'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Dancing in the Pub

Easter has always been the time when work on the garden really gets underway. You can't hide from that. All the best places to hide appear in May when the leaves return to the trees. Or disappear.

My cousin Albert was in the pub one evening with his friends, George and Neil. The three of them sat in silence, and they knew they were all thinking the same thing. Lots of things were tempting them to get up and dance, especially the thought that Louise was just a few tables away, and a friend of theirs told them that she once danced on her own to the music in this pub. Everyone else was too busy watching her to think of joining her, and they regretted that later. She didn't seem to mind the fact that she was dancing on her own. She even lifted her dress up a bit to give her legs more room to move, or so the story goes.

Albert and his friends would have loved to get up and dance because it seemed fairly likely that she'd join them, but they didn't have the nerve. If only they could get her to dance first, it'd be easy to join her. They had once figured out how to rescue a cat from a roof using elastic bands, so they thought they could surely solve this problem.

They approached it in their own way, by conducting experiments in a lab, creating blueprints, explaining theories on blackboards. Albert wore a white coat and stood in front of a light blue wall as he told the others his plan to get her to dance using continuous sounds that alternated between different frequencies every five seconds.

This was just before Easter. The days were getting longer again, and they spent most of those daylight hours working on ways to get her to dance, but their experiments failed, and they always spotted some flaw in their plans.

They left the lab and looked at the white tiles on the ground at the bottom of a stairwell, where the sun shone in through a narrow window that ran from the ground to the ceiling. They looked at the light blue garage door at Albert's place. They just stood there in silence, looking at the flaking paint. The idea of the continuous sounds seemed stupid then. They walked past the factories, through the overgrown grass next to a wall of concrete blocks, and they went down a quiet road, a place they hadn't been in years. They stopped at a stop sign that was covered in dust.

Neil broke the silence. He said, "This dark world around me..." He was holding a small chrome flashlight. He turned that on and off a few times. "It works much better at night."

"So that's all we've come up with, is it?" Albert said. "A flashlight?"

"It would work much better at night."

"We're completely out of our depth here."

They went back to Albert's house. He looked at a letter that had arrived in the post, hoping it was from her, saying she'd like to dance with him in the pub. But it couldn't be from her, unless she works for the bank and uses their stationery to send personal letters.

He opened the envelope. No, she doesn't work for the bank.

He thought of asking Frank for advice. He was a bit of an expert on these things, and he knew Louise too.

So they went to see Frank. He lived in an attic room by the sea. 'La Mer' was on the record player, a very old version of the song. When they asked about Louise he sighed and told them about April days at the beach, when she walked barefoot and ran from the waves as they reached their highest point on the sand, and receded back out to sea. They played old records in this room, with Louise spinning around to the music.

"We're really looking for something much simpler than that," Albert said. "Just dancing in the pub."

"Ye're aiming too low. I could tell ye exactly what to do to get her barefoot on the beach."

"I think we're out of our depth here too," Albert whispered to the others.

They left Frank and walked along the beach. "What we need is sensible advice," Albert said. "Someone sensible to tell us what to do, because we'll never figure it out ourselves. If we want a woman to dance at the pub, we need to get a woman's perspective on it."

Albert decided to ask his cousin Rachel. The only trouble was, he was too embarrassed to ask her directly. He wanted to bring up the subject casually in a conversation.

Rachel's mother, Aunt Bridget, was organising a party. Albert, George and Neil volunteered to help in the preparations, just to spend some time with Rachel.

She was standing in the breeze in a field behind the house. She came here to think, but she couldn't think clearly about anything. She was trying to remember what she had written in an email to a friend, after getting a text from that friend saying 'Are you sure he was a pilot?'. Her mother had compiled a list of things they needed for the party. It was written on two sheets of paper that were held together with a paperclip. Rachel was also trying to remember some of the items on this list because she couldn't find it. She was trying to remember where she left it too.

At first she went into the back garden to think about these things, but her cousin Ted was there, along with his wife, Anne, and a friend of theirs called Judy. They were looking out over the fields. They spoke as they stared ahead, but they didn't seem to be listening to what the others were saying.

Rachel couldn't concentrate with them around, so she went into the fields. But when she tried to think there, she couldn't help remembering the three of them in the garden, and in her mind she saw them as three ghosts. The whole day was a bit of a mess, her mind and her hair blown all over the place in the breeze, her mind all mixed up.

Albert and his friends found her in the field. He spoke about the party, and he brought up the subject of the dacning-with-Louise as casually as he could. He asked if she had any ideas.

She just said, "Ahm... if..." A long period of silence followed. They looked at her hair moving all over the place in the breeze. "My head is just..." She moved her hands around too. "Maybe if you ask the ghosts."

"The ghosts?"

"Yeah. I don't know. Maybe. They're over there." She pointed out over the field, but she didn't seem too sure about that. She tried pointing in another direction. "There's three of them."

