'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The Wish

The sky has been grey for the past few days, but we haven't had any rain. I've spent a lot of time looking at the sky, but I can't think of anything to say about it, other than that it's grey, so I've decided to write a poem about it. I'll try my hand at poetry, and if I lose a hand I can sit at the bar and tell tall tales of my poetry injury. "Bits of words are embedded in my leg. Part of a poem is stuck in my head, and the doctors say they'll never be able to get it out."

My cousin Albert went for a ride in a hot air balloon with a friend of his called Derek. The owner of the balloon told them not to spit over the side. They had never thought of spitting before he mentioned it. Neither of them wanted to spit, but Albert thought of meeting Davey on the ground later. They'd tell him about the balloon and the first thing he'd say is, "Did you spit on anyone?"

Davey once tried to spit on an ant, but the ant was too quick for him. It was like the Karate Kid trying to catch a fly with chop sticks.

Albert still didn't want to spit because the owner of the balloon would think he's more of a ball-point than Davey. Instead of spitting he dropped a coin into a lake, so when Davey asked if he'd spat on anyone he could say, "No, but I threw a coin at a man in a boat." He told the owner of the balloon that he was just making a wish when he dropped the coin.

When they met Davey later they told him about the balloon, and the first thing he said was, "What was it like?" He was obviously working up to the question about spitting.

Albert said, "It was like being a bird in slow motion, a bird with a huge red head that's filled with air."

"Are you describing an ex-girlfriend?" Davey said.

Albert loved the idea of having an ex that fitted that description. His own head would be full of beautiful memories. He liked the idea of having a fling with someone who was completely unsuitable for him.

Albert and Derek were going to meet some friends in the pub. On the way they stopped at Derek's house. He went inside to change his shoes and Albert waited outside. The sun was just approaching the horizon when he saw a woman walking towards him, seemingly in slow motion. She had red hair, and lots of it. 'Bountiful' was the word he'd use to describe it. 'Beautiful' was the only way to describe the over-all effect. She smiled at him. He rememberd the coin he dropped in the lake and the wish he had supposedly made. He hadn't wished for anything until he had thought of the fling with the red head. This could be his wish come true.

She said, "Hello, Albert." He wasn't able to say anything. She said, "You don't remember me, do you?"

"I remember seeing you..." He stopped because he didn't think it was advisable to finish that sentence with 'in my mind'. He finished it with a simple 'somewhere' instead.

"We met years ago," she said. "I'm Derek's cousin."


"I didn't think you'd remember."

"You've changed a lot since then."

"Well I was only fifteen at the time. And I was sunburnt. You said I looked as if I was applying for a job as a fire."

"Sorry about that. I still see fire when I look at you, but in a good way now."

"Have you ever applied for a job as a fireman?"

"I'd rather be an arsonist."

Derek went to the pub, but Albert and Gillian walked towards the banks of the river where they'd met years earlier. They were never stuck for things to talk about. He realised that her head might not be full of air, but there was a fire at the base of her brain. He told her the sun wasn't setting; it was retreating because she'd beaten it.

As they were walking next to a ditch in a field they saw a man in the next field. He was holding a shotgun and he wore a hunting hat.

"I hate hunting," she said. "We should put a stop to this. I'll distract him while you take his gun."

Albert thought she had the easier half of the job. She could distract at a range of two hundred yards, but he had no idea how he could take a gun from an armed man.

They crouched and crept along next to the ditch. Instead of thinking how to disarm the hunter, Albert was thinking of excuses not to disarm him. But as they got closer he recognised the man in the hunting hat. "That's my cousin Alan," he said.

Albert said hello and waved to Alan, who waved back. Albert and Gillian went over to him. "It's a grand evening for hunting," Albert said. "And by the way, you shouldn't do that."

"You were the one who wanted me to shoot a rabbit in the back."

"Yeah well I knew you'd miss."

"I've never shot anything."

"That's good."

"Why do you have a gun?" Gillian said.

"Because I heard that people were poaching fish from the river and I wanted to scare them off."

She smiled at him. Albert thought it was advisable to change the subject. He said to Alan, "Have you been able to get your hands on your father's memoirs?"

"No. He keeps them in his study, and his room is always locked."

Alan's father, uncle Harry, had always been writing in notebooks. He said he hoped to write his memoirs one day. No one ever asked him about it because they didn't take the threat seriously. The only thing Albert thought about it was that it should be pronounced 'memories'.

When Alan was in his teens he was always wearing wooly hats. He had a different hat every time Albert met him. Albert thought he looked stupid but the girls loved him. He wondered what his uncle would write in his memoirs about the hats. Probably something like 'He looks stupid but the girls love him'. Albert was looking forward to reading the memoirs because he expected it to be full of things like that. He had no idea that it would contain stories involving bar maids in broom cupboards. Harry wouldn't have needed a notebook to remember that, as long as it only happened once or twice. If it happened ten times, some of the details might be lost if they weren't recorded. If it happened fifty times, then it could just as easily have happened thirty times or seventy times. You'd forget about twenty encounters with bar maids in broom cupboards just as easily as you'd forget making toast.

