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

The Chalice

When the dog gets bored of burying things in the garden he buries things in the fields around the garden. My great-grandfather and his friends used to recreate battles in those fields. Most of these fake battles ended in real violence because of disputes over the ownership of trousers, which is how most of the real battles began.

My cousin Charlie was walking through a field one evening when he met a woman who was commentating on the weather for a radio station. She was standing in the middle of the field, talking into a microphone. He listened to her as she said, "The wind is strong now. It's blowing white clouds across the blue sky. I'm looking at the golden edges of the clouds."

Her commentary came to an end at nine o' clock. A man on a trawler near Tuskar lighthouse took up the commentary when she finished. She said she was tired of commentating on the weather. She really wanted to be a news reporter. Charlie told her he knew of a great news story. He'd just heard that one of his neighbours, a man called Nick, had unearthed a gold chalice when he was ploughing a field. Charlie said he'd take her to see the chalice.

Nick was playing the violin outside his back door when they arrived. Charlie introduced Nick to (he had to pause to ask her what her name was) Joyce, and then he introduced himself to her.

"I was wondering if we could see the chalice you found," Charlie said to Nick.

"I found a chalice," Nick said.

"Where do you keep it?"

"I buried it. In the ground."

"Did you bury it where you found it?"

"No. That thought crossed my mind too, so I dug there, but I couldn't find it."

"Can't you remember where you buried it?"

"No. I had a drink or two to celebrate finding it. And after three or four drinks I always think I need a few more. When I get drunk I always go through the same stages. First, I remember the love of my life. Sylvia. I sing a song I wrote about Sylvia and I write her a letter asking her to take me back. I have a box full of those letters. In the cold light of day I realise I'd be better off keeping them to myself. In that cold light, Sylvia is just a woman who put nuts up my nose when I was asleep. In the second stage of my drunkenness I become fascinated by interior design. I start making plans to re-decorate the house. I have many boxes full of those plans. In one of them I did a drawing of my living room decorated like a post office, and there's a man in a balaclava who thinks he's holding up the post office, so you can imagine what I must have been drinking before that. In the third stage I become paranoid, and this is when I decided to bury the chalice. Even if my living room had been decorated like a bank vault I wouldn't have been able to relax with the chalice in the house. I had been planning on decorating the house like a Swedish log cabin when the paranoia hit me. I felt I had to bury the chalice somewhere, so I did. The next stage is listening to Iron Maiden. I completely forgot about the chalice then."

"Maybe we can help you figure out where you buried it," Joyce said.

"Come on in," Nick said, "and I'll make ye a cup of tea while we think about it."

The radio was on in the kitchen. They listened to the weatherman on the trawler for a while. He said, "The wind is now going... I'll have to check what way we're going. I can see some clouds. Whatever way the wind is going, it's going there in a hurry. It has an urgent appointment. Maybe it's going on a date with a... I don't know what sex the wind is. Because it's so changeable I suppose it's... I can see some seagulls. And the waves. The waves are really, really big. I'm told we're heading west, so the wind would be going... I'll have to check on that."

As they drank tea in the kitchen Charlie listed out places where the chalice could be, but none of them rang a bell with Nick.

"What about Norman?" Charlie said. "He might have found it."

"I never thought of that," Nick said.

Norman carried a bucket with him everywhere he went. There were lots of things in the bucket. It served as a wallet and as a lunch box. He carried his CV in it when he went for job interviews. This helped him get a job as a bucket carrier. He even took the bucket with him on dates. His favourite hobby was searching for things with his metal detector because it meant he got to put a lot of things into his bucket. It was possible that the chalice was in there too.

Nick, Charlie and Joyce found Norman in a field nearby. He was searching with his metal detector. Nick asked him if he'd found a gold chalice recently and he said, "Now that I think about it, I did have a gold chalice in my bucket. I found it with a bottle top near the fairy fort."

"I don't remember being there," Nick said. "Where's the chalice now?"

"I gave it to Mrs. Loftus. She's always looking for things to hold flowers."

"Didn't you have any qualms about giving away something so valuable?"

"Now that I think about it, I should have thought about that before."

"So I suppose Mrs. Loftus would still have the chalice."

