'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Frank's Ambulance

More rain again today. The wife's aunt made an umbrella for the dog. He loved it. You could tell by how quickly he ate it.

My cousin Albert often spent his evenings with his friends, George and Neil. One evening they were bored and they couldn't think of anything to do. They didn't want to go to the pub because the people there were still laughing at them after a quiz. They got a question about Jack and Jill wrong. They assumed it was a trick question when they were asked 'What did Jack and Jill go up?'. It couldn't possibly be as simple as that, they thought. Their answer was 'against a wall'. They hated being laughed at by morons who didn't understand that they only got it wrong because the questions were easy enough for morons to answer correctly, giving morons an advantage because they wouldn't suspect a trick.

To pass the time, they decided to call a doctor. If you call either of the two local doctors they'll both come, but they'll spend most of their time punching each other. People call the doctors when they're bored. When Albert phoned one of them he didn't put much effort into pretending that medical help was needed. He just said that there was something wrong with Neil's head. He wasn't exactly lying when he said this.

When the doctors arrived they knew they were only there for the show, so they started fighting. It was a great way to pass the time, but the fight came to an end when the doctors clashed heads. They both fell to the ground and neither of them got up. They were out cold.

"They need medical attention," Neil said.

"Obviously," Albert said, "but which one of them are we going to call?"

"We could always call Dominic," George said. Dominic was a retired doctor. He was in his nineties.

"He'd charge a fortune if you called him out at this time of night," Albert said.

"Then we'll have to take them to Dominic. We can get Frank to come around with his van."

Albert called Frank, and he was there with his van within minutes. He said, "I'm going to have to charge ye my ambulance fare. That's three times what I charge for transporting beds."

"That's outrageous," Albert said.

"Do ye want to get into a discussion about what would be a fair price to pay? I'm perfectly happy to get into that discussion. Under my current pricing policy, these two doctors are three times more important than old beds and mattresses that smell a bit funny. Maybe it's time I gave that matter more thought. I've been meaning to give it more thought for some time now."

"We'll pay the fare."

They loaded the doctors into the back of the van and they set off towards Dominic's house. They hadn't gone far when Frank stopped at the side of the road. "I need to have a cigarette," he said.

"Why do you have to stop and leave the van just to have a cigarette?" Albert said.

"You want me to smoke in an ambulance with two patients in the back?"

"You want to stop for a cigarette when you've got two patients in the back of your ambulance?"

"If I don't have one now I'll keep thinking about cigarettes until my next one. You want me to drive two patients in an ambulance on bad roads late at night while my mind is elsewhere?"

"Fine. Have the cigarette."

"I don't need your permission to have a cigarette. I'm the one driving this ambulance."

"We're the ones paying for it."

"They're the ones using it." He pointed back at the doctors. "Think about them for once, instead of selfishly thinking about your own needs."

Frank got out of the van and lit a cigarette. When he'd finished it he got back in, put on his seat belt and said, "Right. Off we go so. I needed that. My mind is clear now. I'm completely focussed on my destination. I just need to make one quick stop at my sister's factory to pick up a package."

"Have you forgotten that you've got two patients in this ambulance? Have you forgotten that you're in ambulance mode?"

"They're fine. They're still breathing, aren't they?"

"They are," Neil said.

"Then they're fine. They're as happy as Larry."

"Is that the Larry who keeps setting trees on fire?"

"I've never seen anyone getting so much enjoyment from setting trees on fire. A lot of people would like nothing more than to be unconscious. I gave serious consideration to taking up unconsciousness myself when that cloud of geese were following me around, but I bought a van instead. Everyone should buy a van."

"I thought you threatened to push Gerry's house off a cliff if he bought a van."

"That's because he was going to use it to do the sort of jobs I do."

One of the doctors opened his eyes and said, "Blood! Blood!" He closed his eyes again.

"See?" Frank said. "Happy as Larry."

Frank started the van and he drove towards his sister's factory.

"Is your sister still sticking things to flowerpots?" Neil said.

"The flowerpots are just a small part of her output now. She employs two people. Well, when I say 'people', bear in mind that one of them is Agnes. To me she looks more like a robot whose batteries are nearly dead. She works very slowly, but she can keep going until after midnight. They're still working away in the factory now. Lucy will do her best to make you almost anything you ask for. Like turnips."

George said, "If I wanted a turnip I wouldn't get one that was 'made' in a factory. And I'll never want a turnip."

