'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 29, 2007


There are lots of places in the garden where you can feel completely cut off from the outside world. You can go anywhere in the garden and not have to worry about being looked at by the neighbours. Sometimes it would be nice to have the entertainment of looking at the neighbours. The wife's uncle says that his neighbour used to stand in his back garden every evening and play the tuba, until he lost it a few months ago. He's been playing the air tuba ever since then. He imitates the sound by singing the word 'tuba' over and over again. If you didn't know what he was up to, you might think there was something wrong with him, or you might think that anyway.

My cousin Hector often heard the sound of a bell when he stood in his garden. A friend of his called Sean had taken up the hobby of bell-ringing. People used to say they could smell him ringing it from miles away. This was meant as an insult, because anything you could smell from miles away in this locality wouldn't be very pleasant. But he always took it as a compliment. He took everything as a compliment, even remarks that were prefaced with 'This is not meant as a compliment'.

The local Amateur Dramatics Society were putting on a play and they needed a bell-ringer, so they cast Sean in the role. He was playing a character called Billy Clava, who rang bells and trained greyhounds by day, and by night he was a burglar. He didn't need the money, but he loved the thrill of burglary. Billy was just a minor character. The central characters were a man called John and a woman called Brenda. Neither of them said or did very much. According to Dara, the director, the drama was in what they didn't say and didn't do.

Sean thought that the audience would only go to the theatre as a means of escape from watching people saying nothing and doing nothing. He thought he should be the central character. His friends, Hector and Steve, agreed with him, and they rarely agreed with him. He believed that they always agreed with his statements, even when they prefaced their remarks with 'Firstly, you don't know the first thing about Eskimos'. Hector and Steve started a petition to make him the central character, and to add an Irish Wolfhound (they knew someone with an Irish Wolfhound, and everyone liked to look at him). Everyone they asked agreed to sign it, and they all said they'd go to see the play if the changes were made. They thought they had built a compelling case, but when they presented the petition to Dara he was furious. He tore each page into small pieces. He said he'd only change one of his plays if the characters in his head presented a compelling case for change, and that if idiots like Hector and Steve told him not to jump off a cliff, he'd be forced into jumping off a cliff just as a matter of principle.

This gave them an idea. They could get people to sign a petition asking him not to jump off a cliff. He wouldn't jump off a cliff if it would kill him, but he might jump into the sea off a small cliff. So the petition was to ask him not to jump off the cliff near the lighthouse. It was difficult to convince people to sign it, even when they explained that he'd do the opposite of what the petition suggested. Everyone agreed that they wanted to see him jump off a cliff because this was the man who was keeping Sean in the background of the play, but some people found it difficult to get their heads around the idea of achieving this goal by asking him to do the opposite. Reverse psychology normally worked in these situations. They'd say, "It doesn't matter. I'd rather jump into the hole in your garden rather than have your signature foul this page." They also tried suggesting to people that they couldn't really sign their names.

They presented the petition to Dara. Hector said, "We think you'll find this to be a very compelling case, because you're the one who made it."

Dara's response was to come up with a petition of his own. It was to get Hector and Steve to be the test pilots in Jerome's latest car. Jerome was always modifying old cars. His back yard was more like a junk yard. He found that the word 'pilot' was more appropriate than 'driver'. 'Crash test dummy' was more appropriate than 'pilot', but that would have put any potential applicants off the job.

Dara asked people to sign his petition. No one found it difficult to get their heads around this idea, and they all signed it. He presented it to Hector and Steve, and he said, "Withdraw the petition and I'll withdraw this one."

"Maybe we want to be the test pilots for Jerome's new car," Steve said.

"Yeah," Hector said, "it sounds like fun."

"Ye're bluffing. Ye might as well be the test pilots for a bomb."

Hector said, "I think it would be worth the risk just to see you jump off the cliff."

Hector and Steve went to see Jerome that evening. They told him about Dara's petition, and they said they'd pay him if he used a safe car in the test. Jerome agreed to this.

Dara suspected they'd try something like this, so he needed to give Jerome a reason to want to hurt them. He took the petition that they had presented to him (the one that asked him not to jump off a cliff) and he put a sticker over the title of the petition. He wrote on the sticker: Petition to ban ZZ Top from the jukebox in the pub.

Jerome loved ZZ Top even more than he loved the cars. When he saw the petition he looked at the first two names on it: Hector and Steve. He smiled because they had set up such a great opportunity for revenge.

When Hector and Steve called to see Jerome on the evening before the test, they detected some animosity. Jerome said, "If it explodes on take-off, don't worry. I have a fire extinguisher." He held up a bucket.

Hector suddenly remembered something he had to do on the following day, but he couldn't remember exactly what it was. All he knew was that he didn't have time to test the car, so the test would have to be postponed.

Dara was delighted to hear about the postponement. Hector phoned him to say he had to do something (he decided on shopping with his wife). Shortly after talking to Hector, Dara got a visit from two old men who introduced themselves as Bill and Chris. Bill said, "Chris is my younger brother. He used to be a cyclist and I was his manager. We heard about a character in your play who sounds very much like Chris. He once cycled up the side of a mountain in a race after crashing into a mini-bus that was taking nuns to the beach. He kept going even though he had a broken collar bone."

"And when I got to the top I realised I'd gone up the wrong mountain," Chris said.

"That's right. We heard that something very similar happened to a character in your play."

"He's just a minor character," Dara said.

"So is Chris."

"What exactly do you want me to do about it?"

