'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Moral of the Story

I like to sit in the glasshouse and think about politics or the universe or whatever I'm holding in my hand, and once I was holding a rabbit. I don't know how I came to be holding a rabbit, so I decided to stop thinking about it, and eventually someone told me to put the rabbit down.

My cousin Albert spent one summer working for the local community council with his friends, Neil and George. They spent most of their time cutting briers on ditches. Actually they spent most of their time cursing briers on ditches as they stood back and looked at all the work they had to do.

When they were in the pub one evening, Neil overheard a conversation about horses. One man gave a tip on a horse called 'Don't Fear the Reaper', and another man tipped a horse called 'The White Knight'. Neil wrote 'White Knight' on his right hand. 'Don't Fear the Reaper' was too long to write on his left, so he just wrote 'Death'.

He was always writing things on his hands so he wouldn't forget them. Sometimes he got bored when there wasn't anything good on TV. Reading a book seemed like too much effort, so he tried to read a narrative into what he'd written on his hands. Sometimes he got paranoid and he believed there was some truth to the stories. On the following day he saw 'Death' on his left hand. '10.30 Thursday' was beneath 'Death'. That was meant to remind him of his dentist appointment, but he saw it as a date with death. He certainly wasn't going to make it easy by letting a dentist put things in his mouth.

Neil was supposed to go to work before going to the dentist. When he didn't turn up, Albert and George went to his house to look for him. They found him hiding in a shed. He showed them his hand and he gave his interpretation of it. The cuts on his hand from the briers made his interpretation more believable.

"You're making it too easy for Death," Albert said. "You're in a place with countless things that could be used as lethal weapons. There's even a scythe in here."

Neil left the shed and ran through the fields. Albert and George caught up with him, and they convinced him to go to the pub to calm his nerves. The pub wouldn't officially open for another few hours, but unofficially, it never closed.

Albert bought a round of drinks and they sat at a table in the corner. There was a fish in a glass case on the wall. The man who caught it just put his hand into the river and pulled it out. He held it up and it glistened in the sunlight. He said it was luck, but people thought he must have some sort of a special power. They followed him around. He used to turn the hose on them when they gathered outside his garden, but they liked that. They used to believe it gave them some of his powers, albeit very diluted ones. One of them hit his head with a hurley and knocked himself unconscious. He couldn't remember what he was trying to achieve with this act. Another one set up a garden centre, and it was reasonably successful. His name was Dineen, and he put the success down to being soaked by the man who caught the fish. People used to go to Dineen when they wanted some sort of supernatural intervention or to get the benefit of his exceptional foresight. They stopped going to the man who caught the fish because he wasn't open to the idea that he possessed exceptional gifts, other than his skill at chess (a gift that he didn't really possess). There was no evidence that Dineen's foresight had improved since being soaked by the garden hose, but he seemed to have gained wisdom because of his perceived powers, and also because he seemed so serene amongst the flowers in his garden centre.

Albert was reminded of Dineen when he saw the fish on the wall. He suggested they pay a visit to the garden centre to get the great man's opinion of Neil's hand.

Albert expected Dineen to dismiss the idea of a date with Death, and thus calm Neil's nerves, but Dineen took it seriously. He looked out over the valley beneath the garden centre as he thought about the message on the hand. A man called Blarney had a farm at the bottom of the valley. No one knew why they called him 'Blarney'. Some people suggested it was because he was made of stone. Dineen couldn't help looking at Blarney's farm as he looked from his garden centre. He said, "I can't help thinking of Blarney."

"If anyone would be working for Death around here," George said, "it'd be Blarney."

"Just stay away from Blarney until after half-ten," Dineen said.

Albert, George and Neil thanked Dineen and they went to work. As they were looking at the briers, Albert noticed a man in the distance. He thought it was Blarney, and he was right. The three of them hid at the other side of the ditch, but he had seen them. He wondered why they were hiding from him. He remembered his generator, which had been stolen on the previous day. And they must have stolen it, he thought.

When he got to the place where they were hiding he said, "Give me back my generator, or else. I'll leave it to ye'r imaginations to decide what 'else' is. It won't be a picnic. If I don't find the generator outside my back door when I get home for lunch, I'll start loading else."

He walked on again. Albert, George and Neil went back to Dineen's garden centre. "You were right about Blarney," Neil said. "He thinks I stole his generator."

"Yeah, I thought it was something like that."

"What am I going to do? He wants it back by lunch, but I don't have it."

"Show me your other hand," Dineen said. "Maybe the solution to your problem is on that."

When Dineen read the words 'White Knight' he said, "Of course. Murphy is the man to sort this out. It all makes sense. Death is on your sinister left hand, but the cause of right and good is on your right hand. Murphy even has a white horse. They hate each other anyway, and Murphy will definitely take on Blarney if we portray it as a battle of good and evil."

Dineen went with them when they visited Murphy. He had a lust for life that could be heard miles away in his thunderous voice, and he loved nothing more than a good fight, even if it was just threatening Blarney with a pipe.

