'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, May 05, 2010

The Car and the Curse

I came across my grandfather's plans to build a cafe in the garden. Like many of his plans, they never came to fruition. There were a few plans that he put into action, and a few of them turned out to be successful, like the summer he opened the gardens to the public. The success of this venture is what gave him the idea for the cafe. One woman used to come to the gardens every day. She spoke to sunflowers, and sometimes sunflowers spoke back to her, but this might have been the effects of sunstroke. Being insulted by a sunflower was much more devastating than being insulted by a person. People had absolutely no idea what they were talking about when they insulted her, whereas sunflowers always told the truth. Fortunately, insults were rare, and she was never insulted by any of the flowers or trees in these gardens.

My cousin Hector used to meet up with his friends, Sean and Steve, every Saturday morning. When Sean bought a second-hand metal detector, Hector and Steve spent a lot of time following him through fields as he searched for buried treasure. Hector and Steve got bored of this fairly quickly, but Sean was losing none of his enthusiasm for finding bottle tops and bullets. He was spending most of his time searching with his metal detector, regardless of whether or not he had followers.

Hector was trying to convince his daughters, Alice and Grace, to go to bed one Saturday night. Whatever argument he put forward, they always came up with a brilliant counter-argument. He thought that he'd tire them out eventually if he kept coming up with arguments, but he was starting to get tired himself and they were still as bright as ever. He was worried that he'd have to accept defeat to his daughters, so he was glad when Sean rang the doorbell and said there was something Hector had to see. They called to Steve's house to collect him, and then they walked to the woods. Sean said he'd been searching in the woods with his metal detector, and he'd finally found the treasure he'd been waiting for.

He led them down narrow paths amongst the trees, and then they left the paths and walked through the undergrowth. Hector could think of many arguments against walking through the woods late at night when you can't see where you're going, but he kept reminding himself of the treasure at the end of their journey.

The treasure was hidden beneath a canvas cover. It was an old Rolls Royce. It looked as if it had been abandoned in the woods for decades. The car was in poor condition, and even if you wanted to take it out of the woods there wasn't enough space to get it out through the trees. Hector couldn't figure out how it got into this resting place, though he had to accept that his mental faculties were probably impaired after arguing with his daughters.

Sean was determined to get the car out of the woods. He might have to cut down a few trees, but this car was his treasure and he wasn't going to abandon it. The car hadn't lost its battle with rust, but it would take a lot of work to restore the silver paint with the red line down the side. Sean said he'd get the engine running first, while the car was still hidden by the trees. His friend Doug was a mechanic who'd relish a job like this.

Sean worked on the car every evening for the next three weeks. Doug was there on most of those evenings. Hector and Steve often went along to help as well. Sean had to pay for most of the parts needed for the engine, but he found some of them amongst the junk in and around his house. He had amassed a vast supply of junk even before he started using his metal detector.

One afternoon he was out in his back yard, using an old kettle to hammer a lawnmower that looked as if it would benefit from a good hammering. He could have walked the three yards to get his hammer, but the kettle was close at hand, so he used that. It was doing a good job as a hammer until the handle came off the kettle, or the kettle came off the handle and it flew threw the air, landing in Mrs. Darcy's garden. He looked through the hedge. The kettle had landed in a flowerbed. The last time he was on her property, she threatened to strangle a swan unless he left. The death of the swan would be on his conscience, she said. She obviously doesn't know much about Sean's conscience. A lot gets thrown at it, but very little sticks. He couldn't imagine himself mourning the passing of a swan strangled in his name. He wouldn't give it a moment's thought if he could use that moment to think about a tin of biscuits.

Mrs. Darcy didn't like Sean because he once made fun of her son's van. Her son is a country singer. He has some catchy songs, but he's developed an ego that's in no way justified by his achievements. If he spent his days nursing injured swans he'd be fully entitled to his sense of his own importance, and I'd imagine he wouldn't have to look far for patients if he set up a swan hospital.

Sean had to get the kettle back before she saw it. He had seen her driving away in her car earlier that day, so he crept through the hedge and ran across the lawn to the kettle's landing site. The flowerbed was near a window at the side of the house. After he had picked up the kettle he couldn't resist looking in the window.

