'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Electric Eagles

The days are getting shorter. It won't be long before the clocks go back. This makes me even more appreciative of the sunset every evening, as long as it isn't obscured by clouds. One of my neighbours says the reason I don't see it is because I'm looking in the wrong direction. His grandfather believed that the sun rose in the north and set in a well in the middle of the woods, and he was better qualified than anyone to say that because he spent years looking at the sun.

My cousin Albert shared a house with some friends of his. One of them was called Kenny and he was making electric eagles in the shed at the end of the garden. The eagles were intended to protect the apples in his grandmother's orchard. Thieves were eating the apples without even removing them from the trees. They probably thought it was funny, but they wouldn't be laughing after being electrocuted by an eagle. Albert knew a man who couldn't stop laughing after being electrocuted, but he didn't think it was funny.

Kenny forgot about the eagles when he met a waitress whose hair was always moving, as if there was always a wind machine nearby. Her name was Brigid. Sometimes it was the wind that made her hair move, but even indoors it never remained still. He once played a game of pool with her. She often had to brush her hair to one side or the other. It always seemed to be cascading down over her shoulders. Albert thought that only love could make a man forget about his electric eagles. Albert had been interested in the eagles because he was hoping he could use them to make his brother retract a statement about AC/DC. Only love could give the world a tint and scent of rose, and make the vision of Brigid dance in Kenny's mind so it looked as if her hair was always moving.

When Kenny was watching TV one night he saw her on the screen. Brigid and her hair were in a cheap film about surfers. It was filmed in west Cork, and the sky was grey in most scenes, but it felt like California to Kenny. As far as he was concerned, she played the part of the sun. The wind did extraordinary things with her hair.

The waves were small, and there wasn't much surfing, but there was a lot of waiting for waves. One scene consisted of people looking up at a flag in the wind. No one said anything. For two minutes the only sound was from the waves and from the metal ring hitting off the flagpole.

Albert and Kenny met Brigid on the following day. Kenny said he'd seen the film and he thought it was brilliant.

"I thought it was terrible," she said. "It was meant to be my big break. Actually it was never meant to be, but I deluded myself into thinking it was. The director was a magician who could make confetti fall on people. That was his first film, and his last. He should have stuck to the magic. That's what he kept saying during the filming: 'I should have stuck to the magic'."

"What made him want to do a film?" Albert said.

"He used to make notes of ideas he had. One day he came up with an idea for a trick that involved a wooden box, so he got a piece of paper and he wrote 'I need to make a', and then he was going to write 'box', but he'd written an 'f' instead of a 'b'. He was going to cross out the 'f' but it was such a beautiful 'f' that he couldn't bring himself to do it. So he tried to think of a word that started with 'f' and the first one that came to mind was 'film'. He added 'ilm' to his 'f' and then he read what he had written: 'I need to make a film'. That struck a chord with him. He believed that the accidental 'f' wasn't really accidental at all, that it was his subconscious mind's way of telling him that he needed to make a film."

"Where did he get the funding for it?" Albert said.

"That came about because of his confetti trick. He suffered from claustrophobia for a while because he locked himself in a coffin in one of his tricks. The audience thought it was part of the act and they cheered. Or maybe they realised it wasn't part of the act and they were entertained by the thought of a man panicking in a coffin. It took him a few months to get over his fear of confined spaces, especially of coffins. Luckily for him, those few months coincided with a hot summer, and he was able to perform outdoors. His confetti trick was even more impressive outside. The one problem with performing outdoors was the heat. He used to wear a black suit, and he came close to fainting a few times. He was performing at an arts fair one day and he became a bit disoriented. He was supposed to make the confetti fall on a woman with a poodle but it ended up falling on a couple who were walking by. They had no idea what was going on. They both looked up and then they looked at each other. Then the man said, 'Will you marry me?' She said yes. The audience applauded, but Rory, the magician, didn't really know what was going on. He was suspicious, because the last time an audience applauded a trick going wrong was when he got stuck in the coffin. It turned out that this man had been waiting for a long time to pop the question. He had made several attempts already that day, but he always backed out at the last moment because he was afraid she'd say 'no'. The confetti seemed like a sign to him, so he asked her to marry him and she said 'yes'. It seemed like a sign to her too. When he realised where the confetti had come from he was extremely grateful to Rory. This man turned out to be a multi-millionaire, and he told Rory that if he ever needed a favour, to just give him a call and he'd sort it out. Rory didn't need anything at the time, but a few weeks later he became a film-maker and he needed someone to fund his film, so he called the millionaire, who paid for the whole thing. Rory thought it was the work of fate that made the millionaire walk by just as the confetti trick went wrong, but if the hand of fate brought it about, then it also got him stuck in a coffin to make him perform outdoors, which would make you fear the hand of fate. That's what Rory thought after the film went wrong."

