'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 05, 2006

These Days

It really feels like Spring now that the clocks have gone on. Summer is just around the corner, and the sporting seasons are coming to an end. The semi-finals of the Champions League (soccer), the Heineken Cup (rugby) and the rabbit table bobsleigh (it's a combination of many different sports and past times) are coming up. The finals normally coincide with the start of summer, and the outcome of the rabbit table bobsleigh is normally a good indicator of the weather over the summer.

My cousin Hugh thought it was about time he learnt how to swim, and his fiancee, Annabel, said she'd teach him. Hugh was a candidate in an upcoming local election, but he didn't seem to have much in the way of political ideology. Annabel bought him Che Guevara armbands, in the hope that this would push him slightly to the left.

The first lesson was on a Saturday morning. Annabel only showed him the armbands when they were at the pool. He refused to wear them at first, but she said that without them, left and right would become irrelevant because the only way he'd go would be down.

So he wore the armbands, and he forgot about them after a while, as he concentrated on the swimming, but then he noticed a man who looked just like Fidel Castro. This man was staring at Hugh. He took the cigar out of his mouth when Hugh looked over at him.

When the man with the beard and cigar made his way towards them, Hugh decided he'd learnt enough for that day and they left.

Annabel went to meet a friend of hers, and Hugh walked away down the wide pavement outside the swimming pool. The street was quiet. A line of cars were parked by the kerb. He noticed a bright red car that seemed to be brand new. When he looked in the window he saw a woman in the driver's seat, and he recognised her. It was his cousin, Charlotte. He waved and said hello. She got out of the car to talk to him.

She had spent that Saturday morning doing the shopping, just like every other Saturday. In a shopping mall, she stood behind a huge glass pane in the window, looking out. There wasn't much to say, but much to see in the silence. A man in a tuxedo walked towards her, but he was just handing out leaflets for a dry cleaners. He said, "I've been picking potatoes all day long, but you'd never guess that from the way I look."

She went to the supermarket to get the groceries, which were mostly frozen food. She looked at some blue things, green ones too, and she tried to decide which one to go for. She thought about the fact that these are the choices that require her most careful consideration, and they don't matter at all. She might as well just go for the green one because it makes no difference. Or the blue.

She left the supermarket, and she gave a few coins to the people collecting for charity at the door. She put the bags in her new car, and she took the trolley back. She drove home again and put all of the groceries away, then she drove back into town to meet her cousin Jane for lunch. She parked on the street outside the swimming pool, and she sat there, thinking about how Saturday is supposed to be different to every other day of the week, but it's just like every other Saturday. The silence could be from any day. Nothing ever changes.

She told Hugh she was meeting Jane and her friend Claudia for lunch, and they arrived a few minutes later. They were helping to organise a party for people taking part in a basketball tournament. "Everyone has to get some job," Jane said. "Myself and Claudia will be singing, and because of that we can't help with the food and drink. Imelda is doing that, and the last time she did it she bought wine that comes in boxes and caviar that comes in orange or blackberry flavours."

Charlotte sighed and said, "She probably shops in the same place I shop. I'd still be there now if I was trying to choose between orange and blackberry caviar."

Jane and Claudia sang one of their songs to cheer her up, and she did start to smile.

When Hugh saw the man who looks like Castro walking towards them, he asked if he could join them at lunch, and he suggested they leave fairly quickly. Jane and Claudia walked behind Charlotte, singing all the time. She smiled.

They had lunch in a cafe nearby, and afterwards they met Charlotte's friend, Rob, on the street outside.

"Every day is like every other day, and every week is like every other week," Charlotte said. "Apart from when I'm around Rob and I have to talk in broken English and pretend I'm from... Where am I supposed to be from again?"

"No, that was last week," Rob said.

"Oh. Did you sort all that out?"

"Is there a man in a blue suit following me?"

She looked around. "No."

"Yeah, it seems to have sorted itself out."

"I think I have someone following me too," Hugh said. He told them about the Che Guevara armbands and the man who looked like Fidel Castro. He asked Rob if he had any ideas on how to get out of it.

"Don't pretend you're from Cuba anyway," Rob said. "You could try Germany."

"Where was I supposed to be from?" Charlotte said.

"Spain. I wouldn't try Spain, because they speak Spanish in Cuba."

Hugh saw the man who looked like Castro walking towards them. He said, "I think I'll just stick with my original plan for the time being, which is just avoiding him."

"Will we go to see Bertie?" Charlotte said.

Charlotte drove them there. She smiled as Jane and Claudia sang in the back seat. Rob started to sing along a bit too.

Bertie was at his aunt's house. There was a small field at the back, which he hoped to make into a vegetable garden.

They stood in the field with Bertie, looking at the holes in the ground, or at the blue sky and the white clouds above.

He showed them a postcard he got from his girlfriend, Monica, who was on holiday in Mexico. "I love her postcards," he said. "Look at the handwriting. It's typical of her never to fall anything short of absolute beauty."

Charlotte read the card. It said: 'If Sean comes around with his metal detector and his shovel, tell him I'll kick him in the balls when I get back'.

"You have read it, haven't you?" she said.

"No, I could never read her writing, but it's beautiful."

"Yeah." She wondered if she should tell him what it says, but it looked as if the damage with the metal detector and the shovel had already been done. "Let's count the holes."

They counted them. Sixteen holes. Jane and Claudia were standing behind Charlotte, and they started singing 'A Day in the Life' by the Beatles, because there's a line in that about counting holes in Blackburn. The song was supposed to build to a crescendo at the end, but instead it faded away. "And that's what days do," Charlotte said to herself. "They fade away when you're expecting a crescendo, and you just have to learn to expect them to fade away and accept that."