He wasn't surprised by what he saw inside. The room was like the inverse of a room in his house. Most of his enemies had rooms just like this one. The place was spotless. The crystal vases on the sideboard looked as if they'd recently been polished, and the flowers they contained were fresh. The furniture showed few signs of wear and tear, and the carpet looked more comfortable than any of Sean's furniture.

He was just about to leave when he noticed a photo in a silver frame on the sideboard. It was an old colour photo, possibly from sometime in the sixties. In it, Mrs. Darcy's father was standing next to a car, a silver Rolls Royce with a red line down the side. Sean was convinced that this was the car he had found in the woods.

He told Hector and Steve about the photo. Hector suggested going to visit a man called Colum, who used to know Mrs. Darcy's father, Richard, back in the sixties. Richard worked in the music business back then. He managed bands and he owned a dance hall. He wasn't as successful as he liked to pretend he was. The Rolls Royce was the perfect tool for this pretence. The car was cheap because the man who sold it said he needed the money for an emergency wedding.

They went to see Colum, who remembered the car well. He told them that shortly after Richard had bought the car he found out the real reason why the seller was so eager to get rid of it. The Rolls Royce was cursed. Whoever owned the car would be plagued by misfortune. Accidents started happening to Richard. He was always falling down holes or being chased by vicious dogs.

He decided to abandon the car in the woods. He told his family that he'd sold it for a fortune. A few years later, he had a heart attack after being chased by a vicious dog, and he died.

At first, Sean dismissed the curse, but he became worried when accidents started happening to him as well. In truth, accidents have always been happening to him because he doesn't take enough precautions to avoid them. After abandoning the car, he was hit in the face by a piece of timber while he was hammering a chest of drawers with a portable television. He nearly set his coat on fire while he was trying to fix a wooden spoon, and he was hit on the head by three golf balls. This was a typical week for Sean. He used to go for walks on the golf course to annoy the golfers. They'd aim at him. But he thought all of these accidents were because of the curse, and he realised that he couldn't escape the curse as long as he was the owner. Richard couldn't avoid the plague of bad luck after he abandoned the car, and this bad luck eventually killed him. Sean became the new owner of the car when he started working on it, and he believed he had to pass it on to someone else before he'd escape the misfortune.

So he started working on the car again. His plan was to get the engine going and remove the car from the woods, and then he'd try to find a buyer. He found a way to get the car out, and he'd only have to cut down seven trees. This was a job that would have to be done at night. Hector and Steve agreed to help, but Steve insisted on planting new trees to replace the ones they'd cut down.

Sean spent most of the money he had on the car. He didn't have much. He had to search through all the junk he had in and around his house to find all the coins and cash he'd hidden away. But he believed all the time, effort and money spent would be worthwhile. It was a matter of life and death. The sound of the engine roar in the woods at night was like music to Sean's ears, a sound that was almost as beautiful as the roar of the chainsaws.

They successfully removed the car from the woods. When it was hiding under sheets behind Sean's house, his conscience finally woke up from its long slumber. He wondered if it would be right to pass on the curse to the new owner, someone who might be entirely undeserving of the misfortune. He decided to give the car to Mrs. Darcy instead. He'd tell her it was a peace offering. He found the car in the woods and he knew that her father had owned it. So he decided to renovate it, with the help of his friends, and give it back to its rightful owner, the daughter of its former owner. Sean felt no guilt about passing the curse on to Mrs. Darcy. She really was the rightful owner of the car. She should have inherited it from her father, and she should inherit the curse as well. Sean couldn't think of anyone more deserving of a potentially lethal dose of misfortune.

So he drove the car to her house and parked it in the driveway. She came out when she heard the familiar sound of the engine. It brought back many happy memories of her youth. Sean had only just begun his story about finding the car in the woods when she interrupted him. "I know about the curse," she said.

