'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, June 06, 2007

The Buskers

It's the perfect time of year to be working in the garden. It's too hot to do anything more strenuous than re-arranging flower pots. The wife's aunt refuses to comment on the arrangement of the flower pots. She went to flower arranging classes once, but all she learnt from those was that she couldn't fly. This is why she considers flower arranging to be the most disheartening of all the martial arts.

My uncle Alan plays the harp. When he was in his twenties he travelled all around Europe with a banjo player called Benji. Benji's real name was Derek. People started calling him 'Banjo' and he hated it, but the more he objected, the more entrenched the name became. He eventually accepted it, and he learnt to play the banjo. People started calling him Benji then.

On their trip around Europe, they used to busk or play gigs in bars. One evening they were playing on a street in a town in the south of France. A woman came up to them and said she'd give them two thousand pounds if they played at a party in her house. They assumed it was two thousand Francs, but they went anyway.

Her name was Amelie. Her house was really a chateau, and they realised that yes, it was two thousand pounds. Amelie fell in love with Alan and he fell for her too. When he was young he always fell for the sort of woman who got labelled 'the wrong sort' by those obsessed with surfaces. He was drawn to the sad and lonely types, or the ones who'd call him in the middle of the night, looking for an alibi. She could do either with breathtaking style. She told him the music he made was so sad and beautiful it made her want to be a paperclip. If anyone else had said that, he'd have been looking for the nearest exit.

At the party, Alan and Benji played until dawn. They were joined by other musicians during the night. One man played the guitar. Another played the spoons, or at least that's what he said he was doing when he put twenty spoons down his trousers and danced on a table. They were able to take a break when a woman played the flute for an hour. Benji went for a swim in the pool with an English woman called Chloe. She was a model. She was the only model he'd ever met who was uncontrollably attracted to banjo players. He made sure to get lots of photos of the three of them together (Chloe, Benji and his banjo) to show to the people back home who said he'd only ever attract donkeys with the banjo.

Amelie told Alan and Benji they could stay at her chateau for as long as they wanted. Neither of them could imagine wanting anything else. Benji and Chloe went to the beach every day. Amelie and Alan often went with them, or sometimes they just went for walks through the countryside.

A few weeks before the party, Amelie had played the piano for a man on a horse. She thought it was rude of him not to dismount the horse while she was playing, and she tried to make her feelings known in the way she played. He thought she was trying to express her love for him in the way she played. He believed he was irresistible to women, so even if she'd thrown something sharp at his head he would have thought she was in love with him.

When she finished playing, he looked at her for about ten seconds, and she looked back at him. She thought that by returning his gaze she'd be reinforcing the point she made with her playing. This is the way he interpreted it too, but he thought she was reinforcing her expression of love. His policy towards women who wanted him was to leave them wanting more, so he'd end up getting more. This is why he laughed and rode away as fast as he could.

His name was Claude. He spent the next month gambling and drinking all along the south coast. He thought she'd be pining for him, but she forgot about him because there was no glue as strong as love or hate to keep his picture stuck to the wall in her mind.

When he returned, he met her in the garden in front of her chateau. He was ready to catch her in case she fainted, but she didn't lose her composure at all when she saw him again. She asked him if he'd been away for a while, and then she spoke about the weather and her friend's sunburn. He suspected that she had learnt his game of playing hard to get, and that it was all just an act. He thought his suspicion was confirmed when she invited him to a party.

But as soon as he arrived at the party, Amelie introduced him to Yvette, the friend with the sunburn. She left them alone together. Yvette never stopped talking, and she'd get completely caught up in what she was saying, becoming lost in the world she was creating with her words. Short stories became long, and no one ever stayed around long enough to hear the ending of long stories. A rampaging bull had once failed to return her to the real world, so it was easy to see how she could spend hours in the sun without noticing that she was being burnt.

She told him about a cafe she was in. "The waiter had a limp, and I asked him if he'd injured himself somehow, and he said, 'Sort of. Although it was really someone else who injured me. But I could have prevented that if I had injured him first, so I suppose it is my fault.' And I said to him, 'If you'd injured him first, then surely he'd be more intent on injuring you.' He said he'd never thought of that. I told him he still had a chance to injure the other person. He'd never thought of that either. It was like a sudden revelation to him. He went over to another waiter and punched him. I felt really guilty because I don't believe in injuring other people at all. I'll leave that to the sun." She paused to shake her fist at the ceiling. "I told the other waiter that they should just shake hands, but I don't think he even heard what I said." This was the most interesting part of the story. It went on for another hour. She spent most of this time talking about the waiter's eyebrows.

