'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Traffic Lights

Some of the neighbours have already put up the Christmas decorations in their gardens. I'll wait for another few weeks before I get them out of the shed. When they're out of the way it might be easier to catch the mouse. I'd use a trap, but my grandfather thought it was unfair to use traps on mice. He once grew a moustache, but it always tried to get away as he slept. He used to put mouse traps around the bed to catch it. It got away just before a moustache contest, so he trained a mouse to take its place, and he won a prize too. He respected mice after this, and he stopped using traps to catch them. If he couldn't catch them with a net, he wouldn't catch them at all. He couldn't catch them at all.

My cousin Albert was in the pub one night with his friends, George and Neil. Neil started complaining about the road works on the road to his house. They were only supposed to last a week, but they had gone on for nearly three months. Neil was sick of waiting at the temporary traffic lights.

When they left the pub, Neil said he was going to steal the lights on the walk home. "No one will see me do it," he said. "It's a very quiet road. I could push the lights all the way home and no one would ever know."

Albert had only been concerned with getting home to bed at the time. Under normal circumstances he'd have been only too happy to witness Neil steal the lights, but an evening of drinking after a game of football made him want to sleep.

When he woke on the following morning he remembered what Neil said. He phoned George and said, "Do you know if Neil actually stole the traffic lights last night?"

"I don't know. There's a good chance he tried, but I'd imagine he'd lose interest fairly quickly."

"I'd love to find out how far he got."

"Let's go and investigate," George said. He always said things like that because he wanted to be a policeman so he could investigate crimes and jump out of moving cars. But if he really became a policeman he'd have to stand in the rain at check points and arrest people for exposing themselves in public. And he'd have to meet real criminals too, and run away from them in fear.

Albert and George walked down the narrow road towards Neil's house. One set of the lights was still there, but the other one was missing. It wasn't a danger to drivers because the road works were on a straight stretch of road. Albert and George walked on, expecting to find the lights abandoned somewhere on the road between the road works and Neil's house, but they got as far as Neil's house without finding them.

They walked around the house and found the lights outside the back door. Albert phoned Neil, who came down to the door a few minutes later. He only remembered the lights when he saw them.

Neil's brother, Jason, was a stand-up comedian, and if he found out about Neil stealing the lights, he'd use the story in his act. In his first gig, he ran out of jokes after thirty seconds. When he had practised his routine he left long pauses for the laughter, so he thought his routine would go on for twenty minutes. To fill the time, he started telling stories about his family, and that's when people started laughing. Not only did the audience find these stories funny, but he was able to offend his family as well, which was an added bonus. He had already used the story about the time Neil knocked himself unconscious with a frozen cabbage. He wouldn't hesitate to use the story of the stolen traffic lights, and he'd embellish it too. He managed to get the character of a Kung Fu teacher into the story of the cabbage.

Neil was desperate to prevent Jason from finding out about the lights. "We have to hide them somewhere," he said.

"Where?" George said.

"Anywhere will do. As long as it can't be pinned on me."

The house was on the side of a hill. The pole that held the lights was in a metal box that had wheels at either side, so they could either push the lights up the hill or let them roll down. They chose the latter. They took the lights to the bridge at the bottom of the hill, and left them in the field next to the stream.

When they got back to Neil's house, Jason was having his breakfast. He said, "Was I imagining things, or did I see traffic lights outside the back door when I got home from the pub last night?"

"You were imagining things," Neil said. He realised then that Jason would eventually hear about the missing traffic lights, and he'd remember the imaginary traffic lights outside the back door. He'd put two and two together and blame Neil. So they had to return the lights to their rightful place before they were reported missing.

They didn't want to be seen with the traffic lights, so they put an old coat and a hat on the set of lights and pushed it up the hill. They didn't notice at the time, but a man called Brushy saw them. He was hiding behind a ditch. This was something he often did, because he assumed that most people had something to hide, and they'd hide it if they thought he could see them. He was immediately suspicious of the strange individual in the hat and coat. He noticed the wheels beneath the coat, and he assumed that this individual wasn't human at all -- it was a robot. His cousin Derry was always telling him about the robots taking over the world. Derry had built many weapons to kill the robots. Brushy went to see Derry and he said, "I just saw a robot. It's wearing a hat and a coat, but it's definitely a robot."

"It begins," Derry said with a smile.

When Albert, George, Neil and the traffic lights made it to the top of the hill, they were confronted by Derry and Brushy. Derry had something that looked like a crossbow. "Don't bother saying your prayers," Derry said. "You're going straight to robot hell."

