This is office is a boring magnolia ‘L’ and I dislike its blandness and its unworkable dimensions, but there are just some things which just have to wait and this is one of them. My desk is against the wall, there’s no other place for it; it puts my back to the door and I don’t like that either. Can’t work like that, never could, instead I perch on the end of the desk, it’s old and wooden with drawers so hard to open it’s easier not to bother. Why am I so paranoid about the way this old desk faces? Old habits die hard I suppose; bankers habits put out to grass like an old pit-pony, when skill was replaced with check-boxes and prudence took a holiday.
I’m in the heel of the ‘L’ so nobody can creep up on me. Heel of the ‘L‘, I like that ―coming to you from the desk at Heel of the ‘L’―my cranky amusement this morning . That’s what writing with a headache will do to you the morning after a birthday party for sugared-up seven year olds―other people’s seven year olds. It gives birth to a new collective noun ―headache― a headache of seven year olds.
There are no windows in this room, only a skylight. Makes for few distractions but daydreams are hard won, no gazing out across the windswept moor waiting for my Heathcliffe to come, well that and the fact that it’s actually a cow pasture and Heathcliffe’s in the workshop tinkering.
So here in Magnolia L not a single picture graces the walls, instead soldierly rows of framed certificates stand at-ease on the floor leaning against the walls, I should put them up but can find no enthusiasm for such a task of blatant self-congratulation. Instead I think of years of effort, angst and striving, be the best, be the best…there’s no glass ceiling for you.
Everything seems to be on the floor, including a leathery looking Licorice All-Sort, the colour reminds me of the wizened, peat-tanned skin of Tollund bog-man. Surprised the dog missed that, maybe it’s too unappetising even for him.
The second desk is in the general direction of the toe of the ‘L’ and its hard to make out its exact dimensions beneath the mounds of paper and files. It offends my senses I complain, it misaligns my need for perfect order and categorization; it makes me uncomfortable. He just points to the stacks, somewhat triumphantly. Checkmate.
There are books―stacks of books everywhere― some of them newly liberated from their packing crates, the ones that made it home. I mourn those I had to leave behind. Nobody understands it. I’m the only reader, unless you count plans, schematics and boat magazines, which I don’t. There’s a pile of new books too, a pleasure-in-waiting with that new book smell; temptation and tight spines. I wonder if there will ever be enough time to read everything I want to read and that makes me a little despairing. So I try not to dwell on it, questioning instead the arrogance that suggests I could add to this body of work. Is it audacious folly to suppose anyone wants to hear what I have to say? Does a fish know it’s wet? Follow the muse, follow the muse― echoes in my brain.
Someone suggested I buy a Kindle to rid myself of dust and clutter but I think I’ll keep my stacks, there’s comfort in their presence. Books do not inhabit the world of built-in obsolescence and my mistrust of the globalists knows few boundaries. Besides, I’m a new- book- smell junkie.
Every day I trip over a box-full of techie paraphernalia: wires, adapters, routers and transformers; more wires, chargers and redundant cellphones. Didn’t we go through this tedious voltage switch before? We’re supposed to know what we are doing with this stuff and we still can’t get it right. Like my dual voltage PC that wasn’t; the mother board fried at the flick of a switch. Where do I sign on to become a neo-Luddite?
How little there is of me here in this room, maybe because my heart is not yet here. I’m in this place but no longer of it, yet if not here then where do I belong? Maybe my heart has fled with the Muse, over the hills and far away.
A wading stick is standing in a corner by the other desk, now there’s a low-tech piece of kit. I have no idea why it’s in here, he’s probably re-engineering it; he re-engineers everything in a stronger, smoother, faster kind of way. Its pretty boring really, there are no carvings or fancy bits, just a five feet long piece of metal, an over grown ski pole but instead of a sharp point, the lower end terminates in a big rubber ferrule, like the kind you see on old people’s walking sticks. There’s a rubber grip at the top and about six inches down a ring which runs right through the middle of the stick, just a plain steel circle with a long loop of heavy-duty elastic shock-cord attached to it by an incongruous purple carabiner. You can’t tell until you pick it up, but it is really quite heavy, weighted at the lower end to prevent it floating.
He has a collection of these sticks and right now this one is his favourite; bought on a trip to fish the Tay in Scotland. The hunter returning home with a nice eight pound Atlantic salmon―a beauty―which I felt had a tale to tell of its struggles in cold seas and oceans. Sad to see its lifeless form but I am not a fish eater and I refrain from castigation, holding a silent requiem in my heart and in my head. Life savers these sticks, he says and I know he’s right, I’ve seen it happen and I’ve seen it fail. Such thoughts are too maudlin though, for a nice day like this so I think instead of a day we went fishing together on the West Canada River in late spring, high up in the backwoods of the western Adirondacks, there’s not much up there between you and Canada except wilderness, bear and blackfly with a bloodlust.
