'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Two Thousand Birthday Cards

We've had too much rain recently to be able to do much in the garden. The wife has spent a lot of time positioning some stones she found. She thought they looked interesting, so she put them in a flowerbed. Each of them looks interesting on their own (I'll have to take her word for that) but finding the right position in relation to each other is proving tricky. In a pile somewhere out of the way is where I would have chosen to position them. She obviously has some idea in her mind, some vision of the effect she's trying to create. It was just like this when she was choosing the colour of the dog's kennel. She went for red, but when it rained the colour seemed all wrong. The dog looks sad in his kennel in the rain. That's why I thought the colour looked wrong -- because the dog was in it and he looked sad. I told her this and she said, "That's just the difference between you and me." I'd have said, "I'd have said 'you and I'," but if I'd said it I'd have had to go out to the shed. And I might have been happy with that -- I don't know.

My cousin Chloe was in the glasshouse one afternoon when her phone rang. It was her friend, Eve.

"At the moment I'm running down a huge corridor," Eve said. "There's a glass wall at one side, and I'm being chased by some people."

"Right. Is there anything I can do to help?"

"No, that's okay. Did you find your watch?"

"I did. It was in the kitchen all along. Gary found it."

"That's good. Listen, I'm approaching the exit to the building now, so I'm going to take my chances out in the open."

"It sounds very risky. Best of luck with that."

"Thanks. I might give you a call later. It all sort of depends on how I get on here."

"Yeah, I can imagine."

"I'll see you so."

"Bye Eve."

Chloe's brother, Gary, was at the race track, tearing up betting slips. He can do that with one hand and roll a cigarette with the other.

He left after the last race, and he went back into town. He met his cousin Isobel as he was walking down a street, and she said she was on the way to meet their friend Jim, if he'd like to come along. So he went to the pub with her.

Jim was standing on the street outside the pub, staring into space. They asked him what was wrong and he said, "I'm having fierce trouble with these birthday cards I bought. There's two thousand of them. It wouldn't be any trouble at all if there was just two or three, or even twenty of them, but there's two thousand."

"Why did you buy two thousand of them?" Gary said.

"I don't really know. That's the trouble. It wouldn't be any trouble at all if I said, 'Listen lads, I've no idea why I bought two thousand birthday cards,' and they said, 'That's grand so.' But they don't. They poke me in the shoulder and say, 'You'll have fierce trouble with this.'"

"What are you going to do about it?"

"That's another aspect to this trouble I'm having, fierce trouble. I don't know what I'm going to do about it. There's no way I'm paying for two thousand birthday cards."

Isobel said, "I'm sure if you just explained the situation to them rationally, they'd say, 'Okay, you made a mistake. That's okay so. You don't have to buy two thousand birthday cards.'"

"You don't know these people," Jim said.

He took them to where these people lived. It was a mansion at the edge of the town. They were in the garden. Jim, Gary and Isobel observed them through binoculars. Some of them were playing croquet, and another one was feeding a rabbit. A woman was sitting at an easel, painting a picture of all the things they'd do with the money they got from selling the birthday cards. The painting showed them buying more rabbits, and buying paintings too, jumping on trampolines and rolling around in flowers, and they had very big guns in all of these things.

"Okay, so the safest thing to do would be to find the money," Isobel said.

"How am I going to find that sort of money?"

"I know someone who made a fortune out of trees," Gary said. "It was all because he believed Elvis was living in a tree. He only believed it when he was on medication. Any one of us could do that."

Gary took them to meet Bill. He now lives with his wife, who he met at a bird-watching convention. He told her she had a bird in her hair -- it was perched on a twig. She smiled at him, and they fell in love almost straightaway. Even the bird could sense that.

They'd been married for over a year, and Bill was starting to get annoyed with his wife because every time he said, "I've come up with a name for that bird," she said, "Have you made sure it's not 'Hermann Goering'?"

