'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Ronan's Story

It's been cold for the past few days. There's little or no green left on the trees. With every gust of wind you can hear the brittle leaves falling through the branches. I found a German airman stuck in one of the trees. He had the wrong address.

My cousin Rachel helped organise a concert to raise money to repair a village hall. The concert was being held in the hall itself. She convinced her brother, Ronan, to do a stand-up comedy act. It didn't take much convincing because it seemed like a good idea a few weeks before his performance. It seemed like a very bad idea on the day of the concert. People had laughed at him before, but never when he wanted them to laugh. He wondered if he'd be able to control his nerves enough to go on stage.

As Rachel and her sister, June, were busy with the final preparations for the concert, June's kids, Daisy and Graham, were busy making car noises. Graham made a humming sound and said it was a car driven by a dolphin.

Daisy said, "That sounds more like a... farmer driven by a dolphin."

"How could a dolphin drive a farmer?" Graham said.

"The farmer would carry him around on his back, and the dolphin would tell him where to go."

"Why would he be making humming sounds?"

"To re-assure the dolphin."

They tested this by humming at the goldfish in the bowl. "They do look re-assured," Graham said.

June said to them, "Don't do anything to upset your Uncle Ronan. He's nervous about his performance."

They thought they could do one better than not upset him -- they could re-assure him. When he came into the room they stared at him and made a constant humming sound. They kept this up for a few minutes, and they thought he looked very re-assured when he ran to the sideboard and poured himself a huge glass of whiskey.

Ronan was due to perform after a woman who sang to her pet budgie. They left the stage to a warm round of applause, but most of the audience's acclaim was for the budgie. Rachel introduced Ronan and he went to the microphone. His tie was loose, and there was a bottle in the pocket of his jacket. His speech was slurred, and no one was entirely sure what he was talking about. He just rambled on, and before he knew what he was doing, he was enacting a play that was being performed in his head by match stick people. He did the voices of all the characters. To help the audience see what he saw in his head, he drew imaginary match stick men and women in the air with his index finger. Sometimes he asked the audience if they saw the hat or the handbag he drew. He drew a match stick vocal coach, followed by a match stick wolf, but someone in the audience said, "That wolf is bigger than the vocal coach."

"No it's not," Ronan said. "It's not. It's not bigger. A wolf? Not a wolf. It's not, y' know. Bigger than my thumb, more like."

"The wolf you drew was bigger than the vocal coach you drew. Is it a big wolf or a small vocal coach?"

"It's not."

The argument went back and forth like this a few times without getting anywhere, and it ended with Ronan leaving the stage and starting a fight. Other people joined in.

Things eventually calmed down, and most of the audience returned to their seats. A band were due to perform after Ronan, but one of them had been involved in the fight and he was still missing. Rachel needed to fill the time somehow. She went to the microphone and said, "Cheese. Think about cheese. Do. It'll do you good. Don't think about hedgehogs. You'll only hurt yourself. Imagine cheese full of holes, and don't imagine a vandalising hedgehog lying on his back on the cheese. Don't think about cheese if it makes you think about hedgehogs. Think about hair, or milk, or small dogs. I once thought about hedgehogs when I was in a phone booth and I fell off a small ladder. In fairness, it was a very small ladder."

She stopped talking because everyone was laughing at her, but she was furious because she was being serious, especially about the hedgehogs. She felt like fighting then, but no one else was in the mood for it because they were all laughing at her.

On the following day people kept telling her she was hilarious and she kept saying, "I was being serious!"

Lots of people phoned Ronan and asked about the end of the story he was telling, but he couldn't remember what he was talking about, and he had no idea where it was going. They tried to jog his memory, but they were just as confused as he was. They all remembered the wolf and the vocal coach, and most of them remembered a deer as well.

Ronan had seen a deer in the woods just a few days before this, and he assumed that the story had something to do with this. He went back to the woods with his friend, Joe, hoping to jog his memory.

