'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, September 19, 2007


Dropping pebbles in the fish pond is something I could do all day. Watching the ripples on the water is as relaxing as listening to the sound of waves or watching the neighbours try to make their homemade plane fly, which amounts watching a man running through the fields while holding a set of wings.

My cousin Gary arranged to meet his friend, Martin, at a gate on a quiet country road. The gate was on a long, straight stretch of the road. Gary was waiting there for about ten minutes before he saw Martin approaching on his moped, and it was another long wait before Martin arrived. He would have been quicker on foot. When he finally got there, Gary said, "In the time that I was watching you approach, a woman being attacked by ferrets could have negotiated the sale of an abandoned asylum to foreigners who don't speak her language."

Martin paused before responding as follows: "Why did you say that?"

"During the pause before you said that, the woman could have designed a trap to kill the ferrets."

"Do you know this woman?"

"Sort of. Well, not really. No."

"Can I meet her?"


They went to the top of a hill. This is where Gary expected to find her. There was someone there (a man making a humming sound) but it wasn't her.

Martin said, "I'm starting to wonder if this woman really exists."

"When have you seen ferrets attack something that doesn't exist?"

"I've often seen that. Imaginary ferrets."

"You often imagine ferrets attacking something that doesn't exist?"

"I often imagine ferrets attacking something, like bins or radios or me, but because these things are in my mind, they don't exist in the real world."

"Are you saying you don't exist outside your own mind?"

"Some people would say that none of us exist outside of our own minds. But they'd probably say that no one else exists apart from themselves. I do believe in other people, and I believe that I exist outside my own mind, but there's a version of me that only exists in my mind."

"What's that version of you like?"

"Well, for one thing, he keeps getting attacked by ferrets. The version of me outside my head has never been attacked by even one single ferret. I've never single-handedly defeated a group of terrorists who had captured a yacht either."

"But the version of you in your head has defeated the terrorists?"


"So he can outwit terrorists on a yacht, almost like James Bond, but he keeps getting attacked by ferrets."

"It's quite possible that the real James Bond got attacked by ferrets too. Just because he's holding a cocktail and looking sophisticated, it doesn't mean he's immune to ferrets."

"James Bond isn't real. He only exists in books and films."

"He'd appear a lot more real if they occasionally showed him being attacked by a ferret or a squirrel."

"You can control the version of you in your head, just like you can edit things out of a film or a book, and yet you choose to see yourself being attacked by ferrets."

"You can't control everything. You can make the terrorists fall overboard with basic mental kung fu, but you can't control the ferrets in your dreams."

"Here's anther play thing for the version of you in your head: ferrorists. Hundreds of them invade a yacht and overpower the crew. Their fur is black and you can't see them at night. And the woman who's selling the asylum will kick your knees because she blames you for attracting the ferrorists."

"I'm not sure I want to meet this woman any more."


"But seeing as you don't want me to meet her, I think I should."

"Why would you have any interest in meeting her?"

"Because we've both been attacked by ferrets, even if they are just mental ones. That's a fairly glaring thing we have in common."

"She's never actually been attacked by a ferret. She just doesn't like them, and they don't like her either. And she's never sold an abandoned asylum."

"It seems as if this woman has a very significant version of herself in your mind. And not only that, the ferrets who attacked her exisit only in your mind. That shouldn't come as any surprise, seeing as you've also got an abandoned asylum up there."

"I'm not going to introduce you to her."

"I'll find her eventually. I'll just ask around about the woman who doesn't like ferrets. There aren't too many people who have an opinion on ferrets, and I should know because I've often asked. When I find her I'll tell her what this other version of herself is doing in your head."

"Okay, I'll introduce you to her, but if you tell her what she's doing in my head, I'll tell her what you're doing to terrorists in your head."

Her name was Suzanne. Gary took Martin to her house and he introduced them.

"You're nothing at all like what I imagined," Martin said to her.

"Well, I'm... You actually imagined me in advance of meeting me?"

"You could say that a version of you had formed in my head based on the information given by Gary."

"No one's ever imagined me before meeting me before. Even after meeting me, there wouldn't be any remnants of me left in their heads. And people have often said that even while they were meeting me it was as if I wasn't fully there, as if they could see through me."

"I doubt very much that people have said that."

"Well, one person said it. But not in those words."

"I've formed a mental opinion of that person. Their knuckles are scraping off the ground."

"It was my mother."

"I was obviously imagining a completely different person there."

"I think it was meant as a compliment, sort of."

"Oh yeah, I can see how it would be meant as a compliment. Because there's nothing worse than those people you can't see through and you see them everywhere you go and you'd really rather avoid them."

"Am I better or worse than the person you imagined?"

"Much better. Not that there was anything wrong with the person I imagined. I wouldn't have wanted to meet you if I imagined you as someone I'd rather avoid. I was intrigued by the person in my mind, who was based on the person in Gary's mind."

Gary said, "But that person wasn't really you."

"Who was it?" Suzanne said.

"She was based on you, but there were a few embellishments."

"What sort of embellishments?"

"I don't mean the sort of embellishments that Caroline got with the plastic surgery. These embellishments were things like imaginary Chinese people. In fact, at first they were just foreigners, but now they've been embellished into Chinese people."

"This sounds intriguing," Suzanne said. "I've never been involved in anything as interesting as this in real life. I never knew there were different versions of me doing all these interesting things in other people's minds."

