'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010


It's heartening to see the daffodils in the garden again. They keep the dog entertained. He had been getting bored with my company, and he hasn't been talking to the garden gnomes ever since they expelled him from their book club. He would have been expelled from most book clubs for what he did.

My aunt Joyce often visits a friend of hers called Judy. They'll walk through the fields in silence or have a cup of tea and a chat in Judy's kitchen. Words are very scarce in their chats. Judy doesn't like too many words. She doesn't want much from life. She'd like a window every now and then, the occasional cup of tea, a scone, a knife and some butter. Jam would be the icing on the cake. But idiots keep talking to her. Most tea in tea shops is ruined by idiots who start talking through their noses. Strange creatures who do things to their eye brows will talk to her and expect her to understand why they do things to their eye brows. Somehow she'll find herself stuck in a conversation with an alien who can't stop laughing after saying 'Lemon and MacCartney' instead of whatever it was they meant to say. People only just returning from being away with the birds sit down at her table and release words that make twittering noises, words that have no intention of perching on a telephone wire and arranging themselves into anything resembling an order. People who dwell in gothic mansions might have heard her inner voice complain when they were tuning in to the astral plane to hear the latest instalment of a soap opera set in Sweden, the fractured action barely interrupted by her grumblings about the idiots and the aliens, the featherheads who should have stayed away with the birds, a voice that trails away in defeat as she gives up trying to fight the inescapable fact that other people will try to talk to her.

Sorry about that. The bit about the Swedish soap opera is pure speculation. I've heard stories about these things, comprehensive reports from people who aren't very reliable, but all that doesn't matter. Judy gets on well with my aunt because Joyce rarely tries to talk to her. Only one person could engage her in a meaningful conversation, and she had no idea how he managed to do it with such regularity. A man called Colman had been living near her for about a year. She'd meet him on the road and get entangled in a conversation with him, and she'd say things she didn't mean to say and end up doing things with him that she didn't want to do.

When she was walking into town to the shop one evening she met him and he said, "It's cold today."

"It is," she said.

"I suppose it'll be cold tomorrow as well."

"You never know. One day last week was gay and the one after it was anything but. And the day after that was called Amy."

"You never know with days."

"Or weeks."

"Or walls. I've never known what to say to walls. I often talk about my coconut."

"Do you still have your coconut?"

"I do. I've taught it how to sit and how to play dead."

"Can it roll over?"

"Only if you push it."

Judy was in tears when she arrived at my aunt's house on the following evening. Joyce was only able to make out bits of her story through the tears. She heard something about talking to a wall and then the words 'He said he used to be a racing driver', and then something about monkey jockeys.

When the flow of tears slowed down, it became easier to understand Judy. She said, "I agreed to go with him to the edge of the world. We were going to have a picnic there. After a dreadful journey in vehicles that looked as if they'd been buried in mud on farms we ended up in a cafe where fire alarms were constantly going off but there was never a fire. The people there just loved the sound of fire alarms. I hated it. Colman seemed remarkably calm when he said, 'Maybe this is the end of the world, and not the edge of the world. I think we might have taken a wrong turning when we were chased by those people dressed up as vultures. Do you remember? They were in the red tank.' He asked me if I remembered, as if it was the sort of thing that might have slipped my mind. After we left the cafe he said he could put everything right with a phone call to a friend of his, but things were much worse after he called his friend. We ended up in a room full of people smoking cigars and we were the only ones there who didn't have cigars, and all of the cigar-smokers kept staring at us, but I think they'd have been staring at us even if we had cigars. They didn't pay any attention to the music. I can't begin to describe how awful the music was."

"This always happens when you talk to him. And you don't need to let it happen. You can have a conversation with him and then leave without being chased by a tank."

"It's the way he talks, and the things he says. I think he's doing it deliberately."

"Then it's about time I had a word with him."

Joyce went to see Colman that evening and she asked him why he kept leading Judy into trouble.

"I can't help it," he said. "I have no control over what comes out of my mouth. Set up a certain conversation for me and my words will portray me as a character with some expertise in whatever we're talking about at that time. Put me in a certain situation and I'll fill whatever role is called for. People have suggested that I'm retrieving past lives, but some of these characters would have existed after I was born. Think of any situation and I'll fill it."

"Any situation?"

"Anything at all."

"In the pub on Friday night, anyone can get up on the stage and sing a song. Or more. Ten songs, if they want to. Normally the audience reaction means they stop at one. Or less than one."

"Well now that really is perfectly suited to me because I used to be a folk singer."


"I travelled the whole world. I've played in huge concert halls and I've provided live elevator music. I'm looking forward to playing in the pub. It's been a while since I last performed."

Joyce went to see him in the pub on Friday night. At first she had believed him when he said he was a folk singer. He had a way with words that could fog your critical faculties. Joyce could understand how Judy was so often entranced by his words. But after their conversation she wondered if the story about being a folk singer was just a lie.

Her doubts were soon allayed. He played the guitar and sang beautiful self-penned songs. If he had stopped at one song the audience would have been furious.

When the ovation after the seventh song had died down he said, "I'd like to sing a song about the Tuffle Hing, an animal I came across on the vast plains beneath the mountains where I used to live. I went by the name 'Grumble' when I lived there because that's what people used to call me, often while pointing at me and laughing. One day when I was trying to spot a Tuffle Hing at the foot of a mountain I found a ruby in a stream. I didn't have much use for rubies, but I kept it anyway.

