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


I had to turn off the light in the plastic Santa. People were becoming transfixed by it. The wife's niece went to visit Santa on Saturday. Mrs. Claus was there too, and she really was married to Santa. They had an argument about Christmas shopping while the wife's niece was there (her presence always increases the stress levels, and arguments are almost inevitable). She was filled with wonder because the argument convinced her that Santa and Mrs. Claus are real. She wrote a letter to Santa, and she posted it by throwing it into the wind from the top of a hill. She had heard about people who posed as post boxes. If you weren't careful you'd end up putting your letter into someone's mouth.

My cousin Gary and his friend, Martin, were short of cash one Christmas. They considered various ways to make money, but none of these were satisfactory because they all involved doing jobs where the only requirement was a complete lack of dignity.

"There is one way to make money quickly," Martin said. "And I have a certain expertise in this area."

"Then why haven't you mentioned it before?"

"Because it's burglary. Or cat burglary, to be specific."

"You have an expertise in cat burglary?"

"I haven't told you about this before because I was sworn to secrecy. I used to live next door to a former compulsive cat burglar."

"I know someone who had a compulsive cat. It was really a dog."

"He couldn't stop cat burgling, even though he wanted to, so he deliberately got fat to break the habit. His size made him completely unfit for the job. Sometimes he felt a need to break into a building at night, but this need was satisfied when he passed on his secrets to me. I never thought the information would be of much use, but I think the time has come to give burglary a go."

"But it's wrong."

"It would be wrong to break into an old lady's house and steal her china plates. But would it be wrong to break into my uncle Eamon's house, after all the rotten things he's done to me over the years, the things he's done to everyone? And he must be loaded. He's a miser. He wouldn't give me a penny on my first communion. He wouldn't even give me a button. I asked for a button."

Gary didn't need any more convincing than this. He suggested that they dressed up as Santas when they were undertaking the break-in. A lot of people would be out and about late at night coming up to Christmas, as they made their way home from parties. If they saw two Santas entering a house they'd wonder if they were hallucinating because of all the alcohol they'd consumed. Gary could speak from personal experience.

So they dressed up in Santa suits and brought two big black bags. Martin had a bottle of whiskey in his bag. He said it was to celebrate when they'd finished the job, and possibly to ease their nerves before it.

Breaking into the house was easy, but as they stood in Eamon's dining room they spotted a flaw in their plan. Because Eamon was so unwilling to part with his money there was very little to steal. He didn't have a television. There was an old sideboard in the room, but it was empty. The carpet was worn, and there wasn't even a table cloth on the table.

The room seemed even emptier when the light came on and Eamon entered. He was too shocked to say anything. He wasn't expecting to see two Santas. Martin saw a way out of the situation. He said, "Merry Christmas, Uncle Eamon. We've brought you some presents."

Martin and Gary put all the money they had on the table. Gary added a silver cigarette lighter, and Martin reluctantly parted with the bottle of whiskey.

There was a tear in Eamon's eye. "No one has ever done anything like this for me before," he said.

"That's because you poke people with sticks," Martin said.

"And yet despite all the times I've poked you with a stick you still do this for me."

"Well, it is Christmas."

"You're right. It's Christmas. The time for giving. I'm going to give something to the two of ye that will be worth a hundred times what ye've given me."

He left the room, and they heard him going up the stairs. When he returned to the room a few minutes later he was holding a pile of papers. "These are my memoirs," he said. "In here ye'll find out how I made every penny I have. I remember every one of them."

Gary and Martin started reading the memoirs that night. The manuscript was full of stories about people who tried to get one over on him. The metaphor he often used was of someone putting a hand into a drawer to take something that was rightfully his. He always slammed the drawer shut on the hand. Sometimes this involved chasing people through the fields with a pitch fork and sometimes it involved frightening them away with a fake hand grenade.

He also wrote about his love life. Martin never knew he had a love life. Most of these stories ended with a woman slamming a drawer on his hand after he outlined the reasons why he wouldn't be buying her a birthday present.

Eamon had made most of his money from his business ventures. These included a junk yard and a shop that sold everything from top hats to rat poison. It was clear that he saved most of the money he made. He only bought new clothes when the tramps started to ignore him.