"I suppose so, unless she gave it away. Actually, now that I think about it, Seamus was asking about that gold chalice too. I told him Mrs. Loftus had it."

Mrs. Loftus didn't have the chalice. She told them that she had left it in a cupboard in the kitchen, but when she came back from the shop earlier that day the chalice was gone.

"Seamus must have it," Nick said to Charlie and Joyce as they left Mrs. Loftus's house. "He's always spying on people. He must have seen me finding the chalice, or else he just saw me burying it again. So he dug it up himself and buried it near the fairy fort. There's no way I'd have buried it there."

"It must be in his house now," Charlie said. "He wouldn't risk burying it again in daylight. And he might not bury it at all, in case Norman finds it again. If we could lure him away from the house for a while we'd have a chance to search the place."

"A beautiful woman could lure Seamus away from anything," Nick said as he looked at Joyce.

"I don't mind being the bait," Joyce said, "as long as he doesn't catch him."

Seamus was smoking a pipe in his garden when Nick, Charlie and Joyce walked by on the quiet road in front of his house. Nick said he was out for a walk with some friends of his. Seamus asked if he could join them, and Nick said he was more than welcome.

Seamus turned on the charm when he spoke to Joyce. He told her about his former career as a boxer and how he often had three fights in a week. When they got to Nick's house, Nick invited Seamus to join them for a cup of tea.

Nick's brother had a still on a mountainside where he made moo-shine, which looked and tasted like milk, but it had a very powerful effect on people. Seamus didn't notice that he was the only one who put milk in his tea. He was too engrossed in a story about the time he saved a drowning horse.

In Seamus's first stage of drunkenness he talks very quickly, saying every thought that comes into his head. He told them he'd installed a small door within his back door to allow moths to come in at night. Nick realised that if he broke down the moth door he could put his arm in and open the back door. He said he had to go outside to feed the dog. Seamus took no notice of this. He just kept rambling on, and in the course of his discourse he mentioned that he'd allowed his dog into the house. "He's been trying to move in for years," he said.

Nick returned shortly afterwards. From the look on his face they could tell that he didn't find the chalice. From the way his trousers were torn they could tell that he'd met the dog.

Seamus drank five cups of tea. His second stage of drunkenness is building model airplanes. When he reached this stage he felt a need to go home to work on his latest model.

Nick, Charlie and Joyce followed him home. They waited outside in the darkness. They looked in through his kitchen window and they saw him removing the chalice from a cupboard. He filled the chalice with whiskey and he drank from it.

When he finished the whiskey he put the chalice back in the cupboard and he left the kitchen, presumably to work on a model plane. Shortly afterwards they heard him entering the third stage of his drunkenness, which is singing Celine Dion songs. He sounded remarkably like Celine Dion. The dog seemed to regret his decision to move into the house. He left through a small door at bottom of the back door. He ran as far away from the house as he could.

Nick opened the back door by putting his arm through the moth door, and he went inside, followed closely by Charlie and Joyce. He opened the cupboard door. The chalice was almost hidden behind some saucepans. He put his arm in and he carefully lifted the chalice over the saucepans, but he was distracted by a sudden high note from Seamus. He let the chalice slip, and in his attempt to regain his grip he knocked over the saucepans.

Seamus's song ceased. When he arrived in the kitchen he was holding a shotgun. "I should have known you'd try to steal it from me," he said.

"I'm only taking what's rightfully mine."

"Finders keepers."

"I was the one who found it."

"And then I found it."

"Only because you were spying on me."

"There isn't a law against spying on people. There is a law against breaking into people's houses at night."

"If there isn't a law against spying on people," Joyce said, "then there can't be a law against recording them singing like Celine Dion." She took the microphone out of her coat pocket. "I've recorded everything."

Actually, she hadn't recorded anything, but he fell for it. He couldn't do anything when Nick walked away with the chalice. Before they left the kitchen they saw Seamus enter the final stage of his drunkenness: crying and eating crisps.

The moose's head over the fireplace is fascinated by a silver cup that my grandfather dug up in the garden when he was looking for his wedding ring. I've found lots of things in the garden over the years, but nothing of real value. When I was young I used to look for gold under the ends of rainbows, but all I ever found was empty bottles.