'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, June 20, 2007

The Violin

We've had a lot of rain recently, so it's starting to feel like summer at last. The long periods of dry weather were disconcerting. The lawns are full of buttercups and dandelions. My grandfather once let the grass grow for a whole summer without cutting it. He just wanted to see what the garden would look like if it was left to its own devices. He took photos of it. After a few months, the garden looked as if it had been abandoned. A cousin of his called Seamus came to visit while the garden was in its wild state. Seamus had never been outside the city, and he was suspicious of the tall, thin people who stood in a line, remaining motionless. They all wore the same green and brown uniform. My grandfather explained that they were something called 'trees', and they wouldn't bother him if he ignored them. The long grass made him nervous, and that's why my grandfather had to cut it.

My cousin Darren knows a talented violinist called Paul. Paul was hoping to buy a decent violin, and he was willing to pay more than what he paid for his car (it was a second-hand car and he got a discount because a dog had given birth on the back seat). He was in a music shop one day and the owner said he knew of a man who was trying to sell a Stradivarius for five thousand euros. He had left his address with the man in the shop.

Paul had doubts about the authenticity of the violin, but he thought it was worth investigating anyway. The address led him to a house in the middle of a row of old houses on a hill in the city. He knocked on the door and a man opened it. Paul introduced himself and said he was interested in the violin. The man introduced himself as Alex and they shook hands. He invited Paul in to look at it.

Paul waited in the living room while Alex went upstairs to get the violin. He returned with a black case. He put the case on the coffee table in front of Paul, and then he took a key from his pocket. He opened the lock in the case and lifted the lid.

Paul's mouth opened in an O shape to express awe at what he saw before him. The violin was beautiful. He carefully picked it up and spent a few minutes just admiring the visual beauty of it before he thought about the sound. "Can I play it?" he said.

"Of course."

Paul picked up the bow and played, and it sounded just as good as it looked. As soon as he stopped playing he said, "How much?"

"Five grand," Alex said. "In cash."

"I'll take it."

Paul went to the bank and withdrew five thousand euros in cash. He went back to the house, and the deal was completed as soon as Alex had finished counting the cash. Paul left with the violin. He lived in a house in the country. As soon as he got home he took the phone off the hook and started playing. He played for hours. He'd never been able to induce such a beautiful sound before. This was even more beautiful than the love-filled sigh he'd induced from Samantha when he said he loved white clouds because they reminded him of pet rabbits.

That love-filled sigh was like music to his ears at the time, but it came at a cost: he shuddered every time he thought about what he said. And the beauty of the violin didn't remain untainted for very long. As he was putting the instrument back into its case that evening he thought he heard something moving inside it. He gently shook the violin, and there was definitely something there. He stood under the light in the kitchen and he tried to see what it was, but he couldn't make it out.

Darren lived nearby. He called around to see the violin on the following day, and he couldn't identify the thing inside it either, but he knew someone who could help. A friend of his called Davey had a dentist's mirror. He says he found it (he found it in a dentist's surgery). Davey put the mirror into the violin, and with the light from a small flashlight he was able to identify the contents of the violin. "Are you sitting down?" he said to Paul.

"You can see very well that I'm not sitting down."

"Yeah. I suppose that's just a figure of speech."

"What is it?"

"You should be sitting down. It's a finger."

Paul thought he was joking at first, but Davey let him look through the mirror, and it was a finger alright. Paul's first thought was to sell the violin on Ebay, but when the shock faded he reacted with terror.

"How could you get a finger into a violin?" Darren said. "There isn't a hole big enough to get it in?"

"How am I going to get it out if there isn't a hole big enough to get it in?" Paul said.

Davey said, "I could drill a hole in it. You wouldn't even notice it."

"Of course I'd notice if it's big enough to get a finger out."

"I know people with holes in their heads that you can put your finger into and they don't notice."

"I don't want anything more to do with this," Paul said. "I'm taking it back to the man who sold it to me."

