Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Tree and the Horse

'The Tree and the Horse' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.

It's available in paperback or as an ebook.

You can read the first two chapters below.

Click here to buy the book.

Chapter One.


Barry put on his coat after finishing work at half-five on Thursday evening. He’d spent the day painting small metal figurines of famous people from Irish history, and he was glad to get away from the smiling face of Michael Collins. There were three other painters: Deirdre, Nigel and Joe. They spent their days in a room at the far end of the factory, painting shamrocks and harps on souvenir plates and mugs, or painting the figurines.

Barry had been working there for fourteen years, ever since the company opened. It was his first proper job. There were six painters at the start, and everything was hand-painted. The company had grown over the years, but only a small number of their products were still painted by hand, so there was less work for Barry and his colleagues. Barry was the only one of the original six still there. Joe joined eight years ago, and Deirdre joined shortly after that. Nigel was the youngest and the most recent addition to their ranks. He’d been with them for a year and a half.

The factory had been extended over the years, but the painters’ room remained the same. There was a window that faced the road at the front, and another window at the side. There were houses at the other side of the road. Through the side window they could see a field on a hillside and a row of trees at the top of the hill.

The company was due to be featured on a TV show called Down The Road on that Thursday evening. The show looks at people, events and businesses from all over Ireland. A film crew had been there on the previous day. They had spent a few minutes filming the painters at work. Their boss and some of the other workers had been interviewed.

The painters were going to watch it in a pub near the factory. As they got ready to leave, Joe said, “Phil was saying they filmed him looking in the filing cabinet.”

“He was telling me that too,” Barry said. “You wouldn’t know with him.”

“I was in the office the other day,” Deirdre said, “and I’ve never seen the place looking so tidy. They cleaned all the windows too. He got Maggie to clean the glass on the pictures in reception. They were filming her on the phone. She keeps saying she hopes she doesn’t look stupid on it.”

“She can’t look stupid if she’s just on the phone,” Barry said. “As long as you can’t hear her.”

“She said that to me earlier,” Joe said, “that she hopes she doesn’t look stupid. I didn’t know what she was talking about.”

“They’re not going to show the worst bits,” Barry said. “It’s not that sort of show. Everything’s very friendly and cosy on it.”

“I don’t know about that,” Joe said. “I was watching it there a few weeks ago and they had a report about flower-arranging classes. There was a woman on it whose house burnt down.”

“What did she say about that?”

“She just said that the others in the flower-arranging class were almost like a family to her when her house burnt down.”

“Flower-arranging is the cosiest and friendliest possible way of looking at someone’s house burning down.”

“It’s always very upbeat alright,” Deirdre said.

“The last time I saw it,” Barry said, “there was a feature on a woman who made bread. They’re not going to show people looking stupid. They’re not going to show the thing on Noel’s foot, as much as he’d want them to show it.”

They left the building and walked down the hill overlooking the city. It was a cold evening in November. The city beneath them was full of lights. They walked past a small field and the entrance to a new housing estate, and then the old houses next to the footpath. They went into the pub on the corner.

They sat at a round table near the TV. Joe went to the bar to get the drinks. There were a few other people from the factory in the pub. Alan from accounts came over to their table. He said, “Someone was saying they were talking about cleaning the roof. I don’t know whether they did or not.”

“That’d be a fairly big job,” Deirdre said.

“I haven’t noticed any difference anyway. So I don’t know.”

“Did they film much around the offices?”

“Not much. Just people talking on the phone or looking in filing cabinets. They spoke to Colin alright.”

“He was telling me about that. He didn’t seem too bothered about it.”

“I’d say he’s called up everyone he’s ever met in his life and told them to watch it. Although that’s probably only about ten people.”

“Did they film you?”

“Yeah, on the phone. And I went over to the filing cabinet while they were talking to Colin, just for a laugh. They filmed what’s-her-name walking down a corridor with a sheet of paper in her hand.”


