Evil Things

Can an object embody the evil intent of its maker? Obviously, if the thing is a weapon, then violence is a natural outcome of the object’s creation, but does the particular personality of the person who made it actually affect the thing itself? In my book, The Lives of Things, there are definitely objects whose intent is to hurt or destroy.

This concept is certainly not limited to my work. Steven King, for example, in his best-selling horror novel, Christine, creates a malevolently jealous car that actually murders people, and there are countless fairy tales where an object has been cursed, so that those who seek to acquire it meet a dreadful fate.

In everyday life, things often become “bad” because we risk too much to acquire them and then those things control our futures. Think of the homes bought during the housing bubble that people were told they could afford. When the houses lost value and people could no longer afford to pay for them, they became sources of unhappiness for the families who bought them. A cherished acquisition became a horrible mistake, an evil if you will.

My husband, Gordon, thinks that objects turn bad when you put too many expectations on them. In his case, this refers to the various expensive golf clubs he regularly acquires because they are going to “revolutionize” his game. They don’t, of course, so then he thinks of them as evil —promising skills they can’t deliver.

I personally have a deep superstition about “bad luck” items, which usually refers to clothing.  Just as there are “good luck” outfits that somehow affect your confidence and therefore wonderful things ALWAYS happen when you wear them, so there are bad luck clothes that drag you down.  Usually you find this out the first time you wear the item in question. I have a peach-colored summer dress, for example, now hiding in the back of my closet, because the first time I wore it, I had a huge argument with my aunt, to whom I no longer speak. Is it really the dress’s fault? Maybe not, but I think of that horrible day every time I look at the dress, so really, I think I should throw it away. I could give it to Goodwill, but then it might just affect someone else adversely. On the other hand, maybe “bad” things behave better with different owners—they need a fresh start. I think I’ll get that dress out right now and donate it somewhere. Even things deserve a second chance.


Things That Seem Like Family: the Romeo Clock

The Romeo  Clock

The Romeo Clock

This 18th-century Second Empire clock has been with me my entire life. My earliest memories include listening to its delicate chime. When it’s working (and it’s been broken for twenty years now. I really should have it adjusted again) it rings every fifteen minutes. The sound is a very pleasing high-pitched ping, utterly unlike any other sound I’ve ever heard.  As a little girl, waking in the middle of the night, I could hear the clock chime in the dining room of our New York apartment, and it always reassured me that everything was all right.

The romantic fellow with the large hat and feather who is reclining on the hill that supports the face of the clock is Romeo, or at least, that is what my mother always told me. She said that there were originally two clocks—Romeo and Juliet—meant to sit  on the two ends of the mantel above your fireplace.  I think that Romeo must have sat on the left and Juliet on the right. Somewhere in the world there may still be a Juliet clock pining for her lover. I hope that she has survived the centuries,  but my family never owned the Juliet clock.

The feather on Romeo’s hat wiggles. This is probably a defect, but I loved moving it around as a child. Even as a little girl, the clock seemed alive to me. I imagined it coming to life at night once I went to bed, and even got up a few times to visit it, hoping that Romeo had descended from his hill and would be ready to tell me of his travels.

Since that didn’t happen, the clocks’ first 80 years will always be a mystery. Made in France around 1850,  Romeo was purchased by my grandfather, Maurice Rauchwerger, in the 1930s. He and my grandmother lived in Vienna, and he collected antiques as a hedge against the terrible inflation that afflicted Austria and Germany after World War I.

A  blond, blue-eyed Jewish man who pretended to be a Christian during his constant business trips to Romania, Yugoslavia, and Hungary, Maurice watched the encroachment of the Nazi regime into his life with both disbelief and disdain.  As a citizen of Vienna, he did not believe anything would happen to him or the family, despite the increasingly harsh restrictions placed on Jews as the 1930s wore on.

Luckily for my mother’s survival, her sister, Stella, married Englishman Tobias Springer in 1937 and moved to London. Reading the British press, she could see that life was getting very perilous for Jews in Vienna. Stella and Toby arranged visas for my mother and her parents to leave for England, and the Rauchwergers escaped in 1938, immediately following Hitler’s annexation of Austria,.

The Romeo clock and a small number of other valuables left with them. The Rauchwergers took only a tiny fraction of what they owned. It must have been terrible to leave so many cherished valuables behind. But certainly better than dying to save them.

My mother brought Romeo with her when she married my father and moved to the United States. The clock sat on a shelf in the dining room for all of my childhood, and it later retained a place of honor in the living room of my parents’ various homes. When my mother died, twenty years ago, Romeo came back to live with me, along with a number of other wonderful objects, most of them wedding presents given to my grandmother in 1900.
The Romeo clock links me to grandparents that I never met (my grandmother died before I was born and my grandfather only saw me once as an infant) but even more importantly, it is a symbol of freedom and escape. That’s why I had to put the clock in The Lives of Things, where it offers the same comfort and support to my heroine, Rebecca Katz, as it does to me.