Back in the lab, Dave and Aaron were looking at a stuffed pigeon, and drinking through straws. After half an hour of looking at the pigeon, they left the lab and walked down the street towards the outskirts of town. They went down a quiet road, where they meet Sarah, and she said 'come with me' without using the words 'come with me' or any words at all. Actually, she might have meant 'go home', but they felt compelled to go with her. They followed her to a tree in a field, at the top of a slight hill.

The three of them stood there in silence for about ten minutes. Aaron said to Dave, "You know that way she has with words? Like, with not using words at all but still saying things."


"It's a bit like that with doing things too."

"I know."

"She can do things without doing anything."


They turned around to look at Eric and Jim walking through a field below them. When they turned back, Sarah was holding a gin and tonic. Dave asked where she got it and she said, "The waiter gave it to me."

They looked around for the waiter, but they couldn't see him.

"He's probably hiding from ye," she said, but she says that about lots of things.

They walked away in search of the waiter, over barren ground, stones and moss, past trees bent by the wind, and they eventually found him sitting on a rock. He stood up when he saw them. He was holding a silver tray with drinks. Dave and Aaron were about to take one, but they looked back at Sarah. She started laughing for no apparent reason. The laughter faded away, and she was about to take another sip of her drink but she couldn't because she started laughing again.

Dave and Aaron looked back and forth between the waiter and Sarah. They didn't want to turn out like her, so they walked away without taking the drinks. They went back to the lab and took down the 'coctail lounge' sign. They put away the drinks. The pigeon returned, and Aaron tried to hide the stuffed pigeon.

They went to see Sonia with the note, and Dave said, "We've found proof that Eric wrote it. He signed his name down at the bottom."

"I knew it!"

They all went to the fields where Eric and Jim were looking for Sarah.

"I have scientific proof that you wrote that note," Sonia said to Eric. "So unless you give me back my pencil right now I'm going to kick you on the shins."

"I... well... Wait a minute." He saw a figure approaching, and he was hoping it would be Sarah -- this was his last chance to avoid a kicking. Alan and Jim were hoping it would be the waiter. Eric would have settled for the waiter too. But it was much smaller than Sarah or the waiter, and for a while Sonia thought it looked more like a leprechaun.

It was actually a wolf. "I'm afraid," Alan said.

None of them knew what to do. Should they run away and hope for the best, or stay together as a herd?

Sonia closed her eyes and imagined the leprechaun in the film. She remembered when he took off his glasses because he was in love with a female leprechaun, and he thought she'd like him more without the glasses.

"Take off your glasses," Sonia said to Eric.

When he took them off, the horse walked towards them. When the wolf saw the horse, he turned around and walked the other way.

Sonia smiled. Then she remembered the pencil and Eric's shins. "Right..."

Eric was running away. Jim and the horse followed him.

"I still don't have my pencil," Sonia said. "I've had that for years. I've been saving it for just the right painting, and I won't be able to finish the painting now. I didn't even get to kick him on the shins.

There was a tear in her eye. "Never mind," Alan said. "We'll go to the lake and let them fall down the hole I dug earlier."

As the sun descended beneath the horizon, Sonia and Alan stood on the banks of the lake and they kissed.

Eric and Jim walked through the woods, with the horse close behind. "We're lost," Jim said.

"We're not. Look, there's Sarah now." She was standing at the edge of the woods. "Sarah, did you, ahh!"

They fell down a hole. The horse looked down at them, then he turned around and walked away.

The moose's head over the fireplace is enjoying the Spring weather. We can open the windows and breathe the fresh air, listen to the distant sound of the bagpipes, look at the daffodils in the garden. I thought the bagpipes sounded out of place too, but I've devoloped a habit of not questioning things recently. Questions lead to answers of the form 'because you haven't ___ed the ___', and this inevitably leads to me ___ing the ___, which almost always involves fixing holes, digging holes, getting on the roof or cutting timber. The moose's head seems to enjoy the sound of the bagpipes, and they do sound much better in the distance.