“No, the other one. They wouldn’t be interested in us anyway. We’ll be on for a few seconds and then we’ll be gone, if they show us at all. They’d be much more interested in the four of ye, and I’d say they had a field day with the lads at the kiln. You wouldn’t know what they’d put into it.”

“We were just saying earlier on,” Barry said, “they’re not going to show anything too bad. It’ll be more-or-less a promotional video. They’re not going to show what happens to an alarm clock when you put it in a kiln.”

“I never watch it myself,” Alan said. “You’d get sick of watching people on boats, or people opening shops selling God-knows-what. If I wasn’t working in the place I’d have no interest in watching this thing, and even at that I can’t see much reason to look at it if we’re all just talking on phones or looking in filing cabinets. Herself will have a great laugh at it.”

“Is she recording it?” Deirdre said.

“You can be damn sure she’s recording it. This’ll come out again at Christmas. ‘Look at Daddy with his head in the filing cabinet. Isn’t Daddy very clever?’”

“I’d say the kids would love to see it.”

“She’ll have them laughing their heads off. ‘That’s what Daddy does all day. Isn’t he very good?’”

There was silence in the pub when Down The Road started, but the first report was about people organising a fashion show to raise money to send members of a youth club on a canoeing trip. It had become an annual event. Most people in the pub ignored it and returned to their conversations.

The second report was the one they were all there to see. It started with the presenter walking through the car park in front of the factory, and then they showed Cyril, the owner and founder of the company. He was standing near the front entrance. After a brief interview in the reception area, he gave the presenter a tour of the factory. They spent a long time looking at the molds for the figurines and at the people working on the handmade pottery, but they only showed two seconds of the lads at the kiln smiling into the camera.

In the office they showed Phil at the filing cabinet, and then Alan at the filing cabinet when Colin was being interviewed. “He’s some eejit,” Alan said as he watched it on TV.

When the painters saw the next shot they immediately recognised the familiar surroundings of their room, but the camera was focussed on an unfamiliar face. A young woman was painting a harp on a small porcelain bell.

“Who’s she?” Joe said.

“I don’t know,” Barry said.

They could hear Alan laughing. “Which one of ye is that?” he said.

The scene in the painters’ room lasted just a few seconds. In the next shot, Cyril was being interviewed outside the front entrance.

“Was that you, Joe?” Alan said.

“They must have filmed her in the evening,” Barry said. “They were still there when we left work.”

The four painters were silent at the end of the report. Alan stopped laughing. He said, “Sorry if I... It was bad form of them to replace ye with a model.”

“I couldn’t care less,” Barry said.

“Yeah,” Alan said. “I’d be happy if they replaced me with a model. Although I’d be much happier if they replaced Colin.”

“I didn’t want to be on it in the first place,” Barry said.

“Neither did I,” Nigel said. “I wasn’t really bothered about it. I just did it because it was easier to do it than not to do it.”

“Still though,” Alan said, “it was bad form of them. The wife will be asking me why I haven’t told her about that good-looking young woman working on the painting. She’ll say I tell her all about gobshites like Colin. I better be getting home to her now. I’ll see ye tomorrow.”

They looked up at the TV again after Alan left. The final report was about a farm in Kerry where they keep ducks. A woman was showing the presenter around the place. She spoke about how happy the ducks were, and how groups of school kids often came to visit.

As the credits were rolling at the end, Joe said, “Those ducks didn’t look very happy to me.”

“I really couldn’t care less,” Barry said, “about being left out of the show. I never wanted to be on it. It would have been nice if someone had said something to us, but still, I couldn’t care less.”

“I’m almost glad I’m not on it,” Deirdre said.

“I think we should say something to Cyril.”

“He’d probably say something to us about it anyway.”

“Yeah well we should say something to him first. I’d just like to know why we weren’t told.”

They met Cyril in the car park on the following morning. He was walking towards the entrance, and he walked quicker when he saw them out of the corner of his eye. He stopped when Barry called out his name. He turned around and said, “Good morning there lads. It’s a grand morning, isn’t it?”

