'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 07, 2009

After Sunset

The days are getting shorter. I'm trying to appreciate as much of the evening light as I can. I look out over the fields as the sun sets each evening. Just after the sun goes down I always see a black horse running through the field behind the garden. He disappears when he gets to the ditch. This field has always been strange. In the sixties, clowns from all over the country were drawn there. If they stayed for long enough they'd start levitating. The farmer used swans to get rid of them.

My cousin Albert once got a summer job on a building site. He was the security guard at night, but he wasn't there to keep the thieves away. Cats would colonise the scaffolding if you left it unattended overnight. Albert's job was to keep the cats away.

He thought it would be easy, but it was nerve-wracking. The cats would arrive at the site shortly after the sun went down. They'd sit around the edges of the site and wait. Within an hour, hundreds of cats would be waiting for him to let his guard down. By the third night his nerves were shattered. He thought about taking up art to relax. He could paint the rivers he'd seen on Mars. Then he wondered if he really had seen rivers on Mars. Perhaps he'd seen them in Longford or in Roscommon. He thought he must be going mad if he believed he'd been to Longford or Roscommon.

He was just about to abandon the site when a woman arrived. She said her name was Holly. She lived near the building site and she'd seen many guards go mad. She told him he should let the cats onto the scaffolding because she knew how to get rid of them in the morning. He agreed because he had to get away.

They left the site. He didn't look back as the cats took their chance to occupy the unguarded scaffolding. She told him she'd take him to a pub that never closes. She led him down narrow alleys in the city. She opened an unmarked door at the end of a dead-end street, and they climbed a narrow stairs. They came to a corridor with lots of doors, all of them painted blue. The pub was behind one of them. She put her ear to each door to listen to what was going on inside. She decided that the ninth door was the one she was looking for, and she was right. She opened the door and they went into the pub. This wasn't like any of the pubs he normally went to. A pianist sat at a grand piano. Hundreds of small lights hung from the ceiling. It looked like the sort of pub where drunks wouldn't be welcome. 'The more drunks the merrier' was the attitude in most of the pubs he went to, even though the drunks were more likely to spread depression rather than merriment.

They ordered drinks at the bar. They sat down at a table and the waiter brought their drinks. Another waiter brought cakes. A woman stood next to the grand piano and sang in French. Holly translated the song for Gary. She said it was about eating the sea and having to add salt to it.

He told her he was very grateful to her for getting him away from the cats. "They'd drive you mad," he said. "They knew that I would have cracked before they did. That's why they were quite content to just sit there staring at me, their inner Cheshire cats grinning. I'm sure they rehearsed the purring in advance. It was like an orchestra playing a piece that was building to a crescendo. I would have lost my mind before they got there."

"It sounds like I rescued you just in time."

"You did. If there's anything I can do for you, just name it."

"Actually, there is something you might be able to help me with."

"I'll do my best."

She told Albert about her friend Ron. He's tall and proud and he prides himself on being right more often than he's wrong. He prides himself on being able to admit when he's wrong. He's able to admit when he's right as well. Sometimes he gets things wrong because of his impatience, which he also prides himself on. He'll buzz in before the question is finished, before the course of the question changes to point towards a different answer. In practical terms, this means that he falls through unsafe floors a lot, more often than the average man. He prides himself on being either above or below the average man (very often below because of his habit of falling through floors).

Julianne is rarely wrong and hardly ever right. She remains silent most of the time. Ron hears this silence as beautiful music when it's played by her expressionless face. Other people's silences sound like fingernails on the blackboard. She can create a pregnant pause that would make you applaud. He's afraid of impregnating one of her pauses in case the child is ugly. This happened when he told her about what he did to his foot. Julianne didn't respond to this, but her facial expression altered slightly. She never says much. This is of little consequence. Other things of little consequence include: the way she moves her finger around in a circle when she points at things and says 'thingy' (she did this when she was trying to think of an instrument you'd use to measure wind speed, and on another occasion she did it when she was trying to remember the name 'Roald Dahl'); the way he lifts things when he's trying to impress people (he tried to lift a big dog to impress Julianne); the way geese don't like him.

