'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Friday, April 20, 2007

The Glass Eye

There's plenty to see around the garden, and it's good to exercise the eyes, to exorcise the images on the cinema screen in your head, stupid things like dogs fighting with umbrellas. Or exercise the legs on a country road on a sunny Saturday and take in all the scenery, the hills and valleys, or a yellow sign with a black cross to indicate a junction. The vertical line is slightly thicker than the horizontal, indicating that this narrow road is the major road to the minor one up ahead. We went down the minor one. It's full of twists and turns and hills and potholes. I recorded all the sights and sounds in my head so I can replay them the next time the dog does something stupid.

My aunt Joyce types her thoughts on a typewriter. She's taken a minor road instead of the modern world's major highway. Fridays type a beautiful array of events onto her life and they keep coming until well into Saturday. This is because of the Thursday night before rather than the weekend to come. Her husband, Uncle Cyril, goes to a meeting of the local historical society on Thursday nights. On the following morning they have trouble remembering the history of the previous night, and it's often left to Joyce to deal with the fall-out. She arranges the events in words on the type writer, and brings some order to them.

On one of those Friday mornings he found a glass eye in his pocket. Of all the things he found in his pockets over the years, this was the thing he most wanted to be lodged in someone else's eye socket. Nestling comfortably in his trousers was the last thing he wanted the glass eye to be doing.

Joyce had the phone numbers of almost everyone in the neighbourhood and she called them on a regular basis to say 'hello' and 'I was just wondering how you got on with your elbow'. She started phoning people and asked if they knew anyone with a glass eye. The responses included an interesting variety of 'no's, including one 'no, but I know someone with a funny ear', but then someone mentioned Fintan, to which Joyce responded with an 'Oh God no!'.

Fintan was a stern man, and he didn't suffer fools gladly. He saw the modern world as a conveyor belt for fools. Young people had it too easy, he thought, and foolishness would colonise the brain like ivy if it wasn't cut down by adversity. He believed there wasn't any affliction that pain couldn't cure. Smiling was something only women and horses should do. It was unseemly conduct in a man, and yet some men were guilty of smiles far beyond the capability of a horse. He believed they all needed a spell in the army and that the army needed a general with a clinically proven sadistic personality. Excessive male smiling was the most obvious sign of a brain whose facade is invisible behind the ivy veil of foolishness.

Joyce made a few more phone calls and she found out that Fintan was at the pub where the historical society met, and his eye had been stolen there. He took his eye out so someone could punch him in the face. He had criticised a man called Derek for drinking white wine. Fintan suggested he must have been struck by lightning or been smiling too much. Derek responded by saying, "I'd punch you in the face, but you shouldn't punch a man with a glass eye."

Fintan was only too happy to take his eye out because he thought it was one of those situations where the other fella punches you and then you get to break a chair over the other fella's back. And when a man is drinking white wine, getting him to punch someone and breaking a chair over his back is almost a medical necessity. It's like the kiss of life, only at an opposite pole to kissing a man.

Fintan put the eye on a table and turned back for the punch. But Derek refused to punch him because he saw what was coming, and he saw what was going too when the glass eye was stolen behind Fintan's back. Fintan was disappointed when Derek refused to punch him. He was furious when he turned around and saw that his eye had been stolen. He turned back towards Derek to ask who had taken it, but Derek had gone too. He'd been in hiding ever since.

Whoever took the eye must have slipped it into Cyril's pocket. So there was a chance that a man's hand ventured in there with the glass eye. This is why Cyril only considered the possibility that the thief was a woman, whereas Joyce never doubted that it was a man.

She brought order to her thoughts when the type writer ribbon drew beautiful lines in black ink that all pointed towards the same conclusion: just explain the situation to him calmly and rationally and if there's anything calm and rational in his head it'll make him nod and say, "It's not Cyril's fault."

She spoke in a crystal clear voice that was as sharp as a glass bottle broken off the brass railing around a bar. With just a few words she could make people drop the bottle they'd just broken and cry in despair. She was sure she could make Fintan see sense and not blame her husband for the temporary disappearance of his glass eye.

But Cyril wouldn't let her do this. He said, "Fintan won't blame me if there's anything calm and rational in his head. If. That's a huge assumption to make. And he'll wonder why I took so long to return it. He'll be suspicious."

