'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 22, 2007


The lawns are covered in leaves. Autumn is near. The dog is chasing the leaves as they blow in the wind. As long as he isn't chasing anything he can kill, that's okay. He doesn't understand the command 'Don't kill that'. My neighbour trained his dog with German commands. He says it wasn't because the dog is a German shepherd, but because he thought that commands in German sound more authoritative than commands in English, or in his variety of English.

My cousin Jane and her friend, Claudia, went to a seaside town one evening to play pitch-and-putt. The course was next to a caravan park overlooking the beach. They were on the ninth green when they were distracted by the sight of two people who were behaving in a way that Jane and Claudia considered odd. Jane and Claudia had a high threshold for 'odd'. The bar would be set somewhere near the height for the pole vault world record. Many people had made valiant attempts to get over the bar. Many of them looked as if they'd been making attempts all their lives, and had often hit their heads off the ground after missing the landing mat. Earlier that day they had seen a man talking to crisps as he ate them. He was about a foot under the bar. He was telling the crisps about a new dessert he was working on. He might have reached the bar if he'd said what Claudia's uncle keeps saying about peas. And his dessert would almost certainly clear the bar if it ever came into being.

As they stood on the ninth green in the evening they saw a cowboy creeping around the side of a caravan, and he was followed closely by an Indian.

"That's odd," Jane said.

"Does the cowboy know the Indian is right behind him?" Claudia said.

"I don't know."

Jane and Claudia went into the caravan park, and they saw another cowboy. He was looking around the corner of a caravan. Claudia set the bar for stating the obvious at a new world record height when she said, "He probably has something to do with the other cowboy and the Indian."

They walked up behind him, and Jane coughed to attract his attention. He reacted to the sound as if a shot had been fired, but when he saw it was just Jane and Claudia he said, "They're after me. Ye've got to help me."

They knew a woman who owned a caravan nearby, so they took him there. Her name was Amanda. She liked coming to her caravan for a few weeks every summer and over long weekends. Jane knocked on her door and when she opened it, Claudia said, "Can we hide our cowboy in your caravan for a while?"

"Yeah, of course."

He told them his story when he was safe inside the caravan. His name was Benny, and he was an actor. He was a man who liked his dignity, and he wanted to retain what was left of it, but his dignity was a suit that was falling to pieces. It was full of patches and holes. The trousers could fall down at any moment and his dignity would be gone for good. He was playing a cowboy in a Western that was being filmed in the sand dunes. Des, the film's director, was trying to film the whole thing while shooting a video for a rapper. It had taken an hour to shoot the video. They'd been working on the film for a week. The rapper agreed not to tell the record company about it as long as he got a part in the film. He wanted to rap the following lines:

I'm going to shoot you seventeen times
Before you blink, and you know that rhymes.

He said he could do it and then say, "Hey, I think I've just invented rap!"

Des gave in to this demand, and this was the final straw for Benny. The trousers of his dignity would surely fall down if he took any further part in this film, so he left, and the others were trying to find him because they needed to finish the film.

"This is what I've sunk to," Benny said to Jane, Claudia and Amanda. "I had my shot at the big time, but I blew it. It wasn't exactly a shot. It was a shadow of a shot. I was supposed to play a waiter in a Hollywood film. But days before shooting began I fell off a horse, of all things. And now I'm a cowboy, even though I'm too scared to get on a horse."

Things were a bit cramped in the caravan, and Benny needed a drink, so Amanda gave him a rain coat to wear over his cowboy costume and they went into town.

As they were walking along the seafront they saw some members of the film crew up ahead. Amanda suggested hiding in a hall where a snooker tournament was taking place. Jane and Claudia weren't keen on watching snooker, so they said they had to go home.

Benny went in with Amanda. Jane and Claudia walked away from the hall, but they saw the film crew walking towards it and going inside. "Someone must have seen Benny go in," Claudia said.

