'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Spider

We have to get over a brief return of winter before spring can truly bloom. I'm looking forward to spending more time in the garden and having long conversations with the flowers. My grandfather often spent evenings talking to them and he said they used to respond. I think he might have been sniffing something else instead of just the flowers. The flowers never respond when I talk to them. They never show the slightest sign that they can hear me, and that's part of the appeal. They remind me of my younger days when I'd talk to women.

My cousin Gary saw a spider on the wall when he woke up one morning. He drew an arrow on the wall to indicate the spot where the spider was. On the following morning he saw another spider on the wall. This one was in a different place, but Gary tried to get it to move to the spot where he'd seen the first spider so he wouldn't have to draw another arrow, but the spider didn't take any notice of the things Gary said. He remembered a conversation about food he'd once had with his friend Monica in which she'd said, "If there's one thing I'm good at, it's getting spiders to move." So he called her on the phone and he told her about his problem. She said she'd come around and see what she could do.

The spider didn't listen to her either, but she didn't give up. She suggested gluing a dead fly to the pointy end of the arrow as a bait to lure the spider there. They just needed to find a dead fly.

Monica suggested that Justin would be the man to go to if you wanted a dead fly. She thought he'd just need to look in his hair.

So they went to see Justin, but he refused to look in his hair and he refused to help them catch a fly. "I own a fly," he said. "He's a pet. He gets on well with my greyhound, assuming he's a he, the fly. The greyhound is definitely a he. It's easier to check with dogs. When they play together people only notice the greyhound. Only super-intelligent robots notice the fly. People think that the greyhound has an imaginary friend. The fly has an imaginary friend. He's a six-foot tall rabbit. They play together in the garden while the dog's asleep. My imaginary friend only notices the rabbit. My imaginary friend is at war with super-intelligent robots."

Gary and Monica carefully considered what Justin said and they both came to the same conclusion: he needs to get out more.

Monica suggested going for a walk in the park, but Justin said, "I don't like going to the park. Birds always used to take my glasses. I thought it would be better when I started wearing contact lenses, but no, it's much worse."

"They can sense your fear," Monica said. "You need to have an air of confidence about you. Hold your head high. Tell yourself you have nothing to fear from birds, that a bird might try to take your contact lenses once, but they wouldn't try it twice. They won't try it at all if they sense your confidence."

He agreed to try this, so they went to the park. He held his head high and he walked with a sense of purpose, and it worked. The birds stayed well away from him. Justin felt on top of the world. He thought he could take on anyone or anything. They went to the pub and he saw a good-looking woman at the bar. He was determined not to let opportunities like these slip away again, so he went over to her and he said, "How would you like to go out with a man who knows pi to four-hundred decimal places."

"I'd love to," she said, "as long as he doesn't recite pi to four-hundred decimal places."

"That can be arranged."

Her name was Edel. She agreed to go out with Justin on the following evening, but she neglected to mention that she already had a boyfriend, sort of. His name was Dominic, and he had said to her that he thought they should be able to see other people. When he said 'I think we should be able to see other people' what he actually meant was 'I think I should be able to see other people'. He thought she understood this. He was furious when he found out about her date with Justin.

When Justin was feeling superior to the birds in the park on the following day, he was confronted by Dominic. Gary and Monica were there too. Dominic said, "You won't be looking so happy with yourself for much longer. Birds will be flying around your head when I'm finished with you. When you ask a man's girlfriend out on a date you've got to face the consequences. When you ask a man out on a date you might end up with very similar consequences. Of course, you might end up with a date as well."

"Are you asking me out on a date?" Justin said.

"Because you said that, I'm going to have to punch you in the face twice as often as I was planning to do."

"You wouldn't hit a man with glasses, would you?"

"You're not wearing glasses."

"Oh yeah. I forgot. But I'm wearing contact lenses."

"So am I, so we're evens. You're perfectly entitled to hit me too."

"Do you ever find that birds take your contact lenses?"

"No. A cat once ate one of them."

"Did it do any damage to your eye?"

"I wasn't wearing it at the time. It had fallen on the floor and I was looking for it, but the cat found it first. Something about the fluid from my eye must have convinced the cat that this would make a good meal. That cat's colon must have got a very clear view of the outside world when the contact lens was coming out the other end."

"Maybe there's some other way we could settle this."

"Like what?"

"Why don't we just let Edel decide?"

"Decide what?"

"Which one of us should be the winner."

"On what basis would she decide?"

"She'd choose whichever one of us she wants to be with."

Dominic stared blankly back. He clearly didn't understand this concept. He didn't really understand women, so Justin said, "We could fight in theory, but not in practise. Edel would be the judge. She'd consider what means you'd use to win a fight, and she'd consider the means I'd use, if we were actually fighting. She'd decide who the winner would be if we fought."

"That's fine by me. She's not stupid. She'd obviously choose me."

"You said it yourself. She's not stupid. Stupid people only think of violence because that's all they have. She'll consider other means to win a fight, like cunning and strategy. She'll take intelligence into account."

"I'm not worried about that. You can't be all that clever if birds keep taking your contact lenses."

They explained their proposal to her and she said she'd need time to consider who the winner of the fight should be. Justin did his best to impress her on their date that night. He took her to a restaurant and he insisted on paying. Dominic took her to the most expensive restaurant in town on the following evening.

