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

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Dan's Coat

I get the feeling that spring can't be too far away with a welcome full-stop to this winter. A comma would do. One of our neighbours is desperate for spring to arrive and the grass to start growing again so he can try out his new wind-mower. It's a cross between a windmill and a lawnmower. The wind blows it around the lawn and it cuts the grass as it goes. When it's not cutting grass it generates electricity and damages cars.

My uncle Harry went for a walk through the fields on a beautiful summer afternoon. He hadn't gone far when he met one of his neighbours, Dan, who looked as if he was frozen. Harry could see what was wrong. "Why aren't you wearing your coat?" he said to Dan.

"It's been stolen. Or borrowed. Or something. I don't know what the hell it's been but it's gone."

He told Harry the story of how his coat came to be gone. Dan always hung up his coat without taking it off, and then he'd slide out from underneath it without undoing the buttons. He'd climb back into it when he needed to go out. When he climbed into the coat on that morning it seemed more cramped than usual. He noticed that there was someone else inside it, a man who was sound asleep.

Dan woke up the other occupant of his coat and he said, "What are you doing in my coat?"

The man said, "What are you doing in my coat?"

"It's not your coat. It's my coat and we're in the cupboard under my stairs in my house."

The man looked around and he noticed that he was in unfamiliar surroundings. "I've only just woken up," he said. "I must have spent the whole night here. I can remember climbing into my coat when it was hanging up in the pub... That's all I can remember. I must have fallen asleep then."

"I thought the coat seemed crowded when I climbed into it in the pub. But I wouldn't have taken too much notice after a night drinking. I normally veer to my left when walking home after a night of drinking in the pub. I often spend the whole night walking in circles. But you must have provided the perfect weight to balance me because I walked straight home last night."

"It's the darkness I have trouble with. I have no sense of direction in the dark. Sometimes I'd crash into something and I'd realise I'd been walking backwards."

"It's daylight now, so you should have no trouble getting home."

"How am I going to get home without my coat? I'll freeze outside."

"I'll walk there with you."

The man's name was Christy. He was new to the area. He gave Dan directions to his house and they set off towards it, both of them in the same coat. They had no trouble walking together until Christy fell asleep again, and to make matters worse, he started talking in his sleep. "Now I know what they're up to," he said, "their plans to build an organ that produces low notes that reverberate to shake the ground and bring down mountains, encasing mountain-dwellers in the earth, providing them with instructions on how to complete the many tasks needed to construct an underground homeland, a sacred place for a nation of subterranean people busily forgetting views from mountain tops and careers in the theatre, rave reviews for minor roles in plays produced by the foot soldiers for a literary general, frontline troops who limp on despite the clattering sound in their skulls and the bullet scars on their legs, forcing the breath out through whatever hole is left unblocked, letting it sing, being a song of defiance against the underground forces seeking to swallow them into the mire as soon as they stop, to remove their presence from the world and erase all memories of them, extracting those memories from brains even as they're being re-played, terrifying people by revealing the monsters in their heads, the hideous smiling faces that can only be seen when there are no distractions on the mind's cinema screen, a black screen recently deprived of the images of the theatre producer forcing air out through holes, using his fingers to block the holes and play his head like a musical instrument, music of defiance against the forces that shake the ground and bring mountains tumbling down, encasing mountain-dwellers in the earth, enveloping them in darkness punctuated by a flashing light that makes them claw through the earth to a small meeting room hollowed out by other former mountain-dwellers who are distracted from the monsters in their minds by plans to create an underground homeland, with faint memories sometimes superimposed onto the blueprints projected onto the screen. 'Weren't you the gardener in a play I put on about... I can't remember what it was about. There was a man cycling in circles.' 'I might have been. The gardener. Or the man. Or the bike.' I thought I was going to be engulfed in the slime. It was all around me, flowing down the sides of the hollow. I closed my eyes to let the monsters in my head distract me from the horror that was about to engulf me. I saw their smiling faces when I closed my eyes. 'We knew you'd be back,' they said. 'We set a place for you at the dinner table. The fish we're about to eat has so many wires in it you won't need to eat anything with wires in it for weeks. The same applies to anything with cuckoo clocks in which the cuckoos have been replaced by real birds of prey.' But the monsters' dinner was interrupted by something hitting the top of my head. It was a rope ladder. I climbed as quickly as I could. I glanced down to see the luminous green slime occupy the ground I had just been standing on. I kept climbing towards a faint light above. The ladder led me through a narrow opening, and above it there was a room. I could see that a wedding was about to take place and I was going to be the groom, whether I liked it or not..."