They spent an hour walking through the woods, and they saw the deer again. Ronan said, "Do y' know when Mel Gibson shoots that man in the film?"


"Did I mention that when I was on the stage?"

"I can't remember."

"That thought just came to me now... I wonder why the deer isn't afraid of us."

"He can see you're not Mel Gibson."

They followed the deer for a while. Joe thought of something else. He said, "Do you know Imogen?"

"Oh yeah. She makes models of things with match sticks."

"Maybe you got the story from her."

They went to see Imogen, and she showed them some models she was working on. There was a match stick man and a match stick woman. They were wearing shorts and T-shirts. They had sweat bands around their wrists and heads. "They're two joggers I know," she said. "Aileen and Ben."

"Who's the man in blue?" Ronan said.

"He's a man that Aileen and Ben often meet when they're out running. He always wears a light blue suit. He offered to sell them a piano once. In the model he's holding a gold cigarette lighter, and he has toes too. I haven't given the others toes. I just keep thinking his toes are up to something."

"What about the octopus?" There was also a match stick octopus, with tiny playing cards stuck to each of the eight tentacles.

"I don't really know about the octopus. Making an octopus just seemed like the right thing to do. The other man is a magician. They often meet him too. He trains in the fields for his magic act. He can make stamps appear on his face. When Aileen needed to post a parcel once, she went to the magician for stamps, and he made each stamp appear on his face."

Ronan looked closely at the model of the man in the light blue suit. He was wearing a grey tie. "Now I remember why I mentioned Mel Gibson," he said. "He was wearing a tie, the man he shot. It could have been Bruce Willis who shot him too, but the important thing to remember is that he was wearing a tie, the man he shot."

Joe said to Imogen, "Is there anything else you know about the man in the light blue suit?"

"I know that his wife is a dancer."

"What sort of a dancer is she?"

"Most of it is just going around in circles. She teaches dance as well."

"Maybe it's her toes you should be thinking of."

"I thought of them before, but no, I'm fairly sure it's his toes I should be thinking of. Not that I want to think of them."

Ronan told her about the play in his mind, and she got the idea of bringing action to the scene. She could create a story and hope it would come true, like a self-fulfilling prophecy, or even like voodoo dolls. She wanted the story to end with Aileen and Ben falling in love because she thought they'd make a perfect couple.

She'd have to glue them together to get them to kiss, and she didn't want to do this because she'd feel responsible if they ended up glued together in real life. So she got the model of Aileen to lie on top of the model of Ben.

Ronan said, "What if she trips and falls on him?"

"That's just a short step away from love, whereas if your face was glued to someone else's face, you'd probably end up hating them."

Ronan and Joe met Ben and Aileen when they were out jogging. Ronan asked them about some of the details in his story. They'd never seen a wolf before, apart from in films, and they'd only seen Mel Gibson in films too. They said they'd be afraid of a wolf or an octopus if they ever came into contact with one of them, and they'd be afraid of Mel Gibson if he was going to shoot them.

Ronan asked if they'd ever been to a vocal coach. "No," Aileen said. "But I know the organist in the church, if that's any help."

Ronan thought that this was close enough to a vocal coach, but it still didn't help him finish the story. He said to Joe, "The wolf could be like the octopus -- it's completely irrelevant. Or else its involvement is yet to be seen. Of course, Mel Gibson could be the octopus too."

"The vocal coach doesn't do anything either."

"We just have to get the organist to do something to sort that out."

"What about the man in the light blue suit?" Joe said.

"He's the man in the tie that Mel Gibson shoots."

"If Mel Gibson shoots someone, then he's no longer irrelevant."

"He hasn't done it yet," Ronan said. "His involvement is yet to be seen. The wolf in my story could be the octopus in the model. It's something you'd be afraid of if you ever came into contact with, but you're never going to come into contact with one because there are no wolves in the country and no octopi in any country."

