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

Cat Pollution

I was thinking of building a wall with all the red bricks I found in the garden, but I was put off the idea when the wife's aunt said that one of her best friends was a brick who liked lying down with other bricks to make walls or pillars. She says that some walls are obscene.

My cousin Gary once got a summer job with his local community council when he was in college. The council wanted to promote the cliffs as a tourist attraction. After days of debate they came up with this idea: hand out free bowls of a breakfast cereal at the cliffs. Gary was hired to hand out the cereal. He'd talk about the cliffs as people ate. The cereal they used was called 'Womanisers and Vermin'. They got it cheap because it wasn't selling very well.

The cereal didn't attract any tourists, and Gary became bored very quickly. He remembered diving off the cliffs when he was young. He wondered why no one was doing it anymore, and why no one was swimming in the sea.

He asked people about it and they told him that the pollution was keeping people out of the water. There were far too many cats in the sea. It was almost impossible not to hit one when you dived in, and then they'd scratch your face. Gary wondered who was teaching the cats how to swim and scratch faces.

He decided to make an attempt at cleaning up the pollution, just to ease the boredom. He needed to lure the cats out of the sea. Mice would be the perfect bait, and he knew where to find some mice.

A man called Felix always had his walking stick with him. Mice would run up the stick and hide in his sleeve. Every night before going to bed he'd shake his arm, and the mice he'd accumulated during the day would fall out. Sometimes there would be over twenty of them.

Gary went to see Felix, and he came away with a box of twelve mice. There was an old castle near the cliffs. When Gary finished work one evening he used the mice to lure the cats into the castle. He set the mice free on the beach, and they followed a trail of cheese to the castle. A stream of wet cats emerged from the sea and followed the mice. The castle was soon swarming with cats. Gary left them there to chase the mice.

When he came back to the castle in the morning, all of the cats were asleep. He went to the cliffs to distribute the cereal. While he was waiting he ate some of it himself. He had to wait until noon before he had a visitor, but this man wasn't interested in the cliffs or in Womanisers and Vermin. His name was Victor. He said to Gary, "What have you done with my cats?"

"Before answering that I have a few questions for you. Why did you train your cats to swim and scratch people's faces?"

"They're happier swimming and scratching faces, rather than lazing about in my orchard. And they were starting to annoy me. Apples would drop on them as they slept in the orchard at night. They wouldn't wake up, but they'd make a strange sound. It kept myself and the wife awake. She made me do something about them. But they're happier swimming and scratching faces."

"They look even happier chasing mice in the castle."

Gary and Victor went to the castle. The cats looked happy as they slept.

"As long as they're not in my orchard," Victor said, "I don't really mind."

"But I can't keep bringing new mice for them every night. I have other things to be doing."

"So let them back into the sea."

"I can't do that either."

"I'm not really bothered about what you can't do. Forgetting about the cats -- that's what I can do. And it's what I'm going to do. Goodbye."

Victor walked away. Gary brought more mice for the cats that night, but when he returned on the following morning all the cats were gone. The mice looked very happy.

Gary believed the cats' owner must be behind their disappearance. He went to Victor's house and he told the story of the happy mice, but Victor seemed genuinely surprised. "If those cats have come to any harm," he said, "I'm holding you personally responsible."

"You're the one who deliberately forgot about them. If you own cats and you forget about them, you can't blame someone else when they come to harm. And anyway, they might be perfectly alright. We just have to find where they are."

Gary and Victor went back to the castle. A band called The Monochrome Tramps used to live outdoors during the summer. They had spent the night near the castle. Gary asked them if they'd seen who took the cats, but he knew what they'd say before they said it. The Tramps always point at Larry, and they say they saw Larry killing a pig. And Larry can't say anything because he's always eating ham sandwiches. Larry obviously wasn't concealing any cats, only ham sandwiches.

Gary and Victor looked in the grass around the castle and they came across the remnants of a trail of cream. Most of the cream had been consumed by the cats, but they'd left some of it behind. The lure of the source of the cream had made them go on. The trail led to an old hotel, a few hundred yards away from the castle.

"Mrs. Donnerust has the cats," Victor said.

"Why would she want so many cats in her hotel?"

"Probably to get rid of all the mice. The mice are keeping the guests away. Or else she wants to frighten away the ghost. He's keeping the guests away as well. Or else she just wants to distract the guests from the mice and the ghost."

"As long as the cats are happy."

"There's no way I'm leaving my cats with her. She once called me a bucket. It was the way she said it. We'll have to get the cats back."

"'We'? I'm not helping you get those cats back if they're going to end up in the castle or in the sea."

"Okay, I'll take them back to the orchard if you agree to help me."

"I will, but how are you going to lure the cats away from such a source of cream?"

"We don't have to lure them away. We could just make Mrs. Donnerust decide to get rid of them. And she'd decide to get rid of them for exactly the same reason I'd decided to get rid of them. I made a recording of the noises they made at night in my orchard. I played it back to them during the day, hoping it would make them feel guilty, but it didn't. If we played that in the hotel at night, she wouldn't be long getting rid of the cats."

Gary and Victor went back to the hotel after midnight. Gary opened the letter box, and they could hear the cats purring inside. Gary put a small speaker in through the letter box. Victor went around the back of the hotel and put a speaker in through the cat flap. They played the recording of the cats' annoying noises, and they turned the volume up.

Almost immediately, lights came on in bedroom windows. Gary and Victor removed the speakers and ran away as soon as they heard Mrs. Donnerust's footsteps on the stairs. Her method for getting rid of the cats was typical of her character. She got a sweeping brush and started swinging at them. A long line of cats flowed out through the cat flap. Gary and Victor were waiting with buckets of cream, and they led the cats back to Victor's house. They provided a taxi service for many of their feline friends. You can't hold a bucket of cream around that many cats without many of them attaching themselves to you.

Victor bought tiny parasols for the cats to sleep under at night. The sound of the apples falling on the parasols was relaxing. There were a lot more people at the cliffs after the sea was cleared of its cat pollution, but no one was eating the cereal. Gary ended up eating most of it himself.

The moose's head over the fireplace was disappointed to see Cork go out of the hurling championship at the weekend, but at least we're still in the football, and anything can happen in that. The wife's uncle says he once won a county medal despite the fact that their goalkeeper had two glass eyes.