Jane and Claudia were distracted by some people walking down a narrow lane at the other side of the fence. A man was looking closely at the ground as he walked. He was being followed by people in a bus shelter, who were carrying the shelter around with them. Every time he looked back, they stopped and pretended to be waiting for a bus. One man kept opening a newspaper. There were a lot of people trying to cram into the shelter. Jane and Claudia joined them.

The others went inside. Bertie had been doing some work on the house too, and he showed them that. He took them to a small room at the back of the house, which was part an old extension that had been added about thirty years earlier. The room used to be much bigger, but a plywood partition divided it in two. Wallpaper covered the partition. The bright sun slowly moved across the bare floorboards.

"I can't wait to show all this to Monica," Bertie said. "Of course, I'll bring all the furniture back in before showing it to her. There was a painting of a bay on the wall, and a mirror. Sometimes I forget what I look like without mirrors. I touch my face to make sure it's still there. That's what Monica would call an affectation, even though there's no one around to see it. I can't even see it myself without the mirror. But I can see it in the film of my life in my mind. I'd like to play a painter in that film, an artist. I'm not much of a painter, as you can see from all the white spots after I tried to paint the ceiling. I can never see the paintings when I see them in the film in my mind. It'd be handy if I could, because then I could just paint them, after learning how to paint. I got a glimpse of one of them once, but it was just a happy bee with a dolphin. It was very good, in fairness. I'd love to be able to paint like that. But I wouldn't paint that sort of thing. You could tell the bee was happy because he was smiling and he was wearing a cowboy hat. I don't know about the dolphin."

There was silence, apart from the sound of the birds outside. Charlotte was more depressed than ever.

They went down the stairs and out onto the quiet street. Rob said, "I never see myself in a film, but sometimes I see myself as a sad character in a play, one of the ones who talks in monologues after the others have gone. They say, 'They've gone now,' and they talk about how the others take no notice of her. Or him. In this case it's a him, but I'm thinking of a play where it's a her. She talks about what she'll have for breakfast, usually something she finds under the table, or he. They'll go through the rest of their day, which is the same as every other day, and then he or she will talk about holidays when he or she was young. 'When I was a girl or a boy on "something" strand.' People say I'm nothing like that, but that's the way I see myself sometimes."

No cars passed by, and there was no one else on the street until Jane and Claudia returned, along with all the people under the bus shelter, and they still had the bus shelter. They were effectively a choir then, singing 'Fly me to the Moon'.

There were many more people in the group. Most of them were outside the bus shelter. A woman with a tiara was holding opera glasses, and she was with a man in a top hat. There was a pig in a jumper, and a man with a black eye and his left arm in a sling, who was receiving the loving attention of a woman who looked as if she'd just found the love of her life, having previously been engaged to someone else, a man from a rich family who was about to inherit a fortune from a wealthy uncle, but he bet the last of his ready cash on a horse called 'Something in my Igloo', and the horse fell at the first. He didn't want his parents to find out about this, but he only got himself into more trouble when he borrowed the money from a man who was managing a band, but the band were more interested in breaking into people's houses than in playing music, and the man was glad they had such an interest in this. It all ended with people pretending to be other people, and other people pretending to be members of a Russian theatre group, then lots of running away and hiding behind furniture before the happy ending.

A lot of people came to look at and listen to them. Hugh was enjoying it, until he saw the man who looked like Fidel Castro walking towards him.

Himself, Jane, Claudia, Charlotte, Bertie and Rob took the bus shelter and ran away under it. They ran down streets, sometimes stopping for a rest. They turned to face the other way when a bus passed by. They were on a hill and they found themselves looking down on a park. A woman was at an easel, trying to paint a picture of a dog, but he kept moving. She kept saying 'stay', and it worked while she was saying that, but it seemed as if he only stayed because he was trying to figure out what 'stay' means. As soon as she stopped saying it, he walked on again, his tail wagging.

When they turned around, Hugh was face to face with the man who looked like Castro.

He took the cigar out of his mouth and said, "Are you any relation of the Deasy's down beyond Skipereen?"

"Yeah, on my mother's side."

"I thought so. Did I see you at The Hatter's funeral?"

"Oh yeah. I was there alright."

"I thought so. He was a gas man, The Hatter. As decent as the day is long."

A bus stopped at the bus shelter, and a man in blue suit got off. He said to Rob, "Where are those chairs you promised? Those pensioners are still sitting on boxes."

"Ich sprechen... not English anyway. Ich bin ein... not Irish."

The man in the blue suit didn't believe he was not Irish, not that it would have made much difference if he had, but the man who looked like Castro was a friend of his. They worked together for years. They spent the next twenty minutes talking about old times, the things they got up to at work just to pass the time, and The Hatter. The man in the suit wasn't concerned about the chairs after laughing at what The Hatter once wrote on a weather balloon. He shook Rob's hand and said it wouldn't kill them to get some cushions for the boxes.

The moose's head over the fireplace has recently acquired an interest in opera. One of the relatives once tried to sing along with an opera singer on TV at a New Year's party, but he got it all wrong. The first thing he got wrong was that he was a he and the singer was a she. You can't really blame him for being a he, and he had the drink to blame for his other mistake. He insisted that this was the only time he's made such a error, and anyone could make that mistake when you see someone dressed as a Viking. Someone pointed out that the singer on TV wasn't dressed as a Viking, but he said he was talking about something in real life. That put us off opera for a good while, but we discovered the moose's interest by accident, and we play some for him every day.