Amelie spent the evening with Alan, which annoyed Claude almost as much as Yvette annoyed him. Yvette was completely insult-proof, and he hated people like that. She only laughed and said 'it's true' every time he insulted her. He got the impression that Amelie had left them together in the hope of forming a couple, but then he thought that this was just another example of her playing hard to get, and he wasn't going to let her beat him at his own game. This is why he seduced Yvette. It was surprisingly easy, even by his standards, although the sunburn did present some difficulties.

Amelie was delighted to see Claude and Yvette getting on so well. Obviously Claude thought she was just pretending to be delighted. She invited him to a picnic. Alan and Yvette were there too. They sat in the shade of a tree in a small field full of wild flowers. It was surrounded by woodland. They could hear the sound of a stream nearby. Claude was hoping to get a chance to be alone with Amelie, but she left with Alan to explore the ruins of a castle, leaving Yvette and Claude alone again. He was left alone with her when they went to the races too.

Amelie owned a small house on the side of a mountain near the chateau. She loved the views, and she loved the place even more when it was hidden beneath a veil of mist. She could spend hours listening to the silence then. She often went there with Alan. One day, as they were walking along a path on the mountain, they met a group of women who described themselves as a 'tour party'. If they'd described themselves as 'sewer rats' Amelie would have been more welcoming, but she found that they were all very nice despite the way they defined themselves. She invited them back to the house on the mountainside, and she tried to talk them out of this definition as a 'tour party'. She convinced them to describe themselves as 'scientists' instead. She told them they could stay in the house for as long as they wanted. Yvette became their tour guide ('head of the department' is the title Amelie gave her), and she showed the scientists all the sights in the area. Claude was glad to get away from her. It gave him more time to focus on Amelie, but she was still showing no interest in him. He was baffled by this.

She had a party in the house on the mountainside one evening. As she listened to Alan play the harp, smiling lovingly at him, Claude went over to her and said, "Do you want me to kill him?"

"No," she said emphatically, and she stared at him to reinforce the point.

He smiled and nodded before leaving.

Alan left his harp in the house after the party, and he went back on the following day to get it. The mountain was covered in mist. Claude overheard Alan say he was going to get the harp, and he saw his chance. There was a cliff near the house, and there was every chance that Alan could have an unfortunate fall. Claude went up ahead of him.

As Alan was climbing the path towards the house, he heard Yvette's voice. She was talking to the scientists. He heard her say, "So I didn't know if they were talking about the red one or the blue one or the thing stuck to the ceiling. But to make a long story's shirt and knit it little mittens and socks, and buy it shoes, and trousers too, and give it a little straw hat..."

Alan wanted to avoid her, so he took a different, longer route to the house. He got his harp, and he headed back on the shorter route, but he stopped when he saw Claude, who was standing at the top of a cliff, looking down. He was looking out for Alan. Alan didn't like Claude because he got the impression that Claude didn't like him. He tiptoed away, and he went down on the other path.

Claude remained completely still as he listened out for any sound of Alan's approach. When he heard the sound of the scientists laughing behind him he turned around suddenly. He lost his footing on the wet rock and he fell down the cliff. Yvette and the others heard him calling for help. They went to the cliff and looked down. He was hanging onto a ledge below them. Yvette always kept a cool head in these situations. She went to the house and got some rope. She tied one end to a tree and she threw the other end over the cliff. Claude held onto it. Yvette and the other women pulled him up.

He was ashamed to be rescued by women, and the fact that they were scientists only made it worse. He finally gave up on Amelie when he saw how unconcerned she was by the story of his brush with death. She was more interested in congratulating Yvette and the others for advancing the cause of science.

Amelie's relationship with Alan didn't last much longer. She fell for a violinist who didn't have shoes and he despised wealth, but he adapted to life in the chateau easily enough. Chloe lost interest in Benji when a bigger banjo player came along. So Alan and Benji recommenced their trip around Europe, playing on streets, falling in love, running away from duels and so forth.

The moose's head over the fireplace is enjoying the long summer days. The sky outside the window is more entertaining than anything on TV in the evenings. The wife's uncle says he spent a good part of every day in front of windows when he was living in Austria. He once saw an owl in the window's soul. Someone suggested that he was looking at his own reflection on the glass, and that he really saw the owl in himself. The idea appealed to him, and he spent a lot of time in trees, where he met some fascinating people and very nearly got married.