"These turnips are sculpted into whatever shape you want. Or you could have them just shaped like a turnip. But you'd still have to pay for getting it sculpted. People phone up and order a turnip that's shaped like a greyhound or like misery. Depicting misery is entirely subjective. For Lucy's interpretation, she'll count the words she's written on her arms since the last time she washed her arms. She'll carve a turnip into this number. She'll use three turnips if it's a three-digit number. She's expanding the business into a directory inquiries service. You can phone her and ask her for a phone number. She'll deliver it to you in whatever form you want it. You can have it in turnips if you want, or you can have it smeared in jam on a blackboard. She comes up with new products almost every day. Like musical chairs. Or ear plugs for cats so they won't hear when you're shaving shapes into their fur. It's ideal if you want to shave a phone number into their fur."

When he got to his sister's factory (which was really just a shed behind her house) he said, "I'll be back in a minute."

Twenty minutes later he returned with a cardboard box. "I have to deliver this package to Cyclops," he said.

"Who's Cyclops?" Neil said.

"Cyclops. Hughie. Y' know, he lives near the graveyard. They call him Cyclops because he can sing through one of his eyes."

"It'll take ages to get to the graveyard," Albert said.

"Not the way I drive. There's a good chance we'll all end up in the graveyard. And we have to go up a hill as well, which might be even more frightening. I understand ye have a thing about going up a hill."

They said nothing. They often heard the sound of screeching brakes during their journey, but it was Frank who was making these sounds, not the brakes. He wasn't driving as fast as he said he would, or seemed to believe he was.

Cyclops had ordered a phone shaped like a bird with a human ear. Every time the phone rang, tiny plastic spiders would come out of the ear. Frank showed it to them as they drove towards the graveyard. "You listen at the ear," he said, "and speak into the beak."

George said, "Wouldn't it make more sense to listen at the beak and talk into the ear?"

"When someone orders a phone shaped like a bird with a human ear that produces spiders when the phone rings, I don't think sense is really an issue."

Cyclops was delighted with the phone. He invited them in for a drink.

"I'd love one," Frank said.

"You're supposed to be driving an ambulance," Albert said.

"All the more reason to have a drink," Cyclops said. "I've heard it's a very stressful job."

"It'll be the death of me," Frank said as he followed Cyclops into the house. Albert, George and Neil had to follow him in.

Frank only had one drink, but they were there for over an hour because Cyclops kept talking about the years he spent working with a man who believed he could bring horses back to life. Years of failing to bring horses back to life didn't convince him otherwise.

When Cyclops offered to show them photos of some of the horses, even Frank thought it was time to leave. There were no more stops or detours on the way to Dominic's house. When they got there, Dominic came out to have a look at the doctors in the van. "Well they're still alive anyway," he said. "That's a good sign. Bring them into my surgery and I'll have a closer look."

"There's the small issue of the bill first," Frank said. "I always get paid before unloading the van."

"How much?" Albert said, fearing the worst.

"We'll say... I'll give ye a discount and we'll say a hundred and twenty euros."

Albert, Neil and George paid him, and then he helped them lift the patients inside.

The surgery looked very old-fashioned. A layer of dust covered almost everything in the room. The doctors were placed on the dust on top of two old leather couches.

Frank said, "Do ye want me to wait? My waiting fare is only half of my ambulance fare."

"I don't think that'll be necessary," Albert said.

"What if they need to go to the hospital?"

George said, "We'll call an ambulance that isn't going to take all night to get them there."

"It won't take that ambulance all night to get to the hospital, but it'll take all night to get here. Whereas I'm here now. Beat that for efficiency."

"You have that advantage over a trained ambulance driver, but he'd probably beat you when it comes to not drinking on the job and not delivering phones for his sister."

"Don't forget the smoking. Ye were very high and mighty about the smoking. Speaking of which, I need to go for a smoke now. And then a drink, and then I think I'll deliver a phone shaped like misery. Frogs will come out of the ear."

He left the surgery. Dominic was looking at the medicine bottles on his shelf. Most of them were covered in dust. "I think I'll try this oil my brother brought back from China," he said. "He told me he saw it used on a woman who'd been unconscious for days and it left her screaming for weeks."

The two doctors sat up on the couches when they heard this.

"I had a feeling that would work," Dominic said.

"What's going on?" Albert said.

One of the doctors said, "Frank paid us to pretend to knock ourselves out. He knew ye'd use his ambulance. Business has been slow for him lately. Most people don't want to use an ambulance that smells like mattresses fit for the dump. They'd rather cycle instead. And business hasn't been great for us lately either. We've grown tired of punching each other. A few hours rest was too appealing to resist."

Albert, George and Neil didn't need to look for ways to pass the time over the following few weeks. They were completely focussed on their mission to get revenge on Frank. They tried to engineer a situation in which he'd put an old bed into the back of his van, and then thousands of spiders would emerge from the bed. Their plan was successful. It was worth all the time they spent collecting spiders.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoyed dressing up as JR Ewing on Halloween. The wife's niece called around in her witch costume. She thinks that trick or treating is for babies. She believes in trick and treating. Every day is Halloween for her.