'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Fifty-Seven Wise Men

The decorations are back in the shed for another year. One of the reindeer has made a bid for freedom. He'll probably turn up somewhere. One year they all escaped. I found them in a field a few miles away. They were looking at a dog, but he was staring at a tree, as if he was trying to pretend that the reindeer were just a figment of his imagination.

My cousin Ronan wanted to be a knight after reading Don Quixote. He intended to fight in the cause of justice, to right wrongs and defend the weak, but he didn't know how to make a start in this career. He needed the advice of a wise man. In trying to decide which wise man to consult he realised that there were fifty-seven of them in the parish. The youngest was only six. He needed to determine which wise men were genuine, so he decided to interview them.

He met some interesting people during the interviews. One of the wise men invented his own alphabet. Each letter was a square. He'd colour in the squares to add another layer of meaning or to indicate how deeply felt his words were. The word 'ant' in yellow and red letters meant an ant on fire. The word 'ground' in blue and grey letters meant concrete. The word 'grandmother' with a white 'e' and a black 'r' meant that the black and white cat was on his grandmother's head again.

Many of the wise men pointed at the sky when Ronan asked them questions. He decided to eliminate them from the selection process because they wouldn't be of much practical use to him. A few of them pointed at the sky and said 'The balls of fire' every time he asked a question.

When he came to Barry his first question was 'What do you think of the balls?'

"I don't think much of them," Barry said. "I don't think much about anything any more. It leaves me a lot of time to think about nothing, which I find fascinating."

"What did you do with the thing you found in the box?"

"I put it in another box."

"What did you do with the box?"

"I gave it to Martha. She wanted me to hold her, so I gave her a box."

"I knew a woman who wanted me to hold her cat."

"Cats can be tricky. So can medicine. And sisters who wake ghosts. They can't just leave sleeping ghosts lie. I once lied to a ghost when I was sleep-walking. That woman over there told me about it."

"How long has that woman over there been over there?"

"I don't know, but she hasn't always been over there. She was on a horse once. Some cats wear Eiffel Tower hats."

"What did Mrs. Bishop think of your lunacy?"

"It was only a day of lunacy. One day of lunacy a year."

"I saw what you did to your brother's van."

"Mrs. Bishop is always a bridesmaid, never a van. That's what she used to say. Of course, it isn't entirely true."

After the interview Ronan decided that Barry was potentially a wise man. He was one of only two men who displayed genuine wisdom. The other was Eric, who was very tall and thin, but he had a big head. He always looked off-balance. He said he'd rather have fat legs and a small head, but he might not have been so wise then.

He was given this advice by a very wise man: stay in one place to get to where you want to go. Don't speak to communicate. Stay, and things will come to you. A kingdom will come your way.

This suited Eric because when he moved he was liable to fall over. He spent most of his time sitting in the shade of a tree near his house.

Ronan couldn't decide which of these two candidates was wiser. He thought that the best way to settle it would be to see how they reacted to a practical problem. The problem was provided by a man called Danny. Reason and instinct were always at war in his head, and he trusted neither. He chose to sit quietly while the war raged inside him. He'd drink tea, and sometimes he'd spend hours trying to write with his left hand and his right hand at the same time. He didn't trust his hands either.

One evening his left hand drew a rock with eyes while his right hand drew a dog straining hard to grow feathers, and succeeding. Over the following days he kept drawing strange things, and strange things started happening. He saw a brass band emerge from the lake. He started picking up strange channels on his TV. Some of the shows on these channels seemed to be endless. He spent twenty-four hours watching a juggler trying to juggle two camels, and failing. On another channel he saw a man being read by a book. By the end, the book knew who the man's author was, but it wouldn't say.

One day Ronan saw Danny trying to shove a dragon into his coal shed. He was having trouble getting the dragon in through the door. This was just the sort of situation where a wise man should be consulted to find a practical solution.

Ronan went to see Eric first. He explained the problem Danny was having with the dragon, and Eric said, "Stay well away from it. That's my advice. Stay where you are. That's what I'm planning on doing."

There was undoubtedly some wisdom in what he said, but it didn't provide a practical solution to the problem.

Barry was willing to look at Danny shoving the dragon into the coal shed, but he didn't seem to know what to do about it. He looked for twenty minutes without saying anything.

Ronan finally broke the silence when he said, "Why don't we ask that woman over there?"

Barry turned around and looked at the woman. He said, "Wasn't 'over there' somewhere else the last time we looked at her?"

"It was."

"That means she's been following me around."

"Ask her about the dragon."

"No. I'd have to talk to her. And if she's been following me around she might start talking to me then."

"Didn't she talk to you before, when she told you about lying to the ghost?"

"She did, but she hasn't said anything in a long time."

"She's bound to start talking to you again sooner or later."

"That's not necessarily the case. My aunt hasn't spoken to me in over ten years. Although she's been following my uncle around for most of that time. And I've been avoiding both of them."

"You can't avoid talking to a woman who's been following you around. This would be a good time to break the ice."

"I suppose so."

Barry went over to her and he asked her what she thought about the dragon. She said, "Is it really wise to put a dragon into a coal shed? I mean, what if he set the place on fire?"

Danny stopped trying to push the dragon in through the door as he thought about this. He realised that she was right, so he let the dragon go. He chased it away with a shovel.

Barry had provided a practical solution, in a roundabout way, so he was the wise man who Ronan would consult about his career as a knight. Barry said he'd need to read Don Quixote before giving any advice. He's still reading it eight years later.

The moose's head over the fireplace is revered by the reindeer. I often came downstairs in the morning and saw them looking in the window at him. A lot of people look up to him as well. He has a reputation for being wise, and many people have sought his advice over the years. They've always said that his silent stare was the best advice they got.