'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

The Sailor's Return

You can see the changing of the seasons in the way the trees are turning brown. The wife's aunt says she can see it in the subtle changes of behaviour she observes in birds and animals. She says that the snails are building shelves in their houses. She can hear them drilling the walls.

My cousin Jane and her friend, Claudia, decided to take a walk to the river one Saturday morning. They were walking down a quiet road when they met a man called Stephen, who said he had just escaped from Betty's pub. A man who was known as The Sailor had returned from one of his voyages on the previous evening. He claimed to have travelled the oceans, but he was once seen in a caravan in Bantry when he was supposed to be in Mauritius. Betty was in love with The Sailor. She always welcomed him with open arms when he returned to her pub. Drinks would be poured and the singing and dancing would begin. The people in the pub would throw themselves into the festivities with wild abandon, but the atmosphere always changed at about three o' clock in the morning. The subconscious part of people's minds would take over from the conscious part. The people in the pub would start acting out roles from one of Duck Muddelern's plays. Before the opening night of one of his plays he'd go around to everyone in the area and he'd hypnotise them to make sure they went to the play. He'd hypnotise the audience again just before the first act to make sure their minds would be fully receptive to his creation. Every detail of the play would be stored in people's heads, hidden away in some dark room until the plays come out to play when the security guard falls asleep. This always happened at the parties in Betty's pub when The Sailor returned. Sometimes it happened during one of Janice Pelandergaff's plays. Hours of tedium would put the security guard to sleep. A sudden eruption of one of Duck's plays would be an unexpected source of drama.

The metamorphosis of a party into one of Duck's works wouldn't be a problem if the play was the one about the man who loved potatoes or the one based on the life of a woman who set up a business exporting pyjamas. But the 'actors' could be in for a very uncomfortable evening if they performed the play about the woman who thought she was a candle flame and lived in constant fear of being blown out, or the one about the trial of a group of people accused of setting up a radio station to disseminate propaganda that supported their claims that people who wore yellow socks were being secretly kidnapped and imprisoned. The party would become a play when one person would enter a role. The others would follow soon after. Sometimes more than one person would perform the same role. They'd recite their lines in unison. During one of these parties, the role of a priest was played by one man, and his house-keeper was played by ten people, a mixture of men and women.

Stephen told Jane and Claudia that the play in Betty's pub was Duck's most recent work, which was about a burglar who broke into a house in the middle of the night and woke up the guests at a party, people who had only just fallen asleep on chairs or floors or on top of a piano. The burglar did his best to steal from as many of them as he could, but someone called the police and they arrived before he had made a withdrawal from all of the guests. This resulted in a hostage situation.

A man called Phil slipped into the role of the burglar at Betty's party because he had a gun with him. The other guests all took on roles as well, even though they knew that a lot of them would be shot in the play, and there was a real danger that they'd get shot in reality as well because Phil's gun was loaded.

Stephen said that the hostage drama in Betty's pub had been going on all night and Phil was getting nervous because he was waiting for the police to arrive. Stephen had escaped. He was afraid that Phil would start shooting people if the fence between reality and fiction in his mind couldn't be repaired.

Jane thought it would be better not to call the police because this would only advance the action, sending the chain of events closer to the bloodbath at the end. She thought they should go to see Duck. He might be able to manoeuvre events towards a better ending.

When they had told Duck about the play in Betty's pub he said, "I was afraid this would happen when I was writing the play."

"So why did you write it and stage it?" Claudia said.

"Because... I think my aunt Florence called to my house right in the middle of when I was being afraid, and then I forgot about being afraid after she'd gone because my head was full of flower shows and all the other rubbish she was telling me about."

"Is there anything we could do to avoid the ending you wrote?"

"Being reminded of aunt Florence has given me an idea. The central character in the play I staged last summer was based on Florence. This 'aunt Gladys' would arrive on your doorstep and stay for hours. She rambles on for ages, practically shouting, so you've no chance of getting a word in. Not that you'd want to get a word in. Unless it's 'stop'."

"How does that play end?"

"I was thinking of ending it with a shooting, but I went for something less dramatic. After rambling on for hours, Gladys remembers her husband's refusal to acknowledge the existence of flamingos. She cries. After a short silence she goes home."

"That sounds much better than the bloodbath," Jane said.

"You wouldn't be saying that if you had to spend a few hours with aunt Florence."

"So how do we merge the two plays to bring about the non-bloodbath ending?"

"We send in some characters from the play about aunt Gladys. In the first act she arrives at a party with her daughter, Michelle, and Michelle's husband, Jonathon. We don't have time for auditions, so the three of ye will have to play those parts."

Jane was chosen to play Gladys because she could shout the loudest. Claudia would play Michelle and Stephen would play Jonathon. Jane said to Duck, "How am I going to remember all my lines?"

"Did you see the play?" Duck said.

"I did."

"Then you have it all in your subconscious."

They went to the pub and Jane knocked on the door. She loudly announced the arrival of Gladys, just so Phil wouldn't think the police had arrived. She went inside with Michelle and Jonathon. The 'actors' looked weary, and at first they seemed confused by the arrival of these characters from another play, but when they saw a chance to escape the burglar play they gladly took it. Enduring the company of Gladys was better than being shot.

Duck was outside the door. He listened to the progress of the play inside, and he noticed that Phil had yet to fill a role. Duck remembered that he had written a character called Mathew, a ten-year-old boy with a water pistol. He fires it at someone in the play. Duck was afraid that Phil would take on this role, and that he'd use his gun as the water pistol. Duck needed to take that role first, and to push Phil into another role. He ran home and he got the water pistol that had been used in the play. When he got back to the pub he went inside and he said to Phil, "Daddy, Daddy, the cat just said something rude about Mummy's cooking."

Phil looked confused at first, but then he slipped into the role of Mathew's father. He said, "I hope you haven't been bothering the peacocks, Mathew." He put his gun away.

The play ended an hour later. The actors who had been there all night fell asleep as soon as Gladys had left to go home with Michelle and Jonathon. Before Duck left, he took the gun from Phil, just to make sure there wasn't an unplanned staging of his play about the man who woke up and found he had a loaded gun.

The moose's head over the fireplace had no trouble seeing through the disguise worn by the wife's uncle. He was dressed as Karl Marx. His gentleman's club encourages the use of disguises to avoid former girlfriends. They meet in an abandoned rural train station. They wear disguises on their way to and from this meeting place. He insists that it's not all about exploring the many different ways of getting drunk. After the election of their last president they celebrated with a magnum of jam.