“It is,” Deirdre said.

“It’s a bit cold, but you wouldn’t mind that so much.”

“Yeah, as long as it’s not raining. You wouldn’t mind the cold so much then.”

“That’s true alright.”

“Did you see the show last night?” Barry said.

“I had all the family around to look at it. I thought the place came out very well. The phone didn’t stop ringing until about eleven o’ clock last night, and everyone was saying the place came out very well in it.”

“Yeah,” Barry said. “We didn’t recognise the woman who was painting the bell.”

Cyril shook his head and clicked his tongue. “It’s that bloody TV company,” he said. “They said ye just weren’t very ‘photogenic’. Whatever that means. They wanted to get a model in to do it instead.”

“She was a model?”

“Yeah. But now, I’d say she couldn’t paint a bell to save her life. They just wanted a few shots of her holding the paint brush and holding the bell. That was a finished bell.”

“Did they use any other models?”

“No. It was just for ye. It was something to do with the light, as far as I know. But I wouldn’t really know myself. I said to them, this isn’t really fair at all on the people who are slaving away at the painting every day. They’re experts in their field, and this isn’t fair on them at all. But sure, you might as well be talking to the wall.”

“Did you see the one about the ducks?” Joe said.

“I saw bits of it alright, but we had the volume down. It looked very funny.”

“They showed a man standing in the mud, and he was wearing green overalls covered in mud. He didn’t look like a model.”

“You wouldn’t know what they’d be doing, that bloody TV crowd. I wouldn’t know what they’d be doing anyway.” He looked at his watch. “But anyway, I better be off. There’ll be I-don’t-know-how-many messages on the phone. I’ll see ye later. And don’t forget the dinner in the hotel tomorrow evening.”

Cyril had organised a dinner for the staff to celebrate their appearance on TV. He went to his office.

“That’s fine so,” Joe said. “We’re worse than a duck farmer standing in shite. That’s great altogether. There was a bit about a sick duck, and the vet was called to look at it. He had the stethoscope out and everything. Can you imagine that? A vet for a sick duck, with a stethoscope. And they said it was something he ate. We’re worse than a sick fecking duck. That’s great altogether.”

At lunchtime some of their co-workers asked which one of them looked so good on TV, and was it the make-up, but most people had sympathy.

“It’s an insult,” Maggie said. “It’s a total insult.”

“We couldn’t care less,” Barry said.

“It’s just such a total insult, and to the four of ye of all people. Ye slave away all day in that place, and ye probably think the rest of us are slaving away all day as well, but like, the lads at the kiln are just looking for things to cook, and the other day I was watching Delia gluing felt caps to those little old men -
‘perverts’, Delia calls them -
and like, she was just talking to me half the time. And when they showed me on the phone there wasn’t even anyone on the other end, and as Delia was saying, it’s just like that anyway.”

“We’re not bothered at all.”

“I’d say Delia would love to have been replaced by that one. She’d be... she’d have a great laugh at that. I’d love to have been replaced by her too. It’d be an insult, but still…”

When they finished work on Friday evening, they put on their coats and left through a door with frosted glass. There’s a corridor beyond it that leads to the main entrance. They walked across the car park and stopped near the gate. They looked down on the lights of the city.

“I’d say it’ll be cold tonight,” Deirdre said.

“Yeah,” Nigel said. “The sky is clear.”

“I’d say it’s freezing already.”

“Should we wait around for Cyril?” Barry said.

“There isn’t really anything else you can say to him,” Deirdre said.

“We should definitely say something anyway.”

“His hands were sort of tied, with the TV company.”

“Well he should definitely have said something to them.”

“I remember watching it once,” Joe said, “and they were doing a report on gravediggers. One of them was telling a story about how his father lost a leg at sea. We’re worse than that. That’s fantastic.”

“He should have said something to them,” Barry said, “and the least we could do is let him know that he should have said something. Because I don’t think he said anything.”

“I have to go now,” Deirdre said, looking at her watch. “I have to get the bus into town to meet my sister.”

