'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Mrs. Bluntquale's Face

I've been listening to the birds singing in the garden over the past few days. Their song is hypnotic. On Monday evening I looked over the wall at the back of the garden. There were at least fifty rabbits, all moving like zombies towards the source of the song. I didn't know what the birds wanted the rabbits to do, but I knew they were up to no good. I brought out a stereo and I played a Status Quo album at full volume to break the rabbits' trance. When they heard Status Quo they turned around and ran away.

My cousin Gary once went to a party at a neighbour's house. It was held to celebrate the finding of a missing button (it had fallen off the neighbour's favourite coat, and she couldn't find a replacement). The house was packed that night. People from miles around came to the party. Mrs. Bluntquale was there, smoking her pipe. It wasn't the sort of thing you'd expect a middle-aged woman to be doing, and that only added to her enjoyment of smoking. She often went out of her way to defy expectations. She wore make-up that you could read. Sometimes it was difficult to make out the words, and you'd have to look closely at her face before making out phrases like 'What are you looking at?' or 'I like boxes'.

As the party approached its end in the early hours of the morning, Gary read these words on her face: 'Gary is a bad bean'. He was appalled. He demanded that she remove this statement and replace it with an apology, but she refused.

If he hadn't been drunk he might have realised that getting revenge on Mrs. Bluntquale wasn't such a good idea, but he thought it was a fantastic idea at the time, and all of his friends agreed. They went to her house before she went home and Gary painted these words on her front wall: 'Mrs. Bluntquale's dog thinks he's streaking when he runs onto the field during football matches'.

Mrs. Bluntquale wouldn't have minded if this claim had been made about her, but she was furious because it was written about her dog. She felt a duty to get retribution on her dog's behalf. She informed Gary of her intention. She told him he had a choice: he could play along and take whatever pain she had planned for him, or else he could resist and feel an even greater pain at an unexpected time.

Gary agreed to play along. The pain she had in mind wasn't physical. She just wanted to humiliate him. She gave him another choice: he could let her write something on his face, something he wouldn't dare say, or he could sing a song called 'Poor Fido' in the pub on Friday night when the place would be full. Gary chose to sing the song.

She had written 'Poor Fido' herself. It was designed specifically to humiliate the performer. Gary was dreading his performance, but at least he could get the retribution out of the way and try to forget about it, even though he knew that no one would let him forget about it for years.

Mrs. Bluntquale spread the word about Gary's performance, so there was an even bigger crowd than usual in the pub on Friday night. Gary had never sung in public before, so he needed a few drinks to calm his nerves. Having a bar next to the microphone was handy.

There was silence when Gary started singing, but the silence didn't last long. People started laughing. Gary wondered if they were laughing at him or with him. It was probably at him, but he thought he could get them to laugh with him if he pretended to be enjoying it as much as they were.

By the end of the song he really was enjoying it, and the crowd there loved his performance. He got a huge round of applause, and people were congratulating him rather than making fun of him. Only Mrs. Bluntquale failed to enjoy his performance. She was angry because the whole purpose of the song was to humiliate him. She told him he'd have to sing another song on the following night, and this one would be even more stupid than 'Poor Fido'.

The song he sang on the following night was called 'The Pitter Patter of Grumbling Spiders'. She had a few other songs as well, just in case Gary wasn't humiliated by the spider song.

These other songs were needed. The people in the pub loved the spider song even more than 'Poor Fido'. So Gary sang all of Mrs. Bluntquale's back-up songs, which included one about eels who believed it was their purpose in live to torture mice made out of jelly. The crowd became more enthusiastic with each song.

Mrs. Bluntquale refused to abandon her method of humiliating Gary. She came up with some more songs for the following night. Gary tried to pretend that he wasn't enjoying his performances, but he loved singing her songs. He was developing a fan club. When he arrived in the pub on Sunday night, some of his fans were dressed as spiders. This performance was even better than the previous night.

Of course, it was worse from Mrs. Bluntquale's point of view, but still she didn't give up. She spent the next week writing the stupidest songs she could possibly come up with, and she made Gary perform them on Friday night. But the stupider the songs, the more the audience enjoyed them. The fact that Gary was dressed as a mouse while he sang only added to their enjoyment.

The pub was packed every time Gary sang, and the owner of the pub invited him to perform there over the next few weekends. Gary agreed. Mrs. Bluntquale was obsessed with writing a song that would humiliate him, and she kept coming up with new songs for him to sing. His fame began to spread beyond the locality. On one Saturday night, a man who ran a small record company came up to Gary after a performance. His name was Kenny. "How would you like to release an album?" he said.

"Y' mean people would actually pay for this stuff?"

"Of course. Look how enthusiastic your fans are. Most of the records I release are traditional or folk, but I've spotted a market for this sort of thing, and I've been looking for the right act. You're the right act."

Gary never thought he'd hear those words while wearing a top hat with cheese taped to it. He agreed to make the record. His fans were delighted when they heard the news. At the very least he was certain to sell records to the five men who put on pig masks every time he sang the song 'I am good pigs'.

The studio was in a shed on a farm, but Gary didn't mind. He wasn't expecting Abbey Road. The shed seemed like the appropriate setting for the recording of songs like 'R. U. B. B. I. S. Hole'.

