Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Carver, an original story by Simon Brooks

There were once, as there always are in tales like these, a man and a woman who loved each other dearly.

He made carvings out of wood she found for him in the forest. Sometimes she would bring home a limb blown down in a storm; a branch snapped by some animal off a fruit tree; a sun-bleached, water smoothed piece found in a stream. He was now blind but could work well with his hands and fingers, whittling, engraving the beautiful carvings by touch. And what did he carve? Well, the stories his wife would tell him of course. He would see the images she describe flash and dance through his mind, and would try to retell these tales in images of scenes, of characters in the form, almost, of a map, which he carved into the wood she brought him.

Their house was small but was filled with books. There were books about herbs, there were books about music, there were books about paintings, there were books about magic, there were books about books even, but most of all there were books filled with stories. The house smelled like good cooking and books and what better smell is there than that?

Their living room had four chairs in it. They formed a rough circle facing a fire place that sat in the centre of the house. Beyond the fireplace was the kitchen. The smells and warmth from the kitchen added to the smells and warmth of the living room, whose walls were covered with bookshelves. When he moved about the room, he would sometimes run his fingers over the spines of the books his wife would read and pull one off the shelf for her. Sometimes he would just sit with a book in his lap and feel the embossing on the leather cover and lift the book to his face to smell the pages, or run the paper between his fingertips. For years she read him the stories and told him the tales, and his knives and chisels would work the stories into the wood. To help make ends meet she would sometimes sell a carving or two. She would ask her husband which ones she should take to the market and he would run his hands over them and pick some out. He would hand the carved, bleached wood to her with a smile, and as she slowly took the pieces, his fingers would slide over the wood as if saying goodbye to his work. She would then replace the carvings by placing her own hands in his, and he would kiss her fingers gently, and smiling she would do the same to his rough hands. The only other money that they brought in was that which she made from making clothes, cleaning houses and the like. And what would he be doing? Carving. Carving the stories that were in his head, the stories his wife told him, the stories his wife read to him.

Well, time passed and sometimes you die before your time and that is what happened with the man. Without the gentle sound of the knife as it slowly chiseled and formed stories in the wood, the house seemed filled with silence. The sound of his breathing and the chuckles and sighs, and gasps as she would read to him were no longer there. Without his presence and smile, the house did not seem as warm. And it seemed that a darkness came into her life.

One day she woke to find a dog sitting outside their house. She tried to shoo the dog away but it would not leave. She chased the dog with a broom, but it came back and sat on the front step and looked at her. She left it there when she went to work. When she came back, the dog was still there waiting. The woman stood with her hands on her hips and looked at the dog. She scowled at it and went inside leaving the door open. “Well, come on then,” she said to the dog, and so in it came. She found some scraps and fed the dog and put an old bowl on the floor and filled it with water. The dog ate and drank, then sat down by her feet. And that is where the dog stayed never bothering her just watching and sitting close by. After a month or so, she found herself patting the dog, messing its ears up and scratching its head. A smile came to her face, the first smile since he had passed.

And time passed, and she got used to the silence in the house. Then she began to read to the dog. The dog had no name; it was just ‘dog’. She would finish one story and begin another until she found she could not keep her eyes open. Then she would go up the creaking wooden stairs to bed. Sometimes the dog would follow and sit at the foot of the bed. The dog gave her some comfort there.

Late one night there was a banging at her door. A cry for help came from outside. She went to the door to see if she could help but the dog pushed in front of her and growled low and menacing. “Out of the way, dog. Someone needs help,” she said. But the dog growled even more and barked at both her and at the door. The cries got more urgent and then stopped. The dog kept barking, growling with teeth bared, and then she heard some harsh whispers. “No point in trying here, the dog will most likely tear us to pieces.”

The next morning she heard from her neighbours that two people had been murdered in their home and four other houses robbed. She had been lucky, they had told her. “No,” she said. “I had dog.”

They had settled into winter. Nights were long and dark. She still read to dog; one story after another in the light of the lamp. But this night was different. When she finished one story, the dog got up and went to the door. She opened the door to let the dog out but he just turned and looked at her and waited. “Well go on then, and do your business,” she said. But the dog just looked at her and took a couple of steps and stopped. She stepped out through the door and dog trotted off and stopped again, waiting for her to follow, which she did. The dog then trotted to a small shed where they had kept some tools and old broken things. The dog scratched at the door until she opened it. The dog trotted in and took hold of a piece of cloth and pulled it off a trunk. It was a large box she did not recognize. She walked over to it and opened the chest. The lid was heavy and she struggled, but once it fell open she found a collection of her husband’s carvings inside. She pulled out carving after carving, piece of wood, after carved piece of wood and found in these carvings the story of their life together. She saw her face in a piece of rose wood she remembered giving to her husband, many years ago, a young face, filled with joy. She saw her hands in his hands as they floated across a piece of drift wood. Images in wood of places they had been, things they had seen together, before he had lost his sight. She stared at them in wonder and smiled, a tear rolling down her face. Dog sat and looked at her.

She took them, one by one, into their house and set them around on every space she could find for them. The sun came into her home and the carved, bleached wood would seem to amplify the sunlight coming in through the windows, adding warmth to the house. And the darkness slowly lifted as she looked at what had been their life together and the dog sat at her feet. With happy memories of her old life around her, she realized a new life was beginning.

An original tale by Simon Brooks, copyright 2008 ©