Dan was sick of having to listen to Christy rambling on, and he realised that they were lost. They had veered off course when Christy fell asleep. They were at the bottom of a deep valley and Dan wasn't looking forward to climbing the steep hill in a coat that contained a sleeping man. He decided that the best thing to do would be to leave the coat for a minute or two and run to the top of the hill to see if he could figure out where they were.

He was frozen by the time he got to the top of the hill, but his expedition was rewarded by the sight of a familiar landscape. He knew where he was again. He went back down into the valley, but Christy was gone. He must have woken up and walked away, or just walked away in his sleep.

Dan had been wandering the fields ever since, and he was afraid of freezing to death. Harry promised to help him find Christy and the coat. The first place they looked was in the pub. Christy might have gone back there to get his coat.

The bar man told them that Christy hadn't been in all day, but the coat was still there, so Dan wore this to keep warm until they found his coat. They went outside and started asking people if they'd seen a sleeping man walking around in an ill-fitting coat.

When they asked Mrs. Twomey she said, "No, but I have seen a woman wearing an ill-fitting hat. It was Hilda. She of the 'I'm afraid I can't help you' glare. If you really need help she'll suggest a good doctor. Actually, he's a bad doctor. You'll end up needing more help after you leave him, but at least he's cheap. She has a mean streak. There was a tramp singing on the street and she told him not to quit his day job. I was talking to her just twenty minutes ago. I told her I was off to remember where I put my glasses. I left them in front of my eyes somewhere. I asked her if she'd seen my eyes. She said, 'They're right in front of your nose.' 'Of course!' I said. 'My eyes must have popped out when I heard that Veronica picked up a tin of tobacco she found on the ground.' Hilda's eyes popped out when she heard that. She carefully pushed them back in and when she had heard the re-assuring click she said, 'She picked something off the ground!' I told her that this was the story I had heard. Apparently Veronica found the tobacco when she was walking by the river."

"I had a tin of tobacco in the pocket of my coat," Dan said. "Maybe Christy took it out and dropped it there."

Mrs. Twomey nearly fainted when she heard that the tobacco had been in a man's coat. Harry and Dan went to the river. As they were walking along the path on the river bank they found a trail of objects abandoned on the ground. All of these things had been in the pockets of Dan's coat.

They followed the trail, and Dan collected all of the items on the ground as they went. They were led to a tree. Christy was hiding in the tree. He was shocked to see Dan. "I thought you'd been swallowed up by the ground!" he said. "I didn't expect to see you again on the surface. I thought they were after me, so I've been hiding up here for hours."

He came down from the tree and he swapped coats with Dan. He seemed more composed when he was back in his own ill-fitting coat, but he was still afraid of being swallowed by the ground. Harry and Dan walked at either side of him and held his arms as they led him home. He was relieved to be back in the safety of his own house. To show his gratitude, he gave Dan and Harry plenty of things to put in their pockets, so Dan was delighted with the outcome of his adventure.

The moose's head over the fireplace had a tin of tobacco resting on his head one morning last week. He didn't look pleased, so I removed it as soon as I saw it. I've no idea how it got there. The wife's uncle says that someone probably took it out of a pocket while looking for something else. He told us about a friend of his who was always taking things out of his pockets and dropping them on the ground or leaving them on heads. He'd leave a trail of keys, coins, penknives or whatever else he found in his pockets. He took everything out because he was looking for his clarinet. He played with a jazz band, or at least he was a member of a jazz band, but he never played with them because he couldn't find his clarinet. The only member of the band who hadn't lost his instrument was the man who played the blanket.