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

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

A Good Saturday

A robin has built a nest in the coal shed. When I mentioned this to the wife's aunt she thought I was trying to pass on a secret message. After considering it for a few minutes she winked at me to indicate that the message had been received. Ever since then she's been wearing a hat, an overcoat and a fake beard.

My cousin Jane and her friend, Claudia, were walking down a quiet country road one Saturday when they saw a woman called Elisabeth digging a hole near an oak tree in the middle of a field. The stoopers were also in the field. The stoopers are a club who meet every evening and they look down as they walk around the town. During the summer they go out into the fields as well. It's a great way of seeing beauty in the ground. Jane and Claudia watched the stoopers walking around the field in a tightly bunched pack. They were all looking down, but then a head peeped up from the centre of the pack. Jane and Claudia recognised the head. It belonged to Dermot. He looked at Elisabeth digging the hole, but when he realised that Jane and Claudia were watching him he hid amongst the stoopers again.

Jane and Claudia walked on. They saw a balloon in a tree. They saw a cat looking for a mat. They saw a detective looking for clues with a magnifying glass. He was looking at the ground, and he failed to notice the woman pointing at a poster on a telephone pole. This seemed like an obvious clue, so Jane tapped the detective on the shoulder and pointed at the woman.

For a few seconds he was in shock after having his shoulder tapped, but he soon spotted the clue. He thanked Jane, and he asked her to tap him on the ankle in the future because this was less sensitive than his shoulder. Jane said she would, but she had no intention of ever tapping him on the ankle.

They all looked at the woman, and they followed her finger to the poster. It was just a sheet of white paper with these words written with a red marker: Hundreds of escaped puppets are hiding behind stone walls.

As they tried to decipher the meaning of the poster, Mabel went by. She waved as she passed them. They waved back, and then they returned their attention to the poster. The detective told them that something odd was going on. The fields were normally full of people living the stray days from a year ago that were still hanging around, and all they can do is hang around in fields and look down at the grass or up at the clouds who have somewhere to go, things to do. But the fields were empty.

The woman pointed towards the ruins of a castle. Jane, Claudia and the detective went there, and within the crumbling walls they found all of the people who normally roam the fields. They had seen the poster as well, and they interpreted it as an instruction to go to the castle.

Jane and Claudia said they'd love to stay and do whatever the people in the castle were doing because it looked like fun, but they had to go into town. They walked on again. They went to the park in the town. They listened to a symphony played by an orchestra of people talking to their hands.

At the end of the performance they met Alex. He was a chef, and he invited them around for lunch. Jane and Claudia could never say no to a meal made by Alex, so they all went back to his house.

At the end of the meal he announced his intention to marry Mabel, but he didn't know where she was. Jane and Claudia thought about this. They went through everything that had happened that day until they went slightly past the bit where Mabel went past them. They reversed a bit. "She went past us when we were looking at a poster near the castle," Jane said.

Jane, Claudia and Alex went to the road near the castle and they walked in the direction that Mabel was travelling in. They saw some ducklings who were moving in a different direction. They were tempted to follow the ducklings, but they remained on course.

Alex spent a lot of time talking about Mabel. He said she was a jig-saw piece in his life, and when he'd joined her up with the other pieces the picture would be clearer.

They saw a lovely tree and an ugly dog. They enjoyed looking at the ugly dog. There was a man with a megaphone talking to a woman with an ear trumpet. A man with a stethoscope was listening to a moss-covered rock. I listened to a talking rock once, but that's another story.

"This is a story?" I once heard someone say when I was telling the story of the talking rock. I insisted that it was a story, even though it wasn't much of one. The story is that I sat on the ground and listened to the rock. The rock seemed to think it was telling a story, but really it was just rambling on for an hour.

Jane, Claudia and Alex kept walking, and eventually they came across Mabel. The ducklings were following her. There was an awkward silence at first. Jane and Claudia remembered that Alex wanted to propose, so they turned the other way. He asked her to marry him and she said, "I will, but only if you stop cooking ducks."

He agreed. Jane and Claudia turned around and congratulated them. The ducklings seemed genuinely happy.

