'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Officially it's Spring now, but you'd never guess that from the weather. We've had days of relentless rain followed by snow. A lot of work needs to be done in the garden when the real Spring shows up, unless I can find an excuse in the meantime. My great-grandfather rarely worked in the garden. He believed that if he left his fingers in the soil for long enough they'd turn into worms.

My cousin Jessica once got a summer job as a maid for a woman called Edwina. Jessica was an art student at the time, and this helped her get the job. Edwina spent a lot of time at art auctions and at galleries. Her house was huge but there was very little free wall space left because of all the paintings she had. She put a lot of thought into her purchases, and into where she should hang them, but she never made her decisions on aesthetic considerations. She said that the paintings on the walls were her attempt to stitch together her version of reality.

Jessica spent a lot of time following Edwina around the house, listening to her boss talk about the paintings, and how they fitted into her reality. Many of Edwina's paintings depicted women gazing out over the sea. Edwina believed that this reflected a need for a vast empty space to dwell in, to escape the cage of our senses. There were other common occurrences that she tried to interpret. In many of the paintings in her study there were small dogs with ribbons on their heads. The paintings in one of the spare bedrooms all depicted people whose clothes suggested they lived in the nineteenth century.

In the afternoons Edwina would go out looking for more paintings with her friend, Sylvia. Sylvia was also trying to construct her version of reality. She believed that poems fell out of everyday objects, so she was fascinated with things like kettles and knives. Her house was full of things she'd bought in second-hand shops or at auctions. Sometimes on foggy nights she'd see lanterns hanging from the trees, and no one else would see them. She couldn't quite integrate this with everything she'd learnt about reality from kettles, so she came to the conclusion that seeing the lanterns was just another spark of madness. These sparks were completely harmless, as long as they didn't start a fire.

Another friend of theirs, Imelda, often dropped by for tea, and she'd discuss what she'd learnt about reality. She believed that robins could be moved by rays of God. She'd spent a lot of time observing them, and she'd become convinced that this was true. This was one of the few firm conclusions she had come to. She used to listen to the news on the radio every day in the hope of getting another glimpse beneath the surface. Her niece was the news reader. Imelda was convinced that there was something significant about this. She stopped paying attention to the meaning of her niece's words and she focussed on the sounds. The sounds always filled her mind with images of shoes.

One day Imelda brought a man called Edgar around to see Edwina's paintings. She had met him in an art gallery, where he told her about his belief that art could provide a glimpse into a deeper level of reality. He painted pictures of the landscape in his soul. His soul was another world, he said, and this world was heavily populated. He believed that himself and the world around him existed in someone else's soul, and this person would be our God. Edgar would be the God to the people who lived in the world in his soul.

He let his unconscious mind control what he painted and these paintings provided an insight into this world, but they changed over time. He started painting himself in street scenes from a rainy Victorian London. It would be late in the afternoon, and the gas lights would be lit. He looked for signs of change in the outer world that corresponded to changes in the inner world. He shared his beliefs with everyone he met. Most people thought he was mad, but some people thought he was on to something. He met a man called Dennis who used to write to look at his inner world. There were many similarities between this world and Edgar's. Both bore a strong resemblance to nineteenth century England. Edgar read some of Dennis's writings. Some lines triggered vivid images in Edgar's mind, as if they were referring to something inside him. He read this line countless times: 'Whispers creep over dusty tables and chairs in Mr. Springhaybermouse's house.' Edgar could see a room full of charts and maps when he read these words.

Edwina showed Edgar the paintings in her spare bedroom, the ones depicting people in nineteenth century clothes. He was convinced that both Edwina and Dennis were able to see into the world that he thought was in his soul. This made him question his beliefs about reality. The inner world couldn't be confined inside him if other people could see it.

Dennis came around to see the paintings as well, and he got a strong feeling that he'd seen it all before. Edwina, Sylvia, Imelda, Edgar and Dennis would meet in Edwina's house at least twice a week and they'd discuss reality. They believed that they had been drawn to each other for a reason. A group was being stitched together, and they'd stitch together their conceptions of reality to arrive at a fundamental truth.

Jessica believed that there was little point in trying to look beyond what she could see, and this belief had always served her well. But after living in Edwina's house for a few weeks she started to wonder if there was something lurking beneath the veil of reality. She often heard noises in the middle of the night, and she became increasingly convinced that the house was haunted.

This wasn't the only strange occurrence. One morning she was walking past a portrait of a woman in a small sailing boat. The woman in the painting looked sick, so Edwina called the doctor. He put his stethoscope to the painting and listened. Then he got out some small brown medicine bottles and a paintbrush. He used the paint in the bottles to make some minor adjustments to the woman's face. She looked much better after the paint had dried.

Edwina was glad that everything was back to normal, but on the following day many more people in the paintings showed symptoms of illness. The doctor was called again, and he spent most of that day working on the paintings.

On the following day the illness had spread even further. Sylvia, Imelda, Edgar and Dennis called around to discuss the problem. They were all very anxious. They were convinced that something unpleasant was going on at a deeper level of reality. Dennis believed they were all doomed, but he didn't say anything at the time.

Jessica started to worry about it as well. Worry turned to terror late one night when she was woken by the sound of the door to her room opening. Before she had a chance to scream she heard a man's voice. He said, "Sorry. Wrong room."

The scream was fully loaded, but she decided not to pull the trigger. The voice sounded very familiar. She opened the door and looked outside. The doctor, whose name was Peter, was looking into another room. He was holding an artist's palette and a paint brush. Jessica realised who was behind the illness. By night he was making the people in the paintings look sick, and then by day he was getting paid to make them better. Jessica smiled at him, and he knew that the game was up. He confessed to everything. He said he had always wanted to be an artist, but he had given in to his parents' demand to be a doctor. Over the past few years he had neglected his medical career and spent most of his time painting, but funds were running low. Edwina was one of his few remaining patients. She liked him because of his love of art. He liked her because of her love of art as well, and because she had given him a spare key to the house, just in case of an emergency. He started sleeping in her basement when he couldn't afford his rent. His need for money was becoming an emergency, so he started altering the paintings by night, and then curing them.

Jessica had some sympathy for him. She promised she wouldn't tell Edwina about what he had done, but only if he eradicated the disease that was affecting the people in the paintings. He agreed to make them all look well again.

Edwina and her friends were relieved when they saw that everyone was restored to health. They held a party to celebrate, and this made Jessica and Peter wonder if they could make other alterations to the paintings, to create other causes for celebration.

The moose's head over the fireplace enjoys listening to 'The Four Seasons' by Vivaldi. I enjoy it as well, even though classical music isn't really my thing. The wife once talked me into going to a classical concert. The conductor was really a hypnotist, and he hypnotised the audience at the start. He said, "You are going to believe that this is the finest performance of Mozart's Requiem you've ever heard." I didn't get hypnotised because I wasn't paying attention at the start. I was convinced that one of my shoes was slightly bigger than the other, so I was looking down at them. None of the orchestra could play their instruments. The conductor was paying them minimum wage to pretend to play. One of the cellists was holding his instrument the wrong way around. The brass section got bored and they started a fire. The orchestra got a standing ovation at the end. I joined in, and my appreciation was genuine. The concert was much better than I had expected.