'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ted's New Job

The leaves are back on the trees and their shadows are back on the ground. My grandfather once claimed that tiny mice were hiding in the shadows, and that the mice were moving with the shadows when the branches of the trees moved in a breeze. He loved watching the mice dance on windy days.

My cousin Ted once had an interview for a job with an insurance company. He was interviewed by three men. One of them said to him, "What would you do if you found a donkey in your office?"

Ted said, "I'd... attempt to deal... with the situation... in a manner befitting... an employee... of an institution with a reputation... for always acting with honour and fair-mindedness... and whose employees adhere to a strict code of conduct at all times."

The three men nodded in unison.

On the following day he was told he got the job. He wore a suit on his first day to work, but he soon realised that his attire was inappropriate. His office was a shed with a donkey in it. His job was to look after the donkey.

He did a very good job with the donkey, and after just three weeks he was promoted. He became the minder for a pig called Jake. He learnt how to communicate with Jake by blinking.

Jake was a very gentle pig. He was known far and wide for his gentleness, and for his impression of Hugh Grant. He often sat next to the soldier who stood next to the phone booth. The soldier never took any notice of the pig, even when Jake did his Hugh Grant impression. The soldier never reacted to anything. Even if Hugh Grant came along and did his impression of the pig, the soldier would have remained completely still.

When Jake got bored of sitting next to the soldier he often went into Mrs. Murphy's shop. She was always glad to see him because he'd happily listen to her talking. She never spoke to Ted, who stood behind Jake. Ted had to stand there and listen, even though he wanted to be somewhere else. She'd spend a lot of time talking about Las Vegas. She'd never been there, but she was fascinated by the place. She was nothing like the soldier. She couldn't stay silent for two seconds if someone was sitting next to her, although sometimes she seemed to forget that people were there when she became so wrapped up in what she was saying. Someone who was good at remaining inconspicuous could have switched the pig with a dog while she was talking and she wouldn't have noticed.

Jenkins was a man who was very good at remaining inconspicuous. He wore a black top hat and a long black cloak. He was a small man, and he was even smaller when he crouched beneath his cloak.

When Jake and Ted went into the shop one day Mrs. Murphy started talking about her cousin Frank's trip to Las Vegas. Jake sat and listened. She told him that Frank had left his mouth open during most of his time in Vegas, and when he got home he found many insects, bottle tops and cigarette lighters in there. Jake and Ted noticed that Jenkins was climbing up the shelves. He was trying to reach a box of chocolates on the top shelf. If a customer wanted to buy these, Mrs. Murphy would use a step ladder to get them down. Jenkins had managed to climb up the shelves without being noticed while she was talking to herself, but he stopped when Jake and Ted entered the shop. They looked up at Jenkins, whose facial expression contained a plea not to be given away. But they both felt they had to do something. Jake came up with a plan and he communicated it to Ted by blinking. Ted started humming the theme tune to The A-Team. Jenkins believed that The A-Team were real and that they'd catch him someday. He started sweating when he heard the tune, and his hands slipped off the shelf he was holding. As he fell his flailing arms knocked many items off the shelves. Mrs. Murphy only realised he was in the shop when she saw him sitting on the ground, surrounded by sweets, crisps, chocolate bars, biscuits, raisons and sugar. "I'll take these," he said.

He bought all of the items he'd knocked off the shelves, but he hadn't knocked down the box of chocolates he wanted. It took nearly ten minutes for him to produce all of the coins needed to pay for these items. He took the coins out of his purse one by one, and he shed tears for the loss of each of them. When the first purse was empty the tears flowed in a torrent. He produced another purse from another pocket. Mrs. Murphy didn't notice any of this because she was talking about the quality of potatoes in Vegas.

Jake felt guilty about the pain he'd caused Jenkins, and he wanted to do something about it. After they left the shop Ted told Jenkins that Jake had come up with a way to replace the money he'd lost. A man called Morris had hair that grew very quickly. It needed to be cut once an hour. You could actually see it growing. He paid hairdressers to follow him around and cut his hair, but none of them stayed in the job for more than a few days because they found his company tedious. He told rambling stories that could go on for as long as the hair dressers were in his employment. It was difficult to get a professional hair dresser to take up the position, so anyone could apply for the job, and Jake convinced Jenkins to apply. Jenkins said he'd give it a go.

Before being hired, Jenkins needed to prove his ability by cutting a hedge. Morris used to have many other tests, such as attacking a rainbow with a sword or running in terror from a ghost (it was the sort of thing he expected his companions to be good at), but due to the scarcity of applicants he'd eliminated all but the hedge-cutting test. Jenkins passed this with flying colours, and he got the job. He started straightaway. Morris went for a walk through the fields every evening, and Jenkins accompanied him. Ted and Jake went with them when Jenkins was starting out.

Morris's hair grew even quicker in the rain, and it started raining heavily when they were out in the fields. Morris agreed to pay Jenkins more because of the extra work he had to do, and he also agreed to pay in coins.

They met Melinda. She always went outside when it started to rain heavily. She seemed depressed when the sun shone, but when they met her that evening she was full of life. She spoke excitedly about the garage she was going to build for the car she was going to make.

When lightning struck, Ted feared for his life, but Melinda caught the lightning bolt in her hand and she used it as a sword to open a bag of marshmallows. She offered one to Morris, but he was unable to say a word. All of his hair had fallen out in the shock of the lightning strike. The hair was on the ground around him. It was up to his knees. There was a look of horror on his face. Jenkins looked horrified as well, but this was probably due to a fear of not getting paid.

When Morris finally managed to string a coherent sentence together he said, "How am I going to get all that back into my head?"

When Melinda finished eating a marshmallow she said, "It's no good putting it back into your head. It's dead now. I know someone who'd buy it."

"I don't care about the money," Morris said. "I just want my hair back."

"Your brain has been frightened by the lightning," she said. "You need to convince it that the outside world isn't such a bad place after all, that it's okay to send the hair out to play. A lightning bolt of joy might just do the trick. What do you like looking at?"

"Buttons," Morris said.


"Yeah, buttons. Buttons and women. But when I look at women I can't escape the thought that pain is just around the corner. They don't like the way I look at them. Buttons have never done me any harm."

Jake came up with a plan to restore Morris's hair. He communicated this plan to Ted, who whispered it to Melinda. Ted and Melinda left to put the plan into action, while Jake and Jenkins stayed with Morris.

Later that night, Morris was led blindfolded into Jake's office. When the blindfold was removed he saw thousands of buttons. Many of them were scattered on the floor and on the furniture, and the rest were in glass bowls. His hair came out to play again. It shot out of his head, like kids going out into the garden after the rain has stopped, and Jenkins had to work quickly to cut it. Jenkins worked with real enthusiasm because he knew he'd get paid. Morris also gave him a percentage of the profits from selling the hair to one of Melinda's friends, a man who used it to make a tapestry depicting an army of swans.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been reading 'Ulysses'. I used to hold up books for him. For me, holding up long books was about as much fun as reading them, so I built a book stand out of timber. I still have to turn the pages for him. I made an automatic page turner, but it set 'War and Peace' on fire. I claimed that my machine was meant to do this, but no one believed me.