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

Wednesday, August 16, 2006


I walked around the garden with the dog. There's a scarecrow in the field behind the garden. His name is Gilbert -- so says the sign hanging around his neck. The dog is suspicious of him. The crows don't seem to like him either. He wouldn't seem so intimidating if animals could read the words 'My name is Gilbert'.

My Aunt Joyce was organising a garden party at her summer house by the sea. It was due to take place on a Saturday afternoon in July. My cousin Ted and his wife, Anne, were helping her with it. Anne bought twenty deckchairs, mainly because she liked the coloured stripes, and she offered them to Joyce to use at the party. Anne went to the summer house on the evening before the party, to help with the preparations. She asked Ted to take the deckchairs out of the shed to air them.

He set them up in neat rows of four in the back garden, and he counted them. There were twenty of them alright. He counted them from the first to the last and back again, and there were twenty both times. Then he counted the amount of chairs in each row and the amount of rows. He already knew that there were four rows, and he could have guessed that there were five in each row, which there were. He went inside to the mirror and he counted himself. One. He could have guessed that too.

He went back outside and counted the deckchairs again. This time there were twenty-one, but he counted the cat as well by mistake. If anything he should be counting the cat amongst himself, he thought. He took the cat inside to count it, just for the sake of standing in front of the mirror with the cat and saying, "One, two. Two." He wished he hadn't done that because the cat objected to being counted. Ted never liked that cat. It was just a stray that Anne started feeding. He wanted to get a dog, but Anne objected because it would frighten the cat.

He brought the deckchairs to Joyce's summer house on the following day. He arranged them around the garden, with the help of William, who was one of Joyce's neighbours. He told Ted that he could detect things with his ears. "And not just words or sounds," he said. "I just get a feeling in my ears at times and I know something's going to happen."

The party was okay, but Ted preferred the sort of parties where it didn't matter if more of your drink ended up on your clothes than inside you because there was more than enough to gill your clothes and your insides and come back outside. Making it come back out would be a major faux pas amongst the sort of people Joyce had invited.

After everyone had left in the evening, Ted and William went around the garden to collect the deckchairs, but they couldn't find any in the garden. The chairs were spread out all over a field between the garden and the sea. There were people sitting on all of the chairs. "I should have seen this coming with my ears," William said.

They tried to get the people on the chairs to move, but they took notice. Even though the cat would dislike this, Ted disliked it too, just not as much as the cat would.

They listened in to the conversations as they walked around the field. "If we were Neil Armstrong, do you think we'd ask ourselves about the glass?"

"I'd wonder why there were so many of me."

"Some people will say it's just glass and other people will say it's glass and still more people will say it's glass too, and if you get even one person who says, 'I don't know what it is, but I like it,' then that's enough to say, 'Aha! Get out of my sight.'"

William suggested treating them as one person, specifically as Neil Armstrong. "We just have to lead them away with something that Neil Armstrong would like."

As they thought about what Neil Armstrong would like, a man in a white lab coat walked by. He was smiling broadly. He had fuzzy hair and he was holding a test tube. "I've just discovered electricity," he said.

The people on the deckchairs didn't even look up at him. Ted said, "I was going to say electricity, but..."

"Biscuits," William said. "That's what Neil Armstrong would like."

They got a woman called Sophie to walk through the field with a plate full of biscuits. The people on the deckchairs stopped talking when they saw the biscuits. They stood up and followed her. She kept on walking, and she forgot about the people following her when she saw two blue butterflies. She loved their movement through the air, and she didn't even realise that she was following them.

She stopped when the butterflies split up. She didn't know which way to go until she saw three people who were carrying a small row boat. They were carrying the boat above them, with their heads hidden in its hull. She wanted to see what they looked like, so she followed them.

They put the boat into the water in the harbour, and Sophie saw that they were three women who all looked alike. She remembered all of the people who were following the biscuits, and she looked around. There seemed to be many more people in the group then. She said, "Look, a spider," and pointed behind them. She was going to run when they turned around, but their gaze never left the biscuits. There really was a spider there.

She didn't know what to do with them, so she just stood there and watched the three women row the boat around the harbour. They were following four men in another boat.

For half an hour the two boats went around in circles or figure eights. Sophie suspected that something was wrong when the men returned to the harbour and ran from the boat. The women were just behind them, and one of them had a baseball bat.