"Three weeks later, a band called The Throwaway Skipimadoo turned up at my house one morning. They said they'd been travelling towards my house for three weeks, ever since I had found the ruby. It was their job to protect whoever owned it, because the ruby brought trouble to its owner. Part of me was saying that they just want to steal the ruby, but another part was saying they're genuine. I always trust the inner voices that see the positive side in people, and I'm glad I welcomed the band into my home. They were telling the truth about the ruby. In return for their protection, I offered to manage the band. I believed I could pass on my experience of the music industry. Unfortunately, I couldn't pass on any talent. They had heard the music of a pony called Poetry and they thought, 'If he can do it, so can we.' They were wrong about that, but managing them was a very enjoyable experience, and that's what mattered most.

"Life was almost blissful then. I spent many happy hours with the band, just enjoying their company rather than listening to their music. I'd go fishing sometimes, or I'd go to Wilma's house and help make another batch of that orange juice she liked.

"In the evenings I'd go to the vast concrete land at the edge of a nearby town. I'd listen to the desolate sound of the breeze on the empty concrete as the sun set. I love concrete. Some people like the park in autumn, with the leaves falling all around them, but I prefer concrete on autumn days, with a cold wind and my shadow on the ground. I like the sound of footsteps on concrete, and the brass bands when they play their sad music. This is how I ended up organising regattas on the concrete. It was often a windswept desolate affair, and the competitors would pass the time remembering past regattas when they had water and boats, but everyone enjoyed the experience.

"Things were going so well. I should have known it couldn't last. The band knew. One day the mountain police came to arrest me. They said I was fixing the boat races, but all I was doing was helping Wilma with her orange juice, which did have an affect on the outcome of the races, but I didn't know what she was putting into it. I mean, I knew, but I didn't know, if you know what I mean.

"I managed to get away from the mountain police, but I've been on the run ever since. The band are touring Europe to lead the police astray. They made a dummy of me out of cardboard and wire, and so far this has been enough to convince the police that I'm on tour with the band. So far. I feel as if my luck is just about to change. The reason I'm saying all this now is because they've finally caught up with me. I can see the mountain police at the back of the pub. I was afraid that they were near, and that my songs would draw them to me. I thought it was worth the risk just to air my songs again. And even now, as my unfortunate fate looms like a grey concrete wall before me, I'm glad I performed here tonight."

Two men arrived on the stage. They were wearing dark-green velvet uniforms and red hats shaped like onions. They led Colman away. They took him outside and they put him into their portable jail. This jail was a dead tree that was covered in moss. The trunk was hollowed out, and a grill made out of branches served as the window and the door. The tree was on the back of a cart pulled by four horses. Colman would be going on tour for the next year. He'd spend all of this time in the jail, travelling from town to town, where people could point and laugh at him, and call him Grumble.

Joyce went to see him in the jail on the following day. The mountain police had convinced some people to point, laugh and call him Grumble. They'd be setting out on their tour early on the following morning. Joyce was furious with the way they were treating Colman, and she was determined to free him. She convinced Judy to help her. Judy couldn't deny that she liked Colman, despite all the trouble he'd caused her. She secretly liked the trouble as well. Joyce also enlisted her husband, Cyril. Normally he'd glare at her for even contemplating the possibility that he might be interested enough to help, but his role in this plan involved cutting a prison open with a chainsaw, so he was keen to take part.

Before he'd get to work with the chainsaw, Joyce and Judy would scare the two mountain policemen away with stories of a beast who killed sheep at night, a creature who had started attacking humans as well.

Joyce and Judy arrived at the jail as the sun was setting. They stood near the guards.

"I'd love to be in a jail like that on a night like this," Joyce said.

"You'd get great protection from the beast," Judy said. "You'd desperately want to be in jail if you saw those sheep, and the looks frozen on their faces, and the way..."

"I used to be a shepherd," Grumble said. "I worked for a baker who was also the speaker in an informal parliament. I had three things back then. I thought I had everything. I didn't know there were more than three things. When I discovered there were four I thought, 'Interesting. So there are four things.' And I carried on as normal, only with four things instead of three, still thinking I had everything. The baker got rid of the sheep because of some political scandal he wanted to avoid. He bought geese instead. I had to look after them. They obeyed Latin commands. They were very obedient geese, as long as you could speak Latin. But somehow when I was with the geese, four things didn't seem enough. I thought, 'What if there are five things? Maybe I'd be happy if I had five things.' But it didn't seem very likely that there were five things. So I left my job looking after the geese..."

The expressions on the faces of the guards suggested that they were contemplating a long, tedious night ahead. Joyce said to them, "Would ye like to come back to my place for a drink?"

They couldn't resist the appeal of a drink and the company of Joyce and Judy, plus the chance to get away from Colman, so they left.

The beast arrived at the jail and roared. When Cyril saw that the guards had already gone he emerged from his beast costume and he brought his chainsaw out with him. Colman said, "This isn't the first time this has happened to me. The last time..."

The rest of his words were drowned out by the sound of the chainsaw.

Colman was freed within seconds. The guards only noticed he was gone on the following morning when they woke up with hangovers and photos of themselves dancing with inflatable pigeons. Joyce told them that the photos would be sent to their superiors unless they agreed to allow a bale of hay take the place of Colman in the jail for the next year. The guards agreed to this demand because the punishment for their lapse was a year spent washing butlers.

The moose's head over the fireplace seems to understand Russian. I've been playing Russian audio books for him. The wife's aunt listens to them as well, even though she doesn't understand the language, but the sound reminds her of the Russian imaginary friend she had when she was young. His name was Peter. He showed her how to use magnets to influence the outcomes of elections.