'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Love Potion

I've started cutting the grass again. My grandfather couldn't bear the thought of a long summer cutting grass one year, so he invented a lawn mower that would cut the grass by itself, but it kept sneaking off into the orchard and crashing repeatedly into the trees. It seemed to enjoy doing this.

My cousin Hugh once agreed to help a friend of his called Bertie, who was having some trouble with his love life. He had fallen in love with a woman called Cathy, but she was showing little interest in him. Hugh was even more eager to help his friend when he heard that Dean was also trying to win the heart of Cathy. Hugh didn't like Dean. They were in school together. Dean was a little bit too perfect, and he used to look down on Hugh and his friends.

Hugh believed that Uncle Cyril would be the best person to offer advice on how to impress a woman. Cyril had been boasting about his expertise in romantic matters after taking his wife, Joyce, to a fancy restaurant on Valentine's Day (it was actually the day after Valentine's Day because he had ignored the day itself and incurred Joyce's wrath) and re-uniting a couple who had fallen out after one of them had ignored Valentine's Day (he was really only interested in them because they gave him ice cream).

Cyril was having his breakfast when Hugh called to see him on a Saturday morning. Cyril said that peace was just as important as the food at breakfast. "Coffee, toast and silence," he said. "It's an experience as beautiful as being in a cathedral. But someone will come along and interrupt you, and it'll feel as wrong as a game of tennis in a cathedral."

He glared at Hugh when he said this. Hugh thought that if he was being equated with tennis then he'd never received a greater insult before in his life. Cyril could have said football or hurling instead of tennis. If he'd said wrestling, Hugh would have taken it as a compliment. Or putting a sick dog out of its misery in a cathedral. Hugh would gladly be the termination of a sick dog's life. But no. He had to say tennis, a sport played enthusiastically by Dean. Hugh believed that anything done enthusiastically by Dean must be inherently wrong. Anything done enthusiastically to Dean might well involve tennis rackets, but he'd be the ball.

Hugh didn't want to argue about the insult because he needed Cyril's advice. He told his uncle about Bertie and the need to impress Cathy. Cyril told Hugh about a friend of his whose wife first fell in love with him after she saw him attacking a billboard with an axe. She hated billboards. Cyril suggested that the best way to brew love was to find the thing she hated and attack that. He also told Hugh about another friend who had won a woman's heart by serenading her with a song he wrote himself. She knew that the song came straight from his heart because it was about motorbikes.

Hugh met Bertie in the pub that afternoon and he passed on Cyril's advice. Bertie didn't know what Cathy hated. She seemed to love everything. She always displayed boundless enthusiasm for nature. She had deep wells of sympathy for the little creatures that get eaten by other creatures, and for the creatures who eat them.

They decided to focus on the other idea first: writing a song for Cathy and serenading her. They had to write a song that sounded as if it emanated from Bertie's heart. As they were exploring his heart, a man called Oliver came over to them and asked if they'd like to buy a love potion. Bertie said, "I don't need a love potion. I sweat love potion."

"Really?" Oliver said. "Can I buy some of it? Because to be honest, my love potion doesn't really work."

"You want to buy some of my sweat?"

"I could make money for both of us if it actually works. I'm making some money with this stuff and it has no effect."

"It's not the sweat that does it. It's my looks. And my personality. And my charm."

"No, it's probably the sweat," Oliver said. He was right to think that Bertie's looks, personality and charm wouldn't be of much help when he tries to seduce women, but he was wrong about the sweat. But Hugh saw a chance to make some money out of the situation, so he stepped in. He said he was Bertie's business manager, and that he could supply some of the sweat. It was guaranteed to work, he said, and Oliver would make a fortune from it, even after Hugh and Bertie took their fifty percent share of the profits. Oliver agreed to this. They arranged to meet on the following evening, and Hugh promised to have obtained a large quantity of Bertie's sweat by then.

Hugh was afraid that Oliver would find out about Bertie's inability to gain Cathy's affections, and that he'd come to the conclusion that the sweat was worthless. There had only been one occasion in the past when Bertie's sweat seemed to work. It happened when he met a woman in the pub, and she told him it was her ambition to work with children in Africa. He said it was his ambition to do something with buckets. He didn't have to say much more before she agreed to go back to his place. But she turned out to be a con artist. He gave her three hundred euros to pay for a well in Africa, but she spent it in Galway instead.

Hugh thought that Oliver would need to be convinced that Bertie's sweat was effective, so he paid a friend of his called Karen to talk to Bertie in the pub while Hugh was meeting Oliver there on the following evening. She'd act as if Bertie's charms were irresistible.

Before that meeting with Oliver, Hugh would have to collect Bertie's sweat, a task that neither of them were looking forward to. Bertie was more repulsed by exercise than Hugh was repulsed by Bertie's sweat. They tried to think of the money they'd make rather than the unpleasant aspects of the task.