“I’ll miss the bus home if I wait around,” Nigel said.

“We’ll let it go for now,” Barry said. “But we’ll definitely have to have a word with him sometime. We could talk to him tomorrow evening in the hotel. I couldn’t care less that I wasn’t on TV, but we can’t let him think he can walk all over us.”

They said goodbye. Barry and Joe went to their cars in the car park. Deirdre and Nigel went to the bus stop.





Chapter Two.


Barry stood on a footpath at three o’ clock on Saturday afternoon. He looked down over a small field full of gorse and long grass. Deirdre had gone to the shop and he was waiting there for her.

She arrived with a plastic bag in her hand. “There was a big four-by-four stopped outside the shop,” she said, “and it was blocking all the traffic.”

“They just park anywhere.”

“And I’m sure the woman who was driving it was inside talking to the girl behind the counter. They were talking about a woman who got engaged and she wanted to go on a train journey for the honeymoon. They thought she was odd.”

“I suppose it depends where the train goes to.”

“That’s true.”

“You could get a train to Thurles. That’d be odd.”

“A trip on the Orient Express would be a nice honeymoon.”

“You wouldn’t be stopping in places like Thurles anyway.”

“Any time I go into that shop there’s always someone talking to the girl behind the counter.”

“I hardly ever go in there. I get almost everything in the supermarket.”

“So would I really. But sometimes I’d be stuck for a few little things. Milk and things.” She held up the bag.

They walked on, past a house where a man on a ladder was hammering something into the gable end, and then into a housing estate. They went into Deirdre’s house and she put the groceries away. They walked on to Barry’s house, and they went into the city in his car.

Nigel and Joe were waiting in a pub. They sat at a small table. Joe was drinking a pint of Murphy’s. Nigel poured orange from a small bottle into a glass that was half-full of ice. Joe looked down at the ground and said, “Those tiles are very…”

“I know what you mean.”

“I don’t know what they are. The brother was telling me that he saw Down the Road a few weeks ago, and they had this thing about people who were recreating some battle. They had fellas dressed up as farmers, wearing rags. There was stuff on their faces as well. They all had pitch forks, but I’d say the smell would have been a more powerful weapon. There was this fella lying in the mud in his rags, pretending to be dead, and there was blood pouring out of him. We’re worse than that.”

“There’s always weird stuff on it every time I watch it, like a man making his own helicopter.”

“The strangest thing I ever saw on it was paintballing. They run around the woods shooting paint at each other. They were talking about some fella who cut his leg when he was climbing over a barbed wire fence. That was the worst accident they ever had. He shouldn’t have been climbing over the fence at all. Some of them are awful eejits.”

“Have you ever gone paintballing?”


“I went once. Some of them are a bit thick alright. You can take them out easily enough.”

“You could take out anyone if they’re stuck in a fecking barbed wire fence.”

“You could.”

Deirdre and Barry arrived. Deirdre asked Joe if Anthea was coming to the dinner this evening. He’d been going out with Anthea for six years, and they were yet to get engaged. “She’s taking her mother somewhere,” he said. “It’s just as well. She’d only tell Cyril to feck off if she met him.”

“Was she angry about you being dropped from Down The Road?” Barry said.

“She couldn’t care less about that sort of thing. I’d say she hardly even watched it. But she wouldn’t think twice about telling him to feck off.”

“She sounds like just the person we need,” Barry said.

“She’ll be collecting me later on. But she won’t come in. She couldn’t be bothered.”

Nigel said that his girlfriend, Natasha, was meeting some friends, and he’d be leaving early to join up with them.

Nigel and Joe finished their drinks and the four of them left the pub. The streets were full of shoppers, and the traffic moved slowly.

The dinner was being held in a hotel in the city. The walls at either side of the hotel’s gates were covered in ivy. A twisting tarmac drive led them to the entrance.

A few people from the factory were smoking outside the glass doors when the painters arrived. They met Alan, and Deirdre asked him if the kids enjoyed his TV appearance.