At first she enjoyed all the attention, and she wanted to drag this out for as long as possible, but their attempts to impress her became tiresome. Dominic kept telling her stories of his past prowess in physical fights. When they were in the pub one evening he said, "Did I ever tell you about the time I fought the jazz thieves?"

"Yes. You tell me a variation of that story every time you get drunk."

He didn't seem to notice that comment. He said, "I went to a party at Rachel's house and she had a jazz band playing there. I don't know why she had a jazz band. I think she might have been having a nervous breakdown at the time. Nervous breakdowns were all the rage last year, but they seem to have fallen out of fashion now. You'd hear conversations when someone would say, "I had a nervous breakdown, and after I got over that I went into rehab, and then I had another nervous breakdown.' And the other person would say, 'I've been in rehab three times this year and I've had two nervous breakdowns and I lost a bit of weight as well.' I thought about having a nervous breakdown once. I was going to start ringing a bell. But I forgot about it. Anyway, the party went well, despite the jazz band. At about three o' clock in the morning, when some people were starting to fall asleep, I went out in the garden to have a cigarette. I had a bottle of something to keep me company. It was a beautiful night. The Milky Way was making its way across the sky. But I got a sense that I wasn't alone. I listened carefully and I could hear footsteps. I looked around and I saw two men whose arms were loaded with jazz instruments. They were obviously thieves because neither of them had been in the band. Seeing as they were stealing jazz instruments I assumed they were thieves in the middle of nervous breakdowns. They couldn't take all of the instruments with them. They'd have needed another member of their group to take the double bass, but they did have a trumpet, a saxophone, a trombone and most of the drum kit. I decided to intervene. Admittedly, if they were the sort of creatures who populate dark alleys and wear brass knuckles, I'd have refrained from the fight, but I was willing to take on thieves with armfuls of brass instruments, despite being outnumbered. I blocked their path and I told them to return the instruments or face the consequences. They decided to go for the latter option. Obviously their conception of the consequences was different from mine. I demonstrated my conception after they put the instruments down. I punched one of them in the stomach, and then a left to the jaw sent him staggering backwards. The other one came at me. I used a move I learnt from Bruce Lee and I sent him crashing into a tree trunk. People came out of the house to see what was going on, but there wasn't much to see. It didn't take long before I had the instruments in a neat pile on the grass and the thieves in another pile next to them."

Justin didn't have any stories of his physical prowess. He decided to serenade her instead. He played the accordion and he sang a song. It was a song he wrote himself. He'd been playing the accordion since he was three. His ability to play it then was impeded by the fact that he couldn't lift it. This is what attracted him to the instrument. It seemed exciting to be playing an instrument that was nearly as big as him. But as the years went by, Justin grew and the accordion didn't. There was nothing exciting about it in his teens. He hadn't played it in a few years, but this didn't deter him from playing it for Edel. He hadn't written a song since he was six, when he wrote a song about The Muppets, but this didn't deter him from writing a song for Edel either. He didn't have to come up with much new material because he was able to use most of the music and some of the lyrics from the Muppets song.

Gary and Monica went to see Edel one day and they asked her if she'd made a decision. She said, "I just can't decide. Right now it's like trying to decide between the lesser of two idiots."

"Why don't you just toss a coin?" Gary said.

"That would be an appropriate way of deciding between the two of them."

Gary gave her a coin. She was just about to throw it in the air when she stopped. She looked at Gary and then she threw the coin away. She smiled at him and she said, "I'd rather go out with you."

Gary smiled back at her. He was proud of the way he had seduced her without even knowing he was seducing her. He really wanted to look for his coin, but he thought this would only put her off.

He was just about to say he'd like to go out with her as well when he noticed the glare of Monica. He remembered Justin. It wouldn't be fair to his friend if he went out with Edel, so he said, "I really think you should give Justin a chance. "He won't be so annoying when he knows he's won you over."

"That's one possibility. The other possibility is that he'll be even more annoying when he stops putting the effort into not being annoying."

"You've already seen what Dominic is like when he isn't putting any effort into impressing you, and you obviously weren't all that impressed by him then."

She sighed and said, "I suppose so."

She didn't sound much more enthusiastic when she told Justin that she'd chosen him, but he felt like strutting and saying 'up yours' to the birds in the park. Dominic started crying when he heard the news, but she told him she had made her decision by tossing a coin and he was happy with that.

Gary and Monica never found a dead fly. Gary was just about to kill a fly at Justin's house when he heard the greyhound growling at him. He went home that evening and he saw that the spider had moved to the arrow of its own accord. Gary was much happier with this state of affairs, and the spider looked happier too.

The moose's head over the fireplace failed to predict the winner of the Grand National, but he did predict Bertie's resignation as Taoiseach last week. The wife's uncle raised a drink to honour Bertie's career when he heard the news. He would have had a drink anyway but it was nice to be able to garnish it with a toast to a man he admires. He's had financial problems of his own to contend with, but if he didn't have problems of some sort to contend with he'd have to get a hobby, and he considers himself far superior to people who have hobbies. He has affairs and flings and fights instead. Drinks would lose their edge if they didn't come with a need to forget his current woes or a need to indulge in nostalgia and recount his past woes.