The men merged into the crowd. Sophie didn't like the idea of someone getting hit with a baseball bat, so she moved away and the crowd followed. The three women had trouble finding the men while they were constantly moving.

Ted and William counted the deckchairs in the field. When they got to the final one they saw that it was occupied by someone in a panda costume. A panda wouldn't be one of Neil Armstrong, so that made sense to Ted and William.

The person in the costume was Jenny, a friend of William. A local Amateur Dramatics Society were putting on a play about the life of Socrates. It was performed entirely by trousers. When Jenny started asking William about his trousers he became paranoid about people taking them, but she only wanted to know how many pairs of trousers he had. He was constantly thinking about them. When he saw people walking with plastic bags he said, "If my trousers are in those bags..."

"I'm no longer interested in your bloody trousers," Jenny said.

But secretly she was. She wanted to steal a pair of his trousers, just to annoy him. She tried to think of the most ridiculous plan she could come up with, just to annoy him even more, and that's why she was wearing a panda costume. The plan failed because William had hidden all of his trousers, apart from the ones he was wearing -- he was afraid he'd get arrested if he hid them. She was hot in the panda costume and she needed a rest, so she sat on the deckchair.

"Is there any particular reason why you're sitting here?" Ted said to the panda.

Jenny did her best impression of a panda when she said, "I don't know. I suppose it's the chair. I've always liked chairs. They're much better than the ground, when it comes to sitting anyway. The ground would be better for standing. Some chairs you can stand on, but not these. You're normally better off going for the ground if you want to stand. But I suppose that depends on the type of ground..."

The man who discovered electricity was still walking through the fields. The smile never left his face. When he met a woman outside her cottage he said, "I've just discovered electricity."

"Do you want me to give you this fire extinguisher?" she said.

"No. I don't know."

"I could follow you around with the fire extinguisher, just in case."

"Yeah, that sounds good."

She was constantly on guard with the fire extinguisher. She very nearly let it off when she heard a buzzing sound, but it was just a wasp. She found it difficult to stay by his side when they joined the crowd following Sophie and the biscuits, and this made her more nervous.

Ted and William were still listening to the panda. "Could a surfboard be regarded as ground? If you just want to stand somewhere, a surfboard wouldn't be your best option, but if you're looking for something more exciting than standing, then you should definitely consider a surfboard..."

The stars were out above. Ted remembered Sophie. She had yet to return with the biscuits, so he went looking for her. William and the panda went too.

Sophie was moving slower in the darkness, but she kept moving to help those people avoid being hit with a baseball bat. She walked along the coast near the lighthouse. The lighthouse keeper saw people moving in the darkness below. He shone the light on them. The sudden burst of light made the woman with the fire extinguisher panic. She sprayed foam over the people all around her, and she kept spraying because she didn't know where the electricity man was.

In the shock of the sudden bright light and abundance of foam, some of the group started to panic, and some started to fight. The violence spread. This is exactly what Sophie had been hoping to avoid. The only people who weren't fighting were the three women who were in the boat. One of them still had the baseball bat. She gave it to one of the men they were chasing and said, "Here's your baseball bat. Thanks for letting us use it."

But they all started to enjoy the fight in the foam. So did the lighthouse keeper. He thought it was better than drink, although he couldn't rule out the possibility that drink was at least partly responsible for the scene on the ground below. It was a proper party then, not like the too-proper garden party at Aunt Joyce's house. The music started. Drinks were passed around and Sophie gave out the biscuits.
The panda ran from the crowd with William's trousers, followed by William without his trousers. But he enjoyed that too, and he was relieved that he didn't have to keep watching his trousers. If his trousers had to be removed, he'd have preferred if it wasn't done by a panda, but he was delighted when he realised it was really Jenny.

Ted thought his job was done, whatever his job was, and he returned to the house. When he got back to the field there were twenty cats on the twenty deckchairs, and he remembered that his job was collecting the deckchairs. If they were dogs he could easily tempt them away with biscuits, or if they were Neil Armstrong. He decided that his job was counting the deckchairs, and he enjoyed that. He counted the cats too.

The moose's head over the fireplace is looking forward to the start of the Premiership season on Saturday. He can't wait for the All-Ireland hurling final next month. It's Cork against Kilkenny again. He'd give his right leg to see Cork beat Kilkenny to win three in a row, if he hadn't already given his right leg to some other cause.