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

The Bard of the Bored

I love walking around the garden in the twilight. The wife's aunt refuses to set foot in the place after the light starts to fade. She says she gets a feeling she's being followed, but every time she turns around there's no one there. She thinks it's a ghost who hides when she turns around. This is why she's attached a rear-view mirror to her hat. When I was in school one of my teachers had a mirror on his hat. He had an eye patch on the back of his head.

My uncle Harry often spends a few hours in his local pub. A man called Hogan spends most of his waking hours there, and a few sleeping ones. Drinking and smoking are his only pastimes, and he used to be able to do both all day long until the smoking ban was introduced. He was no longer able to drink and smoke at the same time. He said it was like having to choose between two lovers. It's an appropriate analogy, given the amount of women who have tried to kill him over the years.

He learnt how to blow smoke rings when he was still in his teens. After years of practise he could create smoke horses, and he was able to make them gallop across the room. When he did it in the pub people used to bet on the outcome of the smoke horse race. Some people were against passive smoking, and they objected to the races. One man was against gambling. He tried to inhale the horses. Hogan once he smoked a 'herbal' cigarette. The horses turned into clowns, who started fighting each other. The gamblers bet on the outcome of the fight, but some people tried to inhale the clowns.

Harry became embroiled in a dispute about the outcome of one of the races. He backed the winner, but this horse went right through the horse in second place to reach the finishing line. A man called Jerry had put money on the horse in second place. He claimed that he should at least get his money back because the winner's essence would have been altered as it passed through the other horse. It would have taken some of the other horse with it.

"That's ridiculous," Harry said. "It was clearly the same horse as it was before it passed through."

"Even if it failed to take some of the other horse with it, your horse must have been altered in some way. When a pint passes through you it's in no fit state to be a pint when it comes out the other end."

"Yeah, but that horse went the opposite way to a pint."

"Look in the rules of horse racing and you'll find that passing through another horse is an illegal move."

"I doubt you'd find anything of the sort in the rules of horse racing."

"He stole the soul of the other horse."

"You won't find anything about that in the rules either."

When disputes like these couldn't be resolved they always asked Brian to pass judgement because he was the most intelligent of all the drinkers in the pub. But you had to get him drunk before he'd express his opinion on anything. He lacked confidence in his views when he was sober. When he was slightly drunk he'd lose the willpower to keep his delusions intact and he'd start crying and talking about how they were all doomed. This stage never lasted long. He'd feel a need to get drunker, and this was easily accomplished because he could get drunk on his own tears. By the time the tears dried up his words would be slurred, but there would be a constant flow of words. All of his theories and views would come flooding out.

Unfortunately, he was very careful not to get drunk. They needed to make him feel a need to drink, or to make him cry, and this is why Harry convinced the bar man to allow The Bard of the Bored back into the pub. The Bard was a story-teller whose stories lasted hours and they rarely had a point. He gave himself the name 'The Bard of the Bored'. He'd been barred from the pub. One of his stories would surely make Brian drink, or make him cry.

Brian was sitting at the bar with a glass of lemonade when the Bard arrived. He sat on a stool next to Brian and started telling his story. "There once was a man who went to a church made out of cider," he said. "Or was it cardboard? Probably cardboard. He went there because he had a ticket for the church. He hid the ticket in his head, and when the time came to produce it he couldn't find it. He took everything out of his head. This is when he realised that Bird Sleuth had been in his head, investigating a crime. Bird Sleuth is a bird who solves crimes, mostly crimes committed by birds. His hobby was shouting at butterflies. He used to collect them, but some people thought that this was cruel..."

An hour later, after Brian had finished his crying, the Bard was talking about a woman who loved circles. "She was deeply suspicious of objects with edges. She had other reasons for being suspicious of the machine for making birds. But she wasn't suspicious of Kettle Drunk, a man who had dots for eyes and thousands of tiny hats for hairs. She said she'd like to know how many teeth she has without counting them, and he said he knew someone who could find out. There was a certain antipathy to the way he said 'scum', and this annoyed the small fortune teller stuck to his foot. He used to walk his bird in the park every evening, mainly to annoy the fortune teller. The casting director would get everyone to play the shepherd when she was casting the roles in a pie."

"There are no rolls in a pie," Brian said.

"That's what she used to say. She said it to a cow once."

"I once saw a cow who could play golf."

"I once saw a man who could play a cow. He could get a beautiful tune out of cows when he was milking them. The milk tasted nicer too."

"I once drank the milk of a talking cow and I couldn't speak for weeks. My friends and family couldn't find me when they didn't have the sound of my voice to locate me. It was as if I was invisible."

"That happened to me once too, but I don't think anyone noticed I was missing."

The Bard and Brian kept talking. "They could be talking all night," Harry said. "Why don't we settle this dispute some other way. We'll choose a word and we'll bet on which one of them will say the word first. We just have to decide on the word."

"What about 'Elvis'?" Jerry said.

"Why Elvis?" Harry said.

"Why not Elvis?"

"It could take them months to say 'Elvis'."

"I say it a few times every day."

"We need something that they say a few times every day."

"What about 'the'?"

"No, that's too obvious."

"What about 'oneself'?"

"'One must talk to one's elf.' That's what my grandfather used to say."

"Did he have an elf?"

"He did. But it could have been a coconut."

"A coconut fell on my grandfather's head," Jerry said. "That's how he found out about gravity. It was a momentous occasion. He jumped up in the air to celebrate and he came back down again. He stopped carrying an anchor around the place with him, and he didn't have to tie everything down. But years later he did float away after jumping on a trampoline. If he hadn't caught hold of a chimney he might never have come down. After this he always carried metal weights in his pockets."

Harry and Jerry kept talking and they forgot about the bet. At closing time the bar man was struggling to get his customers to leave because they were engrossed in their conversations, so he said he could settle the dispute over the race. He took them all to his brother's junkyard, and he woke his brother by poking him with a stick. There was a powerful magnet in the junkyard. The bar man got Harry and Jerry to sit on office chairs near the magnet. When it was switched on, the metal in the chairs would be drawn to it. Whoever reached it first would be deemed the winner of their argument.

Jerry hit the magnet first because he carried metal weights in his pocket to make sure he didn't float away, like his grandfather. His pockets hit the magnet hard, so the joy of winning the bet was tempered by the pain he had to endure to win it.

The smoking ban put an end to the indoor smoke horse races, and there was always too much breeze to hold the races outside. They found other things to bet on. They used to drop feathers and bet on which one would reach the ground first. They also bet on the feathers outside in the wind. They'd bet on which feather would stay in the air for longest. It became a cross-country sport.

The Bard was allowed tell his stories in the pub again, and the other drinkers bet on whether or not a certain word would be included. He still hasn't said 'Elvis'.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't seem to mind when Ellen, one of our neighbours, calls around. She rambles on for hours. She could bore a stone to tears, but I suppose the moose's head must have learnt how to cope with boredom a long time ago. While she was telling one of her stories a few years ago the wife's uncle made a few phone calls and arranged for a German brass band to play at his funeral. It was only on the following day that he realised he wasn't even dead.