'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Architect

I stood in the glasshouse and looked up at the rain. My great-grandfather used to play the accordian in here. He often played in the garden, and he came in here when it rained. My great-grandmother used to say that it looked as if the glasshouse was crying.

My cousin Hugh often went to a cafe with his fiancee, Annabel. There was a red carpet on the ground. The tables and chairs were all white. One side of the cafe was mostly glass. There were no windows at the other side, and it was badly lit.

A man with a pony-tail often sat alone at a table in one of the dark corners. He wore a grey overcoat. He never spoke to anyone, and he avoided eye contact. None of the regulars knew who he was.

Hugh bumped into him one day as he was leaving the cafe. The man with pony-tail was on his way in. They got talking, and he was much friendlier and more forthcoming than Hugh had expected. His name was Robert, and he said he was an architect. Hugh had an interest in architecture. They sat down at a table, and Robert told him about some of his designs.

When he was younger he wanted to design on a grand scale, but he knew he'd never get anyone to build his designs. He started designing houses and buildings that would be the size of a caravan, and he was able to build many of them himself. He built some for others. He took Hugh to see some of them.

To get into one of them, they had to climb a ladder to the top and then slide into it. He designed all of the furniture, fixtures and fittings as well. For one particular kitchen, he designed and built a spherical toaster and a pen (he still used the word 'built when he spoke about these objects).

He took Hugh to see one that he built for a friend of his called Jenny. She had a house that she didn't like, so she got him to build this in her back garden, and she spent more time living in it than in the house.

Most of the surfaces inside were oak. There was a dark green carpet on the ground. It looked like moss. The single central leg of a round table rose from the ground like the trunk of a small tree. There was a spoon on the table.

Robert said to her, "Do you really need to have that spoon there?"

She picked up the spoon and said, "If it doesn't stay there, you can take it away with you." She held it as if she was about to stab him with it.

"I don't know which option would be less painful," he said.

"I can put this spoon wherever I want."

"You have a whole house outside where you can put spoons wherever you want. A whole house. In design terms that house is just a self-assembly drawer, exactly like millions of others. You couldn't hurt that house if you stuck a spoon to the ceiling."

"If you say another word about the spoon I'll glue it to the ceiling here."

Robert thought for a while, but he didn't have anything else to say and he decided to leave.

As they were leaving they met Jenny's neighbour, Derek. He said to Robert, "Have you thought any more about my van?"


"Have you come up with any ideas?"

"No. I told you before: I'm never going to do anything to your van."

"Think about it. That's all I'm saying."

Derek drove away. Robert said to Hugh, "He wants me to 'do something' to his van. He's seen the house I did for Jenny and he thinks I can 'do something' to his van."

As Christmas approached he looked increasingly sad. He said to Hugh, "People are putting up decorations in their houses. In my houses. And she still won't move the spoon."

"You've really got to get over this spoon thing," Hugh said. "You just need practise."

"I just need people to pay more attention to their spoons."

Hugh put a spoon on the table and said, "Try paying no attention to that."

"You can't just leave it there."

"Of course I can. See if you can sit at the table for ten minutes without moving the spoon, and then tomorrow you could try twenty minutes."

After a week of sitting at the table with a spoon, Robert was able to accept the fact that the spoon had just as much right to be there as he had.

He went back to Jenny's house with Hugh. When she saw them arrive she put the spoon on the table, but he just said, "I like what you've done with that spoon."

"You don't mind that it's on the table?"

"Not at all."

"What if I were to put it... here." She put the spoon on the ground.

Robert nodded and smiled, but he cracked after about three seconds and he tried to take the spoon. Jenny got there first, and she chased him away with the spoon in her hand.

As they left the place they saw Derek's van parked outside his house. Hugh said, "Why don't you do something to the van? If you could manage that, you might be able to relax about the Christmas decorations and the spoon."

"I could never bring myself down to the level of doing things to vans."