Gary and Martin came across only one way to make money quickly. It concerned a man called Maurice, who had been a minor celebrity in the area ever since he won a twenty-mile race against a dog. About fifteen years ago, Maurice started having glimpses of an Otherworld, or so he claimed. He changed his name to 'Quigley Stevenstun Area Planet Bulb' because he said that this was his Otherworld name. He also started wearing face paint because this is what they do in the Otherworld. He believed that by doing these things in the real world it would ease the transition into the Otherworld, and his visits there would last longer.

One day Eamon saw him holding a bunch of spoons. "Where did you get the spoons?" Eamon said to him.

"I stole them from the Otherworld," Maurice said.

"Can I have one?"

"No, get your own."

Eamon started to think that there was money to be made from this Otherworld, and he went out of his way to be friendly to Maurice. He visited Maurice's house almost every evening, and he often heard stories about the Otherworld. There were people there who didn't like his intrusions, he said. They sent him home in strange ways. They'd create a strong wind, and as it blew through wire fences it would form words, warning him to leave. Once he fell into a library that looked a lot like a hole in the ground, with roots of trees all around him, and then he found himself engulfed in ivy. Finally he fell into the real world and landed in a trough in a field. On another one of his visits they folded him up and put him into an envelope, and they told him they were posting him all around the world, but they only took him all around the priest's house. When the priest opened the door and saw him on the ground, the people from the Otherworld made him say, "I'm regretful of my past, Father, the one I found behind my ear." The priest took him in and spent hours talking to him about forgiveness and hell.

When Maurice's aunt came to stay with him, Eamon kept her occupied for three days by sending her on a wild goose chase after a chicken. Maurice was very grateful for this, and he promised to return the favour.

His visits to the Otherworld were lasting longer. He had more time to explore the place. From there he could see things in the real world that were invisible to the people who lived there. He saw where gold was buried. To say thanks for keeping his aunt busy, he gave Eamon a map with a red X marked on it. He told Eamon to dig a hole at that spot in the middle of the night. Eamon did as he was told, and he found a crock of gold there.

According to the memoirs, Maurice could be found at the ruins of a church at midnight. He'd be sitting on a stone, peeling an apple with a knife. Despite the frost and freezing temperature, Gary and Martin went there at midnight. They found Maurice sitting on the stone. Gary explained their predicament, and he mentioned that they had been referred to him by Eamon.

When Maurice finished peeling the apple he said, "Do me a favour and I'll make sure ye get the monetary value of that favour."

"What could we do?"

"Ye've come to me at the right time. There's something that ye might just be able to help me with. Ye'll have to pay an early morning visit to Agnes's restaurant."

Agnes has a restaurant in a shed. When she first opened it she catered mainly for builders and truck drivers, but all sorts of people go there now. She's done little to hide the shed-like qualities of the place. There's a corrugated iron roof and a concrete floor. The door is locked with a padlock at night.

Maurice told them that she had barred him from the restaurant after accusing him of stealing spoons (an accusation he strenuously denied). But he loved the food she served, especially the gravy she poured on the sausages at breakfast time. Ever since being barred he'd spent most of his time thinking about that gravy. This is why he wanted Gary and Martin to get the recipe. They said they'd do their best.

She started serving breakfast at six o' clock in the morning, so they started spying on her at five. They hid behind a ditch, from where they had a good view of the kitchen window. They used binoculars to watch Agnes at work as she made the gravy. Most of the gravy's ingredients came from a pig's head. She added in bits of a rabbit that made the pig's eyes seem appetising.

Gary and Martin wondered if they should tell Maurice the truth. It might well put him off the gravy, and the favour would be worthless to him. But they knew that if they gave him a fake recipe he'd try to make the gravy from it and he'd realise they'd lied to him. So they gave him a detailed description of what they had seen. It left him speechless. At first they thought that his mind was gripped by the horror of the gravy, but then a smile broke out on his face.

He kept his word. He gave them all of the money he had in his pockets, along with everything else he had in his pockets. He had managed to fit fifteen spoons into his trouser pockets alone. Some of them were silver. Gary and Martin sold the spoons, and they ended up making well over a thousand euros from the favour they did for Maurice.

The moose's head over the fireplace is enjoying the pantomime. His performances have been consistently good throughout the rehearsals, but the same can't be said for his fellow actors. The more they rehearse, the worse they get. The director has taken up smoking again to cope with the stress. A man promised to make a snow machine for the opening night, which is tonight, but the machine still isn't ready, and this 'machine' looks remarkably like a gun. He promises that no one will be injured when the snow is shot out.