'Darcy and O'Mara' is a novel by Arthur Cronin.
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Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Tide of Luck will Turn

It seems as if we're acting as Europe's umbrella. We're absorbing all the wind and rain from the Atlantic while they get the heat wave. We could pretend we're doing it on purpose, and charge them for the service. The wife's aunt says that when she was young she had a nanny who held an umbrella over her on sunny days and let her get wet on rainy days, but the nanny was paid in paper clips and porridge.

My cousin Isobel wanted to make a cup of tea one Saturday morning but the kettle wouldn't work. It had been a bad start to the day. As well as the broken kettle, there was a funny noise coming from the cat. But she thought of a way to solve both of these problems: go to a place where she could get a decent cup of tea and where she couldn't hear the cat.

She went to a small cafe she'd never been to before, and she was very surprised when she recognised the waitress, whose name was Flora. They had been in school together. They hadn't met since leaving school, but Isobel would have assumed that Flora had gone on to achieve great things. She was very intelligent and she was full of vigour. Even when she was still in school she set up a business importing ice cream. Isobel was surprised to find Flora working as a waitress, but she didn't think she could tactfully express her surprise.

She didn't have to tip-toe around the subject for long. Flora said, "I suppose you're surprised to find me working as a waitress."

"As a matter of fact I am," Isobel said. "I always thought you'd have your own empire by now."

"I never came close to having an empire, but I thought I was on the right path to it, until I was plagued by bad luck. I must have been unwittingly crossing the paths of black cats and walking under ladders. I lost a lot of money on shares in a company that made high-quality kitchen utensils. The woman who ran the company had a very wholesome image, but that was ruined when a newspaper printed photos of her hunting ponies. Sales collapsed, and the company went bust. And just a few weeks after that my furniture shop went under. A much bigger furniture shop moved in next door and I couldn't compete with them. I had to sell my recruitment company to pay my debts. I had a restaurant as well, but that started to go downhill after a bad review in a magazine. It was just my luck that the food critic ate there only hours after the chef had been dumped by his fiancee because he kept getting her name wrong. She wanted him back on the following day. She even offered to change her name, but the damage to my restaurant had already been done. I shut it down a few months later. So despite all of my grand plans, here I am, working as a waitress. And my brother Will is making a fortune, even though the grandest plan he ever had was to pick up a piece of sponge cake he saw on the floor. He never did any work in school. The only thing he did with enthusiasm was lying down. After years of wasting his life he started making bikes that make music as they move. The type of music depends on the speed you cycle at. He loves cycling around the countryside at a leisurely waltz. It's dangerous to accelerate up to rock music on some of those narrow country roads. His business is booming, and he offered to lend me money to fund my next venture, but I just can't swallow my pride and take money from him. So here I am working as a waitress."

"Do you have another business venture in mind?"

"Without any money, I have to start from the very bottom, but it's not a bad place to start. The castle near the cliffs has been renovated. You can go on a guided tour of the castle and its grounds. The official opening is tomorrow, and I'll be there, selling souvenirs from a stall. As soon as I finish my shift here I'll be going home to assemble as many of these souvenirs as I can before tomorrow. I'll be up half the night putting pins on badges and stickers on small plastic castles."

Isobel thought that Flora's downfall put her problems with the kettle and the noisy cat into perspective. She offered to help assemble the souvenirs, and Flora said she'd gladly take all the help she could get, as long as it didn't come from her brother.

Isobel spent the afternoon working on the merchandise for Flora's stall. As well as the badges and the plastic castles, she had postcards, candles, mugs, glasses, figurines of leprechauns, T-shirts and CDs of Irish music.

When Isobel got home that evening, the kettle was working, but it was making a funny noise. The cat was purring without making his noise. The fact that he wasn't working was no reason to be concerned. Even if you could plug him in, he wouldn't do anything. Not making funny noises is as much as you can reasonably expect him to do. Isobel hoped that these were good omens for the following day.

When she woke up in the morning she heard the sound of a strong wind outside. She went to the castle at the cliffs to help Flora set up her stall, but the wind was doing its best to blow the merchandise away. And then a strong gust came along and blew the whole stall away.

The minister for Arts, Sports and Tourism was due to cut the ribbon at the official opening of the castle. He had just stepped out of his car when Flora's stall landed on the roof of it. There were plenty of photographers there to capture his stunned expression.

If anyone had been interested in Flora they would have seen the look of horror frozen on her face. She knew she'd have to pay for the damage done to the car, even though she didn't have the money, and this was further confirmation that her luck would prevent her from ever achieving anything with her life.

Her brother, Will, decided to intervene. He was there to promote his bikes. He went over to the minister, and he brought a bike with him. He said, "I'd like to present you with one of my bikes. This is my own bike, the very first one I made, so it's more valuable than all of the others. I'm sure this will more than cover the damage done to the car."

The minister felt he had to smile and agree to this deal because there were so many voters and journalists around. Flora was glad that her brother had intervened. She thought that the lesson to be learnt from this was that she could achieve something with her life, but only if she accepted the help of others.

The photographers asked the minister to try out the bike, and he agreed because he thought it would look good in the papers. He had a reputation for being dismissive of environmentalists. Being seen cycling was just the thing his reputation needed.

He set off at a leisurely pace, a gentle waltz, and he seemed to be enjoying himself. There was a broad smile on his face when he turned around and cycled back towards the cliffs. He picked up speed, and with a gust of wind behind him he went even faster. He knew something was wrong when he heard the rock music he hated, and then the metal his teenage son listened to. He couldn't stop. The sound of death metal drowned out the sound of the wind as the minister went over the edge of the cliff.

Looks of horror were frozen on the faces of most of the people there, though there were a few smiles. Flora was blaming her own bad luck for the accident, but the minister miraculously avoided death. He landed on an enormous inflatable trout on the back of a boat. The owner of a local fish shop was using it as free advertising on the day of the castle's opening.

Flora made a made a lot of money that day because everyone wanted to buy souvenirs of the event. Some people believed that the souvenirs were blessed.

"I think your luck has changed," Isobel said to her.

"Yeah. I feel as if I'm back on track. I'm not going to aim for the empire this time around, but I'd certainly like another chance at running a restaurant."

Over the following weeks, thousands of people came to the castle to buy souvenirs. Flora had her restaurant opened within six months. Isobel got a very good discount every time she ate there, and she often ate there to solve problems she was having with domestic appliances or to ignore the behaviour of the cat. As well as making funny noises, he started showing off his funny walks.

The moose's head over the fireplace was disappointed with the World Cup. He was hoping that the tournament would be redeemed by the final, but after twenty minutes he was staring at the latest painting on the wall rather than looking at the television. The painting depicts a goalkeeper during a football match. He's been hypnotised into believing that he's a wall, and that no ball can get past him. But he's holding a nail and the nail is supporting a painting of a vase full of flowers, so he isn't very effective as a wall or as a goalkeeper.