"You have two options," Bill said, "and only two. Don't think you have the option of doing nothing. You can either give Chris the monetary compensation that would reflect his contribution to the character, or else change the play to reflect his involvement."

"How exactly do you want me to change it?"

"Include him in the play. Include both of us in the play."


"We could be introduced to the audience at the start, and it could be explained to them that the story is based on us, or we could be introduced when this character appears."

"There's another option ye didn't consider," Dara said, "and it's the one I'm taking: get out of my sight."

"If you think we're going to take that option, you don't know very much about human nature. We'll get out of your sight alright, but we'll be back."

They were back on the following day with another man. Bill said, "At first we were going to get a gun and threaten you with it, but The Healy here has a much more interesting gun. His surname really is 'Healy' but 'The' is just a nickname. As you might have noticed, The Healy is short in terms of height."

"I'm five-foot-four," The Healy said with pride.

"He's five-foot-four," Bill said. "He's what you might call a small person. There's nothing unusual in that. There are lots of small people around, and it's this fact that got him thinking. It got him talking to people of similar height, and the result of this consultation process is that he's assembled an army of small people. They don't feel so small when they join together."

"How many are in the army?" Dara said.

"I don't count how many of us there are," The Healy said. "I just note our combined height. All I know is that we're 158 foot tall."

"Yeah," Dara said, "but even if ye stood on each other's shoulders, ye'd be too unsteady. And ye'd have to stand on each other's heads to reach ye'r full height. I know a sort of a club who stand on each other's heads, but it wouldn't be for the purpose of being taller. They run into walls as well. I'd be scared of that club if they threatened me, but somehow the army of small people only makes me smile."

"You'll be smiling on the other side of your face pretty soon," The Healy said.

"What side of my face am I smiling on now?"

"The wrong side."

"The wrong side is right," Bill said to Dara. "Think of The Healy's army as a gun, and it's pointing at you. Bring us into the play, or else."

"I think I'll go for the latter option."

"Your choice is made. Don't let us try to talk you out of it. This is exactly what The Healy wants. Some of his soldiers are dying for action. We'll be seeing you again."

Dara lived in a house outside the town. When he was walking home down a narrow road after the rehearsal that night, The Healy jumped out from the ditch in front of him. Dara got a shock, but when he saw who it was he smiled. He said, "Should I look up or down to see your army?"

"Look behind you."

Dara looked back. There was a line of small soldiers across the road about twenty yards away. There was another line behind that, and then another. He couldn't tell how many lines there were. They were all wearing uniforms. They looked ghostly in the moonlight, and they frightened Dara. He ran to his house.

When Bill and Chris called to see him on the following day, Dara said, "Okay, ye can be in the play."

"Can we play ourselves?"

"If ye want to."

"Aha!" Bill said, and he pulled off his wig to reveal that he was really Hector. Chris was Steve.

"We fooled you," Chris said. "We made up the story about the cyclist crashing into the mini-bus full of nuns."

"The Healy doesn't even have an army," Hector said.

"But I saw them last night."

"You saw boy scouts who were camping nearby. These costumes we're wearing are from your play. And your own make-up artist did our make-up. When we told her we wanted to get one over on you she was only too happy to help. You were outsmarted by idiots. Does that make you want to throw yourself off a cliff?"

Dara said, "There's only one way out of this. We need to act as gentlemen and face up to our responsibilities. I'll act in accordance with your petition and ye should act in accordance with mine."

Hector and Steve weren't expecting him to say that. They reluctantly agreed, and they shook hands with Dara.

Dara said, "I wish ye luck in the test of Jerome's latest car. I, in accordance with the petition, will not be jumping off the cliff."

"But you said you'd do the opposite of what idiots told you to do. Are you a man of your word or aren't you?"

"I did say that, and I stand by that statement. But the two of ye have just outsmarted me, thus proving that ye're not the idiots I thought ye were."

"At least you admit you were outsmarted by us. That must make you want to jump off something."

"It would do, but I've just outsmarted ye. I feel like standing on cliffs or at the top of steps and looking down."

"You've just outsmarted us, proving that we are idiots. We've just forced ourselves into piloting a bomb. How stupid is that?"

"The plan ye came up with was brilliant, and ye enacted it perfectly. Ye're certainly not idiots. I proved that I'm one step above ye. Ye've been outsmarted by a man of exceptional intelligence. That doesn't mean ye're idiots."

A large crowd gathered to watch Hector and Steve test Jerome's car. The expression on Jerome's face made him look like an arsonist in a fireworks factory. Hector and Steve were sitting in the car when Dara came over to him. He suggested a compromise. He'd withdraw his petition asking them to be the test pilots if they agreed to be in the play. "Ye've already shown ye can act when ye played Bill and Chris," he said. "And I'll give in to Bill and Chris's request. They wanted to play themselves, so the two of ye will be playing Hector and Steve."

They agreed to this. Mental damage sounded more appealing than physical damage. Sean rang the bell loudly when he heard they were in the play, but a lot of the spectators wanted to inflict physical damage on them when they pulled out of the test. Sticks and stones were thrown at them as they made their getaway, which didn't bode well for the play.

Some people in the audience were ready to throw tomatoes at them when they appeared on stage, but the mental damage was so great that there wasn't any need to make it worse. Hector and Steve had to cry and talk about their feelings for one another.

The moose's head over the fireplace can just about hear the sound of our neighbour, Joe, when the window is open in the evening. Joe has a band and they play on the roof of his shed. They play up there to let the view inspire them. If you didn't know what they were looking at, you'd assume it must be some sort of a hole, judging by the sound they make.