'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Anchor

One of the garden gnomes has gone missing. The dog probably buried it somewhere. The wife's aunt has launched an investigation. Detective novels are her latest craze. A friend of hers used to write detective novels entirely in numbers. Nine always did it.

My uncle Cyril often walked through the fields to the pub in his younger days. This activity has been restricted in recent years because his wife, Joyce, thinks that only animals walk through fields and that the sort of people who frequent pubs could only ever aspire to be animals. He's starting to agree with her about the latter point. He thinks that most of the young people who go to the pub don't need alcohol to make them behave like idiots. This is another reason for him to stay at home or visit his friends.

When he was in his twenties, he was walking to the pub one evening when he saw a man dragging an anchor through a field. Cyril asked him why he was doing it and the man said, "I could ask exactly the same question of you."

"Well, you could, and I'd say, 'I'm not dragging an anchor.'"

"And I could say, 'Are you sure about that?'"

"You could, and I'd almost certainly say, 'I'm almost certain I'm not dragging an anchor. The last time I checked there was no anchor.'"

"Yeah, and I'd say, 'Well maybe you should check again, just to be completely certain.'"

"Right. I'd almost certainly take that advice on board. And if it turned out that I was dragging an anchor, wouldn't you ask me why?"

"No. I'd already know why you're dragging an anchor. I'd assume the reason behind it is the same reason why I'm dragging an anchor."

"And what is that reason?"

"I don't know."

"Okay. That's all I really wanted to know. Goodbye."

"Wait a minute... Do y' see that bird over there?"

Cyril looked to where the man was pointing, but there was no bird. When he heard the word 'catch' he looked around and he saw the chain being thrown at him. He caught it. The man ran a few yards away. He stopped, turned around and laughed.

"Why are you dragging an anchor?" he said. "I could ask that question of you. You couldn't ask that question of me, or you could, but I'd have to say, 'I'm not dragging an anchor at all, or at least I wasn't the last time I checked.'"

"I'm not dragging anchor."

"Are you sure about that? Just because you weren't dragging an anchor the last time you checked it doesn't mean you're not dragging one now."

"I'm holding a chain. There's a big difference."

The man laughed and ran away. He climbed over a gate at the end of the field and he disappeared.

Cyril put the chain down on the ground and he walked away, but a sense of fear invaded his mind, and that fear grew the further away he went. He stopped and looked back at the anchor. He ran towards it. When he picked up the chain the fear vanished, and he started to get a sense of why the man was dragging the anchor.

He tried to drag it, but he gave up after a few yards. After an hour he made another attempt to leave the anchor. He walked away, and he told himself there was nothing to be fearful of, that it was all in his mind. But fear was all there was in his mind and he had to go back to the anchor.

After midnight he heard the sound of someone singing. He recognised the voice. It was his friend Bertie, who was on his way back from the pub. Cyril called out his name, and Bertie came over to the anchor.

"I know this is going to sound odd," Cyril said, "but I can't leave this anchor."

"That doesn't sound odd at all."

"It doesn't?"

"Not in the slightest."

"You don't think it's odd that I can't leave this anchor?"

"When you put it like that, it does sound a bit odd alright."

"The man who was dragging it through the field got me to hold the chain. Every time I walk away I'm filled with fear and I have to come back."

"Have you tried running away?"


"I'll race you to the end of the field."

Bertie tripped over his laces three yards into the run. Cyril didn't get much further. He turned around and returned to the anchor.

Bertie picked himself up and he said, "Now that we've established beyond all reasonable doubt that it's odd, I think we should consult Eddie on this. He's an expert on all things odd."

"Okay, but I'll need your help to drag it."

"How do I know you won't just run away and leave me with the anchor?"

"If I wanted to do that I'd have just asked you to hold the chain, and you'd have done it. You held onto that pig just because your cousin asked you to."

"Fair enough."

It was after one o' clock by the time they'd dragged the anchor to Eddie's house, but he was still up. There was a light on in a window, and they saw him reading inside. Bertie knocked on the window and Eddie opened it. Cyril told him the story of the anchor.

"What you've got there," Eddie said, "is Denny's anchor, unless there are two such anchors in the area. Denny died recently and I suppose someone must have been clearing out his house and his garden, and they came across this."

"Wasn't Denny the man who lived near the florist?" Cyril said.

"That's the fella."

"I don't think I ever saw him."

"You fellas would be too young to have seen him. This anchor used to be on a ship that his grandfather sailed on. He travelled all around the world on that ship. He brought all sorts of exotic things home with him. I've heard it said that one of his rashes made the parish priest take a trip to the Vatican to describe what he had seen. The ship was wrecked on the Kerry coast. Some people would say that's what happens when you come into contact with Kerry. All of the sailors were taking souvenirs from the wreckage. Denny's grandfather took the anchor because that's just the sort of man he was. He'd have to out-drink and out-eat everyone. He was always lifting things just to show how strong he was. He had lifted everyone on the ship apart from the captain. So when the others were taking barometers or bits of rope, it was inevitable that he'd take the anchor. After he died it ended up with Denny's uncle, and after the uncle died no one else wanted it so Denny took it. He used to keep it in his back garden.

