'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Notty O'Shea's Escape from a Mental Institution

Summer will start any day now, according to the wife's aunt. She says she can predict the weather by looking at the behaviour of snails. She understands snails. When she was young she used to organise snail weddings, but nearly all snail marriages ended in divorce because they couldn't agree on whose house to move into.

My cousin Albert often visited his friend Brenda because she made a cake almost every day. Her cakes were really just baskets full of biscuits, but when people pointed this out to her she accused them of being snobs. "You're just a tube full of snobbery," is what she said to a man who told her that Bobby Bluebud could make one of her cakes without burning down the kitchen (Bobby Bluebud was an accident-prone TV character who burnt down the kitchen every time he tried to make toast or paint the gate).

Albert tried to be complimentary about the cakes. He found it easier to be complimentary if he considered the cakes as works of art, but she didn't always agree with his interpretations of her creations. After looking at one of her cakes from many different angles he said, "It looks like when Notty O'Shea escaped from a mental institution."

She was angry with this assessment. "It looks nothing like that," she said.

"I meant it as a compliment. Notty O'Shea wasn't even supposed to be in the mental institution."

"My cake has nothing to do with a mental institution or with Notty O'Shea."

"I'm not saying it has anything to do with either of them. I'm saying I see Notty O'Shea's escape from a mental institution. He was just visiting someone else."

"How can it have nothing to do with Notty O'Shea or the mental institution he was trapped in for months if it has something to do with Notty O'Shea's escape from that mental institution?"

"Okay, it does have something to do with them, but it's something very small. I was thinking of the joy he felt when he escaped."

"So when you look at my cake you see Notty O'Shea running through the fields around the mental institution in the middle of the night, with no trousers?"

"He had a very good reason for not wearing trousers. Most of the men who run through the fields have very bad reasons for not wearing trousers."

"If you'd mentioned Screechy Simon I wouldn't have minded so much."

"Notty O'Shea is a far more cultured man than Screechy Simon. You're just focussing on the fact that Notty was in a mental institution and he made his escape without any trousers. You have a completely false impression of him because of these things. Screechy Simon would have taken his trousers off after escaping from a mental institution. Notty once painted a beautiful picture of bald eagles in a pram. You can see it for yourself and you'll get a better insight into his character. The painting is hanging in his hall."

They went to see Notty O'Shea. They probably could have called at a better time. He wasn't wearing any trousers when he opened the door. He wore a kimono and he was smoking a pipe. Albert said he wanted to show the painting to Brenda, and Notty invited them in.

The painting depicted bald middle-aged men with wings in a pram. Brenda recognised the man wearing dungarees. She said, "Isn't that the man who sings in the pub with his band, 'Yellow Brick Bus'?"

"They're all members of Yellow Brick Bus," Notty said. "They waited until they were in their forties before they formed the band. I think it's sort of a mid-life crisis."

"Why did you paint them in a pram?"

"My aunt Ruby told me to do it. She's not the sort of woman you can say no to. She made my uncle make things to throw at ducks, but I think that was just something to pass the time, because he'd never be able to keep up with a duck. He needs things like that to keep his mind focussed. He'd forget his own teacup if it wasn't stuck to his hand."

Albert knew that throwing things at ducks wasn't very cultured, so he pointed at a painting on the opposite wall and he asked Notty where the inspiration for that one came from.

"That's a portrait of a woman I was once engaged to," Notty said.

Brenda said, "It looks more like a wall to me."

Albert was going to point out that if her baskets of biscuits could be a cake then Notty's paintings of a wall could be a portrait of his ex, but he thought better of it. Notty said, "This is just my impression of her. My final impression of her, not my first. She was always waiting for the right weather to get married, but she never found it. She went looking all over the country for it. I don't know what exactly she was looking for because she came across just about every type of weather imaginable. She left me after she fell in love with a man who stole a chandelier from her house. She caught him after chasing him through the fields. They got married in a church with no roof. There's moss on the stone floor, and the altar is covered in ivy. She said that this was what she was looking for all along -- she wasn't looking for the right weather at all. She just wanted the weather to be with her in the church as she got married. It was a grey day. I was there."

"Wasn't it painful to see her marry someone else?" Albert said.

"Not at all. I was trying to figure out how to tell her I didn't want to marry her, but she saved me the trouble when she said she didn't want to marry me. I even painted a picture of the church."

He showed them the painting. It was hanging over the fireplace in the dining room. Brenda said, "I didn't know you could get into that church. The door has always been locked every time I went there."

"I have a key," Notty said. "The church is on my uncle's land."

After Notty put some trousers on they went to see the church. He opened the door and they spent half an hour looking around inside. Just as they were leaving they saw two men in white coats walking towards the church. One of the men said, "There he is." They ran towards Notty.

Notty ran away, but he didn't seem too concerned. Albert and Brenda ran with him. Notty told them he'd often been chased by the men in white coats, but he'd found a perfect hiding place. His uncle used to prick inanimate objects with a pin to see if they were really animals in disguise. He claimed that a chair once ran away after he pricked it. A rock in a field turned out to be a man. There were other people hiding in tree and rock costumes in the field. They used to be members of the costume department of a travelling theatre company who had to go into hiding after they performed a play about a man who used to ask a basketball for advice. The basketball always told him to shoot other basketballs. This character was entirely fictional, but a gangster thought it was about him. He wasn't happy with the way they portrayed them, and he was looking for revenge, so they had to hide from him. The costume department made the tree and rock costumes and they hid in a field. Notty's uncle discovered them, and he told them they were welcome to stay for as long as they wanted in one of his own fields. Most of the theatre company moved on after a few months, but the costume department stayed behind, working on costumes inside their own costumes. They made brick costumes for birds. You could build a wall with these bricks, and when it was finished it would fly away.

Notty led Albert and Brenda down a lane lined with hedges. They climbed over a gate and entered the field where the costume department were hiding. Notty got Albert and Brenda to hide in tree costumes, and he disguised himself as a rock. When the men in white coats climbed over the gate they looked around the field, expecting to see Notty and his friends, but there was no one there. "They must be hiding behind a rock," one of them said.

They looked behind every rock and tree, but there was no sign of Notty.

Screechy Simon was passing by. He looked into the field to see what was going on. One of the men in white said, "Let's just take him instead."

At this point Simon's trousers dropped (he could will them to drop). The man in white said, "On second thoughts, let's just leave him alone."

Simon left his trousers down. Brenda could see him from inside the tree costume, and she saw Notty disguised as a rock. It was obvious that Notty was much more cultured, and she took Albert's comment about her cake as a compliment.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoyed watching the golf over the weekend. Padraig Harrington's victory was an added bonus. I tried playing golf a few months ago, but I couldn't get the ball to go where I wanted it to go. I had to pretend that I wanted it to go where it went. It took all my powers of persuasion to convince my playing partners that I wanted to hit a nun.