'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, November 01, 2006

The Actors

Afternoon goes straight into night now that the clocks have gone back. The local kids have been doing their best to do something about this with their fireworks, but they've largely failed.

My cousin Isobel walked through the city in the rain, trying to remember where she left her umbrella. After a while she didn't mind getting wet, and she started to enjoy the sights of the streets in the rain.

There was a light on in a cafe, and she went inside. She bought a coffee, and she sat at a table near the window. A man was writing at the next table. When he saw her he asked if it was raining outside. She told him about losing her umbrella, and about how she didn't mind because the city was a beautiful place when it was wet. He told her he was writing a play, and he said he'd include her in it. She'd be a character who walks the streets in the rain.

When she went back outside she appreciated the sights even more. People went by beneath multi-coloured umbrellas. Some of the cars had their headlights on. She watched the ripples of the rain drops in the pools of water on the pavement. A duck went by, followed by six ducklings. She waved at them as they passed. A dog went by in the other direction, and she followed him.

He led her to a theatre. She went inside, and she saw people rehearsing a play about a man who lost his head. He was using a loaf of bread instead of a head. A wizard tried to help him, but he just did something with a chemistry set that turned the bread blue.

The actors didn't know what to do after this. They stood on the stage and tried to figure out where the story could go from there. Isobel said she was a character in a play, and maybe her presence could send the storyline off in another direction. They asked her to join them on the stage, but her character was just someone who walks the streets in the rain, and it didn't seem she could add anything to the blue bread-head story.

When the duck and the ducklings walked across the stage Isobel said, "We could follow them."

The ducks led them out of the theatre, down the street and into an art supply shop. They met a woman who was buying small tins of paint. "I'm just buying lots of different shades of blue," she said. "Especially anything with 'marine' in its name, like aqua-marine. Having the paint helps construct an image of the sea in my head, even if I never actually paint anything."

One of the actors told her about the problems they were having with the play. He said, "Maybe it's enough for the audience to have various scenes in their heads, or bits of stories, and they could arrange these stories themselves."

"I could take ye to a fantastic setting," the artist said. "It's an old hotel. The man who owns it inherited it from his uncle, but he just makes and repairs clocks there. It hasn't been in use as a hotel in years. I'm supposed to be painting a mural in the dining room. I've been planning this for years, or at least I tell him I'm still planning it. I'm just going to wait until he decides he wants a mural of the sea. And even then I might not do anything."

She took them to the hotel and introduced them to Edward, the owner. The lobby seemed like the perfect setting to add into their play, even if it did nothing more than sit there. There was a wide oak staircase, with a red carpet. There were two crystal chandeliers on the ceiling high above.

Edward was working on a huge clock that was full of unnecessary cog wheels. As he was showing them this, they heard footsteps upstairs. He looked frightened.

"Is there anyone else in the hotel?" Isobel said.

"No. Or at least there shouldn't be. But I heard noises last night too. I had a look around this morning, but there was no one there."

"Do you think it's a ghost?"

"I've never had trouble with ghosts before."

The artist said, "I used to live in a house on the seafront and people often said it was haunted, but I think it was just someone we forgot about."

They all tip-toed up the stairs. They stayed close together. They heard voices coming from a room. The voices stopped when Edward knocked on the door. He opened the door and went inside. The others followed him.

There were eight people in the room, men and women. There was a nineteenth century look to their clothes.

"Can I help ye?" Edward said.

"We booked some rooms," a man in a dark brown suit said.

"This place hasn't been a hotel for nearly twenty years."

"The receptionist took our booking."

"There is no receptionist."

"We booked these rooms."

"How long are ye planning to stay for."

"We don't know yet."

"This isn't a hotel, y' know."

"We booked these rooms."

Edward retreated from the room to think about the problem. The artist asked if he was sure he hadn't just forgotten about them. He was sure he hadn't.

The actors were delighted with the way their play had gone, and they didn't need an ending for it. They'd just add this storyline to the other storylines they had and let the audience sort it out.

Isobel didn't want to leave it like this because it felt like they were leaving Edward in the lurch. She said, "We need an ending to this story, preferrably one where those people leave the hotel."

"We could follow the ducks again," one of the actors said.

"They'd just lead us to a different story," Isobel said. "But I know just the man solve this problem."

She left the hotel and walked back towards the cafe. The rain and stopped and the evening sun came out from behind the clouds. The playwright was still in the cafe. She told him everything that had happened to her since she became one of his characters, and she asked him to come up with an appropriate ending. He thought about it as he walked back to the hotel with her, and he'd come up with the ending shortly after arriving, when he saw the actor with the blue bread who was wearing a costume that made him look as if he didn't have a head.

After a quick rehearsal, the headless man performed his part in the play. He went upstairs to the room where the guests had gathered. He stepped inside, with the blue bread under his arm, and said, "Leave! Leeeeave!" They just stared back at him. "Because the chef is just a monkey on the shoulders of another monkey. Look at what the food did to my head. And God help you if you refuse to eat it."

The guests suddenly remembered that they had to be somewhere else, and they left. The playwright added in one more scene in which he bought Isobel dinner.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoyed our Halloween party last night. A few people came as the moose's head. They all thought it would be clever. The moose's head dressed up as Frankenstein. I put a sheet over my head. It was just an excuse to avoid some people.