'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Hog's Caravan

I love the sound of the rain on the roof of the shed. I can just about hear the mice sliding down the drain pipes as well. They use the drain pipes as water slides. When they get to the ground they climb up to the roof and slide down again. I can hear them laughing as they slide.

My cousin Charlie was looking for a good distraction one day. He counted the empty beer bottles outside the back door. Nine green bottles, six brown. He left some of them standing on the concrete, the rest of them balancing on the moss. He arranged them in two rows, one for each colour. He couldn't resist pointing all of the labels in the same direction. He wiped his feet on the mat before going back inside. The beer in the bottles hadn't cleared his mind, and the empty bottles hadn't done much good either. He needed another distraction.

He decided to go to see Sophia. She lived in a green house down the road. He often called around to see her. She seemed to have a different hairstyle every time they met, but he didn't know enough about hairstyles to be able to say for sure. She seemed to be taller when she stood in her kitchen, but maybe the ceiling was lower there, or maybe he was smaller there. She enjoyed spending time with him. She said that when she lived at home they had nothing better to do with their time than look at their watches and scream at each other, which sounded like fun.

When he got to her house he told her he was looking for a distraction, and she said she needed one as well. She suggested telling each other what they were trying to forget, exchanging unwelcome thoughts. Charlie said he was trying to forget about a man called Russell. At the end of each day Russell would drink the wine made by his feet. This involved licking his feet. It was a great way of getting drunk, or at least nauseous. He went jogging every evening to create foot wine. Sophia said she was trying to forget about the spider eaters who kept distracting her from her novel. She was starting to resent the spider eaters.

The spider eaters did make Charlie forget about Russell, but then he wanted to forget about the spider eaters. Sophia wanted to forget about the foot wine. They tried to think of something they could do to take their minds off these things. She told him about the two security guards outside a restaurant in the town. They were there just for show. People were welcome to attach stamps to their faces. She had heard that one of the guards had fallen asleep standing up and some local teenagers posted him to Mexico. He came back months later with a tan, a sombrero and lots of stories. The other guard was jealous. He wanted to be posted as well, so he was pretending to be asleep. He'd been snoring for days, but no one had posted him yet. Sophia suggested doing something with him to take their minds off their unwelcome thoughts.

They went to the restaurant and they found the security guard standing outside the door with his eyes closed. The other guard was telling a story to a group of people who had gathered in a circle around him. The story was about being kidnapped by bandits and getting married to a woman who had sixteen children.

Sophia and Charlie stood in front of the guard who was supposedly sleeping and they wondered what they could do. "I think he's too big to post," Sophia said. "We wouldn't be able to lift him."

The guard opened one eye to see who was there.

"We could take him to Hog's caravan," Charlie said. "But we wouldn't be able to lift him. He'd have to sleep-walk his way there."

The security guard put out his hands and started walking forwards. He opened one eye every so often to see where he was going.

Hog had set up a pub in a caravan in the middle of a field. On the way there the security guard spoke in his sleep. He said his name was Peter. When they got to the caravan, Charlie pretended to wake up Peter. "Where am I?" he said when he opened his eyes.

"We've kidnapped you," Sophia said. "We thought you needed a break from your duties, so we've taken you here."

They went into the caravan and sat on a narrow wooden bench in a corner. They were surprised by how much space there was inside, and Hog had made maximum use of that space. There were no tables, only wooden benches. Your knees would be close to the knees of the person opposite you.

The caravan was nearly full. No one said a word. Every evening the drinkers would go through the same routine. They'd all sit in silence until Billy would say something depressing, like 'The fog in my head will never go away'. This statement would trigger one of Bernard's monologues. The monologue would be brought to an end by an interruption from Christy. He'd stand up and say something, and everyone else would respond with a cheer. Sometimes the interruption would come after five minutes, but on most evenings they had to wait much longer. On one occasion they had to wait for five hours. A wait of about two hours would be ideal because the interruption would release the maximum amount of energy into the party that invariably followed. The party would be in full swing within seconds of Christy's interruption.

Charlie, Sophia and Peter sat in silence for nearly half an hour until Billy said, "I need sleep before I die."

Bernard said, "The king of sleep is a lonely man. 'The thing of sleep' sounds like 'the king of sleep', but the thing of sleep is a fish. 'The thing of sleep stinks of holiness'. This has been said on more than one occasion. It has been said on two occasions. The same man said it on both occasions. The king of sleep is a man, but he's not the same as the man who said 'The thing of sleep stinks of holiness' on two occasions. This is because they were separated in an operation." Bernard paused to drink the rest of his pint. When he was given another pint he said, "That reminds me of my uncle Fergus. He was a ventriloquist whose sidekick was called Biff. He once left his hand in the puppet for too long, and he couldn't get it out again. Biff developed internal organs. If Fergus forcibly removed his hand he might pull out a liver or a kidney. An operation was proposed to remove the puppet..."

Bernard's monologue went on for over two hours, and this was enough to empty the minds of Charlie and Sophia. The monologue came to an end when Christy stood up and said, "I'm long overdue an operation on my head, and the surgeon can't wait to get out of its bottle."

Everyone else stood up and cheered. Drink was poured and most of the drinkers poured out of the caravan. When Sophia, Charlie and Peter went out they saw a huge crowd, and they wondered how everyone had managed to fit inside. A party was well underway.

Peter did what he does at every party: he fell in love with a woman and they both got drunk. He'd be on top of the world for about an hour, but then the alcohol would fill him with self-doubt. He'd think that she's only interested in him because she's drunk. He'd become withdrawn, and he'd drift away from her.

After falling in love with a woman called Nathalie and believing that his love was reciprocated, he entered the stage of self-doubt and he drifted away from her. He told Charlie and Sophia about Nathalie. He said, "She said 'hi' to something made out of cardboard, and that cardboard thing asked her to dance. And if, after a long chain of events, she ends up having cardboard children, their faces will get soggy when they cry and she'll have to dry them with hairdryers. They'll write swear words on each other's faces and on their paper hair. When the stress of having a cardboard family gets to her she might think of me. I'd be a vague memory in her mind. She wouldn't remember my name, but maybe she'd wonder what might have been."

Nathalie was standing next to him when he said this. Another effect of the alcohol was a blindness to people standing next to him. She said, "That cardboard thing means nothing to me. I'd much rather be with you."



"This is much better than pretending to be asleep."

Peter and Nathalie left together, and the party ended shortly afterwards. It always fizzled out after a few hours. There would be silence again. Bernard would say, "As I was saying..." He'd resume his monologue, but his concluding remarks would never last longer than five minutes. Silence would follow, and then Billy would repeat the remark he made earlier. Everyone would go home after this.

After Bernard had ended the story of his uncle's separation from the puppet and Billy had said 'I need sleep before I die', people started to go home. Charlie and Sophia couldn't stop thinking about the puppet and the operation, but it was better than thinking about the foot wine or the spider eaters.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been listening to the clock over the past few days. It's been making a strange noise. It keeps coughing as well, but I can't get it to stop smoking its pipe.