Laying on of Hands

I woke early as usual and slipped quietly out of bed, making my way to my workshop. I filled the tiny whistling kettle, and sat it on a tripod above my butane blowtorch. While it boiled I stood and watched the morning light play across the surface of my new piece. This was a simple table, an altar, solid and squat, using seven hundred year old oak timbers from the chancel of our church. They were removed when the apse was reinforced. I’d taken delivery of the beams in February, shortly after Valentine’s Day, and would return this new altar to the building soon. Beneath the blackened patina the timbers hummed with lignified life. The first one I had quarter sawn released a spicy incense, and lush yellowish ray flecks as strong as folded steel. I did nothing but inhale their musk for a week. The following week I followed the fibres, learning their secrets, laying on hands.

I made tea, spooning torn leaves from a tin into a chipped pot. Bronwyn would join me soon, serious after sleep; she would take her mug and curl herself into the cave of her favourite chair, clinging to the vistas of sleep, battling the entropy of office life. I knew not to talk until she was ready. I felt my eyes smile, and closed them to keep her image intact.

I was an early starter: twelve years old when I began working wood. I composed my first footstool between five and six a.m. on an unremarkable day. Like Bronwyn it was small and deliciously awkward; knock-kneed: the knuckles of its joints were wrong too. I built it in a dream. When I awoke I felt as red and warm as the setting sun. I put on my clothes, brushed the tangles from my hair and carried my crippled footstool to breakfast. I had it with me as I packed lunches and hurried the younger ones for school. Nobody noticed, not even my mother, especially not my mother.

I placed a mug of hot tea in the window just as Bronwyn drifted in. She trailed a hand clumsily over the altar, blessing it, making it holy. I watched her move in arresting shudders, a series of tiny accommodations with the world around her. She is like light. Even a stretch is poetry.

Every day after the footstool there was a new creation. I kept them secret. A question avoided here, an equivocation there.  I studied joints at the library, learned to read grains. At the age of fifteen I knew every step in the manufacture of a sash window. I could build doors and doorframes in my sleep. Trusses became a staple. I moved on – back – to my first love, furniture, conceiving elegant Queen Anne tables and chairs, fine filigree screens, before the ecstatic discovery of Shaker cabinets, and the catharsis of imperfection. I made boxes for my tools, then the tools to go in them. And all this without ever handling a single piece of raw lumber, or hefting a hammer. Without making anything real.

Nursing was hard. Mother arranged it. On Sundays I sat tidily in my best dress deconstructing the lectern while Byzantine lessons were taught. While we prayed I steam-softened the glues binding pew dovetails and reverse engineered them back to riftsawn boards. I preferred them like that. I preferred everything like that. Simple. Hadn’t Jesus been a carpenter too?

They discovered it before me. Not the secret of my creativity, but another secret. One I’d kept even from myself. A secret so dark that exorcism failed. So did rage, though they tried both. At dusk I said goodbye to the place I loved, not knowing if I could return. I left nursing, and with the money I had saved I rented a workshop.

I decided at the beginning against mortise and tenon joints to bind this piece.  They are not the only way.

Bronwyn wrapped her arms around me, placing her hands gently on my back. She understands the beauty in these rough-hewn pieces. She understands me. Her head was heavy on my shoulder. Her voice still stained with sleep. “Thank you,” she said.

For Josie.


25 Responses to “Laying on of Hands”

  • marc nash Says:

    Lyrical as ever Simon. “She is like light. Even a stretch is poetry.” was divine. As was the remark, “Jesus was a carpenter”. And with Bronwyn, their love is such no tenon and mortise is required, but another, more yin yang way in which each is contained within the other, rather than the dreary gender arrangements of penetrator and receiver. Sublime.

    marc nash

  • Josie @safetycomfort Says:

    Simon. I am so deeply touched by this. A simple, heartfelt thank you for beautiful writing, and this dedication x

  • Carrie Clevenger Says:

    Echoing Marc here. Love your work.

  • Laura Eno Says:

    This is beautiful. So many layers, so lyrical, so much creative energy in these words.