"Hopefully Benny and Amanda will be able to get out through the exit at the back."

There were only four other people watching the snooker in the hall. The place had been full at the start of the match, but just those four had the endurance to stay with it until the final frame. Benny and Amanda sat in the back row.

A player called Justin was at the table. The score was four-all in frames. Justin just needed the black to win the final frame by a point. But he was distracted by a noise from the audience when the film crew and some of the actors entered the hall. Benny and Amanda went straight for the exit. Justin mis-cued, and the cue-ball missed the black. The foul gave seven points to his opponent, meaning he won the frame and the match.

Justin was furious. 'Revenge' was his middle name. Actually, 'Ignatius' was his middle name, but he got revenge on his parents for that when he told them he was marrying a stripper. He even hired a stripper as part of his pretence, although it's possible that he came up with that explanation after he hired her. He couldn't let the slightest of slights pass without getting revenge, and he was determined to get back at whoever had cost him the match.

Jane and Claudia were waiting outside the back entrance to the hall. They told Amanda and Benny to head back towards the caravan park. When the film crew emerged, Des asked Jane and Claudia if they'd seen two people running away.

"Yeah," Jane said. "There was a man and a woman. The man said something about needing a drink."

"That sounds like Benny alright," Des said.

"They went towards the seafront."

The film crew and the actors went in that direction. Jane and Claudia went with them. They got talking to a teenage girl called Michelle. She told them she hated seaside towns because of the memories of seaside holidays when she was young, and she hated the fact that she was still young enough to go, at least in the eyes of her parents, but really she was too old and she kept saying that. She made her brother faint once when she told a ghost story with a candle in her hand. He blamed it on the smell. One of her hobbies is trying to make it happen again, and that alleviates some of the boredom of these holidays, but she'd still rather be at home. "I keep saying I'm too bloody old, but they say I'm not old enough to use language like that. But I'm sixteen. I'm old enough to sell dogs or get a job as a tree surgeon. They just say, 'It'll be fun. You always had fun by the sea.' And I say, 'Yeah, I doubt that very much.' But then I got a part in this film. So I can say to my friends, 'Yeah, I went on holiday with my parents again.' And they'll say, 'I went to Italy.' And I'll say, 'Yeah, and I had to play a maid in this bloody film.' It's been a lot of fun. Although it would be a lot more fun if the director wasn't so depressed nearly all the time."

"Why is he depressed?" Jane said.

"He says this was his one shot at doing something good and it's all going down the drain now."

They came across a pub with a flashing neon sign in front. The sign showed a bird that looked as if it was being electrocuted every time the sign lit up.

"Benny hates birds," Des said. "Let's try in here."

They all went inside, but there was no sign of Benny. They ordered drinks and Des phoned the other search parties. He told them all to come to this pub.

Jane and Claudia spoke to Des. They asked him why he was making a Western and he told them he'd wanted to make one since he was ten, although when he got into the film industry he never thought he'd get a chance to make one. He was directing an ad for biscuits once and he tried to get cowboys and Indians into it, but they wouldn't let him. 'They' consisted of people he despised. He'd have been undressed of his dignity if he hadn't vowed to make a real Western. But there's a rapper in his 'real Western' and his leading man is a drunk who's gone missing. The trousers of his dignity seemed beyond repair.

"Don't give up," Claudia said. "You might find him yet."

"Yeah," Jane said. "I mean, if he's a drunk, you just have to look in pubs."

"Someone told me about a hole in this town where people drink," Des said. "Have ye heard of a hole where people drink?"

"No," Jane said. "But you have enough people to search every pub in the town."

"You're right. I might as well try to finish the film at least."

As they were leaving the pub, Justin was going in. He rounded up all the pool players inside.

Jane phoned Amanda and said, "I think we should get Benny back on the film."

"Anything to get away from him," Amanda said. "I'm stuck in an old pub with him, and he never stops talking about himself. He can't even hear what I'm saying right now because he's talking about his hand."

