'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Field

We've had a lot of rain recently. I enjoy looking out the window at the garden in the rain, but there are a few distractions on TV, like the snooker, Munster's victory in the Heineken Cup, and the Champions League. It's going to be an all English final this year. In Moscow. The wife's aunt has no interest in sport, so she spends a lot of time looking out the window. If she was outside she'd keep looking up at the sky. When she was young she threw an apple in the air and it never came back down. She's been looking out for it ever since.

My cousin Charlie saw three women in a field behind his house one evening. They were very well dressed, and they wore shoes that were completely inappropriate for walking in the fields. They stayed there talking for about an hour before they left the field.

On the following evening the three women turned up in the same place at the same time. Once again, they were dressed as if they were going to a wedding or to a regatta. Charlie could just about hear their voices. They sounded like the sort of people who'd go to regattas or to polo matches.

They arrived in the field again on the following evening. Charlie walked to where they stood and he said hello. Only one of them responded with a 'hello', and her voice was as cold as ice. Charlie spoke about the weather and the fox he'd seen in this field a few days earlier, but the women remained silent. He got the impression that they disapproved of the way he dressed. One of them wasn't putting much effort into hiding her disgust as she looked at his trousers. So Charlie said goodbye and he walked home.

He returned on the following evening. This time he wore his best suit, and the women were delighted to see him. He couldn't get away from them. They told him about a concert by a chamber orchestra and about a friend of theirs whose dog couldn't stop sneezing. After about an hour they decided it was time to go home, and they told him they'd be deeply offended if he didn't join them again on the following evening.

Charlie kept meeting the women over the following days, and other people joined them as well. After two weeks, over twenty people would meet in the field every evening. They all wore their best clothes. One woman brought a butler who had a picnic basket and a wooden case containing a tea set. He served tea to all of them.

One evening, Phil and Dylan were walking through a nearby field when they saw the gathering. Charlie knew Phil and Dylan from the pub. They stood at a ditch and stared at the people who were chatting and drinking tea. The women would certainly have disapproved of the way Phil and Dylan dressed, but they stayed in the other field, at the other side of the ditch.

On the following evening they returned to that field and they brought some of their friends. They had enough drink to last them a whole night but they managed to get through all of it in an hour. They laughed and fought and fell over. There was a fine line between laughing and fighting, and the fighting always ended when one or both fell over, and then the laughter began again.

On the following evening there were many more people in the other field. They drank, fought, laughed and fell over again, and they also did stupid things, like cycling off a tree (it was really just falling off a bike in a tree, and then the bike would fall down on top of them and everyone would laugh) and Charlie desperately wanted to join them.

But they made it perfectly clear that Charlie wasn't welcome. When they met him on the street or in the pub they ignored him. The only time they spoke to him was when they called him a snob. Charlie realised that he had to earn their respect if he wanted to join them in their field. So one day he spent a few hours drinking before going to the field for the evening gathering. When he arrived he was wearing his old clothes and he had a bottle of whiskey in his hand. The other people were shocked by his appearance. He took a drink from the bottle and he said, "You people aren't real. Ye're sub-people, not even ghosts. Ye'll never have the spirit of a ghost. Ye're so buttoned-down and buttoned-up the button industry would collapse if ye were all killed in a bus crash. But that's never going to happen because ye wouldn't be seen dead on a bus. They say that the hair and finger nails of dead people keep growing after they die. For days after ye die ye'll still be looking down on people, especially the ones up above, dancing on the grave. But that won't be me in the grave. I'm not going to let that happen. I'm not going to turn out like ye."

He took another drink from the bottle and then he walked away.

When he returned to the field on the following evening he expected to be ignored, or else they'd ask him to leave and then he could join Phil and the others in the other field. But to his horror he was welcomed with open arms. All of the men and women who used to wear their best clothes were now wearing old clothes, and they all had a bottle of something-or-other. They thanked Charlie for telling them the truth. He'd become their role model.

They drank and they said exactly what was on their minds. When these two things are combined, fighting inevitably follows. Laughter normally followed the fighting. Phil and his friends didn't do much drinking that evening. They spent most of the time looking into the other field. On the following evening they didn't do much drinking either. They just stood there and they spoke about drinking. They didn't really have much else to talk about. They started to become more conscious about the way they dressed. Some of them started wearing suits.

Charlie was still stuck in the other field, surrounded by drinking and fighting, which is exactly what he wanted to be doing with Phil and his friends, but it wasn't any fun with these people. Their fights only lasted one punch, if you could call it a punch. One man was knocked over by a punch that narrowly missed his head.

Charlie didn't feel he was part of the group, and the others were still rejecting him. He went into the other field one evening but they ignored him. He called them snobs and he left. He went to another field. He spent the evenings there, all on his own, observing the goings-on in the other fields. This turned out to be a very interesting pastime. Phil and his friends became more refined as time went by, but it didn't seem real, just as the other group's conversion to loutishness didn't seem real. The fact that they still used words like 'loutishness' undermined their credibility as louts. It didn't take long before they started shouting abuse at Phil and his friends, and it didn't take long for this latter group to drop their refined facade and shout back. Charlie had a perfect view of the fight that ensued. Some people sought refuge in Charlie's field, and he allowed them in. The fight went on for another few days. The number of refugees in Charlie's field kept growing. They drank wine and they looked at the fight. It was a pleasant way to pass the time.

In the end there were only two fighters left: Phil and a man who used to tell Charlie about his yacht. Unsurprisingly, Phil emerged victorious. The elation of victory didn't last long. He realised he was all alone in the field, and he asked Charlie if he could enter the other field. "It's lonely at the top, Phil," was all Charlie said.

The moose's head over the fireplace is enjoying the snooker on TV. Ronnie O'Sullivan's performance on Monday was even more exciting than the thunder and lightning outside. A friend of mine used to be a good snooker player until a gypsy put a curse on him. As a result of the curse, he has a hump on his back, like a camel. No one wants to drink the water he keeps in it.