'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Mrs. Dulfearth's Matilda

Some leaves are starting to fall from the trees. I can't think of a better way to clear my head than to look at the leaves being carried by the breeze. My great-grandfather used to clear some room in his head by listening to the wind with his good ear. The wind would emerge from the other ear, having cleared away all the rubbish scattered on the floor of his brain. Sometimes he needed the space to remember directions or where he hid his honey.

My cousin Jane was standing on the river bank one day with her friend, Claudia. They were looking at the ducks. Jane said, "I keep thinking that one of my feet is moving away when I'm standing still. I'm afraid it's getting ready to run away. Or hop."

"You should go to see someone about that," Claudia said.

"Who could I see?"

"I don't know. What about Stan?"

Stan worked in a bakery. They went to see him and they told him about Jane's foot. His response was to stare blankly back at them.

"It doesn't matter," Claudia said. "I just thought she should see someone about it."

"Maybe she should see someone else."

"Like who?"

"Almost anyone. Who couldn't you see -- that's a much more interesting question. My aunt couldn't see my uncle for over three months, even though everyone else could see him. Sometimes I can see the woman who works in the shop and sometimes I can't. She took me to an old oak tree to see if I could see her there."

"And could you?"

"I could, but not very clearly."

"I wish I had an interesting affliction like that."

"It's not an affliction. It isn't my fault I can't see her. It's hers."

"Well I wish I had an affliction like the one she has."

"Mrs. Dulfearth hasn't been able to see me in years. I dance in front of her and she looks right through me."

After he finished work that evening, Stan took them to see Mrs. Dulfearth. She saw Jane and Claudia, but not Stan. While he was performing a tap dance she was saying this: "I've been cementing my whistling. Is that your leg? My lone head can't keep me entertained when I'm stuck in an unfunny night. I gave him some peas and he took them to another woman. I had no idea who this other woman was, apart from the fact that she wasn't me. I tried to form a mental image of her. All I could see was a woman who wasn't me, and not being me she had terrible hair. 'What a funny-looking person,' I thought. 'I think I'll call you Matilda, and you'll always be scratching your ears because your ears will always be itchy.' When I finally met this other woman I saw that she was nothing like Matilda, as far away from Matilda as Matilda is from me, but she's nothing like me either. I have to say I took it badly at first. I found someone to fill the role of Matilda, and that cheered me up a bit. I could say to her, 'Your interest in steam will be your downfall, Matilda.' Or, 'I think there's something wrong with that dog's stones, Matilda.' When she sings 'Baa baa birthday cake, have you any wool?' you shouldn't assume that the answer is no. I've often used her at parties when I've needed someone to point at. If you've ever been stuck for something to say to Mr. Hammerkofferliss when he says he wants to be a monk, you'll know just how valuable it is to have a Matilda. You can say to her, 'Say that thing you said about spinning around.' She'll smile and she'll repeat what she said. She'll say it much quicker this time because she's had the practise of saying it before, but it'll still take her over half an hour to complete it. You won't have to say anything to Mr. Hammerkofferliss and he won't have anything to say to you. I had my Matilda with me one evening when I was walking down the road. We passed a house where a man was buttering his windows. I was able to send the Matilda in to ask him where he got the butter, while I remained outside on the road, thus avoiding any embarrassment caused by asking a man about his window butter. I took her to a party once. Mrs. Biddentap said she had a wonderful time at her Aunt Kevin's party, even though her lanky nephew ate too many sandwiches. The room went silent. You could hear a pin drop on a dead badger. I always thought there was something a bit iffy about her lanky nephew. The silence was filled by Matilda, who started singing. I had no idea she had such a beautiful voice. A man called Hubert was there, and he fell in love with Matilda after hearing her sing. Hubert doesn't get on with a man called Raymond. They're deadly rivals. They'll fight over a cloud in the sky or a raison on the ground. Raymond couldn't come to that party because there was a problem with his biscuits, but he came to my party on the following week. Everyone came because they all wanted to hear Matilda sing. Raymond didn't fall in love with her after she sang her song, but when he found out that Hubert was in love with her he realised that he did love her after all. They've been fighting over her ever since, but she doesn't seem to take much notice of them."

Claudia's father organised the re-enactment of a battle. He needed someone to sing the national anthem. A man called Stoat Killarney was usually hired to sing the national anthem at local events, but he couldn't make it because the last time he performed in public something crawled out of his ear as he sang. When he got home he sang for five hours to flush out anything else that might be living in his head. When he woke in the morning he'd lost his voice.

So they needed someone else to sing the national anthem, and Claudia thought of Matilda. Claudia and Jane went to see Mrs. Dulfearth. "Can we borrow your Matilda?" Claudia said to her.

"By all means, as long as you bring her back at dinner time."

They took Matilda to the field where the battle was being re-enacted. As soon as she started singing, Hubert and Raymond pushed their way to the front so they could lead the applause at the end. When they got to the front they tried to push each other out of the way. Pushing and shoving became punching and kicking. Other people joined in, and the re-enactment of the battle began before the national anthem was finished. This happened at almost every re-enactment.

Matilda wasn't put off by the fight right in front of her. This is when Jane and Claudia realised that she couldn't see Hubert or Raymond. Jane explained this to them later.

They both knew that if they were to win her heart they'd have to be seen by her, and she'd be more likely to fall for whoever she saw first.

Hubert wore a three-foot-tall top hat with holes in it for birds. There was a nest in it. He walked back and forth in front of her as the birds flew in and out of his hat, but Matilda took no notice.

Raymond got his cousin's jazz band to follow him around. They played a song called 'Smelly Whale' that frightened all the dogs for miles around, but Matilda kept looking at a butterfly and smiling to herself.

Hubert wore his black wings with the top hat. This gave him a wing-span of fifteen feet. He attempted to fly, but still she took no notice of him.

She finally saw Hubert when he dropped a cornflake on the ground. She said hello to him. He was so shocked he stumbled backwards, fell over a rock, rolled three times, sprang to his feet and staggered into a wheelbarrow full of manure, which he knocked over. She didn't see any of this, but she saw him again when he went up to her and asked if she'd like to go to the theatre to see a play about a caveman learning Spanish. When she said yes he managed to contain his excitement. He let it out later when he shouted at his feet.

The moose's head over the fireplace correctly predicted that Tyrone would beat Kerry in the football final on Sunday. The wife's uncle backed Tyrone because of this prediction. He used his winnings to buy a set of silver spoons. Now he just needs to learn how to play them. There's a man in the pub who can play all of Bach's Brandenburg Concertos on the spoons.