'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

What's in the box?

The trees are getting barer and the air is getting colder, but the garden always looks great at this time of year. There are leaves all over the lawns and the trees are gradually becoming a rust colour. There’s no point in raking the leaves; there are plenty more yet to fall. The best thing to do is just sit on a garden seat and watch them, and listen to the sound of the birds.

My cousin June has a habit of buying stupid things. People always go to her if they want to sell something stupid and she just can’t resist buying these things. She once bought a clock in the shape of a phone, and she regretted buying it straightaway but she didn’t want to admit that she had made a mistake, so she put it on the sideboard, despite the objections of the kids and her husband, Dan. Then she bought a little plastic ornament for the goldfish tank. It was a man in a rowing boat with a fishing rod hanging over the side. The kids didn’t like the look of that, but then they loved it when one of the goldfish pulled on the fishing line and the boat turned over. June left the boat like that because the goldfish kept pulling on the fishing line every time she put the boat the right way up, and she thought that the boat might distract the kids from the fish themselves. Every time one of the fish died, they got another one in the pet shop without telling the kids, and the kids have never noticed any of the new fish, despite a few small differences. Dan has a friend called Terry who always seems to have stupid things to sell, and June often buys things from him, but she decided to give up buying stupid things after the clock and the boat for the goldfish tank. One day he called around and offered her a box of champagne, and June asked him if he meant a bottle. He said, “No, it’s in a box,” and June said, “Oh… Like a carton?” “No, it’s in a box.” She wasn’t tempted to buy that at all, so it was easy to say no, but then she wondered what a box of champagne would look like. She couldn’t stop thinking about it, and on the following day she told Terry that she’d like to buy it after all, but he said he had already sold it. She asked him if he could get another and he said, “No. It was sort of a one-off. I could get you a bottle.” She wasn’t interested in the bottle at all. She was kicking herself for not buying the box of champagne, and she decided to buy the next thing that was offered to her, no matter how stupid it was. So when Terry offered to sell her a duck she bought it without even thinking about it. Dan wasn’t too happy about their latest pet. He was never happy with the stupid things she bought, but June thought he was acting a bit odd. The duck was acting strangely too. June didn’t really know what normal behaviour for a duck would be, but this one seemed to spend most of its time sleeping, so they called it Sleepy. And when Sleepy wasn’t sleeping he was staring at the goldfish tank. At first they thought he was staring at the fish but when June took the plastic boat out of the tank, Sleepy lost interest in it. They had a party in the house one night and everyone had a great time, even though Sleepy slept through most of it. By the end of the night they were all singing a song, and Dan was singing along too, even though he didn’t know the words. He made up his own words as he went along, but he stopped straightaway when he realised that he had just sung the line ‘like the night we stole the duck’ (it was probably just as well that he stopped before he had to come up with a word that rhymed with ‘duck’). He looked over at June and she was staring back at him. She heard the line about the duck. After the party he denied that they had knowingly stolen the duck. He said that they went to the pub and on the way back they decided to do a bit of fishing on the lake, and then when Terry woke up on the following morning there was a duck roaming around his house. June thought it sounded unlikely that they’d go fishing late in the night after an evening in the pub, and she wondered where they’d get the rods, but then she remembered the duck staring at the upturned boat in the fish tank. Dan admitted that they had had a slight accident in the boat and it turned over, and the story made sense to June. The little plastic man with the fishing rod in the upturned boat would remind the duck of that scene he witnessed at the lake, just before they stole him, but Dan insisted that they couldn’t remember stealing the duck. They had to wait a few months until Christmas before finally figuring out how they had ‘stolen’ the duck. When they put the Christmas decorations up around the house the duck was transfixed by the tinsel, and Dan remembered that on the night they went out on the lake, Terry had a box of tinsel with him. He bought it off someone in the pub who had won it in a golf tournament, and he was ashamed to admit that he won a box of tinsel playing golf. They left the box on the side of the lake, and the duck must have fallen asleep in it. When Dan was doing some Christmas shopping he saw a clock in the shape of a phone exactly like the one at home, or the one that used to be at home. The one that June bought had gone missing. Dan wasn’t sorry to see it go, but he knew that his wife would love to have another one, and this one in the shop looked a lot like the one she had before, with just a few small differences. So he bought it and brought it home. The duck seemed to be asleep, but as soon as Dan took the clock out of the box he woke up and waddled over to Dan. Sleepy stared at the clock, just like he stared at the boat in the fish tank, and Dan suddenly remembered what had become of the old clock. The reason they had gone out in the boat that night was to throw the clock into the lake. He put it back in the box just before June came into the room. She said, “What’s in the box?” Dan thought quickly. He took the clock out of the box and said, “I found your old clock.” She was delighted to see it again. He told her it was in the shed all along, and he blamed the kids for putting it there. He hoped she wouldn’t notice the little differences between this one and the old one, like the kids with the goldfish. And he also hoped that she wouldn’t wonder why the duck was so transfixed by it.

The moose’s head over the fireplace is still angry with me for suggesting that he was a friend of Rupert the Bear. I’m not entirely sure why I said that. We were having a party and I had a few drinks at the time. On the following day I wasn’t entirely sure I had said it at all, but then I saw the moose’s head and he looked angry with me, so I must have said it. I try to avoid eye contact. I’ve been doing my best not to look at him at all, but I have a feeling that this is making him even more angry.