'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Friday, March 09, 2007

The Quiz

The dog keeps barking at one of the trees in the garden. My great-grandfather once claimed to have seen the ghost of a cat in that tree, but he tended to perceive the world through rose-tinted glasses. He believed that death was the most desirable quality a cat could have.

My uncle Harry often goes to a small country pub about half a mile from his house. It's an old pub. The regulars don't mind the dirt on the floor or the things on the ceiling that would be classified as dirt if they didn't occasionally move. The pub is owned by a man called Dan, and every so often he feels a need to attract new customers. This is why he decided to have a table quiz on a Thursday evening in June.

Dan came up with a few of the questions himself. One of them was 'What happened to Paddy's leg when he went to Swansea on the ferry?'. Harry and the other regulars in the pub were hoping that someone would know the truth, but each team came up with a different answer. One of the answers was an essay on morals.

Brendan came up with most of the questions. People call him 'College Jackson' because he's so clever, and you'd think that wouldn't be very clever at all, seeing as his surname isn't Jackson. He's never been to college either. They started calling him that after they stopped calling him 'Action Jackson' when he was sixteen, when the cigarettes and alcohol took over and impaired his ability to move around the football field. It impaired his ability to stop throwing bottles at the bus shelter too.

Dan didn't understand most of Brendan's questions, so he just read them without thinking about their meaning. He regretted not putting more thought into the question 'Will you marry me?'. When he read it out, a woman called Delia stood up and said 'yes!'.

Dan was too shocked to respond. Some people shook his hand and congratulated him. Some people laughed. Delia had been engaged to a man called Seamus for seven years, but they had recently split up and she had been wondering if she'd ever get married until Dan popped the question.

When the thought that he was engaged finally sank in, Dan's next thought was to kill Brendan, but he was long gone.

Harry and some of the other regulars sat at the bar that night and listened to Dan's views on marriage, which he summed up with the following line: "No woman with claws is going to get her claws into me."

He accepted that Delia was a fine woman on the surface. He couldn't find fault with the surface, but it's what lurked beneath that frightened him. When she asked questions like 'Have you ever thought about putting flowers on the bar?', he found it terrifying to think of the impulses in her brain that made her say that. He'd prefer if people asked about the blood stains on his shirt. And as Harry pointed out, when you're married you don't get asked questions. Flowers would appear on the bar and stains would disappear from shirts, and he wouldn't have any say in it.

He needed to escape. Harry thought it would be easy for a man like Dan to repulse a woman like Delia. He said to Dan, "Why don't you just tell her about the day you spent trying to get your soup spoon back from a pig. If she doesn't run away screaming, there's something wrong with her."

She didn't run away screaming when Dan told her the story. She just shook her head, and then she said, "This is exactly why you need someone like me. With my help, you'll never do anything like that again."

Dan considered the possibility of never being able to drug a pig again and he wanted to run away screaming.

Harry came up with another plan. The best way to break the engagement would be to re-unite Delia with Seamus, and the local match-maker would be the best person to bring this about. She forced people together and somehow got them to love each other. Harry thought she poisoned them. Her couples would be kicking and screaming when she brings them together, and the next time you see them, you'd need a fire hose to stop them re-enacting the sort of scenes you'd see in the DVDs that Dinge Hoolahan sells from the boot of his car.

Dan invited the match-maker around to the pub and he told her about the need to re-unite Delia and Seamus.

"I just have to make them see what they saw in each other when they were in love," she said. "It's all done with a few carefully chosen words. There are many different aspects to each person. When you're describing someone you can highlight one of those aspects and diminish the others. It might not be the most accurate of descriptions, but it's the one that will capture the heart."

"Right," Dan said. "And it doesn't involve anything you'd put in their tea?"

"That'd be your area of expertise."

"What, alcohol?"

"Well duh."

'Well duh' was right. Dan didn't know why he hadn't thought of that before. Just get them drunk and let nature take its course.

Dan thought it might look suspicious if he plied Delia with drink, so he got his sister to do that in another pub. He invited Seamus around to his pub. He said it was to make sure there were no hard feelings, but Seamus seemed delighted to be separated from Delia. He spent the evening complaining about her. He hated the way she always complained about the fires he started.

Dan kept giving him free drink. At eleven o' clock he got a phone call from his sister to say that she was on her way to the pub with Delia. He took Seamus to the room behind the pub to show him 'something very interesting'. It was a circle drawn on the wall. Seamus found the circle even more entertaining than the Telebubbies.

When Delia arrived, Dan took her into the room and left her there with Seamus. He locked the door.

This is the point when he remembered that drink creates the perfect conditions for violence, as well as for love. Dan and his customers heard noises from the room.

"Are they fighting or is it the other thing they're doing?" Harry said.

"I don't know," Dan said.

He decided to let them at it, whatever it was.

When Dinge Hoolahan came into the pub, Dan got him to listen at the door. He was an expert on these sounds, and he was certain it was the other thing.

They emerged from the room about an hour later, and Delia said she had some bad news for Dan. She couldn't marry him. He hadn't felt so relieved since he got his soup spoon back from the pig.

The moose's head over the fireplace is looking forward to Cheltenham next week. He doesn't like horses, but he can tolerate horse racing because of the betting. He's great at spotting a winner. A lot of the neighbours have been calling around and casually mentioning the names of horses just to see the moose's reaction. He reacted negatively to a story one of the neighbours told about a new species of animal he was trying to make.