'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Man with the Orange Eye Patch

I found an umbrella stuck in one of the trees in the garden. I think one of our neighbours used to be attached to it. She thinks she's Mary Poppins. Whenever the wind is strong she'll stand outside with her umbrella and let the wind take her away. The real Mary Poppins doesn't use the F word so often.

My uncle Cyril once got a tip on a horse from a man with an orange eye patch. Cyril didn't trust people who wore orange eye patches. He was also suspicious of people who wore T-shirts with words on them. If he saw a T-shirt that said 'Just Do It', he'd decide that not doing it was the better course of action. He also distrusted people who wore sandals and people who used the word 'yummy'. He had a certain amount of distrust for everyone, but if you wore sandals, a T-shirt that said 'Up The Cats' and you said, "This apple is yummy," he'd look around for something he could use as a weapon (he also distrusted people who ate apples).

If, on top of all that, you wore an orange eye patch, he'd use that weapon. But he only ever met one person who wore an orange eye patch, and this man seemed trustworthy in every other respect. He wore black leather shoes, grey trousers and a brown shirt. He seemed to have the strength of character that meant he'd rather poke himself in the eye than use a word like 'yummy'. His eye injury could have resulted from an accidental use of such a word. Perhaps he was reading a book out loud without paying attention to what he was reading, and when he realised he'd uttered the word he poked himself in the eye as recompense. The eye patch would be a badge of honour, a sign of true character, but choosing an orange one was undoubtedly a lapse.

Cyril took this into account, but he rarely failed to act on a tip, no matter who gave it to him. If the sandal-wearing person in a T-shirt offered a tip right after saying 'yummy', Cyril would probably put the weapon down. The man with the orange eye patch told Cyril to back a horse called 'Hoodoo Hetty'. This horse was thirty to one. He had never won a race before, and the fact that he was called 'Hetty' was another reason not to back him. On the other hand, being called 'Hoodoo' was something in the horse's favour. Cyril knew a man called Hoodoo, and he was able to bite a branch off a tree, which was certainly something in his favour.

Cyril put twenty euros on Hoodoo Hetty and the horse won by a nose. The fact that Hoodoo Hetty had a very big nose was another point in his favour, Cyril later realised. Just after he collected his winnings at the track he met the man with the orange eye patch. He was eating an ice cream cone. When he saw Cyril he said, "Use that money wisely and you'll get an even bigger return."

He winked and then he walked away. At least Cyril thought he winked. It looked like a wink, but one eye was concealed, so it could have been a blink. Cyril put a lot of thought into how he'd spend the money. Putting it in the bank seemed like the wise thing to do, but that wouldn't be spending it at all. And no bank offered as good a return as thirty to one. Putting it on another horse didn't seem very wise. Spending it in the pub was tempting, but it didn't seem wise either, especially when he remembered some of the things that had been on sale in the pub over the years. If he'd had the money a year earlier he might well have used it to buy a glass eye that had been found in an alligator's stomach.

He went to the pub to put some more thought into this. When he was in the middle of his third pint a woman came into the pub with a bag full of pencils. She was selling them for two euros each. She claimed that each one had been touched by the luckiest man in Ireland (you could see his fingerprints on them). This man was so lucky he could search for a needle in a haystack and find gold. He believed that all of his luck derived from never washing his hands, which is why you could still see his fingerprints on the pencils. Cyril bought one of them, and some of the other drinkers made a purchase as well.

As the woman was leaving the pub the bar man said, "Goodbye Hetty."

Cyril was convinced that this must be a sign. He went out after Hetty, and he asked her how many pencils she had left. She said she had 191 of them because she started out with 200 and she'd sold nine.

Cyril bought all of the remaining pencils, much to the delight of Hetty. "This is my lucky day," she said.

Cyril took his pencils back into the pub. As he was finishing his pint he started to wonder if buying 191 pencils was really wise. He'd only make a return on them if he sold them for more than two euros, and selling all of them would take a lot of time and effort. But then he realised that he hadn't just gained 191 pencils. He'd also acquired more luck than you could fit into 191 pencil cases. "This is my lucky day," he said to himself.

The bar man gave him a newspaper and he looked at the racing section. On the following day a horse called Lucky Buttercroot was running in a steeplechase. Cyril was at the track for the race. He put a hundred euros on the horse at odds of fifty to one.

Lucky Buttercroot fully justified his odds. He seemed to get bored in the middle of the race, and he slowed down to admire the scenery. He finished a distant last. As Cyril watched the horse pass the finishing post he was joined by the man with the orange eye patch, who said, "I hope you didn't bet on Lucky Buttercroot."

Cyril explained why he had bet so much on that horse and he showed him the pencils. He had brought them with him for luck. The man said, "Was it really wise to buy 191 pencils from a woman just because she shared a name with a horse?"

"When you put it like that," Cyril said, "no, it doesn't sound very wise. Hoodoo shares a name with a horse as well, and I wouldn't buy anything off him without having it disinfected first."

"I warned you," the man with the orange eye patch said. He licked his ice cream and he walked away. There was no wink this time, unless he did it with the eye under the patch.

Cyril still had some of the money left, and he hadn't given up hope of investing it wisely and making a return. He needed to get rid of the pencils first. He suspected that they were past their 'sell by' date as good luck charms. Yesterday was when he should have used them.

When he got home his wife, Joyce, was drinking coffee in the kitchen with a friend of hers called Louise. Cyril normally did his best to avoid Louise, but he thought she might be willing to buy the pencils, so he went into the kitchen. He showed her the pencils, and she was speechless for a while. She had been talking about writing a novel for years, but she was waiting for the right time to begin. She had been reliably informed that if you began too soon you could end up roaming through bogs in the middle of the night in your sleep. When she saw the pencils she imagined the thousands of pages she could write with them, and she found this thought exhilarating.

"This is the message I've been waiting for," she finally managed to say. "Today is the day I begin my novel. I'll take them." When she noticed the finger prints on the pencils she said, "But have them disinfected first."

Over the next six months Louise spent most of her free time writing her novel, which meant that her visits to Cyril and Joyce's house were less frequent. This brought Cyril considerably more peace in the evenings. He'd have paid thousands of euros for this. He didn't have to hide under the stairs, filled with terror at the prospect of being asked for his opinions on love. He felt as if he'd received an excellent return on his investment, and this freed him from a need to invest the remainder of the money wisely, so he spent it in the pub.

The moose's head over the fireplace had a scarf in his antlers when I came downstairs on Sunday morning. I think the scarf is exploring the house during the night. As long as it doesn't bite or lay eggs, I don't mind what it does. My grandfather once told me that one of his cousins spent years exploring the house by night. He came to visit one evening. He had a few glasses of whiskey, and then he got lost on the way to the bathroom. He spent the rest of the night trying to find his way back to the hall, and after a few hours he started to enjoy it because it provided an escape from his troubles (he was struggling to raise the money to fix the holes in the roof of his house). They found him two years later. He had grown a beard by then, and he'd also found inner peace. My grandfather just asked him if he'd found the bathroom.