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.