'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Lion

One of our neighbours has built a windmill in her back garden. She's big into self-sufficiency. She grows her own vegetables, gets milk from her own cow, and spiders make her clothes.

My cousin Charlie often visited a neighbour of his called Amanda. On one of his visits he was determined to ask her out to see a play about a drunk shepherd, but his courage failed him shortly after he arrived. He abandoned plans to ask her out, and he tried to think of something else to talk about. He didn't know what to say until the cat started acting strangely. When the cat fell over he provided the commentary. "The cat fell over," he said.

"How very, very odd," she said.

"Cats are odd. If they weren't odd they'd be invisible. You'd stop noticing them in the same way you stop noticing wallpaper."

"You'd notice wallpaper if it killed mice and cleaned itself."

"I'd file that behaviour under odd. Pigs have a much more sensible attitude to cleanliness."

"That's an odd attitude from a man who has the appearance of a domesticated creature."

"Maybe I'm an undomesticated beast under the surface."

Charlie considered this to be his best chat-up line ever, but it went over her head. She said, "I suppose we should look into the matter of the cat."

They looked into it by going outside. They looked around for anything out of the ordinary, but the bright sun of a July afternoon illuminated relentless ordinariness, which was just the way she liked it. The old coal shed looked as unthreatening as ever. The flowers were resting in their beds.

"Maybe we need to look further afield to find the source of the oddness," she said.

They went for a walk through the fields. It was a beautiful day to be out in the countryside at the foot of a mountain. Neither of them felt a need to say anything. They listened to the song of the birds and the sound of a distant tractor.

They met a man called Hermann, who was holding a shotgun. Charlie asked him if he was hunting and he said, "In a manner of speaking, I am. I don't enjoy hunting, but it's something I have to do. To understand why, you first need to understand that I enjoy lighting my cigarette lighter. I was doing this on a city street on Monday when a woman asked me if I'd like to buy a stuffed lion. I'd normally respond to offers like this with an icy glare, but the cigarette lighter had left me in a good mood, so I said I'd like to see it. She led me through the city streets. It was a hot day, and we walked on pavements lit up by the bright sun or covered by the shadows of buildings. The lion was in a glass case in the lobby of an apartment building that was being renovated. I ended up buying the lion. It was such an impressive beast I couldn't let him get away. On the following day he began his journey to my house on the side of the mountain. The glass case only barely fits into my hall. I have to squeeze past it. Fat people have to come in through the back door.

"He arrived on Tuesday and when I woke up on Wednesday morning I looked out the window and I saw a deer and a fox outside. They were staring at my front door. On the following morning there were even more animals there. I took the lion's case into the garden to scare them off. When I woke up this morning there were no animals outside my house, but the lion was gone too. There were huge paw prints outside the glass case. I've been searching for him all day."

Charlie and Amanda said they'd let him know if they saw the lion. When they got back to Amanda's house they saw the lion in her back garden. He was lying on the lawn. Charlie again provided the commentary when he pointed at the lion and said, "It's a lion."

"So I see."

"It must be Hermann's lion."

"Quite probably."

"If we hadn't heard Hermann's story, this would seem very out of the ordinary."

"Most definitely."

"We should probably let him know."

Amanda phoned Hermann and he came over with his shotgun.

"Are you going to shoot it?" Charlie said.

"No. Unless he attacks."

"What are you going to do?"

"I don't know."

"You should get a vet," Amanda said.

"The vets around here wouldn't go anywhere near a lion."

"Edwin would. He retired years ago, but he still does a bit of work. He's nearly blind. We could convince him that the lion is really a donkey. We'll say that he refuses to move. The one thing I know about donkeys is that they're prone to refusing to move. We'll say that some kids messed with his hair and still he wouldn't move."

When Edwin arrived on the scene he said, "Right, I'll just take his temperature."

Amanda didn't think it was advisable for Edwin to put a thermometer into either end of the lion. She said, "He's not sick. I think it's more of a mental problem."

The lion roared. Edwin said, "That's the hoarsest donkey I've ever heard in my life."

"Again, I think it's just a mental thing. He thinks he's a lion."

"I'm out of my depth here. If it was an actual lion, I could help ye out. But I've never come across a donkey who thinks he's a lion. And what the kids have done to his hair would only confuse him even more."

"Maybe if we just play along with him and treat him as a lion."

"It's worth a try." Edwin took a whistle from his bag. "I got this when I worked in Africa. It makes a low-pitched sound that lions find appealing. Where do you want to move him to?"

"To Hermann's place," Amanda said. "He's Hermann's donkey."

Hermann said, "I can safely say he's not my donkey."

"Oh yeah, he's Hermann's lion." She winked.

When Edwin blew into the whistle the lion stood up and walked towards him. Edwin walked away. He blew the whistle every so often and the lion kept following him.

When they got to Hermann's house, the woman who sold the lion was waiting there. When she saw the lion she said, "I thought this might happen."

"What made you think that?" Hermann said.

I was afraid the journey would wake him. He slept soundly for over a hundred years, but he had rarely been disturbed during that time. The potholes on these roads would wake a statue."

"How do we put him to sleep again?"

"Just wait. He'll get tired eventually."

The vet said, "I have some sleeping tablets I could give him."

"Which end would you be putting them into?" Amanda said.

"His mouth."

"I'm not sure that's such a good idea."

"What about hypnosis?" Charlie said. "My uncle once slept for a week after been hypnotised. We had to get a bagpiper to wake him up."

They went to see a hypnotist called Paul the Enthraller, but he refused to go anywhere near the lion. They went to see another hypnotist called Steve Sleepdoctor, and he also refused to hypnotise the lion but he was more than willing to hypnotise Paul the Enthraller into thinking that the lion was a donkey. He hated Paul.

So Steve hypnotised Paul into thinking that the lion was a donkey and then Paul hypnotised the lion into a deep sleep. They lifted the sleeping lion back into the glass case, and they put the case into the hall of Hermann's house.

When Charlie and Amanda went back to Amanda's house, the cat was sitting in the place on the lawn where the lion had been. He held his head high, and he had a regal bearing, but the effect was ruined when he fell over again. "He fell over again," Charlie said.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't sleep very much. Sometimes he struggles to keep his eyes open when the fire is lighting and the TV is on. The wall is more interesting than most TV. The wife's uncle says that a friend of his watches paint dry. After a few hours of staring at it he starts to see Vikings on unicycles and Dracula being washed by The Rose of Tralee. He's never seen anything as exciting as this on TV.