'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Sunday, October 17, 2010

The Dog with the Pig's Head

I see signs of the changing seasons everywhere I look. Brown leaves are falling from the trees. The shops are straining to unleash Christmas. This seems to have affected some of the neighbours. Christmas decorations have been put up in gardens, and they've been disguised as Halloween decorations. Santa's rosy cheeks are white, and the smiles of his elves seem sinister when pitch forks are tied to the little plastic hands. I've gone for a natural look. Dead leaves decorate our garden. I'd gladly leave them there until Christmas, but I know I'll be put under pressure to sweep them away and replace them with plastic reindeer who can fly and break windows every time the wind blows.

My cousin June's kids, Daisy and Graham, once heard that a neighbour of theirs got a new dog that had the head of a pig. They wanted to see the dog even more than they wanted vegetables to be made out of chocolate. For nearly a week they kept pestering their mother to take them to see the dog. They abandoned all of their efforts to convince her of the merits of chocolate potatoes, and they did their best to subtly steer every conversation in the direction of the dog with the pig's head.


   June: Do you want some chocolate potatoes?

   Graham: Do you know who'd love chocolate potatoes? The dog with the pig's head.

June was reluctant to take the kids to see the dog, partly because she knew that such a creature couldn't exist and partly because she was afraid that it did. But the kids finally wore down her resistance and she agreed to ask Fergus, their neighbour, if they could see his new dog.

Fergus showed them the dog. On any other occasion, Daisy and Graham would have been as happy as a Labrador puppy if they saw a Labrador puppy, but they were disappointed because this one had the head and body of a Labrador puppy. When people said that he had the head of a pig they meant that he'd stolen a pig's head from a butcher's shop (a head that had once been attached to the body of a pig) and he wouldn't let anyone take it off him. The head was nearly as big as him, but he was getting bigger and the head was getting smaller.

"The puppy's name is Freddie," Fergus said. "I called him that after my sister's dog. I couldn't think of anything else. My sister's dog is called after my nephew, who's also called Freddie. It's critically important to point out that my Freddie is called after my sister's dog and not her son. Her son called me a weasel."

"Haven't you tried taking the pig's head off him at night?" June said.

"Every night I spend hours trying to get it off him. I wouldn't be able to sleep anyway because of the smell. Freddie doesn't seem to mind the smell at all. He only wakes up when I get anywhere near the pig's head."

"We could help you get it off him," Daisy said.

"We could definitely get it off him," Graham said. "He doesn't stand a chance against us."

The kids were full of enthusiasm for their latest scheme. They needed something to replace their well orchestrated campaign of pestering their mother, and there didn't seem to be any likelihood of pestering her into making chocolate potatoes. Their first plan was for Daisy to distract the puppy with socks while Graham took the pig's head. Graham had to undertake this part of the plan because Daisy refused to go anywhere near the pig's head (though she'd gladly have picked it up if it had been a choice between that and Graham's socks). Their plan failed because Freddie valued a rotting pig's head more than socks, and the kids knew that this creature might have a perfectly normal puppy head on the outside, but something very strange was going on inside.

They needed help, so they went to see Gareth. Every Halloween, Gareth came up with an elaborate costume for a competition in the park. He always won, even though no one was frightened by the costume. Animals were terrified of him. Many animals were scared of him when he wasn't wearing the costume (and they were right to be scared -- unwary animals have ended up being incorporated into his costumes). Halloween was just a few days away and the kids asked him to use his latest costume to frighten Freddie. They expected the puppy to drop the pig's head so he could get away as quickly as possible, but Freddie just wagged his tail when he saw the costume, much to the annoyance of Gareth.

Gareth was furious when he came back to Fergus's house that evening. He said he'd gone out to his shed to do some more work on his costume after dinner and he found Freddie asleep inside one of the costume's five legs. The pig's head was in there as well, and there didn't seem to be much chance of getting either of them out. Freddie growled and snarled every time Gareth put his hand inside the leg. And there was no way the smell was leaving any time within the next year. The puppy and the situation were getting a bit too strange for Daisy and Graham. They decided to devote their attention to a new scheme, which involved Black Forrest Gateau Brussels sprouts.

They didn't see Gareth again until the costume competition in the park on Halloween. This year everyone was terrified when he arrived. A spine-chilling sound emerged from the neck of this headless creature, and even if you couldn't hear the sound you'd have been unnerved by the manic movement of the many arms and legs. The crowd fled in terror when this beast fell over and a rotting pig's head rolled out of the neck. Only the local butcher stayed behind. He was delighted to get his pig's head back. Freddie was heart-broken when he emerged from the neck and saw that his pig's head was gone. His howls made the crowd run faster.

But they soon realised there was nothing to be scared of. Freddie's howls became barks of delight when someone gave him another pig's head. Gareth's howls from inside the costume just made people smile.

The moose's head over the fireplace has been trying on his costume for our Halloween party. He'll be a pirate with the skeleton of a parrot on one of his antlers. The wife's aunt will be going as a lamp again. She wears a hat shaped like a shade. She smiles brightly at people and sings songs of love and happiness, making sure that nothing but light emanates from her head. It's truly terrifying.