“They’ve me driven mad,” he said. “They’ve watched it about twenty times. Herself is just as bad as them.”

“It’s nice for the kids. They’d enjoy it more than anyone. Eileen was saying that her kids loved it too.”

“It’s alright for the kids to get excited about it. You’d have to wonder about some of the rest of them. I’d say Colin will be telling people about it for years to come.”

“I thought he came across very well on it.”

“I’ve had to look at his performance about twenty times because the kids keep replaying my trip to the filing cabinet. I’d say I haven’t looked at him twenty times in real life.”

“Is Phil here at all?” Barry said.

“He’s gone to a Bruce Springsteen concert. There’s always something with him. Last week he was at a musical.”

Joe pointed at a young woman walking into the hotel and he said, “Is that the model who was painting the bell?”

“That’s her alright,” Deirdre said. “I suppose it was Cyril who invited her to this.”

“I thought ye knew,” Alan said.

“Knew what?”

“I was sure ye knew about that.”


“She’s Cyril’s niece. I thought ye knew. Because I’d have told ye straightaway if I thought ye didn’t know about that.”

“I knew that was a load of rubbish,” Barry said. “All that ‘photogenic’ stuff. Because they once showed an operation on a bloody hamster.”

“That’s right,” Joe said. “The brother was telling me about that too. They showed the insides of a hamster but they wouldn’t show us. Isn’t that fantastic?”

“I knew it was rubbish. It’s not that they wouldn’t show us. He just wanted to get his niece on TV.”

“I only found out today,” Alan said. “I was sure ye knew about that.”

The painters went inside. They met Cyril, and Joe said to him, “Did you ever see that feature they had about a pig farm? They showed hundreds and hundreds of pigs.”

“Hundreds of them?”

“Or even thousands. They were all in a huge shed.”

“It’s amazing what they can do nowadays.”

Barry said, “Someone was saying to us that the model who appeared in our place is actually your niece.”

“That’s right. Grace. She wants to be a pop star, or a model. Or something.”

“Yeah. She was very good on TV, in fairness, but we were just wondering was it the TV company who insisted that she take our place, or...”

“I’ll tell y’ now, when they saw her photo, one of them said, ‘That girl will be the next Cindy Crawford.’ I got on the phone straightaway and told her that.”

“She’s very pretty alright,” Deirdre said.

“She doesn’t think she looks anything like Cindy Crawford. Her mother thinks she’s more like Nicole Kidman, but that’s just her mother.”

“So they wanted her because she’s more photogenic?” Barry said.

“Natalie Portman was mentioned too. I don’t know who she is.”

“And it was they who suggested she stand in for us, was it?”

“I wouldn’t understand the ins and outs of these things at all. I just let them get on with it. When they were talking about ‘photogenic’ this and ‘lack of light’ that, I just said to them, ‘Look lads, do whatever ye think is best. I’ll leave it in ye’r hands.’ Because they’d always be one step ahead of me.”


“Enjoy the dinner anyway. Let the hair down tonight.”

He waved as he walked away.

“So we’re worse than the insides of a hamster,” Joe said. “That’s grand. Just as long as we know where we are in the scheme of things. That’s grand altogether.”

Grace was standing in the lobby, looking all around her as she held a coat. They went over to her and Barry said hello. He introduced himself and his fellow painters. “We’re the ones who normally paint those bells with the harps on them.”

“Oh. Hi.”

“We just thought we’d introduce ourselves, seeing as you were the one who stood in for us... Thanks for that.”

“Ye’re welcome. Coz like, if anything ye did me a favour.”


“I mean, I’d have done it for nothing. So… d’ y’ know?”

“Yeah,” Deirdre said. “You were very good.”


Barry said, “Was it your uncle who suggested you appear on the show?”

“Yeah. I’ve been rehearsing it for weeks. I probably couldn’t paint one of those things as well as ye could, but I could paint a little bit of them. All I was really doing was painting a little bit of them. At first I thought, God, how am I going to do this, but then I thought, I only need to paint a little bit of them. Because they’re never going to have time to show me painting the whole thing.”