He went back to the house and rang the doorbell, but this time a woman opened the door. He asked if he could speak to Alex, and she said, "He left yesterday. He was renting this house from me. He said he had to leave because of a family emergency in Germany."

"Where did he go?"

"Well, Germany, I assume. Although I remember him telling me before that his family were from Galway. I probably would have been more inquisitive, but he paid the rent for the next month, so I just said I hoped everything worked out in Germany and I left it at that."

Paul returned home with the violin. He remembered returning home on the previous day. He had been so full of excitement then. All he had wanted to do was to play the violin, but that desire had completely drained away. He tried telling himself that it was irrational to stop playing the violin just because there was a finger in it. It wasn't as if anyone was attached to the finger. Someone would have been attached to it once, in more ways than one, but the finger is no good to them any more.

He played the violin again, and he tried to forget about the finger. The sound was so beautiful that he was able to temporarily erase the contents of the violin from his mind, but he was reminded of the finger every time he heard it moving around inside. It was a disheartening sound. Every day he played the violin, but he couldn't get used to it. Sometimes at night he'd hear a noise and he'd be convinced that it was the finger tapping off the side of the violin.

Davey suggested going to see Laughing Keith, who was an expert at getting limbs and heads out of things, and getting them into things too. He looked at the finger through Davey's mirror, and he noticed a small black mark on it. Paul looked at it too, but he couldn't tell what the mark was.

Laughing Keith said, "There's no way I can get it out without damaging the instrument, but I can tape it to the side of the violin so it stops moving about."

"That'd be better than damaging it," Paul said.

Laughing Keith taped the finger to the inside of the violin using tweezers and a scalpel that Davey found in a doctor's surgery. When the job was done, Paul turned the violin over, and he was delighted with the silence. He played the violin every day for the next month, and he was never able to forget about the finger, but as time went by he became less bothered by it. After a month he was used to the idea of body parts in musical instruments. If someone told him that there was an ear in a tuba, he wouldn't have been surprised, and not just because the only tuba player he knows consistently produces a sound with an enthusiasm that can only be explained by believing that he can't hear it.

One night he played the violin and the music drowned out the sound of the heavy rain and the strong wind outside. The sound of the doorbell brought the music to a halt. Paul put the violin in its case and he put the case in a cupboard in the kitchen before opening the door.

A man was standing outside in the rain. He wore a dark grey suit and a blue tie that was held in place by a silver tie clip. He said, "My car broke down and my phone won't work because it got wet in the rain. Can I use your phone?"

"Of course." Paul showed him the phone in the hall.

The man made a phone call, and then he told Paul that his brother was coming to collect him.

"You're welcome to wait here," Paul said. "I have the fire lighting."

"That's very kind of you."

"Will you have a drink? Tea or coffee, or whiskey?"

"I wouldn't say no to a whiskey."

Paul poured two whiskeys. He handed a glass to the stranger. He noticed that the word 'Hate' was tattooed on the fingers of the man's right hand, and the letters 'ove' were on his left hand. The index finger was missing. Paul remembered the strange mark on the finger in his violin. He realised that it was the missing L in 'Love'.

The man noticed Paul's reaction to the missing finger. He smiled and said, "I think you know why I'm really here."

Paul thought about the situation, but all of his thoughts were coloured by a fear of the man before him. When he broke the silence he said, "I'll get the violin."

"So I have got the right house."

Paul went to the kitchen and took the violin from the cupboard. Then he went out through the back door and ran away through the fields.

He went to Darren's house. Darren was surprised to see Paul on his doorstep. "I was going to go to your house," Darren said, "but I thought it was too wet and windy, even with an umbrella and a rain coat. Obviously you had no such worries."

Paul said he had other worries. He told Darren all about his visitor. "What am I going to do?" he said. "I can't avoid this man forever. And I don't want to lose the violin."

"Are you sure he wants the violin?"

"Yes. Or at least he wants his finger back, which amounts to the same thing."