  • John Wiswell Says:

    Simple character, simple goals, simple plot, all made elegant by your writing. That was lovely to read. Thanks for sharing it, Simon.

  • Linda Says:

    Beautiful Simon. Love the parallels of the craft and love, the dovetails, the mortise and tenon, the grains. Pitch perfect.

  • Jane & Nathan Says:

    To be pigeon holed, when all you want to do is make dove tails!! Another brilliant piece of writing Simon.

  • Sam Says:

    Beautifully elegant piece. Reading this is a privilege.

  • Jessica Rosen Says:

    Breath-taking and elegant. Thank you.

  • Michelle Says:

    so interesting and poetic – enjoyable reading

  • danpowell Says:

    The layers in your work are like the revealing grain in the wood of this story. I felt like I was being taken into the narrator’s confidence as I read this, revealing herself slowly through the piece.

    Simple line’s like ‘Nobody noticed, not even my mother, especially not my mother,’ carry so much weight and depth. Heavy like wood.

    Another great piece of flash fiction. A pleasure as ever.

  • GP Ching Says:

    I think every week I say your current story is my favorite but this one is REALLY my favorite. I love the boundary breaking, the uplifting look at coloring outside the lines. The imagery is lovely and the plot masterful, the characters real. LOVED it.

  • mazzz_in_Leeds Says:

    You make me want to take up carpentry, Simon. Lovely, full piece as ever

  • teresa Says:

    This has a touching depth to it, the mysteries of religion, love and nature…carved with your words so beautifully.

  • Lou Freshwater Says:

    The placement of Valentine’s Day is perfect. Laying on hands, as the title as well as such a layered and complex metaphor. Building door-frames in one’s sleep, because building door-frames is not an easy thing. Creativity, love, the inner-truth as a thing to be worshiped as opposed to living in self-deception and contorting who we are for the other. All so wonderful.

    “Like Bronwyn it was small and deliciously awkward; knock-kneed: the knuckles of its joints were wrong too.”

    Of course they’re alike, of course.

    “I had it with me as I packed lunches and hurried the younger ones for school. Nobody noticed, not even my mother, especially not my mother.”

    This is so well place inside the quiet of the story. And that one word, ‘especially,’ just hit like a ton of bricks. I could feel the depth of his pain, because no matter whom we end being loved by in life – or understood by – if our parent cannot see the truth of who we are, then we feel that loss always.

    “I preferred them like that. I preferred everything like that. Simple. Hadn’t Jesus been a carpenter too?”

    Yes, it is about the deed. I’m so glad he left, no matter how difficult the exile, in order to build this alter of truth. And that he was rewarded with a woman who could see and understand him. And that he made something real.

    Bravo, again.

  • Marisa Birns Says:

    Exquisite as always. Your writing is such a mixture of creativity, beauty, and music.

  • Anton Gully Says:

    Took me a couple of read-throughs before I understood what had happened, but it was a pleasure every time. Great concept, beautifully written.

  • DJ Kirkby Says:

    So beautiful…

  • Virginia Moffatt Says:

    This is gorgeous. I loved the way you wove religious imagery,the learning of craft and love into it. The right to be who you are and the joy of discovering it, even if it comes at a cost…

  • Cathy Olliffe Says:

    Hi Simon:
    First of all your story is just amazing. I read it twice because it’s such a beauty, and to try and understand the power in this woman’s mind.
    Is she psychotic? Is she genius? It doesn’t matter, because who cares if her finest creatiions are figments of her incredible imagination. They exist to her as if she has slivers in her fingers.
    Josie is lucky to have such a wonderful story dedicated to her.

  • ganymeder Says:

    Lovely and poignant.

  • ~Tim Says:

    More of the beautiful writing we’ve come to expect from you.

  • Laurita Says:

    Everything about this is beautiful, from the lyrical, evocative language to the layers of story. Your subtle touch makes every piece you write a joy to read.

  • Anne Tyler Lord Says:

    Marc & Dan said what I feel so eloquently. I am becoming short of words to describe how deeply I am touched by your beautiful lyrical poetic prose. There is such depth and layers. You touch deep emotions so delicately with just the right description and turn of a phrase.

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