He aimed at the traffic lights. Albert, George and Neil ran for cover. The crossbow was designed to light the arrow head as it was fired. This worked perfectly, but the arrow went to the right of the target and it hit a shed in a field. The shed caught fire. Albert, George, Neil, Derry and Brushy all ran to Neil's place, which was just down the road. They returned to the shed with buckets of water, and they were able to put out the fire.

Derry looked around and said, "Damn! He's escaped."

"Who?" Neil said.

"The robot."

They realised that he was talking about the traffic lights, and they also realised that the traffic lights hadn't escaped, but they had rolled down the hill. They ran down the road, and they found the traffic lights in a field owned by a man called Blarney. Blarney was in there with the lights.

"Allow me to introduce ye to my new scarecrow," he said.

"That's actually a set of traffic lights," Albert said.

"It was a set of traffic lights. As soon as it landed on my land, it ceased to be traffic lights. There's no traffic here."

"How did it get over the gate?"

"I had to help it over the gate. But it clearly wanted to get over. It rolled right into them. If you look up the laws of the land you'll find it written in black and white that if a man finds a set of traffic lights on his land, he's perfectly entitled to use it as a scarecrow and he's legally obliged to headbutt anyone who touches his new scarecrow. I'd headbutt the people who touched my old scarecrow, if I knew who they were, as long as they weren't women. If they were women and they touched the scarecrow, that's okay, because the scarecrow was clearly a man. I checked. But if they were men, there was something seriously wrong with that."

"What happened your old scarecrow?"

"The feckers stole it. If they were women, he's gone to a better place. He wasn't much good after they started touching him anyway."

They left Blarney with his new scarecrow. "You don't have to worry now," Albert said to Neil. "The traffic lights will be reported missing and they'll be found in Blarney's field. He'll be blamed. Jason will think he must have seen the lights in Blarney's field on the way home."

"Blarney isn't going to take the blame. He'll start quoting legal precedent and he'll tell the story of how the lights came to be on his land. People will find out that I stole the lights and then dressed them in a coat and a hat. And they'll find out about the shed catching fire as well. Can you imagine if Jason found out about all that?"

"We're just going to have to take her back," Derry said.

"Who's 'her'?" Albert said.

"The lights. Who else?"

"You think the lights are female?"

"Of course they are."

"I think so too," Neil said. "I got to spend a bit of time with them on my way home from the pub last night, and I got the impression they were female."

George said, "If only real women gave such clear signals."

"They do," Neil said. "In my experience it's nearly always red."

"What about Michelle?" Albert said. "She's always green."

"Her sister is always amber. She must have her own sun bed."

"I'd love if women were as easy to read as traffic lights," George said. "I can never make out their signals and I always assume it's red."

Brushy said, "I heard a story about a woman who used to pass a scarecrow after midnight every night. She loved her night walks. She said hello to the scarecrow every time she passed and one night he said hello to her. He was able to say more with every passing night, and eventually he learnt how to walk. They fell in love. They went to see a wizard to ask him to give the scarecrow working sexual organs so he could make love to her. The wizard granted this wish and they made love. She gave birth to a child that was half-scarecrow and half-human, but he was even better at scaring crows than his father. He wasn't bad at scaring humans either."

Neil said, "I've got to try and steal the scarecrow when Blarney goes back to his house. I'll need ye to stall him while I make my getaway. I've only got to get the lights as far as the road works. Blarney wouldn't dare steal them from there."

Albert, George, Brushy and Derry went to Blarney's farmhouse later that day. They hid behind a ditch at the other side of the road, and they watched him leave the house. He walked down the road, and as soon as he turned the corner they got out and followed him. They ran to the corner and looked around it, but there was no sign of Blarney. They got a shock when they heard a cough behind them, and they got a greater shock when they turned around and saw Blarney holding a shotgun. "Why are ye following me?" he said.

"We're not," Albert said.

"What are ye up to?"


"And what do ye think I'm up to?"

"We don't think you're up to anything."

"Isn't that more-or-less the same as nothing?"


"So that must be why we're all going in the same direction. We're up to the same thing."

"That must be it."

"I'll answer my initial question for ye: ye'r eyeballs in something noxious. That's what ye're up to. Ye're in it up to that. But that's not what I'm up to at all. I'll soon be up to my knees in bits of ye."

"We just wanted to know something. Is your traffic light scarecrow a man or a woman?"

"What sort of a question is that?"

"I don't know."

"You don't know?"

"No. I can't answer your question. I don't really understand your question."

