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

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


The wife's aunt keeps saying our garden reminds her of Germany. I keep reminding her that she's never been to Germany, but she says she was there in spirit with a man she met on a tram. I block out most of her stories, expecially the ones that start with men she met on trams. I leave her alone when she starts singing Kurt Weill songs.

My cousin Isobel was staying in Aunt Joyce's summer house in a seaside town. There were lots of things to do around the town, besides spending time on the beach. In the museum, a collection of buttons was on display, along with photos of people wearing buttons.

After her third trip to see the buttons, Isobel skipped down the stone steps outside the museum, whistling as she went, but she stopped at the bottom, where a sad film crew stood on the footpath, just looking sad. She stood there with them, and she began to look sad too.

She couldn't focus on being sad for too long, and after a few minutes her mind began to wander. She said, "If you saw a bear in an igloo, would you blame it on something you drank or would you drink something to forget it?"

They thought about it for a while, but they couldn't answer her question, and they all felt sad enough to drink themselves into forgetting it.

"If we can't find something to film," the camera man said, "we're all just going to go to the pub and forget about this day."

"I know something ye'll definitely want to film," Isobel said. "Follow me."

They followed her into the museum and she showed them around the collection of buttons.

By the end they were only slightly less sad than they had been at the start, and that was only because they'd forgotten her question about the bear in the igloo.

They walked around the town, looking for other things to film. Outside the cinema there was a man holding a red rose, waiting for someone. They filmed him as he watched the cars pass by on the street, talking out loud to himself. "Is all this worth anything at all in the end? Does 'all this' amount to nothing? You go ever onward, forward because you see a tiny point of light ahead, the whole point of life. And you expect it to get bigger, but it doesn't. It becomes so small it's like a pin, and sometimes you wonder if you can see it at all, or if you're just imagining it. You're faced with the prospect of a pointless, lightless life, drifting listlessly on to nowhere in particular."

The film crew found this even more depressing than the bear in the igloo.

They filmed in the park as the afternoon entered evening. They saw three people dressed all in black, creeping through the shadows. They kept filming until the people in black hid behind some bushes.

Aunt Joyce's friend, Shiela, lives in this town, and Isobel called in to see her every day for a cup of coffee. She took the film crew to see Shiela's garden.

They weren't the only ones to show an interest in Shiela's garden that day. A man in a dark brown suit was presenting a TV documentary about it. He had been talking about the garden all afternoon, saying things like, "Familiarity reduces everything to the wallpaper you use to cover the walls in your mind and keep out the wolves and the unwelcome relatives with their batteries and their own peculiar smell. Nature is familiarity's enemy, forever renewing, re-shaping and re-colouring. Fashion does something similar to the relatives, but with none of nature's style."

The one thing that Shiela found odd was that there was no film crew, not even a camera.

Things began to make sense when Isobel arrived with her new friends. The film crew were happy to be filming a presenter, even though they'd have preferred a more interesting subject than the garden. The presenter just carried on as before.

They filmed in the garden in the evening sun. Long-wave radio filled the kitchen as Shiela made a cake. She heard the sound of a cookery show and the voices of the news readers, all mixed up with the voice of the presenter in the back garden.

There was a small square of concrete at the side of the house. It was surrounded by walls. There was a door in one wall, and it led to a narrow road up the hill. Isobel stood on a milk crate to look over the front wall, and she could see the sea. She took a deep breath and said, "It wasn't meant to be about bald people."

She meant to say something else, possibly something about the bear in the igloo. She was sorry she remembered the time she said something about bald people, but that wasn't actually meant to be about bald people.

The film crew were filming her and the presenter had stopped talking.

"Let's go inside and watch the news," Isobel said.

They turned on the TV in the kitchen. The news reader said, "We can now cross live to my ears, who are with my new ear rings."

Neither her ears nor her ear rings had much to say. They said it, and then it was back to her glasses in the studio, who said something about a diamond display in this seaside town. The news reader herself was reporting from the town. She stood on the beach, but you could barely hear her voice over the sound of the waves. Her subtitle shoes translated what she said. The diamonds would be on public display for a week, and the police were at their annual squirrel race in the dog track.

"Those people in black were thieves!" Isobel said. "And it looks as if it's down to us to stop them."

The film crew were very keen on filming diamond thieves at work, although they weren't sure about Isobel's idea of stopping the theft.

The diamonds were on display in an old courthouse that was being used as a heritage centre. Isobel, the presenter and the film crew went there. They saw an open window at the back of the building, and they went inside.

The diamonds were lit up in a glass case. Isobel went over to it. "This puts the collection of buttons in the shade," she said.

The thieves were standing completely still over by the wall. They thought they'd been caught, but the presenter just carried on speaking to the camera as he always did. He said, "The colours of theft are invariably dark. Its canvasses are dimly lit and its brush strokes are light. It's a still life of blackness. But if you look closely there's a symphony of silent life..."

The film crew filmed him, and they took no interest in the thieves, who moved towards the camera when they became more confident.

Isobel knew it was down to her to stop the theft. She saw a cardboard sign that said 'Diamonds!' and she had a pen in her pocket. She came up with the idea of writing a cue card for the presenter, something about how crime doesn't pay and they'll end up in jail. But the presenter would never say something like 'Crime doesn't pay and you'll end up in jail'.

She remembered the man waiting outside the cinema. She thought he'd be articulate enough to write the sort of stuff the presenter would say.

She left the building and ran to the cinema. He was still standing in the same spot, holding the rose and talking to himself. She said she wanted him to write something about the futility of stealing diamonds, and he said he was perfectly qualified to write about futility.

She brought him back to the old courthouse, and they went in through the window. The presenter was interviewing one of the thieves about the aesthetics of theft. The man with the rose wrote the following cue card on the back of the sign: "Theft, like all human activity, is eventually swallowed by the darkness it initially thrives on. Lured by bright lights, destroyed by a candle burning out, doomed to a pointless life in prison..."

He moved closer to the light of the diamond display so he could see what he was writing, and when one of the thieves saw his face she took off her balaclava and said, "Dan!"

He dropped the cue card and said, "Imogen!"

"What are you doing here?"

"What are you doing here? You were supposed to meet me outside the cinema."

"I thought that was tomorrow night."

"No, it's tonight. Or earlier this evening."

"I'm really sorry. I got my days mixed up."

"That's okay." He picked up the cue card and crossed out what he had written. He wrote: "Theft is most definitely not pointless. Every human activity has a point. Stealing diamonds has its own distinctive beauty."

Imogen screamed and ran away when she realised she was on camera without her balaclava and Dan had just said her name. The other thieves ran after her, and Dan followed them with his rose. "I got you this rose," he said.

"It doesn't matter anyway," the camera man said. "There's no film in the camera."

The presenter looked into the camera and said, "The semantics of theft are bereft of wallpaper."

They all looked at his shoes for subtitles to translate that, including the presenter himself. The camera man filmed the shoes.

After a few minutes, Isobel said, "Let's go and look at the buttons again."

They filmed the buttons, and the film crew enjoyed it much more this time. It was a nice way to end the day after the excitement of the diamond robbery.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been rehearsing for a part in a play. It's just a small part. He's playing an explorer who was thought to have died in the Arctic, but he returns and says, "Someone put the kettle on." They cut that line to make it easier for the moose's head. At first he was supposed to play a moose's head, but they gave that role to a man who works in the chemist. It'll involve a brief absence from the wall over the fireplace, but I think he'll enjoy the change.