When Blarney went home for lunch, he was greeted by Albert, George, Neil, Murphy and a pipe. Murphy told him to stop threatening Neil, or else. He said he already had all the explosives he needed for 'else'.

Blarney didn't say a word. Albert, George and Neil took Murphy to the pub to buy him a drink. They finally got around to starting work on the briers at half-four that afternoon. They only had time for half an hour of cursing before going home.

Albert and George were at Neil's house at nine o' clock that evening when the doorbell rang. It was Blarney. He was with his two brothers, a pipe and a plank with a rusty nail in it. "Give me my generator," Blarney said.

Neil realised that 10.30 could be p.m., rather than a.m. He said, "Just wait here, and I'll have it in a minute."

Albert, George and Neil left the house through the back door. They ran away through the fields. "Where are we going?" George said. "We can't just keep running."

"We've been approaching this the wrong way," Albert said. "You don't fight evil with good. You fight fire with fire. Fight evil with evil. We should go to Mulligan's house."

No one ever went to Mulligan's house if they valued their limbs. Too many of his acquaintances had bits missing, and none of them were fully there in the head. But Albert, George and Neil had no other option. They could hear Blarney and his brothers behind them. They ran into the west, with the sun on their faces until it set, its departure filling them with a dark foreboding.

They ran for three miles until they got to Mulligan's place. It was a crumbling house at the bottom of a valley. The house was surrounded by trees and covered in ivy. A narrow twisting road led to the driveway, which hadn't been driven on in years. The briers and gorse at either side were encroaching on the driveway, making it into a footpath. It was no longer wide enough for a car.

As they walked towards the house they could hear the sounds of a party. The sound of fighting dominated. They made their way through the crowd in the garden and they tried to avoid the airborne bottles. Two men were fighting over a bicycle bell. One of them was trying to make the other one eat it.

A band played inside. They sang songs about drinking and fighting, and they looked as if their songs were autobiographical. They weren't put off by the sound of breaking glass and fighting. Couples danced to the music. They proved just how narrow the line was between dancing and stabbing each other. There was a table full of bottles and a metal bin full of something that tasted as if it would melt a plastic bin.

It was nearly half-ten. Neil said, "I have an appointment with Death at half-ten and ye bring me to a place like this."

"Relax," Albert said. "He'll have plenty other customers to deal with here."

They walked right through the house and went out the back door. Two men were digging a hole outside. Neil thought it was a grave, but George said, "They're just digging for the hell of it, just like that woman breaking the floor tiles in the hall with a hatchet, or like those men setting fire to the sofa in the garden."

Neil started to relax after half-ten, but then they saw Blarney and his brothers. Albert, George and Neil tried to avoid them, and the crowd was big enough to get lost in. Blarney and his brothers drank from the bin and they looked lost too.

Albert, George and Neil were in one of the front rooms when the clock struck midnight. The whole place went silent and the lights were turned off. Neil was terrified. It seemed like an appropriate time for Death's arrival. A door opened and the crowd parted, but instead of the dark void of Death, a white birthday cake appeared, with lighting candles to chase away the darkness. Mulligan blew out the candles and a woman in a bikini emerged from the cake. "Just what I wished for," he said. She sang 'Happy Birthday' and then the band played 'For he's a jolly good fellow'. Everyone joined in. His birthday celebrations had officially begun at midnight, though they had started the party a few hours earlier, and it went on for a few days.

Mulligan went around to all of his guests and gave them slices of the cake. He sorted out the dispute between Blarney and Neil. When he asked what the problem was, Blarney said, "He stole my generator."

Mulligan turned to Neil and said, "Did you?"

"No," Neil said.

"Fair enough," Blarney said. He spent the next few hours talking to Neil, telling him all the intimate details of his life, all the disappointments and failures, often talking through tears.

They met Murphy at the party too. He gave Mulligan a painting of a bird as a birthday present. Someone else gave him a used generator.

When they were in the garden, looking at the dawn sky, George said, "So what exactly triumphed here? Good or evil?"

"Maybe neither," Albert said. "We could have been reading too much into it when we portrayed it as a battle of good versus evil. We imposed that narrative on events just because of Neil's hands."

They overheard two men talking about horses. One of them mentioned a horse called 'The Moral of the Story', and he said this horse couldn't lose.

"That sounds like an omen to me," George said. "We should bet on 'The Moral of the Story', and if he loses, we'll know that we've been reading too much into things."

They watched the race on the TV in the pub. 'The Moral of the Story' came in last, so yeah, they were reading too much into things.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoyed the general election. It was full of twists and turns and it ended with the brief cessation of fighting we get once every five years, when politicians can debate things calmly and rationally. The hurling championship is underway again, and the moose's head enjoyed that even more. They got all the fighting out of the way before the games even started, and then went on to focus on the actual hurling, which seems like a more sensible way of doing things. If politicians were playing they'd spend the whole game fighting and then play a minute of hurling after the final whistle.