"You could say more-or-less the same thing about Mel Gibson. He's not in this country, and you'd be afraid of the Mel Gibson in films who shoots people wearing ties."

"Only the man in the suit would be afraid of him."

"The man in the suit could be the deer," Joe said. "He's not afraid of us, but he'd be afraid of the wolf or of Mel Gibson. He could also be the vocal coach. He has a piano that he's trying to sell and his wife teaches dance."

"I'm sticking with the idea of the organist being the vocal coach."

"In the model he only had four toes on each foot. That's eight in total. He could be afraid of the octopus taking them, or winning them in a game of cards."

"Or to put it another way, he's afraid that Mel Gibson will take his tie after shooting him."

"So that would make Mel Gibson the octopus."


"Who's the wolf again?"

"I can't remember."

They decided to stick to what they could remember. They needed to get the organist, or the vocal coach, involved in this somehow.

Ronan told Aileen and Ben that the magician was in the church making stamps appear on the statues. The organist was in the church at the time, practising for a wedding on the following day.

The joggers took a detour from their usual route and went to the church. The place was empty when they got there. They thought they heard a sound. They stood still and tried to listen. There was complete silence.

When the organist started playing the Wedding March they both got a shock. Aileen nearly tripped on a kneeler. She lost her balance and fell on Ben, who fell backwards. He landed on his back and she landed on top of him. They listened to the music and smiled. They both realised what Imogen had realised a long time ago: they're perfect for each other.

Ronan enjoyed the ending to this story, but he knew it wasn't the ending his own story was heading for. He eventually remembered the real one, and he told it to Joe: "A vocal coach lost her engagement ring. She used to write songs to remember things, but she never wrote a song about where her engagement ring was, and even if she had it'd just have been a song about how her engagement ring was on her finger. But she remembered where she left it when she heard a song about losing a handbag. She left the ring in her handbag. I heard this story somewhere, and the play in my head was based on this."

"What about the wolf?"

"I probably just added him in for effect."

"And Mel Gibson?"

"I'd say I just imagined that, or else I saw it in a film. I must have added in a lot of other things as well."

Rachel was helping to organise a second concert to raise money to pay for the repairs after the fight at the first. She convinced Ronan to have another go at the stand-up comedy and he agreed because people were very eager to hear how the story ended, so it didn't matter if it wasn't funny. And he had a very good ending in the story of Aileen and Ben. It didn't matter if it wasn't the right ending.

He changed their names and added a wolf to the story. He tested it on some friends of his beforehand, and they all reacted positively to the story, so he needed no drink to calm his nerves this time.

He regretted his decision to avoid the drink when he looked at the audience before the show and saw Aileen and Ben. The nerves returned. They'd recognise the details, and they hadn't heard the whole version. They'd be very surprised to hear about the wolf too, and it might not seem so romantic when they hear what Imogen did with the match stick people.

He tried to relax, but Daisy and Graham were performing just before him. Their act was three minutes of humming. He panicked, and he told Rachel he was pulling out. He convinced her to take his place. "They'll love you," he said. "You were hilarious the last time."

"I was being serious! Especially about the hedgehogs."

"Well you can tell the real story about the vocal coach and her engagement ring. No one could find that funny, but they'll find it interesting because they all want to hear how the story ends."

Rachel went to the microphone and said, "Don't laugh. I'm not going to say anything funny." She paused for a long time, and she glared at the audience to re-inforce her point. "There... Stop laughing!"

She never got past the words 'there was'. She made a few attempts, but the audience always laughed. She tried to attack someone in the front row who fell off his seat, and people had to hold her back. She was eventually dragged off the stage to a standing ovation.

The moose's head over the fireplace has acquired a new look. The wife's niece started adding things to his antlers because she thought they looked bare. At first we thought her inspiration was the increasingly bare branches on the trees, but she really just wants to make him look like a peacock. She seems to think that his antlers are retractable. If anything, he's now looking more like a punk than a peacock.