Sunday, 28 February 2016

Flashish: It Had to be Yew

My client arrives. He has a timeless face, familiar somehow. Not reminiscent of a person I’ve known, but possibly a gargoyle or tree sprite I have carved onto a banister or bed post.
‘You are aware of my methods?’ I ask. ‘My technique is a little eccentric.’
He nods. ‘I have procured the tree.’
What I do is beyond carpentry. I like to think of myself as an artist but maybe every good carpenter is. I avoid standard rectangular furniture, I let the wood guide me. The material itself designs the piece. While I try to stay within the requirements of the client I often go off spec; dining room chairs may become ergonomic thrones, a lamp stand may have intact branches expanding out of it. Generally my customers are delighted by my imaginative riffs on their requests. I have become highly sought after by the most artistic and the most affluent.
‘It resides within,’ I tell the client and usher him to my workshop.
The tree has already been delivered but I have deliberately not yet met it. Usually people bring planks or blocks but occasionally I work with a tree in its entirety. I cross my fingers and hope for oak or chestnut or even pine.
He has chosen Yew. It has many colours and intricacies but I always feel uncomfortable using yew. It is so ancient; such a quiet, wise material and usually I have to battle to find my way into it.
I put stools either side of the trunk and gesture for my client to sit. We both place our hands on the bark.
I take a deep breath. ‘Right, give us your brief.’
‘No brief. You have free reign, but,’ the client smiles, ‘I would like to observe.’
Observing and free reign. Usually the customer tells me and the wood what they need. As they describe what they want I study the material and connect with it. Then I dismiss them and begin work, usually in a frenzy, not sleeping, barely eating, until it is complete.
‘This will be more expensive,’ I tell him.
That smile again, cold and amused and so familiar. ‘The cost is not a concern.’
I stroke the trunk and sniff it. The presence of the client is at first discombobulating, both to me and the tree but after a while I forget about him and clamber all over the trunk, inspecting it, feeling it, licking it, listening to it. There is no sparkling chatter as from any birch, or melodic song, like a willow would make; there is silence, and behind that infinity.
I’m not sure if it takes ten minutes or ten hours, the wood seems unwilling to give up its secrets but finally our minds meet. No picture comes into my head but I follow what the tree silently demands, working blindly, obediently, with the client watching all the time.
After many hours or many days or many weeks or a few moments the piece is finished. It follows the grain, it enjoys the whorls of branches; it has purpose. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever made.
‘Perfect,’ the client says. ‘Now, in you get.’

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Let My Sleeping Dog

I watch the up and downing of my sleeping dog’s belly. Curled tighter than usual because of the cold, pretending to be half his real size. Sometimes he snores, sometimes he dreams; his ankles and eyelids alive with imaginary adventures. Occasionally he lets out a volley of high-pitched woofs, quite different from his gruff awake bark.
   His ears are becoming quite white, his eyes are not as good as they were, but he is cheerful and chipper. He enjoys his walks, playing with his toys and his occasional dervishes around the living room; when his ears lie flat and he remembers he is really a wild thing.

Friday, 12 February 2016

Flash: Indisputable

‘It’s here,’ I shout up to her.
She doesn’t thunder down the stairs like she would have until recently. She moves slowly, with newfound a gentleness or trepidation.
I hold up the envelope. It is thick; the window has my name in it, and our address.
   Her eyes wetten. She sinks to the bottom step. ‘Go on then,’ she says; her voice a sigh.
   It’s not the reaction I was anticipating; I was expecting shouty loudness. I feel for a tissue to give her but my pockets are empty.
   My heart is thumping. ‘You open it.’ I thrust the envelope at her but she recoils and it falls between us.
   She wipes her eyes on her sleeve and I notice she's wearing my old sweatshirt. She looks up at me, her eyelashes glistening with tears. I’d forgotten that she is beautiful.
   I stare back, trying to read her thoughts, until finally she says, ‘Just get it over with.’
   I pick up the envelope and run my hands over it, wishing it was braille and I could read it without reading it. She watches, diminished, contained by the occasion. She looks cold. I sit down and put my arm around her.
She smells of summer Saturdays.
   ‘Or I could not open it,’ I say into her ear. The words make me giddy with possibility.
Her face swings to mine, almost too close to focus on. I feel her body tense, then unfurl.

   I tear the envelope in half and she gasps. Then I rip the paper into a confetti of tiny pieces and throw them into the air. She laughs loudly, uncontained again and pulls me towards her.

Tuesday, 2 February 2016

Flash: Got my hands burnt playing God

I was a world class knitter. It started as a hobby; something to occupy myself on the long commute into London. It started with single colour scarves. It’s funny to think how things begin. This harmless hobby infiltrated my whole life, it expanded into everything. At work I’d go to the loos as often as I could get away with, not to use them, but to do a bit of cheeky knitting. At night I’d literally dream patterns, then wake up the next day and create them. That is how I invented nose cosies, sloozos and cuddle jumpers. My scarves were no longer one colour but depicted meadows or zoos or sweeping constellations. I began to get commissions.
   After six months I quit my job and swapped my train journey for various local ‘stitch and bitch’ groups, where I learnt the finer nuances of knitting. Everyone was impressed by the speed of my needles, everyone was in awe of my exciting designs.
   Then I had a dream of epic proportions. I woke up and was unsure if it was madness or genius but I knew I had to make what I’d dreamt; I knew I had to be true to my heart. I started knitting a world. I worked so hard, I knitted so quickly, I knitted with angora and wool and nylon and polyester. And that was the problem. Such was the speed of my needles on the polyester that when I was just finishing the final ocean with its knitted fish, static started sparking. Before I’d realised what was happening the water caught fire, then the forests with all the animals and people and finally the sky. My beautiful knitted world went up in flames. I was distraught, I was bereft, I was covered in second degree burns. I hung up my needles for good. I’ve now taken up writing; it seems so much safer.