They found the 'ghosts' anyway.

Albert explained the situation again, and Judy said, "It's important to remember who you are and where you're going. Don't get distracted by the water, or the voices you hear in the distance, or the voices you infer from the hand gestures you see in the distance. I remember ten things, or maybe eleven, but ten of them had to do with looking into eyes. I don't know what the eleventh one was. There probably wasn't an eleventh one. And don't pick things out of your hair. Let's say that's the eleventh one."

'Look into her eyes' was the only piece of advice they took from that, so they decided to give that a go.

But when they were about to meet Louise outside the tennis courts, they spotted a potential problem. There was three of them and only one of her. Albert said he'd try first, and if he failed, the others could have a go.

He went over to her and looked into her eyes. That's when he noticed another flaw in the plan -- he didn't know what to say, but it didn't matter. She smiled, and he smiled too. He didn't need to say anything.

They walked away together. Neil and George thought they wouldn't get a chance to look into her eyes. They decided to focus their attention on Rachel instead, so they went back to Bridget's house to help with the party again.

They had tea with Bridget in the dining room as she discussed all of the jobs that needed to be done. She wanted them to sweep the concrete in the driveway.

When she went to the kitchen to get more tea, George said, "This is ridiculous. We were supposed to come up with a plan to get Louise to dance in the pub, but instead we're sweeping the driveway at Albert's aunt's house."

"It's your fault."

"You haven't come up with a good idea since you fell off that vending machine."

"It's still your fault."

"You're going to fall off the chair. Look up at the ceiling... Why won't you look up at the ceiling?"

"Because I'll probably fall off the chair."

"There's a crack up there and it's in a very funny shape."

Neil held onto the sides of the chair, and he kept looking straight ahead in case he accidentally looked up at the ceiling.

Albert and Louise were going up and down in the elevators in a tall building. The doors of the elevators had a gold tint to them.

This is almost as good as the dancing, he thought. But not quite, because no one could see them. Who'd believe him when he told the story? And even if they did, 'we went up and down in the elevators' doesn't sound much anyway. Other people would have ways of telling the story that would make it sound exciting.

He wanted the day to go on so that he'd have more of a story to tell, but he knew he'd have to do more than just look in her eyes again. He said, "Can you remember where you were when... last October... because last October I was trying to explain Freud to someone who thought I was talking about the film Gremlins. I'm sure there's a Freudian explanation for that, but I didn't know what it was."

"Hmm, let me see. Last October... In August I was walking across a rooftop, on a red brick building, an evening after the rain cleared. We went out through an attic window. The wall rose above the bottom of the roof, and there was a narrow path all the way around."

She demonstrated what she was doing in August by taking Albert to this building. They stood on the roof, and she said, "I remember listening to someone explain how to make a hovercraft up here, and I thought it was an odd place to explain the workings of hovercrafts. He could have told me at the lake. What would Freud say about that?"

Albert didn't really know, but he did his best to explain it in terms of the film Gremlins.

"And September was mostly bright coloured woolen clothes." She modelled the clothes for him.

She looked through the pages of a book and said, "The last days of September were full of swimming pools, people with small dogs and fake tans. And October..." She turned the page, and then turned it back. "Should I go back for October?"

She turned back to the previous page, and then the one before that. She looked through the book for a few minutes, but she couldn't remember October at all.

They went outside and she said, "Reading the word 'October' does nothing for me. I see nothing on the paper, but sometimes I close my eyes and see those words, and next to them I see the things those words mean."

She closed her eyes and smiled. "The hair salon," she said. "I can vaguely remember that."

They went to the hair salon and looked inside. The interior had a very modern look. There were three stylists inside, all dressed in black. They were standing completely still, in perfect balance with their surroundings.

"We need to distract them somehow," Louise said. "I want to look at their appointment book for last October."

An hour later, as Ted, Anne and Judy were getting their hair cut, Albert and Louise got into the office of the salon without being seen. Louise found last year's appointment book and looked through the pages for October. She found her own name in it, next to the name 'DJ Dolan'.

"I know him," Louise said. "But I haven't seen him around in a while."

The three ghosts were still talking in monologues. Anne said, "I often look at this finger. Not all of my fingers look like this one, which is handy. It's a nice way to pass the time on those long days when I feel like yawning quite often but I don't really yawn a lot, not as often as I look at my finger anyway. He talks about the mountains and all the colours he sees from a distance. He said it was a bit like when he got out of the ironing board. Sometimes he sees purple when he closes his eyes and when he opens them he can't be sure. No one could really say for sure, so I don't really know and neither do they, unless you ask them and they tell you something and it sounds more believable than that thing you heard in the old water trough that's full of rain water now, but the tiny ripples of the words in that are beautiful, and I'd rather believe something beautiful."

As George and Neil swept the driveway, they wondered what they could do to impress Rachel. "What about flowers?" Neil said.

