'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Eddie for a Day

I get the impression that spring is seriously considering entering full swing any day now. The daffodils will emerge to see what's going on. The grass will grow. The man who lives in a hut near the river will flick the mental switch that stops him from running around the fields for days, shouting about how the queen is trying to kill him because he ruined her birthday.

My cousin Gary once spent a morning in a supermarket because his friend Gavin was handing out free samples of wine there. The wine was in tiny plastic cups, and Gavin was only supposed to give one to each customer. Gary only had one cup, but he lost count of the amount of times it was re-filled. He did try to count, but he kept forgetting the number so he'd go back to one again. The final figure he had was two.

After leaving the supermarket he met a woman with a clipboard outside. From what he could gather, she was conducting a survey. He agreed to take part, or he agreed to something. He found himself filling in a form with the feeling that he should be counting.

Late that afternoon three men in black suits arrived on his doorstep. One of them said, "We'd like to ask you a few questions about some of the answers you filled in on this form."

Gary couldn't remember any of the answers he'd written on the form. He couldn't remember the questions either. "Now isn't really a good time," he said.

"When would be a good time?"

"Later. Sometime later. Not now."

"We'll be back later."

The men left. Gary couldn't help thinking that he'd landed himself in trouble and that it would be a good idea to hide for a while, until later had passed. The best way to hide would be to pose as Eddie.

Anyone could pose as Eddie if they just wore his hat. It was a very ornate cowboy hat with badges, stickers and plastic flowers attached to it. The hat was his defining characteristic. Even women had successfully posed as Eddie simply by wearing the hat.

Eddie would hire out the hat to anyone who wanted to hide. He charged ten euros a day. Gary walked to Eddie's house, paid the money and walked home as Eddie. Everyone he met on the way believed he was the rightful owner of the hat, including Eddie's mother, who asked him if he was ready to apologise for the bacon.

Gary wore the hat when he went to the shop on the following morning. He met a man called Harold who said, "Eddie! There you are! It's so good to see you."

"Good to see you too," Gary/Eddie said.

"How are things?"

"Can't complain. And yourself?"

"Grand. Grand altogether. How are you getting on with the piano."

"It's... slow."

"I know."

"You know the way."

"I know. I know... Listen, will I break your arm now or do you want to have a drink first?"

"Ah, well, a drink sounds tempting but... No, look, I'm not really Eddie. I'm just pretending to be him."

Gary took off the hat.

Harold laughed and said, "I'm not going to fall for that one again."

"Right," Gary said, and he ran away.

He was quicker than Harold, so he was able to escape, but Harold wouldn't give up. He'd search for Gary, or for Eddie. One of Gary's friends, Lucy, was having a fancy dress party. She dressed as a pirate the last time she went to a fancy dress party, but Sam's cat went as a pirate as well. It was embarrassing for both of them because people kept comparing the costumes. Lucy was trying to think of a way of avoiding such situations at her party. Gary went to see her and he suggested getting everyone to come as Eddie.

She thought it was a great idea. She phoned all of her guests and told them of the changed plans. They had to come up with their own Eddie hats for the party.

Harold was still searching the town for Gary/Eddie that evening when he saw the Eddies making their way across town towards Lucy's house. He wondered if he was going mad. He'd been thinking about Eddie for so long, imagining the joy he'd feel when he finally got a chance to make Eddie feel pain.

He followed the flow of Eddies to the party. Gary was there. He was afraid that Harold would recognise the original hat, so he went out into the back garden. Sam's cat was asleep on the patio, wearing a tiny Eddie hat. Gary put the real hat on the cat and he decided to leave the party. He looked over the wall at the side of the garden and he saw that there was no one in the garden next door. If he could make it over the wall at the other side of that garden he'd find a road and freedom.

So he climbed over the wall and walked across the lawn, but before he made it to the other side he heard a woman's voice. "Trying to escape, are you?" she said. She was pushing an enormous pram towards him.

"That's exactly what I'm doing," Gary said. "I needed to get away from someone at the party."

"Trouble emanating from romantic entanglements?"

"No. Or maybe. I don't know what Eddie has entangled himself in. Someone who thinks I'm Eddie wants to break my arm."

"You're more than welcome to stay here. I'd appreciate the company while I'm looking after Toby, my nephew."

Gary agreed to stay. They sat down at the patio table to have a chat while Toby read a book. The woman's name was Imelda. Her nephew was only two-years-old but he'd been reading for years. His pram was so big he could eat his dinner in it. There was a dinner table in there and he had a high chair. The pram also contained a book case with the entire works of Stephen King. Toby was really more interested in reading Proust, but he didn't want to appear pretentious.

While they were sitting at the patio, Imelda told Gary not to trust the gardener. The gardener was aiming a shotgun at Gary, so it wasn't the best time to hear that the man shouldn't be trusted. Gary asked if they could go somewhere else. He didn't specify a place devoid of gardeners with guns because the gardener was standing just a few feet away, but she seemed to get the hint. She suggested they go into the house, where the gardener wasn't allowed to go.