Bertie went jogging. He had only gone about a hundred yards before he had to stop for a rest, but he was already sweating profusely by then. He took off his T-shirt, and Hugh squeezed the sweat out of it. He only got a few drops from it, and even this made him feel slightly nauseous. They'd both end up needing medical attention if they continued trying to harvest sweat, so Hugh told Bertie that a few drops was all they needed. It was so potent that it needed to be mixed with water before it was safe for people to use.

Bertie believed this, but Oliver wouldn't. Hugh needed some other substance that could be passed off as Bertie's sweat. He went to see Cyril again and he asked if he could use some of the things in the garden shed. Cyril had accumulated many strange substances over the years. Some were to kill weeds or to make plants grow. Some were to keep evil spirits away, or just to keep people away. Hugh poured some of these substances into a bucket. He ended up with two gallons of a liquid that was just as unpleasant as Bertie's sweat.

He poured this liquid into empty bottles and he brought them to the pub on the following evening. As he was handing them over to Oliver, Bertie was waiting at the bar. Karen came over to him and she started flirting with him. She was also thinking of the money she'd make rather than the unpleasant aspects of this task. Oliver was clearly impressed by the effect of Bertie's sweat.

Hugh had expected Bertie to ignore the attentions of Karen because of his love for Cathy, but he was encouraging her rather than resisting her. After Oliver left, Hugh broke up their party and he reminded Bertie of the task at hand: climbing to the peak of Cathy's heart before Dean got there first and planted his flag. Bertie said he'd written a song that was sure to melt her heart. It expressed a great affection for small animals that get eaten and it was obviously heartfelt because it also expressed a great affection for gambling.

After a few drinks to calm Bertie's nerves, they went to Cathy's house. Hugh hid behind the trees at the other side of the road. He was looking forward to this performance. Bertie started playing his guitar and singing his song. Cathy was at the front door before he got to the end of the first line. She seemed upset with him. "I've just been to the pub," she said. "I thought I might meet you there. I saw you with Karen, and I said to myself, 'It appears as if I don't want to meet him after all. I suppose I'll just go home again.' I certainly don't want you performing a song on my property."

She slammed the door. Bertie was heartbroken, but Hugh said there was a glittering silver lining to this. "She went to the pub to see you," he said to Bertie. "She's upset with you now, but that's a sign that she cares about you."

"She used to care about me. Now I know what she hates. It's me. If I started attacking myself she might start liking me again. But then she'd stop hating me and she wouldn't like to see me attacking myself. She'd start hating me for attacking something she cares about. And then I'd have to start attacking myself again."

"Just give her a few days and she'll want to meet you again."

Dean made his move on the following day. She agreed to go to a restaurant with him. Bertie was devastated when he heard the news, but Hugh tried to keep his spirits up. His spirits nearly received a fatal blow when they heard that Dean was playing tennis with Cathy. Both Bertie and Hugh were sickened by the very thought of this.

A week after Hugh had delivered the love potion to Oliver, they arranged to meet again in the pub. Bertie was there as well. Oliver gave Hugh a brown envelope and he said, "Fifty percent of the profits, as promised."

Hugh opened the envelope. There was over a thousand euros inside.

"Bertie's sweat really does work," Oliver said. "Business is booming. People are gulping it down."

Hugh said, "You're making people drink... Bertie's sweat?"

"Even though it tastes awful they still drink it because it tastes so good."

Hugh was shocked when he heard this. He had assumed that they were daubing it on their necks, or on whatever part of their body they wanted to attract women to. Bertie's sweat wouldn't kill them, but the substances from Cyril's shed might.

Dean came over to them. Hugh thought he was there to gloat about his success with Cathy, but he was actually there to meet Oliver. He wanted to purchase more of the love potion.

"It's the best thing I ever bought," he said. "It's brought love to my life, and that's priceless."

"Do you know what's in that potion?" Bertie said.


"My sweat. That's all that's in the potion. You've been drinking my sweat. How does it feel to know that the love in your life is built on a foundation that's floating in a sea of my sweat?"

Dean looked at Oliver, who tried to avoid making eye contact. Dean felt sick, and he rushed outside.

Soon everyone knew about the contents of the love potion, and sales collapsed. Hugh was happy to let people think that they'd been drinking Bertie's sweat because the reality might have been much worse.

Dean lost his confidence after he stopped using the potion. He believed that his success with Cathy was due to this drink, and when he had to rely on his charm, looks and personality he started acting strangely. He was trying far too hard to impress her. He tried serenading her with a song he wrote in praise of fireplaces. He wrote numerous vitriolic songs attacking Freud.

She lost interest in Dean, leaving the way clear for Bertie. He became supremely confident because he thought that his sweat was an outstanding love potion. She liked his confidence. He liked the way she loved everything, even tennis. When Hugh heard that they were playing tennis he began to regret ever helping to bring them together.

The moose's head over the fireplace has had feathers in his antlers every morning for the past week. I think there's a bird hiding somewhere in the house. The wife's uncle says that he had hundreds of birds hiding in his house last winter. He never noticed them until he went to pick up the phone one evening and he picked up a magpie instead. His neighbour had a family of pigs living in his house, but they moved out because of the dirt in the kitchen.