“The practise showed,” Deirdre said.

“I’d have been hopeless if I hadn’t put the work in.”

“Your uncle was telling us that you want to be a pop star.”

“I don’t really know what I want to be yet. I mean, if someone came to me and said, ‘Here’s your chance to be a pop star,’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, that sounds good.’ But I’d like to do something in TV too. Or anything. People often say I should be a model and I say, ‘Yeah, I don’t know.’ I mean, if someone came along and said, ‘Here’s your chance to be a model,’ I’d say, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ But I’m not desperate to be a model or a singer or an actress or something. I’m doing business studies in college.”

“You have all bases covered,” Deirdre said.

“Yeah. Like, I don’t really know what I’m doing. And I love that because… it’s just more interesting this way.”

“I’m sure we’ll be seeing your face on TV again.”

“Fingers crossed. Do ye know if there’s a cloak room around here? Or a coat room?”

“I don’t know. Maybe if you ask at the bar.”

“Yeah. It’s a coat I have, not a cloak. ‘Somewhere to put my coat’. That’s what I should ask for.”


“But I’ll probably say ‘cloak’ anyway. I’ll see ye later.”


She left them. They looked out the window overlooking the city. The lights were coming on.

“That’s fine so,” Joe said. “We’re worse than them all. And they’re worse than any of us.”

Cyril came over to their table after the meal and he insisted on buying them drinks. “I’ll need one myself before the speech,” he said.

“Will there be any surprises in it?” Barry said.

“No. It’ll just be thanking people and talking about what we’ve done over the past year. But ye already know what we’ve done, so that shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. And I might throw in a joke as well. There was this greyhound… No, I’ll wait till I’m at the microphone before telling it.”

His joke about the greyhound and the ballet dancer didn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Nigel left to meet Natasha at the end of the speech.

Bobby came over to them a few minutes later. He had been with the company for a few months. He was twenty years old. They had met him once before when he came into their workshop and asked if they wanted to buy a radiator.

“I thought it was terrible the way he fecked ye over,” he said. “Just to get his niece on TV.”

“I wouldn’t put it like that,” Barry said. “It doesn’t really matter. I mean, we don’t care at all, and that’s all that really matters.”

“So ye’re just going to let him walk all over ye and pretend ye don’t care?”

“What can we do about it?”

“Break the windows in his car.”

“Isn’t that a bit of an over-reaction?”

“Of course it’s not. He’ll never know ye did it. There are plenty of people out there who break car windows just for a laugh.”

“I don’t think so. We certainly don’t care enough to break his car windows.”

“The reason he fecked ye over was because he knew he’d get away with it. He knew ye’d just sit there and say, ‘We don’t really care. Thanks very much.’ Ye have to be more aggressive.”

“I could understand if you were saying we should be more assertive, but I’d still say we don’t really care.”

“The way to be assertive with people like Cyril is to get aggressive.”

“It’s about getting the balance right. You don’t have to break things to get things done.”

“Yeah, but ye’ll do absolutely nothing. What sort of a balance is that?”

“If your only options are doing nothing or breaking car windows, I’m always going to do nothing, and I don’t care what anyone says about that.”

“Who said those were your only options? There are as many options as you can think of.”

“Like what?”

“You have to think of them first.”

“What if you were restricted to non-violent options?”

“Well I already guessed ye wouldn’t go for a kidnapping or a siege. It takes a bit of time to come up with something that’s subtler than breaking the windows in his car.”

“Surely just about everything is subtler than breaking his windows.”

“Maybe so, but not just any old idea will do.”

“Are you going dancing when the band starts?” Deirdre said to Bobby.

“Who am I going to dance with? Maggie? She’s already looking for a chance to kick me and I don’t want to make it easy for her. I told her she’d have looked better on TV if she had her back to the camera. I was just complimenting her back.”

