'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Right Thing To Say

The wife's aunt likes to look at the dog running around the garden. She has a pair of reading glasses that makes him look like a small monkey. When the dog ran off with a plug in his mouth, dragging a lamp behind him, she said that it looked as if the monkey was wearing a red bow tie. She wasn't even wearing the glasses then.

My cousin Jane joined an orchestra of amateur musicians. She played the violin, and she met a man called Kevin who played the trumpet. He was studying mathematics, which he often spoke about, and she didn't know what he was talking about most of the time, but she liked listening to him anyway.

On one beautiful summer day the orchestra were playing in a vast park in the city. There was also a dog show in the park, and this ended in chaos because the prize for the winning dog was just a banana. The anger of the owners was reflected in their dogs. The orchestra's performance came to an end when hundreds of dogs ran through their ranks. Some of the musicians ran away.

The day came to an end in a night at the edge of town, in a small shop that was so quiet you could hear the buzzing of the lights, and then back out to the fading sound of motorbikes and black horses. Kevin and Jane sat on a wall in the light of a full moon. She said, "Do you ever get tempted to play the xylophone when Maeve isn't looking?"


"I always have trouble resisting but she'd kill me if I did. She told Francine she'd kill a hamster if she even touched it."


"I don't know which hamster she meant. I don't think I could live with the guilt of being responsible for the death of a hamster just because I couldn't resist playing a xylophone. Unless it was a really bad hamster. If it had a Hitler moustache it'd be easy to believe that the hamster was bad."


After a few minutes of silence he said he'd like to be a satellite of something, something he liked, or even loved. She asked if he was trying to seduce her. He thought carefully about his answer. It eventually came out as a 'yes' dressed in these words: "I've always wanted to be a satellite."

She remained dressed in so much more than just words. She put on her glasses too.

On the following day he spoke to his friends as they waited for a lecture to start. He told them about his tendency to say the wrong things.

"I played volleyball once," Eric said, "and then I saw a woman with a red and black hat. I told her I was playing volleyball and she said, 'I know.' I should have asked her how she knew, but the obvious questions never come to my mind in situations like that. I always seem to say the wrong thing. Not wrong in an 'I killed a seagull' sort of way. I mean wrong as in 'not quite right'. I could come up with something slightly better if I thought about it. I have to think, whereas it comes automatically to most people."

"I know someone who killed a seagull," Stan said, "I don't care if that's the wrong thing to say. The only type of statements that I think are wrong to say are those in the 'I slept with your sister' family, and even then there are circumstances when it's perfectly acceptable to say that."

"Who killed the seagull?" Ciara said.

"My brother."

"Would it be wrong to say he's a nail?"

"No, that'd be surprisingly accurate."

Eric said, "'I have some words for my mouth to exhibit' -- I once said that, but I couldn't think of anything to say after it."

"I do think about what to say," Kevin said, "but I still get it wrong."

"You just have to put more thought into it," Eric said. "It's the only way. What would happen if you just said the first thing that came into your head?"

The first thing that came into Kevin's head was fish and it scared him.

The lecturer went to the microphone and said, "Have you ever woken up and got the feeling that you're really a brick?"

Kevin met Jane in the afternoon. She said, "I like your shoes."

He thought carefully about his response. He didn't want to dress it up in any unnecessary clothes.

They went to an art gallery. One side of the building was all glass. They looked at a huge yellow wall with a bit of orange, and grey letters. It was lit up by the sun through the glass.

They went to a house in the suburbs where Vera lived. She was in the orchestra too. They walked along a path around a field and listened to her complain about Maeve. "I played one note on her xylophone. One note. She was nowhere near the room, but then I heard footsteps on a corridor and then on a stairs and then another corridor and another one and then she came bursting through the door and said, 'I'm going to have to kill something now.' I know someone who laughed at a funeral. I couldn't help playing another note on the xylophone right in front of her. I was terrified. I tried to change the subject. I said there was a lot of smoke coming out of her head and maybe there was something wrong with her brain, but that only made things worse. She said a lot of things but the general gist of it was that I had the musical ability and personality of a wasp."

Vera met some neighbours of hers on the path and she could start her complaint all over again.

Kevin and Jane walked behind them on the path. They were floating higher and higher all the time, rising into the pale blue sky, getting further and further away from the world and other people, the sides of their faces lit up by the evening sun. He finally managed to say something unadorned by any unnecessary words. He looked into her eyes and said, "I don't like hamsters."

It wasn't much, but it was a start.

"Neither do I," she said.

"Especially bad ones."

The moose's head over the fireplace looks like a cowboy through the reading glasses, or so the wife's aunt says. She's probably just thinking of the time we put a cowboy hat on his head and a cigar in his mouth to make him look like Clint Eastwood. He nearly got a part in a play because of that. He was cast as a zoologist instead, but the zoologist got to shoot more people than the Eastwood-type character.