"Did the millionaire lose a lot of money on the film?" Albert said.

"No, he actually made a profit. The film became hugely popular because of the actor who played Beatrix Potter. He forgot his lines in one scene, so instead he went into this long rant about hair gel. He's very much against the use of hair gel. He says that anything that emanates from your head shouldn't be altered. It should be left unedited, like the words you say. It's okay for them to be put in context, so he didn't have anything against wearing a hat, but hair gel would sculpt your hair into something it's not. He didn't have anything against cutting hair either, as long as it wasn't too short. Hair doesn't need to be very long for people to get the gist of what it's saying. If his hair was like his rants, it would be down to his feet. He never cut them short. It would take about ten seconds to get the gist and he'd keep going for hours. When he started off on his rant about hair gel, Rory didn't say 'cut' because he just couldn't be bothered, and he didn't edit it out of the film. The actor's name is Larry. He said he had lots of other rants in his pants that needed to be aired, but the one about the hair gel was the only one in the film. His pants certainly needed to be aired. Although when he was playing Beatrix Potter he was wearing a skirt, so he got plenty of air with the sea breeze. Larry has built up a huge cult following since then, and his fans have been buying DVDs of the film. He's a sort of a philosopher, but most of his thoughts emanate from his anti-hair-gel stance. And I can't imagine Heidegger describing his work as rants in his pants. Nietzsche, maybe. His rant really struck a chord with people."

"So you have a high profile amongst people who are opposed to hair."

"Yeah. The man who funded the film wants Rory to make a sequel and have Larry in the starring role, but Rory is sticking with the magic."

Kenny was remaining silent. He thought that the film must be fate's way of bringing him and Brigid together, just like the couple who were showered with confetti, although some of the other signs weren't as encouraging, like Rory being locked in a coffin and being saddled with a film that he believed to be a failure. As he looked at her hair moving around he couldn't help wondering what was going on inside her head.

Albert said to her, "Would you like to do a sequel?"

"Definitely. I could demand more money this time. And a profile amongst hair-gel-haters is better than no profile at all. Working with Larry is fun, even if you do have to listen to his rants. He can talk for hours about the evils of weather forecasters. He says they get it wrong most of the time and they ruin the surprise factor of the weather. Those two points would seem to contradict each other. Larry would never let something as small as contradicting himself get in his way. That made his rants more entertaining."

"How did he manage to go on for hours when he was talking about weather forecasters?"

"Well firstly, not letting contradictions get in his way removed a lot of barriers. He could talk for an hour about how the world was round and then talk for an hour about how the world was flat. And secondly, he spent most of those few hours talking about the value of surprise and how we're losing it in the modern world. We always have to be told what the weather is doing now, even if we can see that it's doing something else entirely, and what the weather is going to be doing five days from now. He used to talk of the beautiful surprise of a snowstorm in the days before weather forecasts. He said that we leave nothing to chance with modern technology, and technology has separated us from nature. We've been cut off from the vast array of surprises offered by nature. Even the unpleasant surprises like being caught out in a thunder storm would provide an adrenalin rush. He believed that getting struck by lightning would be the greatest adrenalin rush of all, but he wasn't prepared to put this to the test. But there were other less dangerous surprises that would give you a similar thrill, like standing on top of a cliff, or seeing an eagle."

"He'd be fascinated by Kenny," Albert said. "Kenny is a curious combination of the old and the new. He's building electric eagles. They'd give anyone a surprise, especially if they electrocuted you."

"But would they have the awe factor of a real eagle?" she said.

"Oh yeah," Albert said. "I've seen them and they're beautiful machines. And machines can be beautiful. People must have looked on in awe at the first cars or planes. People had faith in technology back then. But now cars are just places for the kids to get sick, or things to take you to and from a job you hate, and in the process getting you stuck with lots of other people going to or from the jobs they hate."

Kenny wasn't sure he liked where this was heading. He doubted if there was any way of igniting a spark of romance in a conversation that was heading towards electrocuting people, but he remained on the look-out for an appropriate time to ask her out, something like the confetti falling from the sky. He looked up and saw grey clouds above.

When she asked him why he made the eagles he said, "To catch apple thieves. Or at least to deter them."

"Larry probably would approve of that. Most people would go for an electric fence. Electric eagles certainly have the surprise factor."

