'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Charlie's Friends

The garden is enjoying the weather. I don't think the lawns have ever been so green in the middle of August. The garden gnomes have been enjoying the rain ever since someone gave them tiny umbrellas. One of them is holding a cocktail glass, and there's an umbrella in it to keep the rain out. My great-grandfather claims to have come up with the idea of putting umbrellas in drinks. The roof of the local pub was full of leaks, and the glasses were always filling up with rain, so they put the umbrellas in the glasses. They didn't bother with umbrellas over their heads. They drank enough to numb their heads so they wouldn't notice the rain. This was their solution to most problems.

My cousin Charlie often goes for walks on the windswept land by the sea, where the fog comes out to play when the wind is gone. One day he got lost in a thick fog that felt more like smoke. He saw two people emerge from the fog. They wore black tattered clothes. Charlie wondered if he should run away, but then he realised that he knew these people. They were friends of his. He no longer wanted to run away, but he wasn't all that keen on staying with them either.

Could he really say he knows someone who, out of the blue, will dress entirely in black, having previously worn blue or red or even white, someone who'll stand in the fog with an expressionless face? One of them was holding an old ironing board that he had found in a field.

Charlie felt that this was a time to whistle to himself and try to ignore them, and try not to think too hard. If you think too hard you'll use up your brain, and then you'll be stuck in the fog. Everything will be grey and you'll wish for something black or white. When old friends emerge from the fog wearing a dark and bitter black, at least you can ask directions to the nearest thing, and when you're at a thing you can use this as a base, a strong foundation to re-build your knowledge. Aunt Joyce believes that if you stand in the fog for too long you'll get to know the spiders in your hair. And you're probably better off not knowing them, at least not by their first names, because you might just have to kill them if they start to get unruly. But if they behave you can leave them in your hair and keep them out of your head when it's empty, or else they'll fill the place with webs and it's worse than any fog. You'll have to go on holiday to clear away the cobwebs, to fill your head with brand new sights.

Charlie's friends started to walk away, and he followed them because he didn't want to get lost in the fog. They led him to safety. He was very grateful, and he invited them back to his house for a drink.

They all had a few drinks back at Charlie's house. Charlie kept talking for hours, despite the fact that his friends didn't say much. When he noticed that it was dark outside he told them they could stay in the spare room.

A week later they were still staying in the spare room and Charlie didn't know how to get rid of them. Some of their friends would come to see them late at night. When Charlie went into the room one night he saw ten eyes reflecting the light of a flickering candle. They were playing cards. They asked him to join the game and they poured him a drink. Charlie ended up playing cards and talking for hours without ever taking much notice of the fact that the others remained silent, and without ever broaching the issue of them leaving his house.

They always wore those tattered black clothes, even on trips to the supermarket. They always bought stupid things at the supermarket, things like treacle and birthday candles, but never tea, coffee, bread, milk and so forth.

They insisted on keeping the ironing board in the room, even though Charlie saw it as a playground for rats. Too big to be a rat surfboard, about the right size for a rat playground. They ironed their clothes on it.

When Charlie and his two friends went for a walk at the estuary one day the wind blew through those tattered clothes. They met a man standing outside his house. He was facing towards the water but he was looking for something in his head. He couldn't find it and he couldn't remember what it was. Charlie thought it was his wife, and his wife was doing something with a car battery.

He told them about the house next door, which had been abandoned for years because it was haunted. Charlie's friends were intrigued by this. The man told them they were welcome to explore it and to stay there for as long as they wanted. The fact that it was haunted didn't put them off or make them say, "Let's go to that house where all the clowns are instead." They got on well with the ghost, as it happened, and it did happen. These events were not rabbits pulled out of the hats of their imaginations to replace real events, dead rabbits buried in the garden. The question 'Did you electrocute that rabbit?' was never asked. They climbed creaking stairs and explored attics and old rooms. They felt at home in the place, which delighted Charlie because he didn't have to put up with them in his house any more. They went back to his place to get their ironing board and then they returned to the haunted house. They've been living there ever since. Sometimes Charlie will miss them. He'll go to visit the house and he'll bring a bottle of whiskey. They'll drink and he'll talk for hours without ever worrying about the fact that no one is listening to him.

The moose's head over the fireplace is enjoying the Olympics, especially since we started winning medals in the boxing. The wife's uncle says he once had a chance to compete in the Olympics in one of the shooting events. He had to be a good shot because of all the duels he fought. But he decided not to go to the Olympics after having an affair with the wife of a fellow competitor. He thought he'd only be presenting an alternative target for this man.