After the final song had been recorded, a visitor arrived in the studio. It was Mrs. Bluntquale, and she was smiling broadly. This filled Gary with terror. "I was so pleased when Kenny agreed to make this album," she said. "He's my cousin. Of course, a bit of arm-twisting needed to be done. At first he said he'd release an album of his daughter screaming at the microwave before releasing an album of your songs, but family is family. You know all the dirt about members of your own family. He realised that he'd rather release your album than have me release information about what he did in Amsterdam."

"But people genuinely like these songs," Gary said. "I have fans. You've never been able to grasp the fact that people like the stupidity of these songs."

"That's where you're wrong. I've known that from the very start. My whole plan was to build you up before knocking you down."

"How are you going to knock me down?"

"I've sent you right to the top of the hill, and just a small push is needed to send you down the other side. The album cover will be that push. I have it here."

She showed him the CD case for his new album. The cover was an image of him during one of his performances. He was wearing a nappy and eating a frog.

"I've never eaten a frog," Gary said.

"My nephew helped me out there. He's had plenty of practise editing photos on his computer, which is useful for inventing dirt when you can't find any. This is actually a photo of you eating some cabbage."

"Is the nappy down to photo editing as well?"

"No, we got that photo when..."

"Oh yeah, when I was wearing a nappy while performing 'I love manky cabbage'."

"That's right."

"But eating a frog isn't much stupider than eating cabbage."

"It isn't much stupider, but you won't get the animal rights crowd angry about eating cabbage."

"Why would they care about some stupid album on a tiny record label?"

"Because I've already lined up people who'll call up a certain radio show to complain."

Gary felt as if he might need that nappy. "Not Liveline?" he said.

Mrs. Bluntquale nodded. "Liveline. People will call up Joe Duffy to complain about this eejit eating a frog. And you'll have to go on air to defend yourself. And the press will pick up on the story because in the photo of you eating a frog you're also wearing a nappy. How could they resist printing that? And it won't just be in papers. This thing will spread around the internet like wildfire. And that will be enough of an excuse for it to be featured on the news on TV."

"I'll just tell the truth."

"That you were tricked into singing songs like 'That's not your volcano, Kitty' while wearing a nappy and then recording an album? Who's going to believe that?"

"But this is insane. This is a hundred times worse than what I did to you."

"You didn't do it to me. You did it to my dog. I would have laughed if you'd written something about me. People who make fun of innocent creatures deserve a fate far worse than what's in store for you."

Gary had to stop the release of the album, or at least to change the cover, and he thought that the best way to do it was by getting some dirt on Mrs. Bluntquale. The best way to find dirt on Mrs. Bluntquale was to go to one of her relations.

The next time he met Kenny he said, "I know what you did in Amsterdam."

"Oh God!" Kenny said. "I didn't mean it. That wasn't the real Kenny. It was a momentary lapse. I walked out of my head for a brief moment, and I left the door open, and I don't know who ran inside but I wouldn't like to meet that person. Please don't tell me wife."

"You don't need to worry. I have no intention of telling anyone, as long as you tell me something."


"Something about Mrs. Bluntquale. Dirt -- that's what I want."

"Oh God! She'll kill me if she finds out I told you some of the things I could tell you. That's why I've never told anyone."

"Do you want your wife to know about Amsterdam? The choice is yours."

"Okay. I'll tell you something about Irene."

"Who's Irene?"

"Mrs. Bluntquale."

"Oh right. She has a first name. Makes sense, I suppose. But anyway, what have you got for me?"

"This isn't the worst thing I could tell you, but it should be enough to qualify as dirt. She once punched a pigeon."

"That's exactly the sort of thing I need."

"She didn't mean to punch it. It came up behind her and startled her. She apologised straightaway. Nevertheless, there's no getting around the fact that she punched a pigeon."

"That poor innocent bird. I feel a duty to act on its behalf."

Gary used photo editing software to create an image of Mrs. Bluntquale punching the pigeon. The image was obviously fake, but Gary didn't think that mattered. The story behind the image was real.

He showed it to her, and she knew immediately what this entailed. "Do you think this could be the new album cover?" Gary said.

"No," she said through gritted teeth. "I don't think that would be such a good idea."

"We could do with a new album cover. Do you think that's a good idea?"

"Yes. I think that's a good idea. But not this image."

"I think you should be with me on the new cover. I'd be much happier if your involvement with this project was obvious for everyone to see. That way you won't try to sabotage it."

"Why would I be on the cover if I'm not on the record?"

"Well you're going to have to be on the record then, aren't you."

Gary recorded a duet with Mrs. Bluntquale. She enjoyed it so much that she insisted on recording another. And then another. And then a few tracks on her own. Within two days Gary was relegated to a minor role on the record. You could see him in the background on the cover, but you wouldn't recognise him because he was dressed as a pumpkin. The title of the album was written on Mrs. Bluntquale's face.

She got so much satisfaction from the album that she agreed to abandon all her schemes for revenge on Gary. When the album came out it received a lot of ridicule, but she still didn't feel a need to get revenge on Gary. Instead she did her best to get retribution on everyone who ridiculed the album. She did this on behalf of the album. If they had ridiculed her she wouldn't have minded, but she felt a duty to get revenge on behalf of her defenceless album.

The moose's head over the fireplace likes listening to the songs of the birds. He thinks they have much better taste in music than I have. It doesn't really matter if he gets transfixed by the sound because he isn't going anywhere, but I'd be slightly more concerned about the wife's aunt. She starts singing at inappropriate times, or singing inappropriate songs at times when a Status Quo song would be needed. On Sunday afternoon she sang a song about the grasshoppers she buys cigarettes for.