'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Mouse

There's a sense that spring is just about to explode into life. The daffodils are out. The Champions League is back. We've found someone to send to the Eurovision song contest. It's not really 'someone'. We're sending a turkey called Dustin this year. At last we've started giving the contest the respect it deserves. It's nowhere near as strange as Glen Hansard winning an Oscar. After years of not getting the success he deserves in the music business it's great to see him getting some recognition. For those of us who still associate him with No Disco (90s late night music show -- I associate everything with No Disco) it was bizarre to see him on the stage in front of all those Hollywood stars. He said beforehand that it was like being a plumber at a flower show (he always talks in metaphors and similes, which made for some great interviews on No Disco). It's nice to think that people will eventually get the success they deserve, though perhaps in an unexpected form. It would be like if Jimmy White, after losing six snooker World Championship finals, was given the Nobel Peace Prize.

My cousin Isobel was walking through the countryside one day when she met an old man who looked lost. She asked him if she could be of assistance. He looked at her, and he took a step back to get a better view, but he kept going on his backward step, gliding steadily away until he was too far away to see her at all. She could just about see him. She waved at him. So he took a step forward to get a closer view until he came too close to her and his face was almost touching hers. "I don't know," he said.

"Do you mind if I take a step backwards?" she said.

"I think it would be safer if you took the backward step rather than me. God knows where I'd take it to."

She took a step back and she said, "Are you lost?"

"I don't know. I could be. That would explain some things, but not everything. It wouldn't explain why I've got a sleeping mouse in my pocket."

"Explanations don't have to explain everything. They just have to explain some things."

"In that case, I'm lost alright."

"Where were you going to?"

"I don't know. I'd know it if I saw it."

"What does it look like?"

"It's a tree. I think it's in a forest, but I could be wrong."

"Right. I'm not sure I can be of any assistance there. Maybe I can help you with the sleeping mouse."

The man, whose name was Barney, took the mouse out of his pocket and he said, "I've tried waking him up but he only yawns or stretches his legs. I found him in my pocket three days ago and he's never woken up in all that time."

"Where were you when you found him?"

"I'd spent the night asleep under a tree and when I woke he was in my pocket."

"Someone must have put him there, or else he climbed into your pocket and found a comfortable bed."

"I've killed plenty of mice in my time, but I just can't kill a sleeping one. He looks so peaceful."

"I know someone who might be able to wake him up. She has a way with animals. Her name is Edel."

They went to see Edel. It was easy to find her house because of the dog who kept jumping up against the front door. He loved doing that. The dog knocked on the door for them and Edel opened it. "It's about a mouse, isn't it?" she said.

The man, whose name was Barney, took the mouse out of his pocket and he said, "How did you know?"

"He's talking to me in his sleep."

"Are you?" Barney said to the mouse.

"Yeah," Edel said. "He said, 'Yeah, I am.'"

The mouse told her to walk to the bottom of the hill. She did as the mouse asked. Isobel and Barney went with her. When they got to the bottom of the hill the mouse told them to take a right turn at a crossroads. Edel said, "He's very good at giving directions, for a mouse. They'd only have a limited view of the land. For a sleeping mouse he's very, very good. I know some people who'd be better off asleep when they give directions. I know some people who'd just be better off asleep."

The mouse led them to an old mansion that was hidden amongst the trees on the side of a hill. There was a cord next to the front door. Isobel pulled it and a bell rang. The mouse woke as soon as he heard the sound.

"I can't hear what he says now," Edel said.

They waited, but no one answered the door. The mouse jumped out of Barney's hand and went around the back of the house. There was a fountain in the back garden, but no water flowed from it. The mouse climbed onto the edge of it and looked down at the dried leaves. There was a statue of a woman in the centre of the fountain. The water was supposed to flow from a jug she was holding. Barney said he could hear the stone woman talking. She told him to go to the orchard at the end of the garden and look for a silver pin in a tree.

