'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Halo

Some people play golf in the fields behind the garden. I don't know if the ultimate destination of the ball will be a hole. There certainly aren't any fairways or greens, but there are water hazards, and there's a bunker in the place where my neighbour once attempted to make his own beach. The golfers just hit the ball as far as they can and then spend an hour looking for it. Sometimes their dogs will find the ball and retrieve it. It's an interesting variation on hunting.

My cousin Darren once came across a halo. When some people see a halo hovering in the air they'll shrug their shoulders and go back to whatever they were doing, whether it be vandalising a phone booth or feeling turnips. But other people will stand beneath the halo and try to look holy. They'll go wherever the halo goes, blessing people they meet and talking in a serene voice. Staying beneath the halo can prove to be very difficult. I heard of a woman whose halo didn't seem to know where it was going. It would move for miles in one direction, through fields and streams, and she'd struggle to keep up as she climbed gates and waded through water. Then the halo would stop suddenly. It would remain motionless for a while, as if it was trying to think. Then it would move back the way it came. Eventually it would stop again and move in another direction. She used to tell people that she went on these long country walks because she felt at one with nature, but no one really believed that her halo was following her.

People have found themselves in unholy situations because they wouldn't vacate the spot beneath their halo. One man's halo took him to a brothel. When he got there he made a speech about the sinfulness of such places, but no one believed him because his words lacked conviction. The brothel's staff thought he was really there to avail of their services and the fact that he didn't move towards the exit only confirmed this. Eventually he gave in to temptation, and the halo co-operated fully.

Darren found his halo outside a supermarket and he stood under it. The halo remained outside the supermarket for an hour, and then it went to an off-licence. Darren had to buy something, so he bought a bottle of vodka and some cigarettes. The halo then went to a hockey pitch, where a women's team were training. He felt uncomfortable, being all alone on the sideline. The women looked even more uncomfortable. He faced the other way until the halo decided to move on.

It took him to the park, and it stopped near the band stand. He drank from the vodka bottle and smoked some of the cigarettes. A man called Kevin was walking his dog in the park. He stopped to admire the halo, which was glowing in the twilight. Darren asked him if he wanted to buy it.

"Why are you so eager to sell it?" Kevin said.

"I'm leaving the country. There's no way I'd get it through customs."

"Does it follow you around?"

"Oh yeah, it's very well trained. It goes wherever I go. I don't even have to tell it to heel or to stay."

"How much?"

"Five-hundred euros."

Kevin had been looking for a way to change his image. Most people were afraid of him, and the police had a terrible prejudice against him. So he bought the halo. Darren walked out from underneath it and Kevin took his place.

"It suits you," Darren said.


Kevin walked away. At first the halo didn't move, and Darren held his breath, but after a few seconds the halo reluctantly followed, as if it was afraid not to. "It'll take a while for it to get used to you," Darren said.

Darren spent most of the money on a weekend trip to the coast with his friends. He bought champagne to celebrate his recent windfall, and this is how most of his windfall drained away.

After returning from the trip, he went to the supermarket one evening. He didn't see Kevin beneath the halo outside. When Kevin saw Darren, he left the spot beneath the halo and followed Darren home. As Darren was opening his front door, Kevin made his presence known. He said, "It's always useful to know where someone lives if you're making demands. My demand is that I want the money back. There's something wrong with the halo."

"It worked fine when I had it."

"You're not leaving the country at all. You just wanted to get rid of it."

"No, I am. Sometimes the halo likes to do its own thing, but most of the time it's very obedient."

"I want the money back."

"I don't have the money. I've spent it."

"I'll give you three days to get it. For your sake, I hope you really are leaving the country. At the very least you should be moving house. Those are your only options if you don't get the money. I genuinely don't want to see you harmed, but if you don't pay me back, the only option I have is to bring harm your way. Do you see the corner you've painted me into?"

Darren thought that the best way to get the money was through the halo. To find it he just waited outside the off-licence in the evening. After half an hour he saw a man in a suit walking down the street, looking up at the halo above him. It led him into the off-licence, and he emerged a few minutes later with two plastic bags full of bottles and cans. On the walk to the park, Darren introduced himself and explained that the halo was rightfully his. "It got away while I was tying my shoe laces," he said. "I miss its company, but I can see that it's become attached to you, so I'd be willing to sell it."

"Finders keepers. I'm trying to get elected to the Council and this is just the sort of thing I need for my image."

The halo stopped in the park where a group of teenagers were drinking. The man beneath the halo, whose name was Phil, thought it would be rude not to join them. Within minutes he had regressed to his teenage years when he was drinking in parks and writing his name on things. He spray-painted his name on a concrete path, and as soon as he had finished it he remembered the man he had grown into. "I can't let anyone find out about this," he said. "The local paper has been out to get me ever since I said their heads could be exchanged for pins and no one would notice."

Darren said, "I could take the blame if the press start making inquiries."

"Why would you write my name on the ground?"

"Just add the words 'is a twat'. You're going to have to get used to people saying that about you if you want to get elected to the Council."

"It's what they said in the press."

"Of course, I would require some compensation for the stress."

"How much?"

"Five-hundred euros."

"I'll say to you what I said to the man who wanted me to pay ten quid for an umbrella: you must think I came down in the last shower."

Darren took out his phone. "I knew this camera phone would be a good investment," he said. He took a photo of Phil holding the spray can.

"So it's blackmail now, is it?" Phil said.

"You're the one who stole my halo. Theft is bad enough, but a halo, of all things."

Phil paid the money, and Darren paid Kevin. The next occupant of the space beneath the halo was a woman who enjoyed the lifestyle it offered. The halo provided a justification for going to the off-licence and drinking in the park.

The moose's head over the fireplace always looks calm when the golf is on TV. He even managed to stay calm during Padraig Harrington's idiosyncratic trajectory towards the British Open title. He only gets excited during the hurling (the greatest of all sports played with sticks and balls). You couldn't possibly avoid getting excited when Cork played Waterford on Sunday, and they'll be doing it all again in a few days.