'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Ghost

I still think it's not the right time to put up the Christmas decorations. Our neighbour built a swimming pool in his garden, and it's definitely the wrong time of year for that. It started out as a grave, but he just kept going.

My cousin Hector and his wife, Liz, discovered that their first house was haunted shortly after they moved into it. Hector saw the ghost first. He noticed a faint light emerging from a wall upstairs, and then he saw the light take on the form of a person, a man who looked as if he had just emerged from a fight and was yet to emerge from drunkenness. The fact that he was dead suggested that he took the wrong exit out of the fight. He smiled at Hector, who screamed and ran downstairs.

They hadn't been told about their tenant. They went to see the estate agent to complain about this. He said, "I apologise most sincerely, but in my defence, I am in the middle of a nervous breakdown."

"Is that why you're wearing a pink skirt?" Liz said.

"No. I think you'll find that a ghost is nowhere near as bad as dry rot or bad neighbours. Think of it as a guard dog."

"You still should have told us," Hector said.

"In the past I've had nervous breakdowns that have been no more annoying than a fly flying around my head. But this one caught me right between the eyes. It's as if someone painted a target there."

"Just for the record," Liz said, "I like your pink skirt. I think it goes well with your tie."


Hector stood up and left before the estate agent crossed his legs again.

My uncle Harry knew of a man who specialised in getting rid of ghosts. Harry got the man's phone number from someone in the pub. Hector phoned him and told him about the problem they were having. The man, who's name was Leo, refused to accept it was a problem at all, but he agreed to call around anyway.

He arrived on the following evening. He was a tall man, and he wore a long dark-grey coat. His hair was gelled back. There was always a faint smile on his face, even as he stood on the landing and saw the ghost for the first time. The ghost bowed and said, "Good evening."

After the sighting, Leo spent twenty minutes pacing from one end of the sitting room to the other. He said he needed time to think. The faint smile never left his face, and he never said a word. Hector couldn't take the silence any longer. "Have you ever had a nervous breakdown?" he said to Leo.

"No. Being prone to mental peaks and troughs wouldn't be conducive to success in my line of work."

"Have you ever worn a skirt?"

"I should point out that I am utterly humourless. It's necessary for true success. Mildly successful people can be self-deprecating, but it's something you must eradicate if you're to fulfil your potential. I take myself too seriously. I've also eradicated humility, charity, compassion and all of the other neuroses brought about by this culture's fascination with itself."

"So as someone who's impervious to mental breakdown, and as someone who has eliminated all these neuroses, you're saner than us?"

"Precisely. Except you don't know what 'sane' really means. Your conception of 'sane' is vastly different to mine, and you think your conception is closer to the truth, but consider this: when you saw that ghost for the first time you were screaming like a lunatic, and when I saw him I didn't bat an eyelid."

"In fairness, your occupation would bring you into contact with dead people all the time, but it's an area I have no familiarity with."

"Pop music is full of songs about the menacing activity of the deceased. Like 'Raspberry Beret'."

"The Prince song?"

"Yes. 'Pinball Wizard', 'Vogue', 'Penny Lane', 'Girls Just Want To Have Fun' and 'Autobahn' -- all about dead people. But not 'I Will Always Love You'. That's about bed-wetting."

"My idea of sane would be different to yours alright. Is there anything you can do about the ghost?"

"What do you mean by 'do'?"

"Get rid of him."

"You really should consider letting him stay. Familiarity breeds unfamiliarity. You become familiar with your surroundings and you forget about them. You forget the initial impact they had. After a few weeks, the ghost would be no more unwelcome than a spider's web."

"We couldn't become familiar with a ghost."

"Is a ghost really any stranger than a husband or a wife?"


"If aliens landed and you showed them the workings of a marriage and the way a ghost haunts people, they'd say the marriage would be much stranger."

"Aliens would be stranger than anything. If Liberace said you had good taste in clothes, it doesn't mean you have good taste in clothes."

"Now that Liberace is dead I'm sure he's developed a more refined taste in sartorial matters. He'd be able to see his past endeavours in clothing from a higher perspective. Liberace would say that marriage is stranger than ghosts too."

"Can you get rid of the ghost or not?"

"'Getting rid of the ghost', as you so callously put it, involves finding another home. A ghost is for eternity, not just for life. You wouldn't throw a puppy out on the street after Christmas."

"You wouldn't get a ghost for your kids."

"Kids wouldn't get bored of a ghost. And they'd never have to feed or groom it. People tell their kids about a man who travels all around the world in one night on a sled pulled by reindeer, a man who can get into the house through the chimney, and yet they wouldn't dream of getting a ghost. They get something that will eat their shoes instead. Insanity has been re-packaged in the modern world and re-labelled 'sanity'."

"Can't you just catch him and put him somewhere?" Liz said.