Sean was doing his best to pretend that he knew nothing of the curse, but she paid no attention to him. "I'll take the car anyway," she said. "I know someone who'll buy it from me, someone who might even pay a lot of money for it. He loves his cars. I've been looking for a way to get revenge on him for a long time. Ever since 1972, when he drew my face on a rock. I'd have forgotten about that a long time ago if he wasn't such a good artist. Everyone knew it was me, and his painting wasn't very complimentary. We've been trading insults ever since, and the occasional rock. I'll tell him that I've had a change of heart with regard to my hobby of collecting enemies. I've realised that life is too short, and bearing grudges only makes it shorter. I'll say that my father's Rolls Royce has been rotting away in my garage for years, and I know that he loves old cars, so I'd like him to have it. At a cost, of course. But it won't cost an arm and a leg."

A few days later, Mrs. Darcy called around to Sean's house and she told him that her plan had gone perfectly. The man who had painted her face on a rock was now the new owner of the car. She invited Sean, Hector and Steve around to her house for dinner that evening because she wanted to thank them for their part in helping her finally get revenge on her enemy.

It turned out to be the best meal Sean had eaten in years, and he saw it as confirmation that the curse had been lifted. As they were eating their dessert he asked Mrs. Darcy if she had felt uneasy about passing on such a deadly curse.

"There isn't really a curse," she said. "That was just a story my father came up with, an excuse to abandon the car in the woods. He wanted to get rid of it after he found out the real reason why the previous owner was so eager to sell. This car was once owned by a singer called Greg Architoggle, who was hugely popular for a while in the early sixties. It all went wrong for him when he released an album of songs he wrote himself. He thought it would make him a global star. He was full of enthusiasm for this album after years of frustration because of having to sing other people's songs, and pretending to be someone he wasn't. His fans didn't share his enthusiasm. They loved him when he was someone he wasn't, but they didn't like the real Greg. There were numerous songs about making a life-size woman out of tomatoes, butter and wire hangers. It sounded as if it was something he had actually done. Her name was Geraldine. His love song for Hitler didn't go down too well either. The album destroyed his career. No one in the industry would touch him with a barge pole after this. I don't know if any of them had actual barge poles, but almost everyone had a stick of some description. Hardly a day went by when they didn't have to trash a producer or a drummer. If they saw Greg, they'd start swinging their sticks in the air to make sure he didn't get anywhere near them. My father was afraid that his reputation would be ruined if people found out that he'd bought Greg's car. He thought that if he sold it, the new owner would find out about the infamous past owner eventually, and my father's secret would be revealed."

"So how were you getting revenge on your enemy by selling him the car?" Sean said.

"He used to idolise Greg. He actually built a shrine to Greg. Lighting candles and everything. But when he heard Greg's self-penned songs he tore down the shrine and he smashed his entire record collection with a sledge hammer. He didn't have any non-Greg records in his collection because it would have felt like worshipping false gods. I'll wait a few weeks before informing him of the car's past owner. I'll let him get attached to it first. It'll drive him mad."

"What'll he do to the car?"

"Do? I don't know. Polish it, I suppose."

"He won't want to get rid of it or smash it with a sledge hammer?"

"Oh no. When I say it'll drive him mad I mean it'll annoy him for a while. He'll see the funny side after a few hours. It's been a long time since his rejection of Greg."

As they were leaving Mrs. Darcy's house, Hector said to Sean, "So you spend a fortune repairing this car, and you give it to her for free, and then she sells it, probably for a few grand at the very least, and she does it just to annoy someone for a few hours. Who was she really getting revenge on? Was it the man who painted her face on a rock in 1972 or was it you?"

"It was the man who painted her face on a rock in 1972."

"Are you sure about that?"

"I'm one-hundred percent certain."

"How can you be so sure?"

"I just am."

"But why?"

"Because. Because. That's the end of the matter. The car and the curse will never be mentioned again. I'm going home to find that bottle I came across in a washing machine. It looked too tempting to test on a pig first."

The moose's head over the fireplace wouldn't approve of the gardens being open to the public. He enjoys the peace of the place. I have no intention of ever opening the gardens. I couldn't bear the thought of crowds ruining a sunny Sunday afternoon, even though it would be an easy way to make money. The wife's aunt has done very well financially since opening her garden to the public. She saw some beautiful moon orchids in a dream. She re-created the scene in her garden, with limestone for the lunar surface, and orchids made out of paper. Many people come to see it after dark.