"We could bring the film crew there."

Amanda gave Jane directions, and then Jane told Des that she knew were Benny was, so they all went to the pub. They noticed Justin and the pool players following them. They were all wielding pool cues, walking slowly but inexorably forward, like zombies. Most of the film crew saw a fight approaching, but Des saw an impending zombie film, and this was even more unsettling than a fight.

Amanda and Benny were in an old pub on a quiet street. It was nearly empty when Benny was telling Amanda about his hand. It was nearly full when Jane and Claudia arrived with the film crew and the actors. And then it was too full when Justin arrived with the pool players. The fight began. Cowboys and Indians fought with the pool players. Benny tried to stay out of it. Justin was thrown over the bar. He got to his feet, but he had trouble staying there.

Benny remembered hearing Amanda give directions on the phone, and he put two and two together. "You brought them here," he said to her. "This is all your fault."

"It's just a film. You might as well finish it because you don't have any dignity left to hold onto."

"I'll be the judge of that."

"Face it -- you're washed up. You had your shot and you blew it. You couldn't shoot a dead horse now."

"You haven't seen me try."

"A dead horse could smell the drink from you."

"Death must be a more interesting experience than an evening with you."

"How would you know what an evening with me feels like? You can't spend time with anyone but yourself."

"What does that say about you? I'd rather spend time with a washed-up drunk who couldn't shoot a dead horse than spend time with you."

"I'd rather spend time with the dead horse."

"So because you couldn't find a dead horse you had to spend an evening with me. Even I haven't sunk that low."

"I spent time with you out of pity. That's the only way you'll spend any time in the company of the women you don't pay."

"Some of the women I pay are as appealing as Naomi Campbell and as intellectually stimulating as Stephen Hawking. It's the other way around with you."

She slapped him across the face. Des said, "That's perfect! Now kiss. Kiss!"

They realised that the fight had stopped and they were being filmed. The sight of Justin behind the bar had reminded Des of a saloon in a Western. The pub looked ancient and Justin was still wearing his waistcoat and bow tie after the snooker match. Des got the camera man to start filming Benny and Amanda as they argued, with Justin behind the bar in the background, and an entirely new film went into the development stage in his mind. It would be about a cowboy who used to be a brilliant shot, but he'd become a washed-up drunk. Amanda's character would help him return to his former self to defeat a villain.

Neither Benny nor Amanda had any intention of kissing each other. When Des saw this he said, "That's okay. We can do the kiss later. And we'll have to drop the bit about Stephen Hawking and Naomi Campbell. Unless we create characters called Stephen Hawking and Naomi Campbell... No, we'll drop that. Can you say something else instead of that line?"

Benny said, "Some of the women I pay are as pretty as a primrose and as tough as a cactus. It's the other way around with you."

She slapped him across the face again.

"Now kiss. Kiss!" Des said. "Alright, we'll do that later."

Des called the film 'A Dead Horse'. The rapper ended up playing the part of an escaped mental patient, although he wasn't aware of this during the shoot. Des was able to restore his dignity, and so was Benny. He felt rejuvenated as an actor, and he stopped drinking. Amanda liked this latest version of Benny, but not enough to actually want to kiss him. Jane and Claudia got parts in the film too. They were part of the mental patient's entourage.

The moose's head over the fireplace is looking very relaxed, despite the presence of a parrot in the room. The wife's aunt left her parrot with us for a week, and the bird normally annoys the moose's head. She's gone to Germany to visit a man called Rupert. She says she knows ten men in Bavaria and they're all called Rupert. I think she's just confused. The parrot can be annoying when he makes fun of people's hair, but I've found a way to shut him up. I put on an old record called 'How do you do now that you don't do the thing that you did to your parrot?' The parrot can't say anything to that. He used to say the words 'Up Meath', but he can't even say that after Cork hammered Meath in the football semi-final at the weekend.