They thought about this. Both of them imagined giving her the flowers.

"Wait a minute," George said, "there's two of us and only one of her."

"We'll have to think of something else so."

They went back inside when they'd finished the driveway. They were looking at a vase that Rachel had made in a pottery class. Bridget told them about it earlier. She said Rachel was very proud of that.

"Why don't we get her flowers so she could put in the vase?" Neil said.

"We already ruled out the flowers because there's two of us."

"Oh yeah."

Neil was holding the vase when they saw the three ghosts looking in the window. The new hairstyles gave them a fright, and Neil dropped the vase.

They picked up the broken pieces, and they had to hide the pieces behind their backs with Rachel's sister, Nicola, came into the room. She suspected they were up to something, but they insisted they were just out for a walk.

"There's no point in lying," Nicola said. "You'll always get caught out in the end. Imagine lots of different pins all mixed up together. They're all different sizes, and some have little balls on the end of them, and the balls are all different colours. Think of your lies all mixed up with the pins, but only one of them is a paperclip."

Neil picked up a paperclip and said, "Is this it?"

"You're totally missing the point of what I'm saying here."

Albert and Louise followed DJ Dolan as he walked through the city streets, talking into a microphone, but the microphone wasn't plugged into anything. They wore long overcoats, hats and dark glasses, and they hid behind newspapers.

DJ Dolan stopped at a park, and he said nothing for a while. Then he turned around and went back the way he came, talking into the microphone again.

"I remember now," Louise said. "In the salon we were getting ready for the opening of a new bar. And I remember going there with him. And then about half of the people there ended up in this park the next day."

Neil and George hid the broken pieces of the vase. They decided to try the 'look in the eyes' method on Rachel. They tossed a coin to see who'd go first, and Neil won. They met her in the hall. Her hair was tied down with hair pins. When Neil looked into her eyes, there was silence. They could hear the faint sound of the wind outside the door. She looked back at him, and he got the impression that her mind was crystal clear then, and that she knew they had something to hide.

Neil and George ran away. Rachel just stood there. She was trying to remember if there was something about a pilot on the list of things to do for the party.

Albert and Louise met DJ Dolan and they took him back to the radio station. His producer had been standing in for him since last October, mostly by just humming. He got back just in time for the end of his show, and at the end, Louise said, "Why don't we all go to that bar again?"

Neil and George did their best to avoid Rachel, but they bumped into her in the kitchen. Her hair was still tied down, and as well as the hair pins, she also had a paperclip in her hair. One of her hair pins was holding together the two sheets of paper with the list of things for the party.

They panicked. They were convinced that this meant she knew. "We're really sorry we broke your vase," Neil said.

She just looked at them, and they looked at her for a few seconds, until they could take it no more and they ran away. She kept staring into space after they left.

They avoided her all through the party. The two of them were alone in the dining room, in the silence at the end of the night after most of the guests had left. They sat at the table beneath the chandelier, with empty cups and glasses on the white table cloth.

"Look up at the ceiling."


"Just look up at the bloody ceiling."

"F off."

Albert and Louise finally arrived at the party. When she went with Nicola to get a drink, Albert took out his notebook. He had made notes of everything they had done that day. "Dancing in the pub, was it?" he said to Neil and George. "Well let's see what we have here. I don't think there's any dancing in the pub. There's going up and down on elevators. That doesn't sound like much, even with the gold doors. But what have we here? August..."

Rachel was tip-toeing down a corridor upstairs. She thought she heard a noise, and she was following the sound. When she turned a corner she bumped into the three ghosts.

"Oh my God!" she said. "They broke my vase!"

She went back downstairs, and she found them in the dining room. Albert was reading from his notebook and the other two were looking up at the ceiling. In her mind, all three of them were one, so she punched Albert in the stomach and said, "That's for breaking my vase."

When Louise saw him lying on the ground, she ran over to him and said, "You poor thing." She brushed the hair back from his forehead, and she kissed him.

It became crystal clear to Albert, Neil and George what they had to do all along. Just get punched in the stomach, or anywhere. You could easily get someone to do that to you in the pub, or anywhere. It was such a simple solution, but they'd never have thought of that.

The moose's head over the fireplace has never liked horses (although he tolerates them now because he sees the chance to make money at the races) but we recently discovered that he has a dislike of monkeys too. Someone gave the wife a painting of a monkey who'd just found a gold chalice with a metal detector, and he looked very happy. The wife tried putting it in many different places around the house, to see if it would work anywhere. We both agreed that the attic was the best place for it. She tried putting it on the wall opposite the moose's head, and he clearly didn't like it. At first we thought he just didn't like the painting, but when I showed him a photo in a book of a sad monkey who'd just lost his cowboy hat, the moose looked very happy with that. I can't think of any way to make money from monkeys, just to change his opinion.