'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Clown

It's still getting colder. Summers seemed much warmer when I was younger. When my grandfather was young the summers were hot enough to make horses faint, if you believe his stories about fainting horses. He claimed that winters were much colder then too. He says that his father once had to chase some Eskimos out of the garden. He kept coal in the igloo they left behind.

My cousin Ronan was looking after his niece and nephew, Daisy and Graham, one day when their parents were at a wedding. His plan was that the kids would watch TV while he read William Shatner's autobiography, but they had other things in mind. They took Ronan to a tree because there was a clown stuck in it. They tried to get a cat stuck there as well, just so he'd have some company, but the cat wouldn't co-operate.

"This is an interesting problem," Daisy said.

"It isn't a problem at all," Ronan said.

"He's stuck in the tree."

"It's a problem for him, but not for us. Let's just leave him there. He seems perfectly happy."

"That's just because he has a smile painted on his face," Graham said.

Daisy said to the clown, "Why did you climb the tree?"

"Because a magician put a spell on me," the clown said. "He doesn't like me because he thinks I stole his act. My act is basically just being afraid of earthworms. I see an earthworm and I act as if I'm terrified. Earthworms are inherently funny. No one would laugh if I used a beetle. I know because I've tried. Although I did have to kill the beetle. It wouldn't be funny if I had to kill the earthworms. I have earthworms in a jam jar and I say, 'I think I need some jam for my sandwich.' The kids can see that there are earthworms in the jar, but I pretend to be oblivious to this. So I open the jar expecting to find jam and then I start screaming, and the kids love it. I do a magic trick where I try to pull a rabbit out of a hat, but I pull earthworms out instead, and then I start screaming. The magician said I stole this idea from him, but I didn't. He put a spell on me. He said I'd be attacked by dogs. I thought this was just nonsense, but then I noticed that dogs were looking at me in a funny way, and then when one of them started growling I realised that he really had put the spell on me, so I climbed the tree to get away from the dogs."

"Have you tried talking to the magician?" Graham said.

"He wouldn't listen to me. His career hasn't been going so well lately, and mine is just taking off. I just got my own TV show. He resents my success. He hardly ever leaves his house, and I know because I can see the house from here. He lives above that shed." The clown pointed towards a shed nearby. A two-room wooden house had been built on its roof. "I saw him climb the ladder to his house yesterday and he hasn't come out since."

"Well then he probably wouldn't need his ladder," Ronan said. "I'm going to get the ladder and bring it here, and you're going to come down because this is all complete nonsense. If he really could make dogs attack you, his career wouldn't be going so badly. He'd be the most successful magician in the world. Or at the very least he'd be the world's most successful dog trainer."

Ronan got the ladder and brought it to the tree, but the clown still refused to come down.

Ronan tried to convince Daisy and Graham to leave the clown there. He said, "Even the worst TV show would be better than this. If it was TV he'd fall out of the tree, or he'd have been shot into the tree by a canon. And someone would throw a pineapple at him."

Daisy and Graham were just about to give up on the clown when they heard the door of the magician's house opening. They saw the magician put his foot down, expecting to find the ladder, but he stood on air and fell to the ground. He got to his feet, but he looked dazed. Ronan, Daisy and Graham made their getaway before he figured out who was responsible for the missing ladder. He'd surely put a spell on them if he knew what they did.

They ran into a field. They saw a huge cardboard box in the field, so they hid under that. There was a much smaller box underneath it, and there was a candle on top of the smaller box. Ronan lit the candle and looked under the small box. He found a tunnel. They took the candle with them when they went down into the tunnel. They met a woman who whispered, "Follow me."

She led them to a room where a man with a red nose was sitting on a stool next to an up-turned wooden box. He smiled broadly when he saw them, but he remained silent. He was holding a plastic knife and fork in his hands. There were salt and pepper cellars on the box, but no dinner. The woman pointed to a sign on the wall that said 'The poet is supposed to bring the dinner'. And then she pointed to another sign on the opposite wall that said 'But the poet is pointing a pointy stick at a jazz band'.