Crystal clear spring melt-water, the cycle of life turning, filling our water table and our wells―we hope. The sign is barely legible: rain, snow and ice have dulled and peeled, leaving only a ghostly outline: Dangerous Rapids-Beware Pilings-No Diving. It’s easy enough to fall when wading out from the shore. The rocky river bed, green with soft, emerald algae like velvet, slippery and deceptive in its treachery, falls away to deep pools and catches the unwary. In recesses deep and cool, among redundant logging pilings from a different age, lurks the Angler’s Holy Grail, spinning its fishy tale of wonder: the trophy fish. Few can resist such provocation which inebriates the senses.
The paddlers call them strainers, lethal combinations of pilings and long-dead fallen trees trap everything which can’t flow through their watery portcullis―broken paddles,plastic bottles, punctured inflatables, tyres, men―under the immense pressure of fast-flowing water. Few survive the strainers, even in summer. There are many horror stories, old and new, which locals tell with something uncomfortably like glee over a Bud or two in Barney’s Painted Rock Tavern. Spinning their folklore, their Tales of Relish and Embellish.
Despite his stick, he fell in that morning, quite close to the bank as it happened, got a foot caught and down he went. I was relieved to see him pop straight back up, spitting water but still holding his rod clasped high above his head triumphant, nothing broken on him or the rod. The scene will stay with me for a long time―water pouring off him in all directions, he smiled and started to joke about it, then cut off in mid-sentence by a popping sound and a whoosh of air as his auto-inflate life preserver went off underneath his fishing vest. Water penetrated the valve triggering the inflate mechanism and his upper body transformed into a yellow “Incredible Hulk” still wearing the fishing vest― which was a good thing, he said later, because it meant the thing did its job. The dogs barked and charged at him but eventually their aggressive posturing died down to wagging tails. Even they looked amused as a group of grey headed ladies from the local Gardening Club, wound their way down the path towards us paused and gave him a round of applause. He was asked to speak at one of their luncheons later that year on The Perils of the Fly-Fisherman and could he please wear the outfit? The joke lingered many months in our small town.
His guitars stand in another corner of the office, like a row of Egyptian sarcophagi, treasure entombed. There used to be eight but now just three, sold along with my saddles to different ends of the earth. I read the whole of Lord of The Rings whilst he learnt Led Zeppelin’s Over the Hills & Far Away, we were living in New England at the time and the snow piled up in feet on our back porch. I thought it would never end: the practice, not the snow.
His accident happened on a crisp and bright September day just like today. I always used to say there was just something about the clarity of the light at that time of year. Artist’s light, such intensity, the frantic heat of summer now past. I could hear the log-splitter, a familiar sound, the phut, phut of its motor and the creaking and cracking of the wood splitting, fibres tearing, falling to the ground with a hollow thud. I remember the screen door slamming as he ran to the kitchen, he was shouting for bandages, I was making tea― Earl Grey for him, Assam for me―his words made no sense as the mugs clattered to the floor. I heard “….hand off.” Shock, heart-stopping shock. The ER twenty-two miles away, he insisted on driving, gears grinding as I changed them for him; he looked gray―ashen actually― we both did; not speaking, no words would come, his hand swathed in bandages and towels, trickles of sweat running down his face. Questions in my head, over and over so many questions all returning to the same point – the future of a guitarist without a left hand? Diatribe and raling, turned into prayers as minutes crawled into hours, molasses in winter. Tick-tock, tick-tock. ER bustle, pink and green scrubs. Tick-tock, tick-tock.
It was a single finger, as it turned out, I had misheard. Prayers answered to a point, they always are― to a point― just enough to remind me who calls the play. The mastery of which we’d both been so proud, now gone, some chords just can’t be made – no longer will I hear him play his favorite B’ron Y Aur, it is just too hard, but yet it’s enough to see him do with nine what some can’t do with ten. I’ll take that.
I cried when he played again for the first time, some weeks later. I was working in the kitchen, making peanut-butter dog biscuits I think it was. I remember thinking at first, why torture yourself in this way? Just turn it off and walk the dog or something, anything but dwell on what you’ve lost. Then I heard the catch, a single note just slightly odd, a little stuttered giveaway. I knew every note so well, Over The Hills and Far Away.