“What about Sophie?”

“She wouldn’t even kick someone like me, let alone look at me.”

“Martin will probably ask her out to dance,” Barry said, “just for a laugh. He does that at the Christmas party every year.”

“That’d be worth watching alright.”

“She actually said ‘yes’ once, the first time he asked. So it won’t happen again.”

“I’d say her feet wouldn’t be safe. And she’d be worried about more than just her feet.”

“He was as shocked as anyone when she said ‘yes’. He didn’t know what to do. They just danced for a while, and I’d say he was half afraid. She’s said ‘no’ over the past few years and he knows where he stands with that. If she kept saying ‘yes’ he’d stop asking her.”

Bobby drank from his pint of stout. He put the glass back on the table and said, “Her feet. That’s how ye’ll get back at Cyril: through Grace’s feet.”

“Just forget about it,” Barry said.

“No. Ye’re probably thinking of this in the light of my suggestion to break the windows in his car, but forget about that.”

“It really doesn’t matter,” Deirdre said.

“Ye can say that, but ye’re interested.”

“This doesn’t have anything to do with Grace,” Barry said. “We have nothing at all against her.”

“She’ll like this. She’ll think it’s the best thing that’s ever happened to her, after appearing on TV painting a leprechaun or whatever it was. What was it?”

“A bell.”

“Was it?”


“God. Do ye ever get tempted to paint blood on them after painting the same thing over and over?”

“Y’ see,” Barry said, “it’s those comments that make us suspicious of following your advice in relation to Grace’s feet.”

“Look, it’s as simple as this. I used to go out with a woman who did paintings of forks.”

Barry said, “I still don’t like where this is heading if it’s going to end up with Grace’s feet.”

“For someone who spends his days painting the same thing over and over again, you’ve got no patience. As I was saying, I was going out with a woman called Monica who painted forks. She was still in art college. She used to sing in a band as well. They were all art students. You can imagine what they were like as a band if they met in art college. It’d be like pupils in clown college deciding they want to be mountain climbers. Although the side of a mountain would be the best place for clowns. Herself and her band loved being on stage. In fairness to her, she could paint. I don’t know what got into her head to make her think she could sing.”

“I wouldn’t have thought you’d mix in those circles,” Barry said.

“I don’t normally associate with artists, but I associate with women, and she was a woman first and foremost. I ended up associating with a lot of artists because of her, and there’s one of them in particular who could help ye.”

“So you did end up mixing in art circles?”

“I’ll mix in any circles. Whether they like it or not. And if they like it at the start, you can be damn sure they won’t like it at the end.”

“Did the art crowd ever like it?”

“They thought I was interesting. She thought I was everything. But this fella who could help ye, he’s really a photographer, and apparently he’s fairly famous as a fashion photographer, but he’s an artist too. His name is Neil Hanly-Marsh. He takes photos of women’s feet. He went to the same art college that Monica went to, but he would have been there a few years before Monica was there. They met at an exhibition. I met him because he wanted to take photos of her feet, and I thought, ‘Wait a second, there’s something wrong with this.’ But then I met him and he was fine. My idea is to get him to phone Cyril and say, ‘I’m a famous fashion photographer and I saw one of your painters on TV. I want to take photos of her.’ Cyril will fall out of himself. He’ll tell Grace about it and he’ll pretend he arranged the whole thing for her. And then she’ll find out that this photographer wants to take photos of her feet. She probably wouldn’t be bothered, but her parents will be furious. They’ll kill Cyril. They’ll think there’s something very wrong with this.”

“And you think this ‘famous fashion photographer’ will agree to do this just because you ask him?”

