'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Tree School

There are hints of summer in the weather. It's impossible to resist the outdoors on days like these. The wife's aunt walks through the garden with a spring in her step. She bought the spring from a man who sells raisons. Each raison is embedded in a parsnip. I don't know what he hopes to achieve by this, but his raisons are selling very well.

My cousin Bertie used to go to a school in a tree. This is why he always feels a warm nostalgic glow whenever he climbs a tree. There was a small garden in the tree school. The lawn was about the size of a lawnmower, and it was contained in a wooden box. Bertie's teacher, Ted, loved cricket, and he used to practise his bowling on the lawn because up in the tree he couldn't be seen by the people who believed that there must be a political motive behind playing cricket.

After the government paid for a proper building for the school (or close enough to a proper building -- it was made out of straw) Ted bought the tree and he set up home in it. Bertie often visits him in the tree house. One day when Ted was practising his bowling he found a tooth on the lawn. He showed it to one of his neighbours, who told him that a fairy left it there, and this wouldn't have been a benevolent tooth fairy. The former owner of the tooth would have lost it in a fight, and a malevolent fairy would have taken great delight in this. The tooth should never have been picked up from the lawn, according to Ted's neighbour. A curse would fall on the person who picked it up, unless a banquet was held on the lawn. The banquet should begin at midnight.

Ted wondered how many people he'd need to invite to turn an ordinary dinner party into a banquet. It was all academic because he could only fit six people into the tree. Bertie was invited, and he helped Ted prepare the banquet. They hung lights from the tree. They put two planks over the lawn and they put the dinner table on top of the planks. Most of the chairs were tied to branches.

Despite the cramped conditions, the guests enjoyed their midnight meal. The banquet was in full swing when they heard the sound of a fly. Ted and all of his guests were transfixed by the fly. They watched it fly around in circles over their heads. No one said a word until the fly flew away, and its sound faded to silence.

Ted had kept the blackboard as a reminder of the tree's former purpose as a school. After the fly had gone he noticed that these words had been written on the blackboard: 'Redmond is in for a surprise tonight'.

Ted and his guests knew Redmond. He lived half a mile away from the tree. They decided to visit his house and warn him of this surprise. Redmond hadn't been invited to the banquet because the last time he was at a party he spent an hour laughing at the word 'melons'.

Ted, Bertie and the others left the tree and they walked through the fields. As they approached Redmond's house they saw that a light was still on. He was working on one of his model ships. He wanted to build a fleet that would be capable of capturing Belgium. It wasn't that he had anything against Belgium -- he just knew his limitations. Capturing Britain would be beyond his skills as an imaginary naval commander, and he did have something against Britain. For years he had spent his evenings building model ships in his living room. There were many paintings on the walls of the room. Most of them were of ships. One was of Angelica, the woman he loved. She often told him that she didn't love him, but she respected his decision to fall in love with her. She wasn't bothered by the fact that her portrait was on his wall. She often came around to admire it, especially on days when she looked better in the portrait than she did in the mirror.

Ted rang the doorbell. Redmond was surprised to see the crowd at his door. Bertie gave him a quick summary of the story so far and he invited them all in. They were still in banquet mode, and this infused the living room with a party mood. Redmond poured the drinks and someone put a record on the record player. He didn't mind the sudden onset of a party in his house. He didn't pay much attention to it because he was so preoccupied with this surprise that was coming his way. He went through the various possibilities with Bertie. Most of the ideas Ted came up with involved things falling on his head. He liked the thought of eels falling on his head, but not if those eels were clad in armour. Bertie didn't think this was very likely. His ideas were more realistic. He suggested that a long-lost relative might arrive on Redmond's doorstep with a gift. Redmond suggested that this gift could be a bucket of eels.

Bertie thought he heard footsteps outside. Redmond went to the front door and he found an envelope in the letter box. He opened the door and looked out, but there was no one there.

The envelope contained a map of the land surrounding his house. There was a red X marked on it. This spot was in the corner of a field on a hillside. "It looks as if your surprise is underneath your feet and not over your head," Bertie said.

They got shovels from Redmond's shed and they all went to the field, but they found a very large woman on the spot where they wanted to dig. She was very large more in height than in width. She was over seven foot tall, and she looked as if she had no intention of leaving her spot. They needed to get her to move, and Bertie came up with an idea. He said to her, "We're here because we felt that it was our duty to bring something to your attention. Someone has painted a very unflattering picture of a very large woman on the wall outside the old cement factory."

The very large woman was furious, but she didn't take her anger out on the messenger. She went straight to the old cement factory instead. Bertie, Ted and Redmond started digging while the other guests from the banquet looked on.

After half an hour of digging they came across a wooden box. Ted opened the box, and inside he found a gold ring and a dead magpie. The magpie showed a surprising amount of energy for a dead bird. It grasped the ring in its talons and flew away. Bertie would never have guessed that so many of the guests at the banquet had guns. Most of them shot into the night sky, but none of them hit the target. They looked disappointed as they replaced the guns in coat pockets or in handbags.

The very large woman was furious when she returned and saw what had happened to her spot. She raised her arms in the air and she said something in a language that Bertie didn't recognise. Within seconds a hurricane arrived and they all had to crouch to avoid being blown away down the hill. Bertie could just about hear Ted saying that his house would be destroyed.

Only Maude could help them in a situation like this. They made their way to her house. She had been wakened by the storm. She was worried about her own house until they told her that the hurricane didn't spring from natural causes. "I'll take care of this," she said.

She stood on top of a hill and she faced the strong wind. She sang the storm away. The hurricane retreated with a whimpering sound.

The very large woman saw what had been done to her storm and she wasn't prepared to accept defeat. She climbed to the top of the hill and came face to face with Maude. She raised her arms in the air again, but before she could say anything a gold ring fell onto one of her fingers. She started shrinking, and her face changed. She became a beautiful young woman, and she seemed happy with the alterations.

The dead magpie would have fallen on her head if a quick-thinking Redmond hadn't been there to catch it. He was standing right in front of her, holding the magpie over her head. He was wondering what it would feel like to have a dead magpie fall on his head when he noticed that she was smiling at him. He smiled back at her.

Anjelica heard about the way he rescued a woman from becoming the landing site for a dead magpie. She also heard about the smiling, and rumours about what followed the smiling. She became jealous. She started calling around to his house every evening. They soon discovered that they shared an interest in things falling on their heads. He used to practise this hobby with her every evening, instead of making model ships.

The moose's head over the fireplace is still listening to the clock, and the clock is still smoking its pipe. It seems to be muttering something about rhubarb as well. One of our neighbours called around last night and she was wearing a watch that was as big as a clock. She spent a lot of time talking about her sense of time passing. If she stopped thinking about it and talking about it she'd have a lot more time for other things. She can balance wine glasses and potatoes on her watch. This is useful when she's having a party.