'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Gary's Watch

I found an old metal sign that said 'Trespassers will be prosecuted'. There was a painting of a swan on it. The swan looked devious, and he was smoking a cigarette. I don't know if the swan was meant to frighten trespassers or if the trespassers in mind were swans. It was probably the latter if my grandfather was involved. He didn't get on with swans. Whenever he lost an umbrella he blamed it on a swan, and apparently he had good reason for that. He was less convincing when he accused a fox of scratching his records. It was unlikely that a fox would have such good taste in music.

My cousin Gary met some friends of his in the pub one evening, and after a few drinks and a long blur he woke up at home on the following morning. He couldn't find his watch, and he tried to remember taking it off on the previous night. He knew where a horse was, but that didn't help much.

He found a woman holding a hair dryer in the kitchen, but the hair dryer wasn't plugged in. She didn't seem to know where she was, so he thought it was unlikely that she'd know where his watch was.

In the hall he found pieces of a jigsaw. He put them in his pocket and he called around to see his friend, Irene. He asked her if she'd seen his watch. She was looking at fish in a tank to ease her hangover. She didn't like looking away from the fish, and she didn't like having to think about things. Instead of concentrating on Gary's watch, she tried on lots of different pairs of shoes, because shoes normally jog her memory. In her white shoes she remembered dancing in a red room. "I'm sligtly scared," she said.

She also remembered seeing a gold watch on a white table. On the previous night they had gone to a house after leaving the pub. Gary decided to return to this house to see if they had a white table, or his watch. He asked Irene if she'd like to come along.

"Can we look at clouds on the way?" she said.

"We can."

All of the clouds looked like fish.

There was no white table in this house, and his watch wasn't there either, but there was a white filing cabinet. Irene kept opening and closing one of the drawers, just listening to the sound. It had the same effect as looking at the fish or the clouds. She found more pieces of the jigsaw in the drawer. The picture started to emerge: it was a mouse holding a placard.

They tried to remember what had happened, and they went through the evening step by step, but they stopped when they got to the bit where their friend, Anthea, showed them her new engagement ring.

They went to see her, and they asked her who she was engaged to. This was the point at which she realised that she couldn't find her engagement ring and she couldn't remember the name of the man she was engaged to. "He's the man with the nose," she said, "and the eyes. And shoulders."

Gary asked about his watch, but she didn't remember seeing it. She said she'd go with them on the search for the watch, in the hope that she'd find her ring along the way, and that this would remind her of the name of the man she'd marry.

They found more of the jigsaw at Anthea's house. They could make out a few of the words on the placard, and it seemed to be a Marxist slogan.

They wondered where they should go next. "I know where a horse is," Gary said. "But I don't think that would be of much help."

They went to see the horse anyway, but he just rolled around on the grass in a field. "I did say that this wouldn't be much help," Gary said.

As they were walking back into town, they met a man with a nose, eyes and shoulders. Anthea couldn't avoid meeting him. She thought she could hide the fact that she couldn't remember his name, but she couldn't hide the missing ring, so she told him about it.

He took the ring out of his pocket and put it on her finger again. He didn't notice that she was nervous about not remembering his name because he was nervous about her remembering the night before when she threw the ring at him in an argument, but she didn't notice this because she was nervous about not remembering his name. They were both happy to focus their attention on the search for the watch.

Gary suddenly remembered something. "There was a woman holding a hair dryer in my kitchen!"

They went back to his house, and the woman was still there, still holding the hair dryer, which was still unplugged.

Gary asked her about his watch, but she told them about Anthea's argument with her fiance. It started with a debate about what a willow tree looked like. He said he knows willow trees because his map once blew away and got stuck in one, but the only feature of the tree he could remember was that it had a map stuck in it. He said she was describing a mountain ash, but the only feature of a mountain ash he could remember was that they had umbrellas stuck in them. "To be honest," the woman with the hair dryer said, "I thought you just made that bit up. But it started to get very heated after that. Mentions of mothers and sisters didn't help. There was something about a squirrel in a traffic cone too. And then the ring was thrown and the engagement was called off." When she stopped talking she tried to turn on the hair dryer, but it didn't work.

"I remember now," Anthea said to her fiance. "You said you'd be better off asking a squirrel hiding in a traffic cone for directions rather than ask me."

"You said you'd have to hide in a traffic cone if you married me."

"I would. And I will. Because I won't." She threw the ring at him.

"That's what your directions are like," he said.

Gary found another piece of the jigsaw on the floor. The word 'lightswitch' was on it. This reminded Irene of the red room. "I think we should go there," she said.

"But where is it?"

"There's only one way to find out."

They went to Irene's house and she put on her white shoes. "This way," she said.

They all followed her. Anthea and her former fiance were there too. She was afraid she'd lose the moral high ground if he found out that she didn't know his name, and she was hoping that someone would say it.