“He owes me a favour. He once photographed the feet of a rich woman. Her husband thought they were having an affair, and she let him think that. He was making threats against Neil. When Neil told me about this he said he didn’t know what to do, so I said I’d sort it out. I went to see the husband and I told him I was the one who photographed his wife’s feet. I remember Monica telling me about some artist who hires people to paint pictures for him, so I said that Neil was the artist -
he was the ideas man -
but I did the actual work. I told him his wife had never even met Neil, and that she practically jumped on to me. I said she thought he was having an affair with his secretary, and she wanted to have a fling with me as revenge. I told him I’d have done it with her if it wasn’t for revenge -
I didn’t want to be used. I’d say he probably was having an affair with his secretary. His reaction seemed to be ‘How in God’s name did she find out about that?’ rather than ‘Why in God’s name did she think that?’ After seeing the secretary it made perfect sense. I’d say he didn’t hire her for her typing.”

Deirdre said, “Are you sure that the photographer didn’t have an affair with that woman?”

“He could choose whatever woman he wants. I’ve seen a photo of her, and he wouldn’t touch her with a barge pole. If he did, she’d say he’s coming on to her.”

“Does he only photograph women’s feet?” Barry said.

“It’s nearly all women, and mostly young women too. And he often just photographs one foot. There might have been one or two men. He said the imbalance was because the men were more reluctant. I’d say it was himself who was more reluctant. If he wasn’t, there’s something wrong with him.”

“And you don’t think there’s something wrong with him?”

“Not after meeting him, no, but the point is that when you hear he’s going to photograph someone’s feet you’ll think there’s something wrong with him. That’s what Grace’s parents will think. Cyril will be telling them that she’ll be the new face of fashion, and she won’t be the face of anything when her foot’s being photographed. All they’ll see is that he arranged for their eighteen-year-old daughter to have her feet photographed by some weirdo.”

“I don’t think this would be fair on Grace,” Deirdre said.

“I don’t know,” Barry said. “At first I thought you were going to come up with something crazy, after you wanted to break the windows in his car.”

Bobby smiled. The look in his eyes suggested he was thinking of something crazy.

“Yeah,” Barry said. “But this seems okay. This seems fair enough. No one’s going to get hurt. They’ll just get a bit bothered, which would balance things up nicely. Not that we’re bothered.”

“Before I met her,” Deirdre said, “I might have agreed to this. But she seems like a really nice girl.”

“This could be a fantastic opportunity for her,” Barry said.

“Oh God yeah,” Bobby said. “This fella is a fashion photographer. This could make her career. This isn’t to get back at her at all. This is to drive her family mad. And they’ll blame Cyril for it. And they’ll break the windows in his car, which is what ye want.”

“I’m still not sure,” Deirdre said. “Is this photographer really okay?”

“He’s an award-winning photographer and an award-winning artist. People are queuing up to have their feet photographed by him.”

Barry said, “He won’t want to, y’ know… sleep with her?”

“No, but that’s the first thing her family will think when she comes home and says, ‘Mammy, I met a man who wants to take photos of my feet in his studio.’”

“And it will just be her feet?”

“Totally. He’s a nut-case.”

“Are you still in contact with this photographer?”

“I’m never out of contact with anyone. Everything is mixing in circles. You always have to be on the lookout.”

“For what?”

“You never know until you find it. I met an artist who photographs feet because I was on the lookout. Ye’ll just sit here all night drinking lemonade and orange. Ye’ll never meet the person who knows a druid or the man who pushed a caravan off a cliff.”

“You mean it’s not you?”

“Ye’d never meet someone like me if I hadn’t been on the lookout for ye. Ye’d let people like Cyril get away with anything and thank them for the orange or the lemonade.”

“It’s still better than breaking his windows.”

“And having his niece’s feet photographed is better than either. I’m going outside for a smoke. Think about it.”

After Bobby left, Deirdre said, “I could ask my sister about this photographer.”

“Carol?” Barry said.

“Yeah. She’s into art. She might have heard of him. And if she hasn’t heard of him I’d say we should definitely give the whole thing a miss, and even if she has, we should probably steer clear of it.”

“I wasn’t listening to him at all,” Joe said.

“Good for you,” Barry said.

“I wouldn’t know what he’d be on about half the time.”

“What about the other half?”

“I wouldn’t listen to him.”

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