'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Funereal King

It snowed for most of the day on Sunday. Snowmen were appearing all over the place. The wife's aunt was convinced that they were going to form an army and take over houses, forcing people to stay outside with lumps of coal for eyes. That's why she sang in the rain when it arrived to thwart their plan.

My cousin Gary considers himself to be lucky. The one time he fell off a cliff, he landed in the back of a truck full of rotten pears. His attitude to life changed after this near-miss. He was determined to live each day to the fullest, and to try new things.

He soon realised that he couldn't try everything. His friends urged him to take up hobbies such as wrestling or bird-watching or bird-wrestling. One of his friends, Fergus, had a hobby that amounted to hiding lamb chops in snowmen while an accomplice danced to distract a dog. None of these activities appealed to Gary.

He was intrigued when he heard about Fergus's great-uncle Slate, who used to spend most of his time making musical instruments out of copper pipes, wool and paper. Some of the instruments were electric, but even Slate himself was afraid of touching them. Gary went to see him to find out more. Slate told him about the gypsies who could make beautiful music come out of the pipes. They could make lots of things come out. One of them could blow into an instrument and hundreds of spiders would emerge. These spiders would rise into the sky and disperse like smoke. The gypsies bought some of his instruments and they travelled all around Europe, playing concerts in castles, huts, holes, public houses, forests and caravans, anywhere they could find an audience who wouldn't run away screaming at a stream of spiders. The gypsies sent regular letters to Slate.

Gary was inspired to start making his own instruments. He used parts of old washing machines, bits of furniture that had been smashed to pieces (by Gary), brass taps, spoons and other bits of junk he found. He focussed entirely on the look of his instruments, rather than the sound. He became engrossed in this work. Entire evenings would vanish as he assembled the bits of junk in the shed. He realised that this was far from the idea he had when he set out to live life to the fullest, but he couldn't think of anything else he'd be happier doing.

He was delighted with his creations. He showed them off to anyone willing to look at them, and most people were impressed. A woman called Martha believed he was an artist, and a good one at that. She bought one of his instruments, and she invited him to a party at which the instrument would be played by The Funereal King.

The Funereal King used to be in a band called 'The Funereal Kings'. He was the lead singer and he played the violin. There were seventeen people in the band, but the others left one by one over a six-month period. Some left because they couldn't get on with someone else in the band, and then the person they couldn't get on with would leave because they'd be bored without anyone to fight with. One woman left to sell ham sandwiches made from an ancient recipe.

The Funereal King looked behind him one day and he realised that no one was there. He was sure that there had been people there before. He wondered where they'd all gone to. He waited around, but they didn't come back. He couldn't remember his name, so he became known as The Funereal King and he tried to keep the band going, but the music seemed empty without the sound of trumpets, lutes and people fighting over sandwiches. He learnt other instruments and he started fighting with himself, but he couldn't do everything all at once. To fit as much as possible into a performance, he joined some instruments together and he wrote songs full of insults against himself. It was always worth going to his gigs to see him attempting to play one of his bizarre instruments. Sometimes it looked as if he might kill himself playing an instrument, and the self-hatred in the songs suggested that this was his intention.

He seemed like the perfect person to play the instrument recently purchased by Martha. Gary was afraid that it would sound terrible, and that Martha wouldn't want it anymore. A big crowd gathered around The Funereal King as he got ready to perform at the party. Gary stood near the door so he could make a quick getaway if needed.

The Funereal King's first attempt to play it failed. He blew into the mouth piece, but no sound came out the other end. He took a deep breath and tried again, but he still couldn't get it to produce a sound. He made a third attempt, blowing as hard has he could. His face went red, and Gary was afraid that he'd pass out. This attempt failed as well. After The Funereal King had rested for a few minutes he tried inhaling from the instrument instead of blowing into it. The sound of coughing followed as The Funereal King fell to his knees. Gary was just about to leave, but The Funereal King sprang to his feet. There was a look of joy on his face. He said, "There's a shimmering wonder to everything. Everything is stitched together to create a universal glow. The sunlight on the concrete. The shadow cast by the evenly-cut hedge. The Polish men who cut the hedge. They've finished their dinner now. They're joyfully appreciating the taste of their coffee. Or joylessly. Crushed by the rejection of someone prone to throwing shoes at mirrors in fits of rage. The design in the curtains was conceived in the head of someone thinking of sea urchins, creatures filmed for a nature documentary by a man with a fear of spiders. The sea urchins are caught on camera as they think of picking the divers' pockets while cuttlefish distract the divers with offers to shine their shoes.

"Live in each moment. Explore the many layers of each moment. Dance its dance. You can try re-living it when it's past, holding it up for examination, like a costume in tatters after a fancy dress party, but you can't step inside it again. There may be a need to escape into the past to get away from the present, but very often there are plenty of escape routes in the present. 'Escape' is probably the wrong word. Or else it's the right word but it doesn't present the most promising facade. A re-appraisal of the word is needed, to paint its walls and highlight its finest architectural features. Escape can be a beautiful thing. Like escape from a prison. Obviously it isn't beautiful when a murderer escapes from prison. I'm talking about mental prisons, mindsets that exclude most of reality and make the tiny sliver we see seem more important than it actually is..."

He spent the next hours passing on the truths that had just been revealed to him. When his energy started to fade he inhaled from the instrument again and he was rejuvenated. He kept talking until after midnight, and the guests at the party were entranced.

Martha agreed to let him use the instrument at gigs, and he developed a following who loved to hear his long dissertations after inhaling from the instrument. His former band mates re-joined the band one by one. They never told him they were coming back. They used to sneak in behind him at gigs, and they'd try to stay quiet so he wouldn't notice. The original line-up had been restored by the time he finally turned around. He seemed slightly surprised to see them there, but he didn't ask any questions. He just inhaled and started talking about getting a haircut in New York.

Gary attracted an unwelcome following who wanted to know what he put into the instrument. He insisted that he hadn't put anything into it, that it was all in The Funereal King's mind, but they didn't believe him. They followed him everywhere he went. Some of them waited outside his house all night long. He started to have nightmares about zombies chasing him until he comes to a cliff, but there's no truck full of rotten pears below.

After a few days of being harassed by his followers, his nerves were shattered. He was seriously considering leaving the country for a while. But The Funereal King rescued him by blowing instead of inhaling at one gig. The instrument created a terrible sound. No one wanted to know what was in it after this, and Gary's followers abandoned him. The Funereal King, or The Funereal Kings, kept their following, partly because people were entertained by the fights that took place behind the lead singer as he performed.

The moose's head over the fireplace wasn't concerned about snowmen taking over the house. The roaring fire beneath him would have protected him against the most hostile being made out of snow. The wife's uncle has no fear of an army of snowmen, but he does believe that scarecrows could be a threat if they ever got together.