'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Nora's Aunt

We're having a party to celebrate the new year tonight. It's fancy dress. This is why we've put a costume on the plastic Santa in the garden. He's now a pirate.

My uncle Harry was talking to a man called Thomas in the local pub one evening, and they ended up discussing politics.

"I once saw a French man and a French woman arguing about politics," Thomas said.

"I didn't know you spoke French," Harry said.

"I don't. They were arguing in English."

"Why would they do that if they were both French?"

"I suppose they wanted everyone to know what they were arguing about. It was all a performance. In fact, she was wearing a fake nose and he was wearing a wig. Now that I think about it, they were probably actors. If I'd known that at the time I'd never have committed it to memory. I have a piece of street theatre in my head. What am I going to do?"

"I don't see any way of erasing the memory now. But you could forget that you remembered it. And I think I know just the thing that would take your mind off it. Harvey has been spying on Nora's house. There must be something interesting to see."

Thomas forgot about the street theatre as soon as he heard this. They went to Harvey, who was hiding in a shed, and spying on Nora through a telescope. Harry asked him what he was looking at and he said, "When I called in to see Nora last week the priest was there. He was trying to take something out of a box, and it was obvious by the look on his face that he didn't want to touch this thing. I wouldn't want to touch anything in Nora's house."

"Why not?"

"Because everything looks as if it was made by fairies. Good fairies who sprinkle fairy dust on things. And it's very easy to offend them. You say the wrong thing and they'll be shoving a carrot up your nose when you sleep. I didn't know if the thing that was in the box was repellent to the priest because it was like everything else in her house or because it was like nothing else in her house. A dead rat will make some people back away, which I find strange. A dead rat is never going to shove a carrot up your nose when you sleep."

"Did he ever get the thing out of the box?"

"He stopped trying when I arrived. He seemed glad to see me because I provided an excuse for him to have a break from his excavations on the box. He shook my hand. This was interesting because a lot of people would be repelled by my hand. A lot more would be repelled if they knew where it had been. I said, 'I hope I'm not interrupting anything.' The priest said I certainly wasn't interrupting anything at all, but Nora didn't seem so sure. She made the tea anyway, and I stayed there for about an hour. I didn't think any more about the priest or the box or about anything at all until the following day when I was driving past Nora's house and I saw the priest going in. He was there again on the following day. I know because I checked with the telescope. I'm not being nosey or anything, but I've been spying on them ever since."

"What have you seen?"

"Nothing much. I can only see him arriving at the house, and then about an hour later she goes into the kitchen to make the tea."

Harry and Thomas got bored of this shortly after Nora made the tea. "We've got to find out what's going on," Thomas said. "And the only way we're going to do that is by asking what's going on."

"I think we should spy on them for another few days," Harvey said.

"Spying is useless unless you can see into the front room, and you can't see through the curtains."

A few minutes later Nora's doorbell rang, and when she opened the door she saw Harry, Thomas and Harvey. She invited them in to the front room, where the priest was having his tea. She poured tea and cut some cake for the new arrivals.

Harvey couldn't wait any longer to ask about the priest's visits. He said, "You seem to be spending a lot of time here."

Before the priest could answer, Nora said, "My aunt donated her collection of religious artefacts to the church when she died. She'd spent a lifetime collecting them. She was an extraordinary woman. She could shoot things out of her ears. She was a very good shot. She could shoot down a crow a hundred yards away. She'd see one out of the corner of her eye and she'd shoot. Whatever was in her ear wasn't hard enough to kill a crow, but it would daze them. You'd have to be careful if you had a crow-like appearance and you appeared at the edge of her field of vision. If you dressed all in black and you were much bigger than a crow she'd think you were a crow who was much closer to her than you actually were. If you were a long way away you'd have some time to get out of the way before being hit by the contents of her ear. You were better off not standing at either side of her. In her later years she was always accidentally shooting things out of her ears. She hit many of these religious artefacts, which complicates the job of cataloguing them. It's a cleaning job as well."

Harry, Thomas and Harvey didn't feel like having any of the cake. They left the house shortly afterwards. All three of them were trying to think of something to take their minds off Nora's aunt, and that's when Thomas remembered the street theatre. It was exactly the sort of thing he wanted to think about then. He acted out the scene for Harry and Harvey. His impression of the French woman was very funny.

The moose's head over the fireplace is getting some very good reviews for his performance in the pantomime. As a Christmas present, we gave him a framed photo of him on the stage. It's hanging on the wall opposite the fireplace. The wife's uncle has been giving everyone bottles of wine this year. He says that decades of experience has taught him that this is the safest present to give. One Christmas he struggled to find the right present for the woman he was engaged to at the time. He ended up giving her a cannon ball. Ever since then he's been advising people not to give presents that contain an inherent invitation to drop that present on your foot. He also advises against giving swords (another lesson he's learnt the hard way).