'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, August 18, 2010

All in the heart

I could spend all evening looking out the window at the garden in a breeze. It's important to guard the window as well, to stop, Clancy, one of our neighbours from getting in. He wears a top hat, and his pet mice live in it. They have a door in the hat, but they always go in and out through the window. He tried to train them to use the door, but he failed, so he pretended that he wanted them to use the window, that going in and out of a house through a window was the civilised thing to do. This is why he gave up using doors himself, and he's managed to convince other people that breaking into houses through windows is a sign of sophistication. Some people didn't need much convincing.

My uncle Ben once made cider using the apples from the trees in his garden. It was around about this time that he started seeing strange lights at night in the fields around his house. The people who had refused to drink his cider (which was everyone he offered it to) said that this was just a hallucination due to the effects of the cider, and they didn't hesitate in saying 'I told you so', even though they'd told him nothing of the sort.

Ben started to wonder if they were right. Perhaps he was going mad. He kept thinking about this, and he knew that if he wasn't mad, the fear that he was going mad would certainly drive him there. He needed to find out if the lights were all in his head, so he set out to investigate late one night.

He was relieved to find that the lights were real. They were the flashlights of people who were following an old man as he walked through the fields. He had a bag over his shoulder and a letter in his hand. He seemed to be in a trance. One of the people following him told Ben that this man, whose name was Patrick, was a retired postman, and every night he went sleepwalking to deliver a letter. The letters were always addressed to a woman called Maggie. The address was different each night. It could be a town anywhere in the country, but Patrick always delivered them to a place in the locality. He'd put one in a tree or give one to a cow or leave one by a stream.

Ben became worried again. He suspected he was hallucinating. His mind became preoccuppied with thoughts of madness, and he didn't pay any attention to where he was going. When he tripped over a rock he used a swear word that was loud enough to seep into the dreams of people sleeping in houses a mile away. Patrick woke up. He was terrifed at first, but he soon realised what was going on. It wasn't the first time he had woken up in a field with a letter in his hand.

His followers wanted to know why he delivered letters in his sleep. He said there was a very good reason for it, a story to explain his strange behaviour, but it was the sort of story that could only be told in the right atmosphere. Ben said he knew how to create this atmosphere at short notice, and he went home to get some cider. The postman agreed to tell the story as long as he didn't have to drink any of it.

When he was in his twenties he was always doing stunts on his motorbike to impress his friends. He was at a garden party one evening when he tried to jump over an elephant. This was a pink elephant which was often seen by a man called Trevor, who had long conversations with the elephant who followed him around. Patrick made it over the elephant, but he crashed into a tree, which he thought was just a figment of his imagination. When he regained consciousness he was being tended to by a nurse called Maggie. He thought she was an angel, and she didn't go down in his estimation when he realised that she was human and he was still alive. He stayed with her until exhaustion recalled him to unconsciousness on the following afternoon. It was a magical time, and he wasn't sad when it came to an end because he thought he'd be spending the rest of his life with her. She wrote her address on a piece of paper, but when he woke up he couldn't find it. He didn't even know her surname. He tried hard to remember her name and address. He sent letters to Maggies all over the country, but he never found her. No one at the party knew who she was. Some people told him she was probably just an invention of his mind. Alcohol and concussion wasn't a good combination, they said. But he was convinced that she was real, and he kept trying to find her. Even after forty years, the longing to see her again was so strong that his subconscious mind was still trying to remember her address as he slept.

His story was so heart-breaking that he agreed to try some of Ben's cider, and so did all of his followers. It certainly helped lighten the mood. Within an hour, he was attempting another jump on his motorbike. This time he'd try to go over a red donkey, which wasn't real. Neither was the motorbike, but Patrick still knocked himself unconscious when he ran into a tree.

When he regained consciousness he saw Ben kneeling over him, and he was convinced that Ben was Maggie. Ben played along because he thought it would be cruel to deprive him of a meeting with the love of his life, even if it was just an illusory one. He kept up the act until the ambulance arrived and took Patrick to hospital.

Ben went to see Patrick in the hospital on the following day. Patrick felt at peace after seeing Maggie again, and he was glad he hadn't asked for her address. "She hasn't aged well at all," he said. "It's for the best that I'll never see her again. I'm glad I only saw her face at night this time around. Even then I could tell by the look in her eyes that she's not the brightest of bulbs. And the smell!"

Ben felt a need to defend himself, but he said nothing. Everything had worked out for the best, he thought.

Patrick was released from hospital later that day. That night, Ben was woken by the sound of the letterbox opening. When he looked out the window he saw Patrick sleepwalking away down the garden path. He had just delivered a love letter to Maggie. Ben decided he'd be better off avoiding Patrick, and ignoring any noises he heard in the middle of the night.

The moose's head over the fireplace has looked annoyed since Sunday afternoon when the wife's niece performed some of her songs for us. For someone so young, she's amassed a surprisingly large number of songs about getting lost in the wild and having to kill animals with a pair of binoculars.