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The Missing Dart
By David D. Furlotte
Wednesday, July 10, 2002
The Missing Dart
Growing up in a small city during the sixties was a much easier thing to do than it is today…or one might think. However, when that city was St. John's, Newfoundland and you were dealing with mothers of Irish descent who believed that being the head of the household was their matriarchal birthright, it is surprising that my friends and I ever survived to reach adulthood.
Irish mothers are renowned worldwide for believing in the old adage, "Spare the rod and spoil the child." Needless to say, neither my friends nor I were ever spoiled, but the rod was spared from providing discipline simply because you could break a rod! It was either a thick leather belt or a hand unerringly delivered to the back or side of our heads that was used to provide discipline to my friends and I. Actually, it always amazed me that my mother's soft hand, which so lovingly caressed me as a baby, could so easily be transformed into a hard, lethal weapon. I still wonder whether those who study martial arts receive their best lessons from Irish mothers.
My friends and I would often start our days by discussing who was the latest victim who "got it" and in the grisly fashion that only prepubescent boys can do; we would relive each and every blow with deliciously horrible detail. My friends, who in today's terminology would be referred to as my "posse" were comprised of Grant, John, Brian, Billy, and Pat. Our adventures, or misadventures, as our mothers would call them, would make strong full-grown men tremble with fear or perhaps I would be mistaking that for shivering with laughter.
You have to understand that growing up in a city whose tallest building at the time was a 9-story hotel, it was not uncommon to be recognized as "Missus So and so's son" by any of the local shopkeepers. I still recall how those shopkeepers felt that it was their sworn duty to call our mothers and report any minor indiscretions that we committed. I honestly believe to this very day that those shopkeepers took great joy in making those calls because secretly it gave them a sense of accomplishment in knowing that we were going to get what they had gotten while they were growing up. I suppose in a way that it was some kind of twisted method of getting even, but that is another story.
I recently came across a set of darts and they reminded me of the first time I had ever held a set that I could call my own. My father used to make frequent trips to what my mother referred to as, the beer parlor, and occasionally he would win prizes and money by playing in tournaments, so I was not completely unaware of the existence of the game while I was growing up. It was during the summer of my tenth year that I was surprised when my father brought home a board and dart set deciding to acquaint his only son with the finer points of the skill testing game. He placed the board on the closest bare wall he could find, which unfortunately was in the living room, and then marked off, on the floor, where we should stand to shoot from. He proceeded to show me how to properly hold and throw a dart but did not realize that I might not have his superior eye and hand co-ordination, or the benefit of several beers under my belt. Fortunately for the sake of the surrounding wall and the back of my head; which received a swat from my father whenever I missed the board, he quickly got annoyed with trying to teach me the game and suddenly became more interested in taking a nap on the living room couch.
So, while my dad napped noisily on the couch, I pulled the dartboard off the wall, praying that I would not be the one to tell my mother where all the tiny holes came from, and took the board and darts out into our backyard to do a little practicing. Now, for those of you who remember back to the days of your youth, I suspect that you also remember that 10 year olds have the attention span of a ferret on a double espresso, so it was not unusual when I left the darts sticking in the board after about eight minutes and went off in search of my friends to impress them with my new acquisition and highly developed skills.
Being such a small neighborhood, it didn't take long to find everyone and next thing I knew, we were all out behind my house, shooting darts at the board while I tried to explain the proper way to play the game. This of course was based on what little instruction I had received and combined with rules that I was making up because I had already forgotten the real ones.
We began to play and discovered a new problem. We had six kids, six darts, and no real rules, but I was insistent that we each got to throw three darts apiece. That simple rule was the beginning of our undoing. Waiting for a turn took too long and I left Grant, John, and Brian down behind the house shooting darts while I went inside to get glasses of Kool-aid for Billy, Pat, and myself.
To truly understand this story, the stage needs to be set a little. Our house was a large three-story Victorian style home that my mother had turned into a good old-fashioned Irish boarding house and there was a mutual laneway that ran between our house and the one beside us leading into large spacious backyards. All of this space meant that the three who were playing with the darts were completely isolated from those of us who were drinking Kool-aid, which was lucky because I only had enough to fill three glasses anyway.
Pat, Billy and I had just finished our drinks when a blood-curdling scream emanated from the lane and before we could even make it down the laneway to find out what was going on, Brian was kicking up dust as he flew past us with arms all akimbo, and what was clearly one of my darts sticking out of his side. Now what do a bunch of ten-year-old boys do when they see one of their friends run screaming down the street, in tears, with a dart sticking out of his side? We began to laugh ourselves into a stupor, of course. That was, until he disappeared around the corner and one of us figured out that there might be trouble over this.