He told Jim, Gary and Isobel about this when he met them, and Isobel said, "Why don't you just stop saying 'I've come up with a name for that bird' and say the name I've come up with is so-and-so, whatever the name is. As long as it's not 'Hermann Goering'."

Bill thought about this for a while, and then he said, "Get off my property."

They stood on the street outside. "Well done, Isobel," Jim said.

They were alone on the wide pavement. They watched the traffic go by and they tried to think. Isobel came up with another idea. She said, "I was talking to Chloe on the phone earlier, and she said she had just got a call from Eve. She was in trouble too -- fierce trouble, by the sound of it. She's being chased by some people. Why don't we just call her and see how she got out of it?"

Isobel phoned Eve and told her about the trouble Jim was in, but Eve said, "I'm afraid I haven't quite got out of my trouble yet. I'm on the roof of a very big house at the moment. I could tell ye how to get into trouble."

"We've already figured that bit out. It's the getting out of it we're interested in."

"Yeah. I haven't really figured that bit out yet. But as soon as I do, I'll call you and tell you how I managed to get out of it."

They stood in silence again. They tried to think, but Gary thought he heard the sound of music from somewhere. They walked down the footpath in the direction the sound was coming from. They turned the corner onto a quiet street, where a traditional band were playing. The band looked lost. They walked in one direction and stopped. Then they turned around, walked back the way they came and stopped again. They kept playing their instruments all the time.

"They look as if they need our help," Gary said. "If we could help them out, they might help us. You can make a lot of money through busking."

"Not enough to buy two thousand birthday cards."

"Maybe not, but you've got to start somewhere."

They went to the band and explained their plan. The band seemed happy at the prospect of finding their way out of the street, and they agreed to go busking, but they didn't actually say 'yes'. They just played a tune that sounded like a yes.

They went to the square in the centre of the town and the band started playing. A crowd formed around them within minutes. They got a huge round of applause at the end of each song, and they made a lot of money too.

And then at the end of one song a man said, "I was wondering if ye could help me out. I booked a band to play at a birthday party. They were supposed to turn up an hour ago, but there's still no sign of them. Could ye possibly take their place? I'll pay double what I was going to pay them."

"I'm the band's manager," Gary said. "They'd be delighted to play at the party."

"Fantastic," the man said, and he took them to the house where the party was. It was just next door to the house where they'd been spying on those people earlier. This house was a mansion too, and the party was in the garden.

The party really came to life when the band started playing. A crowd formed around them here too. Some people started dancing. Isobel got a glass of champagne and walked around the garden, looking at the flowers. She saw a big bird in a tree and she said, "Hey, Goering."

The bird turned around and looked at her. It was a very big bird. She turned around and faced the other way.

The music stopped when the band who were supposed to play finally arrived. They went over to the trad band and said, "Ye sound like ye're trying to strangle something. What are ye trying to strangle?"

The trad band played a hornpipe called 'You think Hong Kong is the thing in your mother's beard', but they only got a few bars into it before the fight started.

The fight ended a few minutes later when they fell into a fountain, and broke the statue in the centre. The water was re-directed towards the table where the birthday cake was, and the person in the birthday cake used the same words she used when someone told her that the bat landed on her head because it liked her make-up, only this time just a few people heard her because her voice was muffled by the birthday cake.

When the people from next door looked over the hedge to see what was going on, Jim, Gary and Isobel ran away, and the trad band followed. They were chased by the guests from the party and the people from next door.

They ran back into town, and when they turned a corner onto a narrow street, they came across an old pub. Gary suggested they hide in there.

Through the frosted glass on the door they saw the chasing pack run by. When they turned around they saw a sight they never expected to see in a pub. There was a little race track on the floor, and instead of horses or dogs, they were racing mice. The next race was just about to start, and a lot of betting activity was going on.

"If we put the money we got from the busking on one of the mice," Jim said, "that could go a long way to getting the money for the birthday cards."

"What do you think, Gary?" Isobel said.