Gary helped her push the pram inside. This vehicle only barely fitted in through the door. They took the pram to her study, where a fire was lighting. Gary and Lucy sat on armchairs by the fireplace and she told him about her writing.

"I've given up writing, sort of. I'm making pies instead of writing prose. Four-and-twenty blackbirds will repeat my words when they're released from the pies. This is the best way of transmitting my thoughts. Instead of dead black words on a printed page, these blackbirds will emerge and fly away, assuming they survive being cooked. I expect them to be much less troublesome than words made of ink. My fiction keeps upsetting the people I base my characters on."

As she spoke, she was rolling up pieces of paper and throwing them into the fire. Gary asked her if she was burning her writing.

"No," she said. "These are my drawings. Drawings of flames provide me with more warmth than the fires of my drawings of flames, but I burn them anyway. I'm keeping all of my writings. I'll be translating them into blackbirds in pies. The manuscripts are kept on top of the book case over... Oh no! Toby is reading my novella about the woman who broke the axel of a caravan! We must stop him before he gets to chapter two!"

Toby had left his pram and he was sitting on top of the book case. Gary climbed a ladder to get to him, but Toby made his escape through a tiny door near the ceiling. Gary crawled through the door after him. The tunnel at the other side of the door was perfectly suited to a crawling toddler, but much more difficult for a grown man to negotiate. The same was true of the stairs at the end of the tunnel. This led to a corridor big enough for Gary to crouch in. He followed Toby into a tiny library. Toby tried to hide the manuscript amongst the books on a shelf, but Gary saw where it was hidden, and he kept his eyes on it as he walked across the floor. Even if he'd been looking down he might not have noticed the trap door. This only came to his attention after he'd fallen through it. He found himself sliding down a spiralling slide. It would have been enjoyable if he'd known the destination in advance, but the experience was marred by a fear that he'd land in something wet, sticky, hot or pointy.

He landed on cushions in another tunnel. He couldn't go back up the slide, so he crawled to the other end of the tunnel, where he found a trap door above him. He pushed it up and he emerged from the ground in the garden. He was right outside the gardener's shed, a fact he became aware of when the gardener came out with his shotgun.

As soon as Gary got a glimpse of the gardener with the gun he knew his head would soon be a target, so he climbed out of the trap door as quickly as he could and he ran across the lawn to the wall. He climbed over and landed back in Lucy's garden. Eddie's hat was moving across the lawn. Gary picked it up to reveal the cat beneath, and he put the hat on his head just before the gardener looked over the wall.

"Eddie!" the gardener said. "How are things?"

"Couldn't be better."

"Glad to hear it."

"And yourself?"

"I'm struggling on."


"Did you ever find that bandage?"

"I did. It was in the piano."

"It's amazing the things you'd find in a piano. My brother found a rabbit in his piano once. Of course, the rabbit had been dead for some time, but the rotting corpse covered the other smells coming from the piano."

"It's amazing the smells you'd get from a piano."

"You'd get some ferocious smells from a piano, or a harpsichord. You'd have to clean them out once a year. Is it okay if I shoot you now?"

"Now isn't really a good time for me."

"Right. When would be a good time?"


"Later wouldn't be good for me. I could get it over with nice and quickly right now."

"Why do you want to shoot me?"

"First of all, you convinced me to stop smoking my pipe because you said the smoke was forming shapes of decapitated farm animals and these headless creatures were upsetting people as they floated in front of houses. Then you convinced me to stop making jokes about waking up in an asylum surrounded by men who believed they were scarecrows. You told me that my jokes were offending scarecrows. And then you convinced me to stop whistling because the sound was interfering with messages from the birds' air traffic control centre, and many birds had crashed. One by one you've been divesting my life of its joys. When I couldn't smoke, whistle or tell jokes about waking up in an asylum surrounded by men who think they're scarecrows, I thought I was going mad. And then someone pointed out that just because you told me these things it doesn't mean they're... true... When I..."

The gardener was distracted by the sight of all the Eddies who came out when they heard his raised voice. "Maybe the stress has been affecting your mind," Gary said to the gardener. "You need to relax. Why don't you join the party."

"He's right," Harold said. "I spent too long thinking about breaking Eddie's arm. The stress got to me. But relaxing at the party and talking to Eddie for a few hours has done me the world of good." He'd actually been talking to Lucy for the previous few hours.

The gardener put down his gun and climbed over the wall. Someone got him a drink and he started to relax. He smoked his pipe, whistled and told jokes about waking up in an asylum surrounded by men who believe they're scarecrows. Within an hour he'd lost the need to shoot anyone. For Harold, the party became more stressful as it advanced towards midnight. He was disturbed by the attraction he felt for Lucy/Eddie.

The moose's head over the fireplace is wearing his green hat to celebrate Saint Patrick's Day. What better way to mark the day than by concentrating solely on the horses across the Irish Sea at Cheltenham. The horse racing is much better than the parades. They don't even race in the parades, although the wife's uncle says he got a great tip about a float shaped like a boarded-up house. It's running in the Cork parade.