"I made an electric turnip once. I left it outside and I completely forgot about it. It started raining, and when I was walking past the window I saw sparks coming from the turnip. It wasn't on the same scale as lightning, but it was still one of those awe-inspiring surprises. It was a beautiful sight in the fading evening light. I kept watching it until it exploded. It gave me a warm feeling."

She smiled at that. Kenny thought he'd just created a spark of romance with an exploding turnip and he couldn't help smiling back at her.

Albert said, "I think Larry is wrong about the demise of surprises. There's an example of the weather combining with an electric turnip to create something completely unexpected: a turnip exploding in the rain."

"Yeah," she said, "as I was saying, he does tend to contradict himself. The point of Larry's rants isn't really the point he's making but the way he makes it. Weather forecasters use all the latest technology but they still get it wrong, so you still have the surprise factor. He had a brilliant rant about things that fall on your head. He claimed that most of them were good, like snowflakes or rain drops, or even apples, like Newton coming up with his theory of gravity. Although I'm sure he didn't come up with that just because an apple fell on his head. That'd be like Darwin suddenly forming his theory of evolution after seeing chimpanzees having tea."

Albert said, "Apple thieves will suddenly discover electricity if Kenny's eagles work."

"That's something I'd like to see," she said.

Kenny wanted to demonstrate one of his eagles on an actual apple thief because he thought it would impress Brigid. Rory and Larry wanted to see it too. It would have taken months before Kenny could get the eagle to fly, so he used a wire for the bird to slide on. He tied one end of the wire to a branch high up on an oak tree in his grandmother's garden, and he tied another end to an apple tree in the orchard. When a thief was standing in the right place near that apple tree, Kenny would press a button on a remote control and the eagle would slide down the wire, hitting the thief and electrocuting him.

Albert, Kenny, Brigid, Rory and Larry hid behind a hedge and waited for the thief. When it started raining, Kenny suggested waiting in the shed but Larry said, "It'll do us good to be out in the rain. Let the drops seep into your head and leave beautiful reminders of nature."

Albert said, "Aren't you worried about the rain re-styling our hair, like the hair gel?"

"That's another reason to stay outside. There's nothing wrong with our hair or our words being re-styled by nature. Every now and then we'll come into contact with one of nature's manifestations and it will fundamentally change the contents of our heads. It will radically re-style the words that come out, so it's only appropriate that nature should re-style our hair too."

The thieves arrived after midnight. There were two of them. They entered the garden by climbing over the wall at the back and they started eating. The spectators remained behind the hedge. They waited for over ten minutes before one of the thieves stood near the wire. Kenny pressed the button and the eagle started on its flight, but it didn't get far. It got stuck in the branches of the oak tree. Rory said he'd climb the tree to send it on its way.

In one of Rory's outdoor tricks he needed to climb a tree without being noticed by the audience, so he was used to this. It only took him a few seconds to get to the eagle, and he was just about to push it when lightning struck the tree. He fell to the ground.

Kenny looked up and saw a shower of leaves falling down on him. It reminded him of the confetti. He had been waiting to pounce, so he took his chance without thinking. He said to Brigid, "Do you want to go out with me?"

But she just ran to Rory. She cradled his head and said, "Rory! Speak to me!"

Kenny realised he had chosen the worst possible moment to act, and it had the worst possible outcome: she was cradling another man's head; they were standing in heavy rain late at night and he hadn't even managed to electrocute a thief. He felt like an idiot. He wanted to hide in a hole or build a high wall around himself. And then the eagle exploded.

Rory managed to get to his feet. There was a smile on his face and his hair was standing on end. This reflected the change inside his head. The flash of lightning had illuminated his mind and he saw what he really should be doing: he needed to make another film. This one would be different. He'd learnt from the mistakes he made on the last one. He wouldn't let it turn into something he didn't want it to be, something alien to him. It was his own fault for letting that happen the last time. It would be set on the beaches of west Cork again, but this time he wouldn't pad out scenes with long periods of silence. Larry could do his rants to keep the punters happy. Rory's new-found energy confirmed Larry's belief in the value of natural surprises.

They all went inside and Kenny's grandmother made them tea in the kitchen. When Brigid saw a petal fall from a flower in a vase, she turned to Kenny and said, "Yes, I will."

It took him a few minutes to realise that she had answered the question he had asked earlier, so he was happy with his evening's work. The eagle had been a success too, in an indirect way. The thieves never returned to the garden.

The moose's head over the fireplace can tell the time by looking at the shadows on the wall. He's still accurate, even though the sun is setting earlier each day. He can also tell the time by looking at candles, and he can predict the weather by listening to Led Zeppelin.