'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Music for Stones

The grass is still growing, but it's too wet to cut it. There's nothing to do on a Saturday afternooon apart from stand in the shed and look out at the rain. My grandfather once made tiny windshield wipers for his glasses, to keep him entertained rather than to keep the rain off. He needed to drink a lot before he found them entertaining.

My Uncle Cyril used to train a local soccer team. He knew a woman who trained a hockey team by giving them cookery classes. They were more of a catering company than a hockey team. Cyril thought that if she could get away with that then he could train his team by getting them to remove the slates from the rubble of an old house. He knew someone who'd buy the slates, even the broken ones.

But people accused him of taking advantage of his position as coach. He said they were getting great physical exercise, unlike the hockey team, who were only baking cakes. It was pointed out that they'd get much better exercise if they ran around the soccer pitch or played a practise match.

Cyril remembered an elocution teacher who loved the sound of elastic bands in the wind. She got her students to sound like these, and somehow it helped improve their speech. They were able to speak perfectly after a few lessons. Cyril used this example to justify his training methods. He thought of another example too. He said, "And don't forget Mr. Miaghi from The Karate Kid. That kid did nothing at all like karate when he was training. He painted a fence, and that's what made him unbeatable at karate."

"How will removing slates from rubble make them better at soccer?"

"A true artist only reveals his work when it's finished. Like Mr. Miaghi."

"So your team will be unbeatable at soccer after they remove slates from the rubble?"

"It's quite possible. Probable, even."

Cyril didn't think it was likely, but he had to find a way to ensure they won their next game. No one expected them to win it, mainly because their opponents' star striker, Martin, was by far the best player in the league. The only reason he didn't play in a higher league was because he was more interested in music and in stones than in soccer. He played the trumpet and he was always on the lookout for interesting stones. These things were connected because he composed short tunes about the interesting stones he found. This gave Cyril an idea when he was trying to think of a way to diminish Martin's impact on the game.

The man who was buying the slates made paths out of old stones, old slates, broken tiles and anything else he came across that he thought would look good in a path. One of his paths twisted and turned for half a mile through the gardens around a heritage centre. It was lit up by lights. The path was made of multi-coloured stones, slates, tiles, coins, broken plates and bits of an old toaster.

Cyril's niece, Jane, knew Martin, and on the evening before the game Cyril told her about the path and he suggested it was the sort of thing Martin would like, given his interest in stones. So she went around to Martin's house and took him to see the path. At first he couldn't speak when he saw it stretching out ahead of him, sparkling in the light. He thought he could get a double album out of this.

He went home to get his trumpet and a tape recorder. When he came back he knelt on the path and carefully examined each stone. He came up with tunes for the interesting ones, and Jane recorded them. She loved listening to him play.

At half-two in the morning he was exhausted, and so much of the path was still unexplored. He remembered the soccer match, and when he told Jane about it she realised what her uncle was up to. He had used her just to make Martin tired.

But she had the perfect opportunity for revenge. She knew the goalkeeper on Cyril's team. His name was Richard. Jane always enjoyed writing notes she didn't understand. She believed that the notes satisfied at least one side of her brain. She mentioned this to Richard once, and she asked him if he ever felt like that. He said, "The two sides of my brain are more-or-less married to each other, so... I don't really know."

She loved the idea of the two sides of his brain being married. She said, "Which side is the woman and which side is the man?"

"I don't know about that."

"Or would they be a same-sex couple?"

"I really don't know about that."

"If they were, would they both be men or both be women?"

His brain couldn't cope with either of those options. It ruined his concentration for a while, but he was able to overcome the problem by thinking of the two sides of his brain as two squirrels running in circles.

Just before the match, Jane went over to Richard and showed him a drawing of two squirrels kissing. "I did it myself," she said. "As you can see, they're obviously deeply in love. And that's all that really matters."

Richard looked distracted throughout the match, but he wasn't punished for this because Martin was clearly off his game. He lacked his usual pace, and he missed some great chances.

It was a poor game, and it was still nil-all during injury time at the end. Martin had the ball in the opposition penalty area, but he didn't seem to know what to do with it. One of Cyril's players became frustrated with the lack of action, and he set off on a completely unnecessary sliding tackle on Martin. He missed the ball but caught the man, and the ref gave a penalty.

It all came down to one kick, Richard versus Martin. Cyril's critics were gathering around him on the sideline. Richard stared into Martin's eyes, wondering which way he'd go, terrified that the squirrels in his head would start kissing. He was desperately trying to keep them apart. Martin didn't know which way he'd go, and the wait seemed to go on forever. It was too long for Richard. He snapped, and he ran away screaming, but he didn't get far. He ran right into the goalpost and fell to the ground. This left a completely open goal for Martin, but he kicked the ball over the bar. Richard didn't see it because he was unconscious on the ground.

Cyril turned to his critics and said, "Now do ye see what I was doing?"

They couldn't say anything to that.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been enjoying the silence for the past few days. The wife's aunt asked us to look after her budgie for a day last week. The budgie spent the whole day talking to the moose's head, who looked bored out of his mind. He was sick of hearing the same stories over and over again, like the one about the bishop and the shoe. Some people are just as bad, and at least you can keep a budgie in a cage.