'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
Click here to buy the paperback or download the ebook for free.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Apple Blossom

The cold weather has gone for now. One of its benefits was that it makes average winter weather feel more like summer. The garden gnomes are wearing their summer hats, and they made a small tennis court on the lawn, but I think they're just trying to catch another garden gnome in the net. I hope they do catch him because he's been digging holes in the garden at night. I don't know what he's trying to trap.

My cousin Isobel was shocked to learn that she had been chosen to be the Apple Blossom, the official figurehead of an annual festival to celebrate apples. On the previous year, the woman chosen to fill this role used to spend her spare time shaking. If she kept shaking for long enough she'd start to believe that she was the manager of an international soccer team. It was a different country each time, and this is what stopped her from becoming bored with the experience. Some of the countries didn't actually exist. For hours or even days after she stopped shaking she'd feel the thrill of qualifying for the World Cup with a country where people lived in clocks. For most of the Apple Festival she kept talking about managing Ecuador's national team.

Isobel was chosen as Apple Blossom because the Apple Committee had been secretly observing young women (something they only do for professional reasons) and she hadn't shaken once. In fact, she sat still for long periods of time as she observed Mars through her telescope. They had narrowed their search down to two candidates, but the other one started shaking after she saw some men with binoculars and cameras hiding in the tree outside her bedroom window.

Isobel didn't want the role. She was too busy observing Mars at night, and writing about her observations by day (she was convinced that something funny was going on up there on Mars). She decided to hide before she was presented with the official cudgel for trashing anyone found guilty of disparaging an apple, unless that apple had been found guilty of something that merited its denigration. If they couldn't find her, members of the Apple Committee would give the cudgel to someone else, someone who could afford to waste time learning the song they'd sing to encourage academics to write more books about apples.

She decided to spend the weekend at her grandmother's house. She'd get a chance to observe Mars and she'd help her grandmother catch the mouse who had the brain of a monkey. Isobel had seen this creature once before. It looked like a normal mouse, but it had something taped to the top of its head. Isobel's grandmother believed that this thing was a monkey's brain and that the mouse was using it, just like the engine on the roof of her neighbour's car made the car go faster and catch fire. Isobel thought the brain was made out of plastic and that it was providing the mouse with no additional cognitive benefits, but one thing she couldn't deny was that this mouse was much smarter than his comrades. He was extremely good at not getting caught, despite being hindered by a strange plastic brain-like object taped to the top of his head. This led Isobel to believe that he had a good reason for wearing it, perhaps to confuse Lilly, the cat, who seemed very wary of the mouse. She'd pretend to be asleep rather than try to catch her foe. Isobel's grandmother had been trying to catch him for years. It was a great hobby. She got a lot of exercise and it kept her mind active. Sometimes she built elaborate traps and sometimes she used devious ruses involving actors and scripts that were over fifty pages long.

When Isobel went to the house to avoid the Apple Committee, her grandmother was trying to catch the mouse with a miniature village created with doll's houses. One of her sisters made the doll's houses (this was her hobby). Isobel's grandmother believed that the strangeness of the village would weaken the mouse's mental fortitude. Isobel helped by wearing a long white dress and playing a lute. She completely forgot about her role as Apple Blossom, but late in the afternoon she looked out the window and she saw members of the Apple Committee walking up the garden path. One of them was holding the cudgel. As soon as that was presented to her she'd be stuck with the role. They saw her through the window, so she couldn't get her grandmother to pretend that she wasn't there. She decided to leave through the back door and run away.

When they saw her through the window they must have recognised the expression of an unwilling Apple Blossom, a potential runner. One of them went around the side of the house. She heard him say, "She's getting away."

They chased her through the fields. The long dress was slowing her down, and the lute wasn't exactly helping either. When she came to a pond she noticed that there was only one boat tied to a small pier. She climbed into this and she rowed to the centre of the pond, where the Apple Committee couldn't reach her. But they paid some kids to borrow a raft, and two of them used pieces of timber as paddles to make their way towards her.

They might have caught her if one of them hadn't remembered that he was afraid of water when it came in large quantities. He started shaking, and so did the raft. The two committee members fell into the water. Isobel felt that she had a duty to rescue them. She rowed to where they were splashing about in the water and she helped them into the boat. The cudgel was still floating in the water. They insisted that she retrieve this, but she rowed back to the pier. On the way she tried to start a conversation with the man who had started shaking. She said, "What international soccer team are you managing these days?" He didn't respond.

After they had returned to dry land, the head of the committee said, "We'll get the cudgel. If necessary we'll use the backup cudgel, and we'll track you down eventually. There's no getting out of it."

"Ye only have another two days to track me down. I know of some very comfortable holes I could hide in for two days and ye'd never find me."

They looked concerned, and she knew she'd won.

"Ye'll have to get someone else," she said. "Ye're focussing too much on finding someone who doesn't shake. Ye should be looking for someone who actually wants the role. Not everyone is going to be distracted by her duties to a South American soccer team. What ye need is someone who'll devote all of her attentions to the role."

"I suppose we should go and get our binoculars and our cameras," the head of the committee said.

"Ye don't need to spy on anyone," Isobel said. "Talk to women." They seemed very dubious about this idea, but she persisted. "Ask them questions like 'Do you want to be the Apple Blossom?', or 'Do you have a job in international sport that could impair your ability to satisfactorily perform your duties as Apple Blossom?'."

They agreed to try her approach, after she had promised to help them. They began the interviews that evening. She asked most of the questions, and it only took them a few hours to find the ideal candidate. Janet was chosen to fill the role, and she went on to be one of the best Apple Blossoms ever. Her shaking was barely noticeable, but her enthusiasm for apples was there for all to see. Her skill with the cudgel could make the crowd gasp in astonishment.

The moose's head over the fireplace has stopped wearing his antler warmers. He didn't really need them during the cold weather, but they looked good. They were made by one of our neighbours, Rose. She's used to making strange items of clothing. She spends a lot of time making pyjamas for salmon. She still hasn't managed to convince salmon to wear them. She puts them on salmon mannequins and she displays them on the river bank, but the fish have shown little interest so far.