'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Mr. Manley-Moonlawn

I know I've often mentioned the wind and the rain in the past, but they're as difficult to avoid as the Olympics right now, so I can't really avoid mentioning them again. I'm starting to enjoy the wind and rain. It's going to take longer to warm to the Olympics. Watching shooting and gymnastics isn't as exciting as watching heavy rain. If the two sports were combined I'd definitely watch that. It would be a good TV sport, but there probably wouldn't be too many spectators in the arena.

My uncle Cyril hates having parties in his house, but sometimes his wife, Joyce, will insist on having one and inviting all of the people he considers stupid, which is nearly all of the people he knows. He told me about a party they had on an evening in the middle of July. They always invited their neighbour, Ann, to their parties. At the time of this particular one, her two sisters were staying with her, and Joyce told her to bring them along.

Cyril hated the sisters because he thought they were weird. He spent most of the night trying to avoid them, but they finally caught up with him just after eleven o' clock. Before they said anything he said, "I need to go outside for a cigarette."

They looked at each other, and then they looked back at Cyril. They spoke in unison when they said, "If you see the black dog before you see the moon, find yourself a red rose."

Cyril went out the back door and he walked to the end of the garden. He climbed the fence and kept walking through the fields. He watched the moon rising in the sky, and he thought of what the sisters had said to him. He had no intention of following their advice. He believed that only people like them followed advice given by people like them. Sane people were too cynical to be into the whole concept of advice. Cyril believes that cynicism is the only sane belief system to adopt in the modern world. Without cynicism you'd eventually go insane from the stress of all the mental effort you put into keeping the jigsaw of your delusions from falling apart. Let it fall apart because it's all rubbish (this is the only advice Cyril has ever given me).

He stopped walking when he heard the sound of an owl, and then he realised he was alone. He remembered the advice his aunt once gave him: when you're all alone, look at your toes. Then he remembered why he held advice in such low regard. He walked on again.

He kept walking until he heard the sound of a stream. He was looking forward to smoking a cigarette or two while sitting on the banks of the stream, so it came as a major disappointment, and a surprise, when he saw the two sisters there before him.

"Did you see the black dog?" the one on the left said (Cyril could never remember their names because he just couldn't be bothered trying).

"No," he said.

They whispered to each other. He didn't like the whispering. They were effectively talking about him behind his back right in front of him. He hated the thought of people talking about him behind his back, so he avoided the thought, but he couldn't avoid it when they were doing it right in front of him.

When the whispering ceased, the two sisters looked at him. The one on the left said, "This night is like a curtain and you could easily get lost in its folds."

"So I see."

"Maybe the dog got lost in it."

"These things happen."

"That doesn't necessarily mean you haven't seen the dog."

"I know."

"You could be looking at the dog when you're looking at the moon."

"That's the only reason I look at the moon."

"I think the best thing to do would be to get that red rose."

"Who's to say what's wise and unwise these days? Some of the happiest people I know put their hands into rat traps."

The one on the left nodded. The one on the right said, "Have you ever wondered what it would feel like to kiss Vincent Price?"

"No," he said. He realised why the one on the left did most of the talking. He wanted to get away from them, so he said, "Maybe I will look for that red rose."

He turned around and walked back to the garden. He stood next to the rose bushes, but just as he was about to light a cigarette he noticed that the sisters were there before him again.

"I see you've located the roses," the one on the left said.


"I think that was very wise."