Alex said that the picture seemed much clearer now that Mabel had been fitted into place. Jane said to him, "I think you'd be the perfect person to fit together all the jigsaw pieces we found today, like the poster on the pole and Dermot hiding amongst the stoopers and Elisabeth digging a hole."

They went to the field where Elisabeth was digging the hole. She was still digging. Dermot was there with the stoopers, but instead of looking down at the ground they were digging holes in it. All of the people who had been in the castle were digging holes in the field as well.

Elisabeth's husband, Richard, was a spectator. He told Jane, Claudia, Alex and Mabel about what had happened. He said you had to be very careful in your choice of words when you were talking to Elisabeth. If you said 'I've just been to the shop' she wouldn't understand you. But if you said 'The strawberry jam is on the gate post' she'd say 'Did you get the milk?'. If you wanted to tell her you'd been in the shed you'd say 'The gooseberry jam is on fire'. With the wrong tone of voice this could mean 'I've eaten the cake in your watering can'. Tone of voice was important. The words 'strawberry jam' would be in most sentences, but sometimes other types of jam would be mentioned.

Earlier that day Richard had been trying to tell her that his aunt Gladys was coming to visit. Elisabeth hates visits by Aunt Gladys because she stays for hours and never stops talking. Richard had tried to break the news gently. He told her that the strawberry jam had been nominated for a literary prize, but he used the wrong tone of voice and she interpreted it as follows: 'There's treasure buried ten paces south of the oak tree'. This is why she was digging a hole.

He was afraid to tell her the truth, and afraid that if he tried he'd only make things worse. He wanted to keep his aunt away because Elisabeth might figure out what he really meant if she saw Gladys. So he put up a poster that mentioned puppets. Gladys used to work in the kitchen of a hotel. She was afraid of lifting the lids of pots in case puppets jumped out and attacked her face. She'd never lost that fear of puppets. Richard put the poster on the pole so she'd see it when she was walking down the road and she'd go home as quickly as she could.

Dermot had seen Elisabeth digging the hole and he knew she was up to something. He wanted to find out more, so he used the stoopers as cover while he spied on her. He told them he needed help finding his beard after it blew away in the wind. This was true, but the beard had been missing for weeks and he'd already searched the fields for it. After spying on Elisabeth for nearly an hour he was no closer to finding out why she was digging, so he started digging as well, and the stoopers did likewise.

The people who gathered in the castle had waited there for hours, but nothing happened. Not even one puppet appeared. They started to wonder if this was a trick to keep them out of the fields. They returned to the fields and they found Elisabeth, Dermot and the stoopers digging holes. They thought they'd found what they'd been kept away from, and they started digging holes as well.

As Alex looked at all those people digging he had an idea. He gathered them all together and he told them it was pointless digging so many holes in the field. What they needed was one huge hole in the spot where Elisabeth was digging. Elisabeth could be digging for days on her own, and it would be dangerous if everyone dug there at once. Alex told them about his friend, Ivan, who was an inventor. Ivan had invented a machine that could be used to tan people's faces or to blow holes in the ground. If it was turned on to full power, it could create the hole they needed.

They were all sick of digging so they agreed to let the machine do the work and they'd divide whatever treasure they found.

Twenty minutes later Ivan was there with his machine. He put it in the hole that Elisabeth had been digging. He turned it on to full power, pressed the start button and ran away.

It created an enormous hole in the ground and it gave everyone a tan. These tans were soon hidden when the shower of earth descended on them. Dermot's beard fell to the ground as well. He picked it up and put it on his face. You could see his broad smile behind the beard and the layer of earth.

"We all own that beard," Elisabeth said. "We must divide it equally, just like we agreed."

Dermot seemed horrified by the thought. He ran away, and everyone else ran after him. Jane and Claudia chased him as well, even though they didn't want any of the beard. A Saturday would feel incomplete without a good chase.

The moose's head over the fireplace is wearing his green scarf again after Ireland beat England in the rugby. We might be facing economic ruin but at least we have fifteen men who are good at chasing an oval ball around a field. The moose's head is also wearing a fake beard. The wife's aunt put it on him, and she gives him cryptic messages. Last night she said 'The blue wheel keeps turning until the sugar spills on the otter', and then she winked.