'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Sad People

The wife's uncle has given up standing in the garden. It's too hot and there are too many flies. He says that small creatures who want to mate keep treating him as a hotel. It's the sort of hotel with a funny smell in every room, and where the guests often get killed.

My cousin Craig started writing poetry after the woman he loved decided she wanted to be with a man who was always trying to get something out of his ear. Craig felt a need to share his poems with the world, but he didn't want the whole world to hear them, so he started reading them on a deserted street in a seaside town. Sad people would gather around him. The longer the poem, the more sad people would be around him by the end. The sad people had their own language. At the end of his poem about finding fish in snowmen, one of the sad people said, "Hypno pebble bulldog." All of the other sad people nodded.

He wanted to become one of the sad people and learn their language, but he thought that if he asked to join them it would immediately disqualify him from being a sad person. He tried to look too sad to ask, and he hoped they'd understand the language of his look. After weeks of reading poems and looking sad they finally said something he understood. One of them asked if he'd like to look at some rocks. He said he would.

They stood on a hill and looked down on the rocks at the end of the beach. No one said a word. Craig liked the silence. This was a language he understood perfectly. He was enjoying the evening because he felt he was finally one of the sad people, but he tried to stop enjoying it when he remembered that enjoyment would be frowned upon by the other members of this club. They were too sad to put any effort into frowning.

After two hours of waiting, Craig didn't have to put any effort into not enjoying himself. It was nearly midnight, and they were still standing at the hill. Craig really wanted to go home, so he did something that he thought would exclude him from the club forever: he broke the silence. He said, "Is there any particular reason why we're looking at the rocks?"

He expected either a long answer or a short answer, and the long answer would be 'no', so he was surprised when one of them said, "A group of middle-aged women meet at the rocks every Thursday night. We don't know why. We know that each one of them will react if you call her Mrs. Spider, and then they'll try to pretend that they didn't react. Each one of them knows an artist who paints pictures of fish. All of them have been known to keep Scrabble letters in their mouths. We've only seen some of those letters. The ones we've seen can be arranged to spell the word 'Pluto'. My brother Paul will smell the bird Plato, my aunt's parrot, but that's neither here nor there. Plato says the word 'honey', but that jigsaw piece doesn't fit on the Scrabble board. All of the women went to see 'Shine and the Shouts' when that band played in the town last week. Hope Joe Appelskittle will be playing here tomorrow. There are posters up around the town. All of these posters have been painted by the man who paints fish. The fish in the posters look out at you as if they know something you don't."

The women arrived shortly after midnight. There were eight of them. They all arrived separately, but the entire group had assembled within two minutes. They looked out over the sea. The sad people were too far away to hear what the women were saying, but Craig got the impression that they were saying very little, if anything. He recognised some of the women. He remembered seeing two of them playing badminton before. They had been using a brick instead of a shuttlecock. Most of the game consisted of them looking down at the brick on the ground.

The women stayed for an hour before leaving the rocks, and the sad people decided it was time to go home as well. Before they left, they arranged to meet at the gig on the following evening.

When Craig arrived at the gig, most of the sad people were already there. They were gathered in a corner at the back. They noticed that the women were all in the crowd but they hadn't gathered in a group. Sometimes they looked at each other and nodded. Hope Joe spoke to the audience between songs. After a song about saving the hay he said, "When I was walking across the yard in the dark I stood on something. It was probably a twig, but the sound it made and the way it felt under my shoe instilled in my mind the image of a rat's tail. In the unlikely event that it was a rat's tail, the likelihood is that it was attached to a rat's body. This rat would probably have been dead, or else it would have run for cover long before my foot reached the place where it was keeping its tail. Unless the rat was deaf. If the rat was deaf then it must have lacked feeling in its tail, otherwise I would have heard the rat running away with its tail after I lifted my foot. I am not deaf. If it was a deaf rat with a paralysed tail, and not a twig, then I'm glad I stood on its tail and not its head, but not as glad as the rat, assuming it hadn't lost all feeling in its head as well."

The women spent the next few minutes looking at each other and nodding. No one applauded when Hope Joe finished a song. Some of the audience looked at each other and the rest just stared blankly at him. Craig got the impression that the silence was an expression of a deep appreciation of the music. Hope Joe got this impression as well. He seemed to be genuinely moved by the silence. At the end of the gig there were tears in his eyes. "Thank you for being so kind to me," he said, and he left the stage to a deafening silence.

The sad people saw the women at the rocks again that night. On the following evening, Craig and the other sad people were on their way to a telephone booth when they bumped into the women. The two groups just looked at each other. Craig could see that the women were trying to figure out what the sad people were up to.

After weeks of observation by both sides, they both realised that no one was up to anything. The women were meeting to do nothing because doing nothing together was better than doing nothing on their own. Apart from going to gigs, they spent most of their time together just being together. When the two groups realised that they shared a common purpose, or lack of purpose, they joined forces. They'd meet on the beach at night, and sometimes they'd go to gigs. The women learnt some of the sad people's language, and the sad people learnt how to speak the women's silence.

The moose's head over the fireplace doesn't like the heat. We have an electric fan to keep him cool. One of our neighbours called around to see us on the bank holiday. It took him four hours to reach our house. He got lost on the way, and he took out his compass, but it melted in his hand. It was made out of chocolate. I think the sun has affected his head.