"It was your fear of ferrets that made me think of you. I suppose that makes it sound less intriguing."

Martin said, "But he said you were standing on one leg while being attacked by ferrets, and you were selling an abandoned asylum to foreigners, who have now been embellished into Chinese people, if it's possible to embellish a foreigner into a Chinese person."

"Of course it is," Gary said. "When you make them Chinese you give them a nationality, a country to live in, a language, a culture, a history. And you just embellished the story again by saying she was standing on one leg. I never said that."

"It's not an embellishment to be standing on one leg when before you were standing on two."

"You might embellish a person by giving them two legs instead of one, but you embellish a story by saying they just have one."

"Why was I standing on one leg?" Suzanne said.

"That's something only Martin can answer."

"I don't know," Martin said. "That's one of those details my mind threw up. Sometimes it sends ferrets to attack me."

"I can understand that completely," Suzanne said. "I suppose the question I should have asked is why was I selling an abandoned asylum to Chinese people."

"That's something only Gary can answer."

"I suppose my mind will have to take responsibility for that one," Gary said. "It was the ferrets that made me think of you, and then everything else came from my mind. Apart from you standing on one leg."

"It's funny," Suzanne said, "because I've been in an abandoned asylum. It was an asylum a long time ago, and then it was a hotel, until it was abandoned. It's only about a mile away."

"I think I know the place," Gary said. "I didn't know it used to be an asylum, and I've never been in there."

"It's probably too late to go there now. It's getting dark outside. But we could go there tomorrow."

They arranged to meet on the following day in the same place where Gary had met Martin earlier.

Gary had to wait at the gate again. He saw Martin's moped approaching, and it was moving as slowly as ever, but there was something odd about the sight. He thought it might have just been a trick of his mind, but there appeared to be two helmets where before there was just one.

When Martin stopped at the gate and the helmets were removed, Gary saw that Suzanne was filling the second one. Martin chained his moped to the gate and they walked through the fields to the hotel. On the way, Suzanne said, "I was talking to Caroline and I told her that you mentioned those embellishments, but she says they're not artificial embellisments at all. It's all in people's minds. That got her thinking about what the different versions of herself must be doing in other people's minds."

They got into the hotel through a window at the back. They made their way to the lobby and they climbed a wide staircase to the first floor. They spent an hour exploring the bedrooms. Most of them were empty, but in one they found a painting of a cottage by the sea and a box full of old nails. They left when it started to get dark, and they arranged to meet again on the following day.

Gary stood at the gate and watched Martin's moped approach for the third day running. Suzanne was with him again, and she seemed to be getting more attached to him.

As Martin approached the gate he was presented with a sight that looked odd, a bit like the way Gary's vision had looked odd on the previous day. As Martin got closer, he realised that this day's equivalent of the helmets both belonged to Caroline. She seemed to be very attached to Gary. The four of them went to the hotel.

The dining room in the hotel was huge. Caroline said it would be a great place for a party, but no one responded to this. There were photos on the walls. Most of them were taken in the hotel. One of them showed a primitive robot on a stage. The caption said 'Little Robot Slow performs for the guests'.

"I've heard of him," Gary said. "It's a man dressed up as a robot. He was at his funniest when he was insulting people, but it wasn't very funny for the person being insulted. He was sick of being punched. Kids could get away with insulting people, so he chose to be the next best thing to a kid: a slow robot."

"I doubt if a slow robot is really the next best thing to a kid," Suzanne said.

"It could be the next best thing to a slow kid."

"I doubt it."

"In terms of insulting people and not being punched, a robot is the next best thing to a kid."

"I'd have my doubts about that too," Martin said. "I know people who'd punch a robot."

The next photo showed a group of Chinese people outside the hotel. They were members of a soccer team.

Suzanne said to Gary, "Isn't it funny how you had the former asylum and the Chinese people in your mind and you never knew they were here all along."

"There are lots of former asylums. There are lots of Chinese people too."

"Yeah, but this is a former asylum within walking distance of where you formed the idea, and this place has a connection with Chinese people. And it has a connection with me because I've been here before. Are you sure you've never been here before?"

"It's the sort of thing I'd remember."

"Do you get a feeling of deja vu when you walk around the place?"

"I don't know. I get a feeling of something. But if this is the place in my mind, it must be crawling with ferrets. Or ferrorists. They're hiding in the shadows right now, watching us, waiting to pounce. This place hasn't been abandoned after all. It was just taken over by the ferrorists."

"I don't think a party here would be a very good idea," Suzanne said.

"I think it's a brilliant idea," Gary said, and Caroline smiled.

They had the party on the following weekend. Martin and Suzanne were still afraid of being attacked by ferrets, or by ferrorists, but he was able to use the opportunity to impress her by pretending to protect her. He built a trap for ferrets. She said that even James Bond would be proud of it. It didn't catch any ferrets, but it did catch a few rats.

The moose's head over the fireplace rarely looks bothered by stress. Even after Cork lost to Kerry on Sunday, he didn't let it get to him. Last week I mentioned something about hiding in a hole if Cork lost. I now realise that this course of action would only add to the stress of losing, rather than easing it. Avoiding Kerry people is the best way to restore my natural calm, and that's what we have a border for. Now that the GAA is out of the way for another year, the Champions League is getting underway again. And there's still the rugby to look forward to. Again, I won't need to dig a hole after we play France on Friday night. I'll just have to avoid French people.