Everyone was interested in his memoirs after he started writing them. It was rumoured that he had lived a wild life before he got married. His wife, Bridget, was desperate to get hold of them to make sure there wasn't anything too embarrassing in them. And if there was (and there almost certainly was) she could destroy them. She could allow one or two incidents with bar maids before they were married, but fifty would be forty-eight too many.

Alan never had to say much to the girls. They'd say, "Is that a new hat?" And he'd say 'yeah'. And then they could look at the hat, and this would be a perfectly good substitute for a conversation that included the line 'Do you want to go back to my place?'.

Albert wore a new hat once. A girl asked him if it was a new hat and he said 'yeah'. He felt that the ensuing silence was only standing in the way of a conversation that started with the question 'Did you have to kill a squirrel?'. It all came down to confidence -- that's the conclusion Albert came to. He couldn't see any foundation for Alan's high level of confidence.

Gillian said to Alan, "I like your hunting hat." Albert knew he needed to do something to halt the growth of the pro-Alan sentiment.

It was Alan himself who came up with a plan of action. He said, "I know how we could get the memoirs back. His study is upstairs. He often leaves the window open, and someone could easily get to it from a ladder. All we need is to keep him distracted downstairs, and Gillian would be perfect as a distraction. I'll introduce her to Dad and you can climb the ladder, get into the study and take the manuscript from the desk."

Albert didn't want to play the part of 'you' in the above script, but it would be the sort of thing that would impress Gillian, so he agreed.

The plan was that Albert would get the ladder from the shed just after Alan and Gillian went inside. Alan would introduce Gillian to his father and tell him she's interested in his opinions on forestry, while Albert would be entering the study upstairs.

This part of the plan went perfectly. When Albert made his way into the study he could hear his uncle talking about cutting down trees. He took the manuscript from the desk and left the room through the window at the side of the house.

As he was descending the ladder he heard the sound of screeching brakes on the road. It was a police car. They were just passing by when they saw him emerge from the window with something under his arm.

He hurried down the ladder and ran into the back garden. He headed for the orchard. He thought of the coin he dropped in the lake. The ripples had been spreading outwards all evening, and now they were crashing on the shore as waves.

But all wasn't lost. His knowledge of the terrain proved useful. His cousin Ronan had dug a hide-out at the back of the orchard when he was young. Albert knew where the hide-out's entrance was, and he hid there. Even in daylight it was difficult to spot it, and it was completely invisible in the dying light. He heard the police running by above.

Ronan had been using the hide-out again recently after he agreed to pose as Ghandi for a painting and then regretted it, deciding he'd rather spend time in a hole instead. He had left a torch in there, and Albert used it to read the memoirs.

There were no stories of bar maids in the bit he read, but he did come across a very interesting story about Alan. According to Harry, Alan once cried when a moth flew into the back of his head. This completely changed Albert's opinion of his cousin. The hats were probably an attempt to protect himself from moths. This gave Albert more confidence.

He left the hide-out when he heard the voices of Alan and Gillian. It was dark outside. He walked through the orchard, and he saw them standing on a lawn. They got a shock when they saw him emerge from the trees, but he remained calm. He oozed confidence as he made his way across the lawn. He thought he emitted a smell of pure calm as he told them about his encounter with the police (although if anything, the smell was of sweat, which would suggest the opposite of calm). Of course, it wasn't really an 'encounter', but Alan made it sound like one.

Gillian said, "When the police came back to the house they said you were too far away to be caught. But I knew they were just saying that to cover their inability to catch you."

"It was boring for me," Albert said. "I had to start reading to pass the time. I learnt some fascinating things about moths."

He gave the manuscript to Alan, who looked shocked. "I have to go," he said, and he ran back to the house.

Gillian and Albert were alone on the lawn. With his new-found confidence he translated the silence into the sort of conversations Harry used to have with bar maids, and he was proved right when they kissed for over a minute. When they stopped she said, "I have to go now. I'll be going back to Japan tomorrow. Maybe I'll see you again in a few years. Goodbye."

After she left, he said to himself, "So that's what it's like to have a fling with a red-headed woman with fire in her head." He smiled. He was glad he'd thrown the coin in the lake, although he'd never do it again.

The moose's head over the fireplace has a good appreciation of poetry. Reading my poems in front of him would be daunting. He'd know what it feels like to lose a hand too, having lost his body. The wife's aunt once read him her poem about a lamb and a man with a big moustache. She thought he liked the poem, but the look on his face reminded me of the way he reacted when I glued my hand to a banjo.