This is something of great consequence: Julianne was once asked to design a poster advertising a Christmas party at a golf club. She asked Holly if she had any ideas. Holly suggested using an image of a golfer on the course, with Santa acting as his caddy (the clubs would be in Santa's sack). Julianne used this idea, and she told everyone that she had thought of it herself. This is why Holly didn't trust Julianne.

Over the previous few weeks, Ron had been going somewhere with Julianne late at night. Holly had seen them walking in front of her apartment building just before midnight. He denied going anywhere with Julianne when Holly asked him about it. They were clearly up to something, and Holly was determined to find out what it was. She didn't want to follow them through the city streets at night on her own, so she asked Albert if he'd go with her. He said he would.

They went back to her apartment. They sat in front of the window and looked down on the street below. They saw Ron and Julianne walking by ten minutes before midnight. Albert and Holly went downstairs and followed them.

Ron and Julianne went to an old house on the edge of town. A man was guarding the front door, but he stood to one side to let Ron and Julianne in. He didn't say a word to them. Holly didn't think it was likely that this man would let herself and Albert in so easily. They needed to get rid of the guard. She got out a tin whistle and she played a short tune on it. Shortly afterwards, the cats started arriving. Within a minute there were over thirty cats sitting in front of the guard, staring at him. It only took another minute for him to crack and run away. Albert and Holly went into the building.

There was a wide hall inside the door. The doors at either side of the hall were locked, so they climbed the stairs. They came to a dimly-lit corridor, with doors on either side. Holly listened at each door, just like she had done when she was trying to find the pub. She had a feeling that the fourth door was the right one. She opened it as quietly as she could.

Inside there was a huge room. There was a round table in the centre of the room, and twelve people sat around the table. The only light came from a candle in the centre of the table. Ron and Julianne were amongst the twelve. All of the people at the table had their eyes closed. Albert and Holly could see that a seance was in progress.

Albert and Holly moved around the edge of the room as the medium tried to make contact with a spirit. It seemed her efforts were successful when they heard a loud booming voice. It was a man who said, "Is there anybody there?"

"Yes!" the medium said. "We're here. I knew you'd come, Norman. Talk to us, please. Tell us the news we're looking for."

Albert and Holly stopped moving as soon as they heard the voice. They found themselves leaning against a door, and they could hear that voice coming from the other side of the door. Holly opened it. The room at the other side was dark, but they were just about able to make out a man talking into a microphone. This was Norman. He said, "Excuse me one minute," and he put down the microphone.

Albert and Holly stepped into the room and closed the door. Outside they could hear the medium asking the spirit Norman if something was wrong. The real Normal asked Albert and Holly not to give the game away. "She'll kill me if this goes wrong," he said. "And then she'll try to make contact with my spirit to tell me how useless I am. Of course, there's little chance of her succeeding in making contact with my spirit."

"We won't give the game away," Holly said, "as long as you do me a favour."

She told him what she wanted him to do and he agreed. He picked up the microphone again and the spirit Norman resumed his report from beyond the grave. After he'd finished reading fictitious messages from deceased grandparents and famous ancestors he said, "And stop stealing other people's ideas for posters advertising Christmas parties at golf clubs."

They heard a scream outside, and then the sound of a door opening as Julianne fled the room.

Norman let Albert and Holly out through a back door. They returned to the pub, and they had a few more drinks as they listened to the music. At six o' clock in the morning they went back to the building site. The scaffolding was almost invisible beneath the cats, but they didn't stay for much longer. Holly got out the tin whistle and played another tune. All the cats had fled by the time she'd finished it.

The moose's head over the fireplace understands French. I don't know where he learnt the language. The wife's uncle talks in French to him, telling all the stories not fit for English. Even the moose's head looks shocked at some of them. The wife's uncle learnt French to impress women, and it worked too, although it was never successful on French women. He used to speak Irish to them. He says that problems in relationships only arise when people understand each other.