Whenever we believed that we were going to get into trouble, we would do our very best to try and concoct some kind of alibi that would hopefully prevent us from "getting it", and the first step in this process was to find out what really happened. Apparently, Brian had been playing around by trying to throw Grant's aim off, and at one point Brian stood in front of the board, refusing to move. This of course greatly annoyed Grant who was sure he was going to hit a bull's-eye with his next shot and he warned Brian that he was going to throw the dart whether Brian moved out of the way or not. Brian foolishly held his ground and soon found out the hard way that Grant didn't bluff.
My friends and I had developed a strong sense of camaraderie in the four short years that we had known each other since initially meeting in the first grade. We shed blood together and we swore secret oaths to face anything together…that is, unless it involved one of our mothers. It didn't take long to figure out that Brian was running home to see his mother and that she would want to speak with whomever hurt her son. Since I was the owner of the dart in Brian's side, I was trying to figure out what to say when Grant and John slipped the darts into my hand, Pat and Billy handed me their glasses and before I could say, "What are we going to do," all my sworn-to-die-by-my-side friends had vanished in the dust thrown up by their running shoes hitting the sidewalk.
Dumbfounded, I stared at the five darts in my hand wondering about what evils I should visit upon my friends for leaving me in this moment of need, and additionally getting irritated because Brian had run off with one of my darts, when some survival instinct kicked in and I glanced up just in time to see Brian's mother, Mrs. Clancy, come around the corner marching Brian ahead of her.
Mothers in St. John's make sure that whenever they buy shirts for their sons, those shirts have a nice strong collar that they can get a good grip on either to pull you back from wherever you're trying to run off to, or to march you ahead of them to wherever they want you to go. I, of course recognized this particular grip and what was going on, so discretion being the better part of valour, I immediately dashed down the lane hoping that Brian's mother had not seen me, but it didn't matter if she had or not. It took all of about twelve and a half seconds before I heard my gentle mother's sweet screech calling out my name. I contemplated continuing on my path and trying to say I was out of earshot, but the dire consequences for attempting that lie came to mind and I quickly changed direction. To postpone the inevitable I slowly waltzed back up the laneway and came around the corner with a look that would rival a painted cherub for the quality of angelic innocence.
I took my place close beside my mother in the vain hope that this was going to become one of those "us versus they" situations. Before a word was said, my mother's hand lashed out with a speed that would rival a striking rattler and cracked me in the back of the head.
"What do you think you're doin' hitting poor Brian with a dart," she said, which informed me that Brian's mother had already told her what she believed had happened.
"But I never…"
I began to protest, struggling to make it look like I hadn't felt the blow that had made my eyes roll around like a couple of marbles. Before I could finish speaking up in my defense, my mother's hand found the mark again and through dazed eyes I saw Mrs. Clancy's pleased expression because justice was being meted out. I also saw Brian's fear-filled wide eyes because he knew what it felt like, having felt similar shots to his own head.
"Don't you lie to me, my son, that's your dart that your fool of a father gave you."
"But mom, I wasn't even…"
I began as her hand struck again, but this time I managed to get off a quick warning look to Brian that told him to speak up or he would be wearing a tag around his toe in the city morgue if I managed to survive.
"Mom, It wasn't his fault, Grant was the one who did it," Brian fearfully squeaked out just as I ducked the next shot that was already on a path for my head.
"What?" said Mrs. Clancy, and I got the joy of watching as her hand walloped Brian's head with the same force and speed as my mother's, and that time, his eyes went for a spin.
The blows stopped for a while as Mrs. Clancy and my mother exchanged a few more words, and when they were finished, Brian's mother once again grabbed Brian by the collar and began to march him down the street towards Grant's home. I foolishly relaxed, exhaled, and stifled a laugh as I watched them go on their way only to be shocked back to reality as another quick swat struck the back of my head.
"What was that for," I managed to croak.
"That was for losing a dart out of the brand new set that your father gave you," my mother replied, and went back into the house as if nothing had happened.
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|Reviewed by please
|I laughed out loud. Even though I did not have an Irish mother I recognize the fractured reasoning!It flowed easily and the imagery was gratifying but not overpowering.|
|Reviewed by Jerry Mohrlang
|Nice coming-of-age story, David. I can empathize. Of course, in our household it was usually a razor strap, remember those? Keep up the good work!|
|Reviewed by Henry Custer
|Very well written David, and I enjoyed it, (felt your pain actually). I made a trip from Florida to Nfld last summer on the bike, see account on: www.authorsden.com/Henry
I lived in Stephenville, NF for five years in the late forties, loved it.
Keep up the good work, you do have a knack for short stories!
|Reviewed by Lynn Barry
|I love this account. Well written, and great ending. I can picture the whole scene.|