"Do you want me to re-phrase it for you?"

"That might help."

"Do you want me to kill you?"

"Was that your re-phrasing of the question or was it a new one entirely?"

"That was the re-phrasing. Don't ask me how it relates to the other one, because I can't even remember what the other one was. I'd have to answer 'I don't know', and we'd just be back where we started from."

"Where did we start from?"

"I don't know. I can't remember."

"I think it was when I asked you about the gender of the traffic lights. I was just wondering if you checked. Because you checked your old scarecrow. And didn't you have to touch your old scarecrow to check that?"

"Is this your way of answering 'yes' to the question 'Do you want me to kill you?'?"

"No. I'm just curious."

"That's probably what those feckers who touched my scarecrow would say, assuming they weren't women."

"Why wouldn't a woman touch a scarecrow out of curiosity?"

"You're going to have to re-phrase that one for me."

"Okay. Ahm... What have you got against men touching your scarecrow?"

"Do you want men touching your scarecrow?"

"I don't have a scarecrow, but if I had one I wouldn't mind men or women touching it. As long as they don't steal it or damage the crops. But then, I wouldn't think of the scarecrow as being male, but you seem fairly sure that yours was male. What exactly did you touch?"

Blarney pointed his gun at Albert and said, "I'll need to find out what you're really up to before I kill you."

"We were just distracting you while Neil steals your scarecrow. When he does, legally it'll no longer be your scarecrow. It'll be the County Council's traffic lights. And before you start thinking of killing Neil for touching your scarecrow, he believes that the traffic lights are female. Something must have happened on the way home from the pub last night to make him think that. I don't know if he touched them."

Blarney got his tractor and drove to the field. Albert and the others were hoping that Neil had returned the lights to their rightful place before Blarney caught up with him, but he didn't quite make it. Neil and the lights were just a hundred yards away from the road works. Blarney pointed his gun at Neil and said, "Take that scarecrow back to the field."


"Take him back now, or I'll shoot either him or you."

"It's not a scarecrow, and it's female, not male."

"It's male."

"Do you want to tell us how you found that out? Or do you want to accept that it's female? And do you want to make a woman do the work of a scarecrow?"

"You stole those lights, and they ended up doing the job of a scarecrow in my field. That's an admission on the part of the lights that it's really a scarecrow and really a man. You stole my scarecrow. Put it back."

"No. You put it back if you want it. You can steal these traffic lights. I've already done it once and I've found that it was once too often. I was drunk at the time. I could say that about a lot of my encounters with women. Women would certainly say it about their encounters with me."

They heard laughter behind them. It was Jason. "I saw ye pushing something up the hill earlier," he said. "I was wondering what was going on, and now I know the truth. And it's a dazzling truth. This is one of the best ones ever. I don't even have to embellish this one very much. I think it's perfectly fair to infer a love scene with traffic lights. Or with a scarecrow. Was it a man or was it a woman? Does it matter?"

Brushy said to Jason, "Did you get your trousers back from that dog?"

Jason looked shocked at first. Then he recovered his composure and said, "I don't know what you're talking about."

"Maybe you don't remember," Brushy said. "You were on your way home from the pub last week and you saw a Frisbee stuck in a tree, so you threw a shoe at it to get it down, but the shoe got stuck there too. I suppose you didn't want to throw your other shoe in case that got stuck as well. At least you could hop home if you had one shoe. So you took your trousers off and threw them. They didn't get stuck. They fell back to the ground, but a dog got them, and he ran off with them. You hopped after him."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Jason said, but he looked as if he was painfully aware of what Brushy was talking about.

"I saw you," Brushy said. "Admittedly, I was hiding in a tree at the time, but it was definitely you."

Neil smiled. "Have you ever considered becoming a stand-up comedian?" he said to Brushy. "That would make such a funny story. It's the sort of thing the whole town would love to hear."

Jason was too horrified to say anything.

They left Blarney there with the lights. Neil didn't care if he stole them. He did. And Neil didn't care if his brother told the story of stealing the traffic lights. The thought that Brushy would tell the story about Jason was compensation enough for that embarrassment. Jason didn't tell the story of stealing the traffic lights, but Brushy did. He changed the names of the people involved, and in his telling of the story the traffic lights gave birth to a child that was half-human and half-traffic-light.

The moose's head over the fireplace is wearing his headphones again. It's to drown out the sound of my latest attempt to learn how to play the piano. I've often tried before, but I can never get my two hands to work together. The wife's aunt says that when she was four she could play the piano with two hands while the other one strangled a cat.