"This isn't 'Ghostbusters'. I'll try to find a suitable home for him, and in the meantime ye need to convince him that it would be in his interests to move."

"How are we going to do that?"

"Make life uncomfortable for him. Have fish fingers for dinner every day."

"How is that going to make him uncomfortable?"

"I've never come across a ghost who wasn't repulsed by fish fingers. It might be different with ghosts who had been acquainted with fish fingers while they were alive, but for the older ghosts the very concept of fish fingers seems wrong. They seem wrong to me too. Why should fish be more appealing when they're re-packaged as fingers?"

"And this will make him want to leave?"

"It could take a few months of eating fish fingers before he decides to leave, but ye can speed up the process by playing The Bee Gees. Ghosts hate The Bee Gees. It might have something to do with the frequencies in their music, or the fact that most of their songs are about accounting errors."

Hector and Liz ate fish fingers every day, and they noticed that the ghost was starting to look paler. They played Bee Gee's albums with the volume up. Liz saw the ghost on the landing one evening when the sound of 'Night Fever' filled the house. She noticed the disturbed look on his face and she said, "You look as if you've just seen a ghost."

She offered him some fish fingers and he looked as if he wanted to be able to get sick.

Leo called around one evening and he said he'd found a potential home for the ghost. "The house is only half a mile away," he said. "The owner of this place could do with a good haunting. Not that that matters to either of ye. As long as ye don't know him and can't imagine the torment he'll endure, that's all that matters to ye."

"What if he tries to get rid of the ghost?" Hector said.

"I'll offer my services. I'll try to convince him to keep the ghost. If this fails, I'll send the ghost to another house. I'll find a home for him eventually."

"So how do we get the ghost to switch houses?"

"Invite this man around for a drink. If you mention the word 'drink' he'll definitely come around. Say ye want to get to know the neighbours. By this stage, the ghost should be sick of the fish fingers and The Bee Gees. While this man is here, ask him questions to let the ghost know what he's like. He's not a very pleasant man, but that won't put the ghost off. His position on fish fingers and The Bee Gees should swing the deal. When I say 'pleasant' I mean the modern world's conception of pleasantness, which, of course, is based on insanity, which is like building a house on the surface of the sea. His unpleasantness is founded on a platform of common sense. It isn't really unpleasantness at all, but that's what it's labelled by the modern world. It emerges into this world as a weed but beneath the surface it has strong, laudatory roots, unlike the so-called flowers of this world that have weak roots."

This neighbour's name was Terry. Hector appreciated a good malt whiskey, and he mentioned this when he invited Terry around for a drink. Terry gladly accepted the invitation.

He called around that evening. Hector filled his glass to the brim and gave him the seat by the fire. When Hector asked him what he did for a living he said he was a food critic. Liz saw a perfect chance to bring up the fish fingers. She asked Terry what he thought of them and he said, "I spit on fish fingers. Literally. It's a horrible thing to do to fish. I'd sooner do it to fingers. If there's any justice in this world, the inventor of fish fingers should have nightmares about losing all of his fingers, and watching them being eaten by someone inferior to him, someone he once walked over to avoid getting his shoes wet in a puddle. But there's no justice in this world, only injustice. The inventor of fish fingers is probably feted as a hero, and he dreams of inferior people worshipping him. You shouldn't look up to anyone unless you can look down on the vast majority of people. Only then will you see the genuinely superior people above you. If you can't look down on anyone, then almost everyone could a hero. That's why people who invent fish fingers make millions and people who compose music for harpsichords are virtually unknown."

"Do you like music for harpsichords?" Hector said.

"Music took a wrong turn in the early part of the twentieth century. Everything I enjoy comes from before that time. Everything since then makes my ears bleed."

"I don't suppose you like The Bee Gees so."

"They make my brain bleed."

He spent the next three hours ranting about music, food, drink, politics, people who do things to their hair, the quality of carpets and Fred Flintstone, amongst other things. He drank a few glasses of the whiskey during that time. The whiskey kept out the cold on the walk home down the quiet road and it blurred the world around him. He didn't notice the ghost following him.

The ghost ended up staying with him. Terry called in the services of Leo, who pointed out all the benefits of having a ghost in the house. He got on well with Leo, and it didn't take long for Leo to sell the idea of a dead tenant. The thing that appealed most to Terry was the thought of frightening the kids who called at Halloween. He hated being forced into a choice between trick or treat. Now he had a third option: terrify the little terrors with a ghost.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoys listening to a CD of sounds from the Sahara. It's mostly just the sound of wind. When the wife's uncle heard it he said it reminded him of the time he travelled through Africa with a friend who brought a lot of prejudices with him on the trip. He was afraid of being eaten by cannibals, so he tattooed a 'best before' date on his foot. On his shoulder he tattooed the words 'See foot for best before date'.