"Maybe he'll pay for it."

"I doubt it. I mean, it's obviously his finger. He wouldn't pay five grand for that. And he didn't seem like the sort of man you could haggle with."

"Maybe there's a way around this. The reason I was going to visit you was because I just came across another interesting violin."

Darren told him about a friend of his called Carol. She had bought an old violin at a car boot sale. When she took the violin home she polished it with furniture polish. She was able to see her own reflection in the back of it, but she thought she could make out the reflection of another face in it too. Darren suggested wearing a black balaclava while looking into the violin, so she'd see the other face without having her own face imposed on it. He had a black balaclava. She asked him where he got it and he said, "My grandmother knitted it for me. She never wanted me to be an accountant."

She put on the balaclava and she looked into the back of the violin. She saw the reflection of a woman's face. The woman looked as if she was in her forties. Carol had never seen her before.

Carol wanted to get rid of the violin. Darren suggested throwing it away, but she felt as if she'd be abandoning the woman in it. If she was going to sell it, she'd have to tell any potential buyers about the reflection, and they wouldn't remain potential buyers for long after that.

Paul stayed at Darren's house that night, and they went to see Carol's violin on the following day. Paul put on the balaclava and looked at the reflection. "She looks very unimpressed," he said. "I wouldn't blame her either."

He showed Carol the finger in his violin, and he told her about the man who called. "I think I can help you with your problem," she said. "I don't know if it'll solve my problem, but we'll see."

They went back to Paul's house. They searched every room, but the man had left. The lights were still on. They noticed a second set of footprints through the muddy ground in Paul's back garden, so the man must have followed Paul when he left with the violin.

"He'll come back again," Paul said, "assuming he wants it that badly. And I got the impression that he wants it that badly."

They waited for him to return. At three o' clock that afternoon the doorbell rang and Paul went to answer it. It was the man they had been waiting for. "Hello again," Paul said. "Sorry about last night. I was called away suddenly. So suddenly I didn't even realise I was being called away until... It was a bit like that film where..."

"Give me the violin."

"Right. You'd better come in so."

Paul took the man into his living room and introduced him to Darren and Carol. He opened the violin case and took out Carol's violin. He gave it to the man and said, "Before you try to retrieve the finger, assuming that's what you're after, I think you should look at the reflection on the back of the violin. You'll need to wear this balaclava so your own reflection doesn't interfere with it."

The man put on the balaclava and looked at the back of the violin. He saw a woman's face looking back at him. She had a stern expression and she was shaking her head. He stared in disbelief at what he saw (they could see it in his eyes). "Delia!" he said, and the woman in the violin stopped shaking her head. He put the violin down and ran away.

They never saw him again, but they heard that he was arrested shortly after he left Paul's house. The police had a checkpoint about half a mile away. They were checking for tax and insurance. They saw a man in a balaclava running down the road. When he saw them he stopped and turned around. They got into their car and chased him.

They arrested him and they took him to the station for questioning. He refused to explain why he was running down a road while wearing a balaclava. They had no evidence that a crime had been committed, so they had to release him, but they kept an eye on him. He left the country on the following day.

Paul tried playing Carol's violin, and he thought that its sound was even more beautiful than the sound from the violin with the finger. So they exchanged violins. He wasn't bothered by the woman's face and she wasn't bothered by the finger. She said she had once seen a rat and lots of little baby rats in a piano, and that a finger in a violin didn't seem so bad in comparison. The back seat of Paul's car, where the dog had given birth, didn't seem so bad when he thought about the rat giving birth in the piano.

The moose's head over the fireplace is looking very thoughtful these days, as if he's pondering life's mysteries. His life seems very uncomplicated, but it's difficult to tell what's going on in his mind. The wife's aunt's life seems very complicated, but she believes that all of life's mysteries can be found in a bucket, and the solutions to the mysteries can be found in another bucket. She doesn't have enough curiosity about life to start looking in buckets.