Chair #2

It had been dismally cold and grey, but that morning the sun had come out and was burning through the fog, and Gwynn delighted in the gentle warmth of it as he crunched across the frozen grass. Today he would make a chair. Of course there were other things that needed doing. There were always plenty of other things to do. But he had decided that this would be the day and that everything else would have to wait. It wouldn’t take long. He could have it finished before dark.  There wasn’t much to it. The difficulty was never in the actual building.

The winter before last, the big old elm in the hedgerow had lost one of its lower branches in an ice storm. He’d awakened in the night to the sound of a crack, as of a great clap of thunder. He knew it was the elm, though it could have been one of any number of trees. Early next morning he found the fallen branch, and it did not surprise him that not only was it from the elm but that it was the very same branch he’d been eyeing for as long as he could remember. The times he’d stopped to look up at it! For in this branch was the most perfectly shaped crook he’d ever seen. He’d built his ideal chair around it hundreds, if not thousands, of times over the years. He’d bored countless holes along it and staked it snugly with oak and beech and hickory and watched it darken and become smooth with age. He wouldn’t have dared take the branch while the tree still lived, not unless there had been some very good reason for it. That would have surely jinxed the chair and anyone who ever sat in it. But now it was down of its own, and he felt strongly that it had been a gift to him, though for what he could not guess.

He came into the small shed that served as his workspace, stomping his boots to shake off the frost and get his blood flowing. The sun slanted in through a hodgepodge of windows, bathing the room’s orderly clutter in clean yellow light. Gywnn heaved the door closed, a white fog billowing from his lips, and made straight for the potbellied stove in the corner. He fed it a handful of shavings, then some pencil length pieces of birch. That got going almost instantly, and he didn’t even need to establish a bed of coals before adding a few small chunks of oak to it.

The crook sat proudly on the workbench, bathed in sun and casting a near perfect arc of shadow. The only flaw, if one could call it that, was a slight divet at the end of its left arm. He had considered facing that side down, but it didn’t seem to work as well, didn’t satisfy that itch inside him the same way. Truth be told, he had already fallen in love with the little depression, had already passed many an evening comfortably by the fire, meditatively sliding his left thumb down into it, finding security in it, an anchor for the whole of his day tired being.  For as long as that chair lasted, and he intended it to serve himself and many successive generations of Rees, that divet would *cwtch many a sitter’s wandering thumb, rooting them securely to the very center of the earth.

His tools were a motley bunch of handmedowns and car boot sale finds. The chisels were mostly Sheffield steel and were a joy to use. He’d been meaning for years now to replace the handles on them. “I’ll do that now in a minute,” he said aloud, then cursed himself for not maintaining his tools properly. He was always cursing himself for something. The jack plane had been made by a neighbor and presented to him one morning over coffee at the Prince’s Head, along with a good sized box of odds and sods he guessed he’d get use out of sooner or later. He’d bought the adze new. That had set him back a pretty penny! which was unfortunate because the very next week he found one at the charity shop of all places for a fraction of the price. True, it wasn’t something you’d normally find at a charity shop, but the mother of Gwynn’s sister’s piano student worked the backroom on Wednesdays and Fridays and she’d found the old tool and Gwynn had popped down to have a look. Damn if it didn’t hold an edge better than the new one! Such is life.

He’d built countless chairs over the years, both in his cramped, little shed and while lying awake in bed at night. These were his two workshops. Please don’t ask which one he preferred or in which he got the most amount of work done. He couldn’t design stuff in the shed like he could in bed. Lying there in the dark with Alys sleeping beside him, the warmth of her back pressed firmly up against his side. He’d stare unblinking at the ceiling and build very clearly in his mind. He’d try out different things, experiment splaying legs at varying angles, tweaking the rake of the back and taper of the spindles. He’d assess the quality of the wood, its color, grain and hardness. He’d stake a chair dry and watch the years fly past and see how the wood darkened over time and how the grain rose on the arms and gave it texture. He’d have a very good feeling about it until suddenly the seat would begin to wiggle and he’d realize it was just no use doing it that way. And so he’d take it all apart and this time improve the taper and wedge it cross grain with hide glue. Some nights he’d work on a single part, like the seat. While Alys dug her ice cold feet under his calves, he’d crank the seat up in the bench vise and then go at it with the adze, hacking downwards across the grain, making shallow cuts to rough out the saddle. Then he’d tackle it with a travisher and then maybe finish it off with a card scraper. Or else he’d try a different tack and use a gouge on it, making many long wobbly furrows in the seat. He’d seen that done elsewhere and he liked the look and feel of it, especially after the ridges had worn down a bit and resembled lakewater windblown to ripples.

The only thing left to decide was whether to give it three legs or the usual four. They had been down the pub all that evening before and had gotten home late and fallen into bed laughing in each other’s arms. Later, after the lights had been switched off and Alys had drifted off to sleep, he resolved to settle the issue once and for all. The trouble was he could see both versions very clearly in his mind and he liked them both equally. Four legs seemed more formal and familiar. Every chair at the Prince’s Head had four legs. He’d only ever sat in a few with three, which definitely gave it a certain rustic charm. He just needed one good reason, for or against. Logical or emotional. It was like a kind of equation with an “x” factor, with the answer being that he liked the look and proportions of each chair. The known factor was the crook. All he had to do was subtract the known variable from each side and then divide…suddenly he wondered if his indecision didn’t run deeper somehow. He wasn’t typically indecisive about things. Was there something else in his life he hadn’t settled on? And then it occurred to him. “I’m not being funny,” he could hear Alys saying. “But we’ve got to give him an answer, and soon! We’re cramped enough as it is, and we’re only three!” Three. Three legs or four? The three legged chair he saw in his mind looked perfect beside the hearth of the place they lived in currently, the place they’d moved into together when they were still sweethearts. It was an old stone cottage with an earthen floor. They’d converted the pantry into a second bedroom when Becka turned five, but that had always been a temporary solution. He loved that house, despite the drafts and the leaks and the glue traps hiding everywhere. The happiest and healthiest years of his life had been spent there. It was his favorite place in the world and a three legged chair would suit it just fine. But Alys’ father had recently offered to help them buy the Johnson’s place, which was newer and had three bedrooms and a garage. “It’s got drywall and everything! There’s even insulation in the ceiling! How nice would that be for a shop! No more mucking about with smoky old stoves. I’m not being funny, Gwynn, but we’ve got to let him know, yes or no.” The thing was, he liked being a little cold and uncomfortable. He loved nothing better than to build a fire and work the cold out of his hands. Moreover, he just couldn’t get used to the idea of living a few doors down from Alys’ family. A three legged chair was harder to imagine there. In fact, it looked lonely somehow on the blue grey laminate, abandoned. Sure, four legs would help to smarten the crook up a bit, but damn it all! He just didn’t want to move. Her family was good people and he got on well enough with her dad, but… He hated that house. What was more he hated how they couldn’t afford it on their own. Perhaps there was another way, another house. He’d have to make more money. That’s all there was to it. He could figure that out. Besides, he’d been eyeing that crook for as long as he could remember, and it just had to be three legs or no legs at all.

~ by calebnrogers on January 25, 2021.

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