'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Cowboy

The clocks go forward at the weekend, so we'll have an extra hour of sunlight in the evenings. There's an old sailor in the pub who often tells a story about a land where they'd get twenty-four hours of sunlight followed by twenty-four hours of darkness. He says he once found himself stranded on a desert island. He spent years trying to attract the attention of passing ships and planes, but he started to enjoy life in the pub, telling the natives tales of his seafaring days, so he decided to stay and he's been here ever since.

My cousin Charlotte once bought an album by a country band called 'Tall Joe and the Small Hurricanes' for her father's birthday. She bought it in a shop that specialised in country music. The owner of the shop, Fred, used to wear a Stetson and he always had country music on the stereo. He didn't have the album in stock, but he said he'd order it for her. She went to the shop to collect it after work one evening. He gave her the album and as he closed the shop he told her about his experiences as a roadie for Tall Joe and the Small Hurricanes. He was in the middle of a story about a dead cow when they were standing on the street outside the shop. A woman came along and said to him, "I thought you were supposed to be playing football this evening."

"I am," he said through gritted teeth.

"I knew there was something going on. And it can go on for as long as you want, because whatever was going on between us in the past is over now."

She walked away.

"That was Ruth," Fred said to Charlotte. "She's my girlfriend. Was my girlfriend."

"Shouldn't you explain to her that I was buying an album and you were just telling me about the comatose drummer and the dead cow?"

"I'm sick of explaining things to her. She always thinks I'm up to something. There's no way I'm going to her this time. When she comes to her senses, she can come to me."

"What if she doesn't come to her senses?"

"Then I'm better off without her."

Charlotte felt bad about her role in the split, and she wanted to get them back together. The obvious thing to do would be to tell Ruth what really happened. Fred had mentioned that she was a country singer. When she was playing in a pub one evening, Charlotte went to see her. She told her about the album she went to buy and how Fred had only been telling her anecdotes about his time with the band, but Ruth refused to go to him. "If he wants me back, he'll have to come to me," she said.

Charlotte didn't know what to do, so she asked her friend Andy for help. He liked to think that he could come up with a solution for any problem. He'd never go for the obvious solution, so you should only go to him if you've already tried the obvious course of action. He said he was just continuing a family tradition of solving problems with unusual solutions. He'd developed many stories about this family tradition. There was always a kernel of truth surrounded by layers of development. He used to tell a story about how his grandfather, who was a scientist, once blew up a film studio. When his grandfather worked in his 'lab' he used to wear a badge that said 'I'm an alchemist now, Ma', but if you asked him he'd always deny being engaged in alchemy. He said he wore the badge because he liked it. He got it from a milkman who was more interested in cultivating his facial hair than wearing badges. Andy's grandfather made a badge that said 'I'm more interested in cultivating facial hair than getting women pregnant'. He gave this to the milkman in exchange for the alchemy badge. Andy often wore this badge, and he wore a few others as well. One of them said 'Wear badges, not badgers'.

Andy didn't take long to come up with an unusual solution to Charlotte's problem. He said, "We just need to bring either one of them to see the other, and I think it would be easier to bring him to her. If she's playing in a pub, then we need to lure him to the pub, and make it look like he's there to hold out the olive branch. The best way to lure a man anywhere is to use a woman. In this case it would be a woman dressed up as a cowgirl."

"The problem is that Andy refuses to go anywhere near Ruth, and your solution is to use Ruth to lure him to a pub?"

"No, not Ruth. Another woman in a cowgirl outfit. Andrea would be perfect. She could lure any man anywhere. Alcohol will be needed to convince her to take part in this scheme. She'd rather dress as a Nazi than as a cowgirl when she's sober, but she'd do anything when you get her drunk. She has a very refined taste in classical music. She believes that all other forms of music could debase a mind that isn't structurally sound. Even within the classical canon she considers many works to be 'made by degenerates for degenerates', as she says herself. But when she's drunk she sometimes sings songs by The Monkees."

"This is mad. Your plan to re-unite him with his girlfriend involves him being seduced by another woman."

"This isn't mad at all. This is perfectly sensible, when you think about it. We need to lure him to the pub. Let's say we tell him that they're giving out free drink. So he goes there and she says, 'I knew you'd come running back to me', but he says, 'I only came here for the free drink.' But if we get Andrea to lure him there, and then get Andrea out of the way, Ruth will see him and say, 'I knew you'd come running back,' and then he's faced with a choice of telling her that he came here with another woman or that he came here to support her during her gig. This will bring him to his senses quicker than a well-placed kick. He'll tell her he's there to support her. And he won't be able to resist her when he sees her on stage with a guitar, wearing her cowgirl outfit."

"I still don't know about this. If it goes wrong we'll only make things worse. And is it really right to get Andrea drunk just so we can use her to lure Fred?"

"She'll like it. She'd only get drunk anyway and do something just as stupid. We're only channelling her stupidity to our own ends. Unchannelled stupidity rarely ends with something good."

It didn't take long to get Andrea drunk, and she agreed to wear the outfit and take Fred to the pub. She went to see him in his shop as he was closing up. She told him she was interested in Tall Joe and the Small Hurricanes, and he started telling his anecdotes. He found it impossible to resist her. Not only was she wearing a cowgirl outfit, he'd also be spared the expense of getting her drunk. When she suggested going to a pub he couldn't help smiling at his good fortune.

They went to the pub where Ruth was playing. Andrea was supposed to say she had to go to the ladies just before Ruth came on the stage, but she did something stupid instead. When Ruth came on stage, Fred and Andrea were kissing.

Ruth didn't notice them for a few minutes. They were at a table at the back of the pub. She recognised the hat first, and then she saw the face beneath the hat, and what that face was attached to. When he heard Ruth singing he tried to cover his face with his hat, and with Andrea, but Ruth had obviously recognised him. She was struggling to go on.

Charlotte was with Andy at the bar. She said, "Oh well, we gave it our best shot."

"Sorry about this. I think I've only made things worse."

"There's no need to apologise. I'm really grateful for all you've done. Let me buy you a drink."

She bought him a drink, and then another. After a few more drinks he was drunk. When Ruth finished her set, Charlotte took Andy over to the table where Fred and Andrea were sitting. Fred was feeling guilty about what happened. Andrea was starting to feel sober, which brought a wave of guilt and regret. Charlotte said, "All is not lost. She wouldn't have had a clear view of Fred's face. We need to act quickly. Andy, will you swap clothes with Fred?"

Andy was drunk enough to agree. They went to the toilets to exchange clothes. Andy came back dressed as a cowboy. He sat at the table with Andrea, and they started kissing.

When Ruth emerged from the dressing room she went straight to that table. There were tears in her eyes when she said, "If you think..."

Andy looked up. When she saw his face she said, "Oh... I'm sorry. I thought you were someone else."

Fred was standing behind her. He coughed to attract her attention, and she turned around. He said, "I just came her to, ah... y' know... support you."

"I knew you'd come back," she said as she put her arms around his neck.

The moose's head over the fireplace likes wearing his Stetson. He likes wearing all of his hats, and he doesn't mind the tinsel in his antlers at Christmas. The only thing he objects to is having flowers in his antlers. The wife's aunt went to flower-arranging classes and she was always looking for interesting places to put the flowers, so she put some in his antlers. She spent an hour arranging them, and she never noticed the look on his face. He clearly wasn't happy. Her teacher used to arrange flowers on TV aerials.