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

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Sean's Place

The days are getting longer. It's nice to look out the window in the evening and not see night. A mouse is proving to be a spanner in the works of nights these days. I've been trying to catch the mouse for weeks. The wife's aunt gave us a loan of her cat, but when I woke up in the morning the cat was walking along the piano keys. He was trying to play something, but the song sounded wrong. He had a lump on his head, and little birds were flying around the lump. I think the mouse has been watching cartoons during the night.

My cousin Hector used to spend a lot of time with his friends, Steve and Sean, before he got married. After leaving the pub they often went back to Sean's place to drink some more. Sean lived in a house that was like an inverse hole. Instead of decorating and cleaning the place he just drank to blur his surroundings. As long as there was a fire lighting it felt like home. And it was a nice home when there were a few friends to fill the rooms with laughter and song until unconsciousness came along and the floor became a bed. Sometimes there were women, but not often enough for the liking of Sean and his friends.

Sean inherited a modest fortune from an uncle. There were more women in the house after this. There were more men who claimed to be friends as well, but he knew who his real friends were. He didn't forget them. He never forgot waiting for a bus on a freezing morning with them, or retrieving an old TV from a skip, or swapping socks on a dare or a bet or just to have something to do. All of the women were true friends, even the one who was really a man, but he didn't trust the other men. When they told him he was their best friend he let them know what he thought of them. They were free to come along and drink and dance with the woman who had a spare set of clothes in her purse, but if they ever asked for a loan they'd be asked to leave by the woman with the deep voice.

His real friends were perfectly entitled to ask for a loan and he never refused them. Hector wanted to get dance lessons, but he was too embarrassed to ask Sean for the money. He told one of the women about it and she told him that if he got lessons they'd beat the idiosyncrasies out of him with a shepherd's staff. He'd been chased by people wielding various forms of staffs and sticks often enough, and by security staff wielding truncheons, so he decided against the lessons. She convinced him that he didn't need to be tutored to enjoy dancing. He agreed with that because he thought tutoring was something a vet did. He loved dancing. He had his own style. His interpretation of the music would make you wonder what was going on in his mind or what was going on in his trousers. The women all seemed to wonder about the latter, and this had a powerful seductive effect on them.

Steve asked for a loan to buy a second-hand potter's wheel and a kiln from a one-armed man whose father used to use them. The one-armed man couldn't use them because of his arm.

One of the women was over six foot tall. She was beautiful and clever, and they wondered why she'd be going to a hole like Sean's place. The money wouldn't be enough to draw her there. She'd find much more money in much better places. She said she liked Sean's house because it felt real and if that meant that other places felt unreal then yes, other places must be unreal. Other places were just a shiny facade and other people were happy to live in the illusion of the facade, but that wasn't really living at all. Those people were afraid of what lay beneath, but Sean and his friends weren't afraid at all. They celebrated what lay beneath, and they didn't worry about the facade. Hector danced in his own peculiar way and the woman with the big hair kept a cigarette lighter on her head.

Every morning the floor was covered with empty bottles, half-smoked cigars and half-empty people who just needed breakfast and a bit of fresh air to feel complete again. When they started to get bored with their surroundings, Sean bought a van and they'd go away on trips, often staying overnight in a caravan or under the stars or with a friend or relation whose house was always open to visitors, who'd never look at the clock and wonder when the visitors are going to leave.

One evening they went to see Peter, one of Sean's cousins. He was delighted to have visitors. Sean had a theory that if you accidentally hammered a nail into your hand in someone else's house and the nail was stuck in a wall, you could tell a lot about the owner of the house by the way they reacted. Some would call for an ambulance, some would get a mop, and some would get a drink. Sean considered his cousin to be in the latter group. He told Peter that he was in the get-that-man-a-drink group, and he meant it as a compliment. Peter took it in the right spirit and he raised a toast to Sean.

They could sense some tension between their host and a woman who stared at him, sometimes from about two inches away. They wondered if they should leave, or at least some of them did. Sean took his cousin to one side and said, "If you want us to leave, just say the word and we'll be gone."

"No no no. The word is 'no'. Don't leave. I'll never let the other word out. What sort of a host would I be if I let the other word out? I'd sooner let the hounds out, if I had actual hounds. Stinky doesn't qualify."

"Do I detect a bit of tension between you and the woman who poured the drink down your trousers?"

"I suppose there's no denying it. But she can go to hell. That's where she came from."

He hated the way he loved that woman, and at times he wondered if he really loved her at all. Maybe they hated each other, but that was better than nothing. He believed that love or hate was a good foundation for a long term relationship, but anything in between and the house would fall down. Her name was Olivia. At times her presence felt like needles sticking into his skin without any of the benefits of acupuncture. She started fires to express her feelings. She baked cakes and then shot them. He couldn't resist her feelings even though he was afraid they'd result in his untimely death, and maybe that was part of the appeal. But only part. There was more to it. If he considered their relationship rationally and weighed up all the pros and cons, he'd run away as fast as he could. But he'd met other women who had far more pros than cons and they made him run away. She was all wrong, but the others were relentlessly right.

Hector suggested to Sean that he could appease this woman by asking if she had any ideas on how to spend the money. So he told her about his recent windfall and how he was always open to good ideas on how to spend it. He was more than willing to give no-interest loans to encourage entrepreneurial endeavours.

Her face lit up when he mentioned the loans. She told him that she had always wanted to open her own garden centre. It was a dream of hers. Ever since she was young she had an interest in flowers. She already had the land for the garden centre, but she needed some investment to get the business up and running. Sean told her he'd pay whatever she needed.

A smile dominated her face and she immediately entered the category of people who'd get you a drink if you nailed your hand to a wall. Peter thought she'd be back to her old self as soon as Sean went home, but the smile was still there a week later, and he was missing the old Olivia. He feared that she was gone for good. She could turn out to be more right than all of the others, and this was a terrifying thought for Peter.

But he didn't need to worry. Working with flowers would bring out the get-him-a-drink side of Olivia, but dealing with people would bring out the nail-his-hand-to-the-wall side. On the garden centre's opening day she got into an argument with one of her customers. A man complained about the poor quality of a pot and she said, "I bet your brain complains about the poor quality of its pot too."

She found that it was useful to have an enormous compost heap just so she could threaten to fill people's cars with the compost, but she only had to carry out the threats a few times. Every evening she spent hours complaining about the idiots she had to deal with. She enjoyed this as much as Peter did.

The moose's head over the fireplace keeps a close eye on the cuckoo that emerges from the cuckoo clock. One day it was wearing a top hat. This is one of the clocks from my grandfather's collection. He often got people to stand in front of his favourite clock and wait for the cuckoo to come out. A boxing glove would emerge and punch them in the face. Little birds would fly around their heads. I'm trying to find a way to get the mouse to stand in front of it on the stroke of midnight.