"A few years ago, I bet you never thought you'd be working on such a small scale."


"You would have thought that you could never reduce yourself to this level. But you can. And you can go further down to the van. Christmas decorations and spoons would be around about that level."

"I suppose I could try anyway. It's the smell I'm most worried about."

Hugh didn't recognise Robert the next time they met in the cafe. Robert had cut his hair short and dyed it black. He was wearing a light blue suit, and he was starting to grow a moustache. Hugh wouldn't have recognised him at all if he hadn't sat in his usual seat. Hugh went over and said, "That's an interesting new look."

"Thanks. You could say something similar about Derek's van."

"Did you do something to it?"

"I did. I set it on fire. Hence the new look. I'm trying to hide from Derek. Actually, you could do with a new look yourself. I told Derek that you convinced me to do something to his van. When you set a man's van on fire they'll try to get revenge on anyone they think is responsible. I'd suggest wearing a hat with..."

"Shut up! Don't say another word. You can have no influence in designing my new look."

"Why not?"

"Because you'll think you own it."

"I won't. If you just..."

"Shut up!" Hugh ran from the cafe.

He told Annabel about what happened that evening. "That's awful," she said. "I think you should wear a hat. One that comes down over the sides of your head, and you can tie it underneath. One with a red..."

"You've been talking to him, haven't you?"

"No, I haven't met him at all."

"He told you how I should look, didn't he?"

"No, not at all. I formed this opinion myself when I was walking around the shops earlier."

"I only just told you about what he did to Derek's van."

"Yeah... but y' see..."

Hugh ran from the house. He went to see Derek. The burnt-out shell of the van was still in his driveway.

When Derek opened the door and saw Hugh he said, "You!"

"Yes, it's me, well done. I'm only here to get revenge on Robert."

"He set my van on fire."

"Yeah, I know, well done. He told my fiancee what I should wear."

Derek didn't think that was as bad as setting a van on fire, but he was happy to associate with someone who'd seek revenge for something so insignificant.

Hugh said, "The only way to hurt Robert is to alter one of his creations. It'll drive him mad. A spoon is like a prison sentence for him. What we need to do is to alter the van in some way. When he sees it, it'll be a very unhappy Christmas for him."

Derek knew someone who had just been involved in organising a tennis tournament, and he was able to get hundreds of tennis balls. They put the balls into the van.

The next time Hugh met Robert he said, "I went to see Derek to explain to him that I had no idea you'd set his van on fire, but he's actually happy with the van. He's added a few tennis balls to it and he thinks it looks fantastic. He thinks you've created a work of art. Or actually he thinks he's created a work of art when he added the tennis balls, and in fairness, the balls do make a difference. He just had to add to your creation to make something good out of it."

Robert looked horrified.

"But don't worry," Hugh said. "You just have to get used to seeing a few tennis balls in a vehicle, and then the van won't bother you."

Hugh put three tennis balls into Robert's car. Robert couldn't even sit inside it at first, but he gradually got used to it, and Hugh said he was ready to see the van.

When he saw the hundreds of tennis balls in the van he looked as if one of his houses had been set on fire. Derek laughed at this reaction. Then they had to hold Robert back when he tried to set the tennis balls on fire.

That Christmas he came back dressed as Santa, with a can of petrol in his sack. He tried to set the tennis balls on fire again, but Derek had been on the look-out for anyone who might vandalise his van. He chased Santa down the street with a stick, and he couldn't have asked for a better present than that.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't seem to mind his latest role as a ventriloquist's dummy. The wife's uncle saw a ventriloquist who had a walking stick, and his dummy had one too. The dummy kept poking himself in the eye with the stick, and saying 'ow!'. The wife's uncle decided to have a go at ventriloquism with the moose's head. You never see his lips moving, but the moose's head never says anything. I think he might have forgotten about the ventriloquism. He just spends hours talking to the moose's head, who seems to enjoy listening to him.