Irene led them to a dark corridor in the basement of a building. She opened the door to a long red room. There was a bouncer in here. He said you needed red socks to get in, but he seemed to be talking to himself. They listened to him for a while. He said, "She was a ballet dancer, I think. A ballet dancer? Yeah. There's no way she was a ballet dancer. No, she was definitely a ballet dancer. I remember her quite clearly, dancing her head off long into the night, but her feet still knew what to do. Have you let the chipmunk out of your head again? If you mention the chipmunk once more..."

His argument with himself was starting to get tense, so they left. They went through another door, which led to a bigger red room. There was a billiards table with a red cloth in there.

Anthea's former fiance looked very nervous in this place. He tried to hide when a woman in a red dress walked by, but she noticed him. "Hi Sam," she said.

He was terrified of what Anthea would do to him, but she just said, "Sam! That's your name!"

"Wait a minute," he said. "You forgot my name."

"I know. I'm really sorry. Now it seems really obvious, but I just... I'm sorry."

"That's okay. I'm sorry about everything I said last night."

"Let's just forget about that."

"Agreed." He put the ring on her finger and they kissed. He wanted to get out of there before the woman in the red dress returned, but a man in a white suit came into the room and said, "Ah! Ye're all back again. Welcome back again."

Gary saw his watch on a white table. "Can I have my watch back?" he said.

"I'm afraid not. You lost it in a game of cards."

"Yeah, I think I remember something about that now."

After a brief silence, the man in the white suit said, "It's my birthday today."

"Happy birthday," Irene said.


"Have you got many presents?"

"A few... If someone gives you fish on your birthday, what does that mean?"

"I don't know. I suppose it means they think you like fish."

"I suppose so."

"Maybe you can help us with this jigsaw," Irene said. She took all of the pieces of the jigsaw from her handbag and arranged them on the red carpet.

Gary wanted to create a distraction so he could take his watch. He noticed that Sam was looking around nervously. Gary thought it had something to do with the woman in the red dress, so he went to find her.
He left the room, and he found her in a corridor that was slightly darker than the other rooms and corridors. He said to her, "Sam has been talking about you all the time. Saying how great you are and what great things you say and do. And it's his birthday today too."



She went to Sam, kissed him on the cheek and said, "Happy birthday."

Gary had hoped that Anthea would react to this, but she was staring at the mouse in the jigsaw. She hated mice, especially ones around her feet. But the man in the white suit did react. He said to the woman in the red dress, "You completely forgot about my birthday."

"Yeah well you said you had to dig a hole on my birthday."

"I did."

"How come I've never seen this hole?"

As they were arguing about this, Gary went over to the table and put the watch in his pocket. They all went to see the hole then. It was in a field that was full of long grass, wild flowers, rocks and moss.

"It's not much of a hole," the woman in the red dress said to the man in the white suit.

"It depends on how you'd define much of a hole."

"It'd be more of a hole than this, much more."

When Irene asked what time it was, Gary took the watch from his pocket and looked at it, and everyone looked at him.

Anthea's delayed response provided the necessary distraction. She said to Sam. "She kissed you!"

Sam said, "Yeah well... At least she remembered my birthday."

"I did remember. I even got you a present. It's... a gold watch. I left it on the table at home." She smiled at Gary and gave him the thumbs up. Everyone looked at him again.

Something fell into place in his mind at just the right time. He said, "Does anyone else remember a ballet dancer who painted her toenails black? She could move like a piece of paper on the air, or a flower petal in the air flow from a red hair dryer. I remember her saying the words, 'You can shout until Tuesday and whisper all day Sunday, and you can hear your own eye lashes...' Her words trailed away to a whisper."

"She was the one who gave me the fish," the man in the white suit said.

"I'm sure she said something about a Marxist mouse," Gary said. "He fell in love with a mouse who liked pretending to be a light bulb. They walked in the snow. She used to switch herself on when it got dark and she'd talk for hours, about horses and carriages, or different types of timber, or woodwind instruments in an orchestra and their timbre. She had a great understanding of apples, for a light bulb, or for a mouse. He used to play the recorder. She said she liked it, although he thought she was just humouring him. He could play a bell too."

They all wanted to go back to the jigsaw in the red room, and they hoped to find more pieces. Gary slipped away as they walked back. He tried to think of something to say to the woman with the hair dryer. He had a feeling that he'd need some excuse. 'It's my birthday today' was the best he could come up with. But he might not need to say anything if he just plugged in the hair dryer.

The moose's head over the fireplace loves smoking his pipe. I don't know where the smoke goes. It doesn't come back out again, so it probably goes up the chimney. I knew someone who could smoke a cigarette and make the smoke come out of his ear. He said the smoke sounded like people speaking French. He often did his trick during conversations with French people (he didn't actually speak French himself). He said they 'understood' him. They probably came to some understanding of him alright. They never stayed talking to him for very long.