'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The Cat

There's a lot of work to be done in the garden at this time of year. My grandfather always looked forward to it because he enjoyed being out of the house. There were times when he enjoyed being inside the house too, and there were many times when he enjoyed being inside the pub, but he rarely ventured much further afield. He was deeply suspicious of other places. He was proud of the fact that his clothes had not been polluted by the oppressive otherness of somewhere else. The otherness drove some people mad, he believed. They'd go through a sort of a death. Some would come out the other side less than what they were before, like meat that's been defrosted. Some would come out as other people. They'd be like keys that have been re-cut to fit the another lock. Their homeplaces would be other places. This is why he feared the otherness, and I think he had a point. I've heard that you can be pecked to death by hens in other places. I suppose it depends on where you go.

My cousin Isobel doesn't need to worry about the hens because she has a way with animals. This is obvious when you hear the sounds she makes to communicate with them, and with humans who lack the sophistication of intellect needed to be a fully paid member of civilised society (she was able to identify such people by a very brief appraisal of their fashion sense). When my two cousins, Ronan and Alan, were having trouble with a cat, they called her to investigate the matter further. The problem was that the cat wouldn't move. It sat on a spot in a field behind their parents' house. It remained there for over a week, and Ronan never saw it leave during that time, though it might well have left during the night. He would have been happy to let the cat stay there for as long as it wanted, but one day Alan suggested that the cat might be guarding something. "I've heard that cats can guard treasure," he said. "Fairies can control the cats, and make them protect the place where the treasure is buried."

"That doesn't sound very likely. A dog could guard a place. A cat is more of a marker for the place where the treasure is buried."

"Do you want to try physically moving a cat that's controlled by the fairies?"

"You don't believe in fairies, do you?"

"No. But I believe in cats. Do you want to try physically moving a cat who's determined to stay where he is?"

"No. But maybe we can entice him away."

They left food on the ground a few yards away from the cat, but it wouldn't move. They spoke to it, and they carefully explained all of the benefits of going somewhere else. They had heard many great things about other places, they said. Apparently there were even other places where hens could not be found, and they couldn't guarantee that this place didn't have hens hiding behind every bush and in holes and under old bits of carpet and in boxes and disguised as peacocks and camouflaged as plants.

This would certainly have made my grandfather abandon his anti-other-place policy, but the cat seemed quite content where it was. That's when they called in Isobel. They told her that they wanted to move the cat for its own benefit. It had been too long in one place and it had obviously forgotten that other places existed. As soon as she arrived the cat got up and walked to her. She tickled it and spoke to it, and when she walked away the cat followed her. Ronan and Alan started digging.

At seven o' clock in the evening they found a small metal box. They prized it open with a crowbar, and they found a map inside. A route was marked out on the map. Two 'X's marked the start and the end of the route. The start was where they were standing. "Let's go to the other X," Alan said. "This must be a treasure map."

They followed the route, and after half an hour of walking they reached the other X. It was in an overgrown garden in front of an abandoned house. Some of the windows were boarded up. The plaster was cracked, and one of the red brick chimneys was crumbling.

"We could either start digging in the garden," Alan said, "or we could search the house."

They went for the easier option, but just as they were about to knock down the front door it opened and a man came out. He asked them what they were doing.

"We're lost," Alan said. "We were following a map, and I don't know if it's the map that's wrong or us, but we're lost now."

"This could turn out to be a stroke of luck for all of us," the man said. "How would you fellas like to acquire a certain acquisition of a monetary nature?"

"It depends what you mean by 'like'."

"Come on inside and I'll explain the whole thing."

Then man's name was Tommy. He took them into the house. They sat at a bare wooden table and he poured three glasses of whiskey. He told them that there was a bag full of money under the floorboards in his grandfather's house. His grandfather had recently died, but Tommy had been unable to retrieve the money because all of the doors in the house were boarded up. His grandfather was afraid of thieves. He used to go in and out through the windows. Tommy couldn't get in through the window because of a bad back, and he couldn't lift the floorboards for the same reason. He wanted Ronan and Alan to go in and get the money, and they'd split it three ways.

It was dark when they went back outside. He took them to the house, which was about a mile away. It looked as if it hadn't been lived in for years, so Ronan and Alan didn't have any qualms about breaking in, but they should have learnt their lesson from the last time. As soon as they got inside a light came on and a man pointed a shotgun at them.

"Thieves," he said. "I don't have much time for thieves. Some people would love the company, but I don't have much time for company either."

"We thought the house was empty. A man told us that his grandfather lived here, and he wanted us to get something for him."

"Right. This 'man' wanted ye..." This man seemed to think of something. He looked out the window and he saw Tommy running away with a chainsaw. Tommy had used Ronan and Alan as a distraction while he took the chainsaw from the shed.

The man with the shotgun said to Ronan and Alan, "Ye can get two shovels from the shed and start digging two graves. It'll be a new experience for ye."

Alan put up a hand and said, "I've dug a grave before."

"Yeah, but it wasn't your own grave, was it? Or else you wouldn't be standing here now. You should be desperate to try new experiences at this stage in your life. My father started shooting and drinking all around him when he was told he had three months to live. It turned out to be three days, because of the shooting and drinking."

"Why don't you just point the gun at Tommy and ask for your chainsaw back."

"Because I know exactly how many guns he has. He's my brother. He knows very well that the chainsaw is rightfully mine."

"What if we got it back for you?"

"Get it back for me, and the three of us will go shooting and drinking together."

Ronan and Alan went back to Tommy's house. They looked in the kitchen window and they saw Tommy inside. He was drinking whiskey and singing a song. The chainsaw was on the table. They left the house and went back to their own place. They returned to Tommy's house a few hours later. Ronan looked in the bedroom window, and he saw Tommy sound asleep inside. He knocked on the glass a few times to wake him up. When Tommy woke he looked as if he was looking at a ghost, which is exactly what Ronan had been hoping for. He had used a red marker to draw a bullet hole on his forehead. He said, in a ghostly voice, "He made me dig my own graaaave. This is your faaault."

Tommy started screaming. He kept saying 'sorry' for about a minute, and then he started looking for his gun. This is when Ronan decided to make his exit. Alan had broken into the house and taken the chainsaw. They ran away. Tommy must have figured out what was going on because he sent a bullet after them, but it missed.

They took the chainsaw to Tommy's brother, who shot open a bottle of whiskey to celebrate. Ronan and Alan made their way home at dawn. All they got from their treasure hunt was a hangover. After a few hours of sleep they went to see Isobel. She showed them a silver cup. "The cat found it," she said. "He started digging a hole in the middle of a field. I couldn't convince him to stop digging, so I decided to help him. The cup was buried about a foot underground."

The moose's head over the fireplace often stares at the wife's aunt's cat, and the cat stares back at him. It's as if they both know something. The moose's head obviously knows a lot of things, from baroque music to what horse to bet on. It would make you wonder what the cat knows.