They went to the orchard. Red apples were beginning to fall from the trees. They found the silver pin. It was embedded in the trunk of one of the trees. "What do we do now?" Barney said.

"Maybe we need to take the pin out of the tree," Isobel said, "like King Arthur removing the sword from the stone."

Barney pulled the pin out of the tree. He looked around, and he listened carefully. "I thought something would happen," he said.

"Let's go back to the house," Isobel said.

As they approached the house they heard voices. There were people in the house and they were shouting. There was a woman standing next to the fountain. Her feet were wet. The stone woman was gone from the centre of the fountain, but the jug was there, and water was flowing from it. "We've been frozen for over a hundred years," she said.

A man fell through a window in the house. He was holding a sword. He got to his feet and dived back in through the window. "I see the fight has started again," the woman said. "They'll end up tearing the house to pieces. I stopped caring about twenty years ago."

Isobel, Barney and Edel went back to the orchard. Barney replaced the pin in the tree. They walked back towards the house. The woman they had met by the fountain was gone, and the stone woman had returned to the centre of the fountain. They went into the house through the broken window. Inside they saw statues of men holding swords. They explored the whole house, and in nearly every room they found more statues.

Isobel said, "If we take the pin out again they'll tear the house to pieces and they'd probably end up killing each other too. We need to stop the fight almost as soon as it starts again, and I know just the man for the job."

Gilbert was the man she asked to do the job. He had a wild red beard, and it looked as if his face was on fire. His fiery eyes would grab anyone's attention and he was a captivating speaker. His words would knock down the doors to people's brains and kick out all other occupants. He could talk for hours, but he kept wandering from the point. He once spoke at a meeting that was organised to protest against the closure of a playground. His speech was so rousing that he convinced everyone to march to the mayor's office and storm it, but he kept talking for another two hours. His speech ended with the line 'And that's why you should always listen to an apple before eating it'. Everyone forgot about going to the mayor's office. They all went home to listen to apples.

When Gilbert arrived at the old house, Barney pulled the pin out of the tree and the fight began again, but it came to an end a few seconds after Gilbert started speaking. He stood in the back garden. Some of the men came out of the house, and others looked out through the windows. Gilbert started talking about peace and he ended up talking about Meatloaf. When he finished, there was silence for a few seconds and then the fight started again. They had been waiting for a hundred years, and a few hours wasn't going to put them off.

Barney put the pin back into the tree and the men in the house were frozen again. Isobel came up with another idea: have a party to counteract the fight. If the party was powerful enough, the fight would be submerged in it. She invited everyone she knew, and she got a band to play as well. Just in case the plan failed, they broke the stone swords on all of the statues in the house.

Isobel wanted the party to be in full flow before the statues came back to life, so they started the celebrations two hours before Barney removed the pin. By that stage a lot of the guests had forgotten the purpose of the party.

The men seemed confused when they came back to life. They looked at their broken swords and at all the strangers dancing and drinking around them. Drinks were put into their hands and they dropped the swords. They dived into the celebrations with all of the enthusiasm they had been saving for the fight.

If anything, the party was too powerful. By the end of the second day, half the band had been lost in action, lying unconscious on the ground somewhere. The other half fought bravely on. The noise they were making suggested a terrifying fight, but still people danced to it. They only stopped dancing when Gilbert sang. The party lasted a few days, and they ended up wrecking the place anyway, but at least no one was killed.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't seem to mind being stuck on a wall for the best part of a century. If he was re-united with his body I doubt if he'd feel a need to fight. Despite having weapons attached to his head, he'd be far too refined to engage in physical combat. I could imagine him getting involved in a duel to defend the honour of a lady, but I've never come across another moose who's refined enough to attack the honour of a lady. The wife's uncle says he got into a lot of trouble over the years because of his attempts to defend ladies, or catching fainting ladies, or just telling them they're more beautiful than truth. Many duels have ensued. Many dogs and bullets have been sent after him to chase him off the property.