"I think it would have been nicer to kiss Vincent Price when he was alive," the one on the right said. "I had a chance to act in a film with him once, but I had to pull out because I'd already committed to another film. I once acted in a film, a musical, where I had to sing the lines 'What shall we do with the lust in our heads? Should we put it in our beds? Should we keep it in a bottle?' Of course, in those days lust on screen had to be acted out in two separate beds. All it really involved was reading letters. You had to be holding a letter or a book or a small dog so people could see what you were doing with your hands. Your hands are good for you. You should bear this in mind when you're out in the snow building a snowman. Wear gloves. Give the snowman hands. Scarecrows are like summer snowmen. They should have hands too, even though they won't find much use for them. If possible, they should be given brains. They won't have much use for brains. They'll have a lot of time to think, and it won't take them long to realise that we don't have much use for brains either. Brains are important for moving your hands and sometimes your feet. Moving your hands is genuinely important, but most of the things we consider genuinely important aren't really important at all, and we rarely acknowledge the importance of our hands. People were always telling me I was a brilliant hand actress. It was my face that needed improving, and my voice. One director told me that my delivery was as reliable as his postman, and he had to shoot his postman. My best performance came in a film that was done entirely in sign language. People said it was a performance of great emotional depth. The only problem with it was that I got typecast. I kept getting offered parts where I only had to perform hand gestures. When I was being cast in those roles in radio plays I started to wonder if I had a future in acting. I clung to the belief that I did have a future because without that I'd have nothing. But then I stumbled into a career as a puppeteer, and I was able to cast the acting aside. Being a puppeteer was a much more rewarding form of hand acting than performing hand gestures on the radio. I was able to use the full emotional range of my hands. I used puppets in long blue dresses to create the illusion of waves. People said there was an ineffable sadness to my waves. Word of my performances spread. I started out in venues so small I couldn't swing my cat puppet in them, but within months I was performing in front of thousands of people. I met many great puppeteers. The most intriguing of all was Mr. Manley-Moonlawn. He died in the 1860s. He's not sure what year it was. I'd have imagined it's the sort of thing you'd remember, but he says I'm just imagining things. He could make his puppets move without using strings or putting his arms up them. He'd just stand at the side of the stage, smoking cigarettes and smiling at the audience. His puppets would smile and dance. There was something odd about his smile and the smiles of his puppets. It was as if they knew something we didn't. There was something ominous about the dance, as if they knew how it was going to end and it wouldn't be pleasant for us. This feeling would become more intense as the dance became more frantic and the smiles got wider. When the performance ended with the music suddenly ceasing and the puppets collapsing, the audience would get to their feet and applaud. They'd be swept along by a wave of relief at not having collapsed themselves. The puppets used to live in a tiny cottage in his garden. I never liked them because they kept staring at me, but I ended up spending a lot of time with them. An Austrian millionaire became fascinated by puppets. He put together a show that included all of the best puppeteers. We travelled all around Europe by train. I remember when we were in Norway and we were staying in a house in the country. As soon as we arrived we went to explore the snow-covered grounds around the house. I saw a beautiful black dog. He was walking towards us, wagging his tail, but he stopped as soon as he saw the puppets. When they saw him they stopped too. The smiles vanished from their faces. The absence of smiles was even more chilling than the widest of their smiles.

"On the following morning, Mr. Manley-Moonlawn noticed that one of his puppets was missing. We saw tiny footprints in the snow. We followed them, but after a few hundred yards they suddenly disappeared. There were no marks in the snow around this spot. We looked around, and this time we saw two black dogs. One of the puppets got sick when he saw the second dog. One of the dogs came over and sniffed what the puppet had thrown up, but it was just saw dust."

Cyril was desperate to get away. When he turned around he saw a huge black dog walking towards him and he and screamed. People came out of the house to see what was going on. He realised that what he saw wasn't actually a dog at all. The cat had been walking across the patio table. The light was on in the porch, and the cat's shadow was cast on the side of the shed. Joyce asked Cyril what was wrong.

The sister on the left said, "You saw the black dog, didn't you?"

Cyril was too embarrassed to admit that he'd screamed at a cat, so he said, "Yes."

"We have a lot to talk about," the one on the left said as she held onto his arm. Her sister held onto his other arm and they led him away into the folds of the night.

The moose's head over the fireplace is very distrustful of puppets. This could be because he once watched Pinocchio. He's very good at telling when people are lying. The signs are normally more subtle than a growing nose, but he can spot them. This makes people nervous when they try to lie in front of him, and the signs become obvious. They normally crack under the glare and they tell the truth. The wife's uncle cracked and admitted that the bruise on his face hadn't come from a stray elbow when he was playing squash, as he had claimed, but from an ashtray made airborne by a woman he'd been engaged to. She was upset when he'd been honest about her hair in comparing it to his brother's dog. In his inebriated state he thought she wouldn't mind the comparison because the dog could do a back-flip, but he was wrong.