Gary was looking through a form book. "Iron Dioxide beat a cat to a fence by three lengths in his last outing, and that's three cat-lengths."

"He's seven-to-one," Jim said. "Let's back him."

They put all their money on Iron Dioxide, but when the race started, he didn't even move. They shouted at him, and they pointed at the other mice, but Iron Dioxide was still at the start when the others were at the finishing line.

"Why didn't he run?" Gary said.

"He's nervous because that falcon is looking in the window at him," the barman said.

The falcon was actually looking at Isobel. She tried to ignore him.

They left the pub and stood on the pavement outside.

"We could go to the field where all the old cars are," Gary said. "We might find something valuable in them. I heard that someone left their glass eyes in the car they abandoned."

"I could go to my friend Alice," Isobel said. "She's an artist. Maybe those people would accept a painting instead of the money. They're going to spend some of the money on paintings anyway."

So Gary, Jim and the band went to look through the old cars while Isobel went to see her friend.

Alice didn't think her paintings would be worth anything. For the previous few months she'd been painting grey things. She said, "People keep saying to me, 'You didn't have to paint them grey, you know.' And I say, 'Well I did have to paint them grey if they're grey things.' No one ever said to me, 'You didn't have to paint grey things, you know.' If they'd said that, I might have said, 'That's a very good idea. I think I'll paint a red thing today.'"

"Do you think they're worth anything?"

"Nothing. The man in the art gallery says that grey is out this season."

Gary, Jim and the band were looking through the cars, but the only things they'd found were a radio and Scooby Doo toy that said 'up yours' when you pulled the string.

The band were in the back of a van when they heard voices outside. They looked out and saw those people who were selling the birthday cards. They were pointing guns at Gary and Jim. When they went into a shed, the band ran away.

As Isobel was walking away from Alice's house she saw the trad band running down the street towards her, and from the sound of their music she could tell that something was wrong.

"What is it?" she said. They played a tune. "Those people have found Gary and Jim!" They played some more. "And they're being held at gunpoint! Lead the way."

They band ran back the way they came, and Isobel followed them. They took her to the shed. She looked in the window and saw Gary and Jim inside. They had their hands in the air, and those people were pointing guns at them.

Isobel wondered what she should do. Her phone rang. It was Eve.

"Hi, Isobel," Eve said. "Do you remember earlier on when you were looking for a way to get out of trouble?"


"Well I found the ideal way. I was at a waterfall, and the only way out was to jump down the waterfall and take my chances there. I looked at it and I said to myself, 'I don't fancy my chances there.' So I did the only other thing I could think of. I told them I thought there was something moving in the curtains, and they just laughed, and now we're all having tea and discussing Proust."

"And that was all there was to it?"

"That was all. I just told them about the curtains."

Isobel couldn't think of a better plan, so she went inside and said, "Hi, my name is Isobel. This whole thing with the birthday cards arose because Jim thought there was something moving in the curtains. That's how this whole thing arose. I thought so too, but I could have been wrong about that. So I think the best thing to do would be to say, 'Okay, you made a mistake. That's okay so. You don't have to buy two thousand birthday cards.' Please."

"Okay," one of them said, and they put away their guns, partly because she said 'please', but mostly because there was a falcon on her shoulder, and he was looking at them in a very menacing way.

The band play a reel called 'There's a falcon on your shoulder', but Isobel didn't know what it was called. They all danced to the music and they forgot about the birthday cards.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't believe the story of the three pigs. That might be due to the fact that the wife's niece gets it mixed up with the story of the three bears when she tells it (and there's a post office in her telling of it too), but I don't think he'd believe it anyway. The wife's uncle often tells a story of how he was offered three pigs to marry a woman on a farm where he once woke up. He says, "If it was three motorbikes, I'd have thought, 'Yeah, maybe.' But when they offer you pigs -- run for the hills when they offer you pigs." I don't know if the moose's head believes it, but he seems to enjoy it anyway.