"He got on very well with the woman who lived next door, so well that they both started thinking they couldn't live as neighbours for much longer. They'd have to get married. There are some marriages that would be more successful if the husband and wife were neighbours, but Denny was starting to consider the possibility of moving in with her, or of her moving in with him. He'd probably have moved in with her, because he was the one who was always visiting her. She rarely visited him, but she made it clear that he was more than welcome at her house. She loved listening to his stories about the time he spent working as a game-keeper and his battle of wits with a poacher who could climb a tree as fast as a squirrel, and he could pick a squirrel's pockets too, if a squirrel had pockets.

"She had a party one summer evening and she invited him. So he went along and he had a few drinks and told a few stories. He thought it went very well, but on the following evening she was very cold towards him when he called around to see her. She said he had told a story in which the poacher had stolen his trousers. She thought that some of the language wasn't appropriate and she demanded an apology. He told her he had a problem with the word 'demand'. If she had said, 'I'd be very grateful if you'd apologise, please,' he'd have gladly offered his sincerest apologies, but she refused to do this. The demand remained on the table, so he walked away. He never visited her house again and she never visited his, but they often spoke to each other over the hedge that separated their back gardens. She often repeated her demand for the apology, and he'd repeat his request to withdraw the demand and replace it with a request, but neither of them would back down. And then one evening she brought her grandmother into the back garden. Her grandmother was a fearsome woman. Even dogs couldn't meet her gaze. They'd slink away with their tails between their legs. Some humans weren't as sensible. There was a man who once asked her if she'd seen his goat. She considered this to be an insult because she wasn't the sort of woman who'd go about the place seeing goats. She put a curse on him so that he couldn't consume alcohol without unburdening himself of all of his problems. Telling people your problems might be a fashionable thing to do these days, but back then the done thing was to keep it all in and let your anger out by shooting something. He had to give up the drink, which did nothing for his anger. God knows how many animals he shot over the years. God knows, and if they were all waiting for him up in heaven he might have been better off going to the other place.

"Denny saw the top of her head over the hedge one evening. If he'd seen her eyes he might have apologised there and then, but he didn't. His neighbour repeated her demand and he repeated his request. She responded by introducing her grandmother. When the pleasantries were completed, the old woman said something in Irish that sent a shiver down Denny's spine. He went inside to his house, but he was filled with fear as soon as he closed the door behind him. He had to go back outside to the anchor. When he held its chain he felt safe. He stayed with it for a few hours before trying to go inside again, but the fear returned.

"He stayed with the anchor for nearly forty years, until he died. He dragged it to a downstairs window, and he used to sleep on a bed just inside the window, with the chain in his hand. He spent most of his days in the garden. He used to speak to her every day. It was almost like a marriage, but you couldn't consummate it with a hedge in the way, despite what a cousin of mine says. He just had to apologise to her for the curse to be lifted, but he wouldn't. He never considered the possibility that he could pass the curse on if he passed the chain on. He was very protective of the anchor, so he never let anyone else touch it. Someone obviously touched it after he died, and now it's ended up in your hands."

"How am I going to get rid of it?"

"Just pass it on to someone else."

"I'd only be lumbering someone else with the problem. That would be a much better state of affairs than being lumbered with the problem myself, but that other person could pass it on to someone else and then get revenge on me."

"You can turn any situation to your advantage. See this as an opportunity."

"Being stuck to an anchor closes off almost every opportunity I had before."

"What if you passed it on to someone who wanted to be stuck in one place?"

"Who'd want that?"

"I know plenty of people who want to give up the drink or cigarettes or affairs with women who live too close for comfort. You could charge these people to take the anchor for a weekend, just to stop them going to the pub or to the shop for cigarettes or next door to show their neighbour how to use her shower."

"Would people actually pay for that?"

"First thing in the morning I'll introduce you to a man who'll pay whatever you ask to keep him away from his neighbour. It might stop him calling around here to drink and cry and tell me about his guilt."

This man paid Cyril a hundred pounds to keep the anchor for a weekend. He needed it on the following weekend as well. Cyril kept hiring out the anchor over the next two years. He made a lot of money from it, but there were a few times when no one wanted it and he was stuck with it himself. On these occasions he couldn't get away from Joyce, who wouldn't stop complaining about the anchor, so he sold it to a man who wanted to stay away from a woman whose presence was as powerful as alcohol in his bloodstream. She always made him do stupid things (she asked him to do stupid things and he always said 'okay'). Attaching himself to an anchor seemed sensible in comparison to most of the things she got him to do.

The moose's head over the fireplace is still recovering after another visit from the wife's niece. It was her birthday last week. Her mother brought her around on Saturday to collect her presents. We got her a cake as well. A neighbour of ours has a small cake-making business, so we got her to make it. She'll write any message on the icing. Spelling mistakes ruined some cakes in the past, so now she includes deliberate mistakes and she draws a red line under them, like the lines drawn by the spell checker of a word processor. The cake we got said 'Happy Burthday'. This gave the wife's niece an idea. Now she draws red lines on everything she thinks needs correcting, which is just about everything. She drew a line under a shelf I put up and she said her line was straighter.