She took ten signs out of a box, and she held each one up for Ronan, Daisy and Graham to read. The signs told the story of the people who live in the tunnels, and how in happier times they used to walk the city streets on hazy summer days. They waltzed through life and every time they threw a deck of cards in the air, the cards would gently float to the ground, but now they fall like shards of glass, so it's safer to stay underground. They spend their days making signs to explain everything. Sometimes they go outside at night.

"It's perfectly safe to go outside by day," Daisy said. "The chances of being attacked by a donkey or a dog are virtually nil. It would be more dangerous by night because you can't see what's falling on your head."

"And you can always hide in trees," Graham said. "You'll find that most trees have ladders next to them now. People are always getting attacked by dogs or donkeys, but neither dogs nor donkeys can climb ladders. And the playing cards would get stuck in the branches."

The woman spent a few minutes searching for a sign. She looked through a few boxes before she found the one she wanted. It said 'Maybe you're right'.

She got another sign that said 'We're going out now'. She took it with her when she walked away through a tunnel. She returned ten minutes later through another tunnel, and there were sixteen people behind her.

The magician was still dazed, but he had figured out that someone must have stolen his ladder, and he was intent on finding the culprits. When he saw the cardboard box in the field he tapped on the top of it with his wand and he said, "Hello. Is anyone there?"

To his surprise there was someone there. Daisy emerged from beneath the box, followed by Graham and then Ronan, and then the crowd of people who lived underground. The magician was shocked. He thought he had made all of these people appear.

Daisy, Graham and Ronan walked away quickly before he asked about the ladder, and the others followed them. The man with the red nose looked very nervous. When he heard a dog barking he was convinced he was just about to be attacked. He looked around for the nearest tree. Just as Graham had said, there were ladders up against trees. Or at least there was a ladder up against this one. He climbed it, but the clown wasn't happy about sharing his hiding place. He tried to push the newcomer out. A struggle ensued, which resulted in both of them falling to the ground. The magician had been staring at the tree at the time. When he saw two clowns fall out of it he assumed that he had made this happen as well. He was terrified. This meant that he really did have magic powers. He really did put the clown in danger of being attacked by dogs.

The magician helped the clown to his feet and said, "I'm terribly sorry about this whole dog thing. I'll lift the spell... Can you remember what I did to put the spell on you?"

"You just said there was a spell on me."

"Right. Well presumably I'll just have to say there isn't a spell on you. There isn't a spell on you."

"Thank you very much."

The clown looked around for the man with the red nose, but he was nowhere to be seen. He had returned to the tree, and so had all of the others who had emerged from the ground. There were eighteen of them in the tree. They were terrified of the magician because he looked just like the man who made the cards fall on them.

Ronan, Daisy and Graham had been watching the whole thing. "That was so much better than anything on TV," Daisy said.

"Admittedly," Ronan said, "that wouldn't have been any better even if someone had been hit with a pineapple."

The clown had an idea for his new TV show. The people who emerged from the ground would be in it. They'd dress up as earthworms and emerge from strange places to frighten him, and then the magician would arrive to save him. The earthworms would climb trees or hide in a phone booth or in a Mini. The clown would feel safe, but he'd forget about them after a few seconds and he'd say 'I have to make a phone call now', or 'Where did I put my car keys?'.

The moose's head over the fireplace was very pleased with Munster's victory in the Heineken Cup. It more than made up for Manchester United's victory in the Champions League final. The wife's uncle says that he once played rugby when he was posing as an English aristocrat. The fly-half on his team, who was the son of a Lord, got out a walking stick shortly after kick-off and he beat the opposing team's inside centre to a bloody pulp. They were able to laugh about it over drinks later. The centre was the best man at the fly-half's wedding on the following day.