"Okay," Joyce said. "I'll just have to find the real culprit. And I just have to find Derek to find out who took the eye."

But she couldn't find Derek. He was laying low because Fintan was looking for him. During the course of her investigations Joyce heard various quotes attributed to Fintan, such as 'I've dug a pit for when I catch the person who stole my glass eye'.

Her investigations seemed to be leading nowhere, but she discovered the identity of the thief by chance. It was a woman called Abigail. Cyril was over the moon to hear that the thief was a woman, and he was glad it was Abigail too. She was English. She stood and she spoke in ways that suggested the influence of teachers who made her walk with books balanced on her head and repeat phrases about the Jaguar her father owns, and her father's car probably was a Jaguar.

She often went to a small cafe near an old church. She met a friend of hers called Judith who always had long, meandering stories that led to conclusions in lines like 'So I plugged in the kettle' or 'I had to put the cat back on the piano', the sort of everyday events that would be forgotten if they didn't have long stories pointing towards them, like a flashing neon arrow pointing at a tea cup.

Joyce met Judith when she was out for a walk. Judith told her about a fork she found, and she mentioned a minor detail in passing: that Fintan and Abigail hated each other. In the context of Joyce's investigation, this detail had bright red arrows pointing at it.

The animosity stemmed from a turnip. Fintan sold his vegetables at a stall in the market every Saturday. He was proud of his turnips. He had them at the front of his stall. One turnip in particular caught the eye of many customers because of its unique shape. Everyone was complimentary about it until Abigail came along. She said, "If that turnip was a human being, it would be a drug dealer."

Fintan felt deeply insulted. He said, "Your strawberries would be addicts"

"They don't do drugs. They're 100% organic."

"That's even worse. They'd be the first to surrender in a war."

"Your turnips would be the first to pretend to be mad by writing on their faces just so they can be discharged."

"Your strawberries would pretend they're mad to avoid being drafted."

"It's always about war with people like you. Even in vegetables you can't help seeing soldiers and generals and conscientious objectors."

"It's always about drugs with people like you."

"I've never done drugs in my life."

"You've probably done yoga, and that's even worse."

"I haven't."

"You've grown organic strawberries, and that's even worse than yoga. It's like bringing your kids up as vegetarians."

"You've probably shot someone, and that's worse than anything I've ever done in my life."

"You would say that."

Joyce made a few more phone calls and she discovered that Fintan had suspected Abigail of taking the eye and he confronted her about it. She was wearing a light summer dress and sandals. When he asked her if she had the eye she said, "Where am I going to hide a glass eye?"

He put a considerable amount of thought into that, considering it was a rhetorical question. He couldn't think of an answer to it, so he walked away.

Joyce went to see Abigail with the glass eye. Abigail admitted taking it, and she said she regretted it. She was worried about having to face Fintan and tell him the truth. Joyce said she'd go with her for support.

So they went to Fintan's house and when he opened the door Abigail showed him the eye and said, "I think this is yours."

"I knew it," he said. "Stealing a man's eye is like shooting him in the back, and that's exactly the sort of thing you'd do."

"It always comes back to shooting with you, doesn't it."

"It always comes back to not shooting with you."

"You seem to have forgotten the fact that the eye is still in my possession. And you won't get it back until you say 'please'."

Fintan made his feelings known by glaring at her with his good eye. She responded by throwing the glass eye into the field at the other side of the road.

"Sorry," she said.

She helped him look for it. They found it after a few days. He got to know her much better in that time, and he completely changed his opinion of her. She thought that most people were fools too, and that few of them could claim to be more distinguished than a turnip.

The moose's head over the fireplace often makes people feel inferior because of the distinguished look on his face. I've never detected any more than a faint smile, but he doesn't look as if he has anything against people enjoying themselves. I try to emulate him by standing in silence and looking distinguished, but it's more difficult than it looks. He's like all great sports people -- they make their game look easy. Whether it's Lionel Messi scoring wonder goals or Christiano Ronaldo doing his step overs just for comic effect, or the moose's head looking refined, sometimes you've just got to applaud genius and accept you'll never reach their heights.

'The Tree and the Horse' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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