Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Carpenter's Gift

Not all things in fairy tales are bad. Not every story punishes the hapless and strong. No, there are some stories with happy endings. This is one of them.

Johann was a carpenter, known little among his peers. His father was a skilled craftsman, the kind that would be featured at the big arts fair every summer's end in the capital. Johann was not. He was quite average, and his father knew it. Despite this, Bjorn, Johann's gentle father, taught his boy nevertheless. And every time Johann made a mistake, Bjorn would laugh in his rich, full voice and say, "A good man isn't one who finishes best, but finishes well, little Johann."

When Bjorn died one day, his famous shop, filled with every species of exotic woods, became Johann's.

Everyone knew that Johann was not the man his father was. Still, Johann was always busy. No one trusted him to build a chair, or a table, but Johann became known for fixing the things the people brought to him. No job was ever too daunting for Johann, and the people trusted him.

One evening, Johann was coming out of his shop and a woman approached him. He looked into her silver eyes, so lovely and calm, and he wondered why such a beautiful woman would be walking around in the middle of the night. Into his hands she pressed a small object wrapped in cloth without a word and turned away.

"Wait," cried Johann, lifting his hand in the air, "Who are you?"

But she was gone.

Confused, holding the small parcel in his hands, Johann shook his head and decided best that he should walk home.

After setting down his pack and things along the table in his kitchen, Johann sat in his father's chair. It was a large oak chair, filled with burls and knots. His father had won many medals from this particular piece, and, to Johann, it was his father's legacy. Johann placed the small parcel the woman had given him in his lap and opened it. Inside the fine silk was a small block of wood. It was black and silver, hard and brittle. The wood was unlike anything he had seen before. He wrapped his knuckles on the piece and felt it resonate in his hands powerfully.

"I could make this into a whistle," he thought. A whistle was all he knew how to make, and the wood was not quite large enough to make a recorder either. That night, he set to it, and when he was finished, he set the whistle down and went to bed.

When Johann awoke, he stretched his arms and rolled out of bed, still exhausted from the night before. Slowly he rose, put on his pants, splashed cold water onto his face, and walked into the kitchen to make himself some food. That's when he saw on the table something he had not expected. There, next to the whistle and some shavings, was another block of wood, only this time it was slightly larger. "That's certainly big enough for a recorder," thought Johann to himself.

Johann left his home to go to work, and when he came back the wood was still on the counter. He had thought about the wood all day and sat down immediately and went to work on the wood. This time, after a few nights, the recorder was finished and Johann played an old song he remembered from when he was a boy, and each note was more beautiful than he could have ever dreamed. He was less surprised to find, like before, another piece of wood lying on his kitchen table when he woke the following morning. It was nearly twice the size as the last one, and this time big enough to make a clarinet.

So, every night Johann continued his work when he would come home, building greater and better instruments until his home was quite full of them. When he decided to begin selling them, Johann discovered that they were quite popular and soon he was very rich.

Just like Bjorn, Johann became known across the land for his talents and began to win medals just like his father had.

And Johann was happy.

Even though Johann was known for his instruments, he would still, from time to time, work on old pieces of furniture that the people would bring him. He would glue them back together with resin and return them good as new. One day, after many years, Johann received a special piece from an unknown patron. It was boxed up in a wooden crate on his doorstep. When he brought in the crate, he opened it and found inside an ebony chair missing a leg. It was a fine chair, similar in make to his father's work. Attached to the arm rest was a small note written in silver.

"Please repair the leg. Payment in full on completion."

Johann grimaced. He never appreciated pushy customers, but still, a job was a job, and he set to work.

To repair the leg, Johann needed a special wood. So he went back into the rear room of his father's shop and found the private reserves, special woods that he had collected over the years from all over the continent. When he had found the wood, he pulled it from the wall only to find behind it a small door. Johann had never recalled seeing a door in the shop, let alone one hidden away. Setting aside the wood he entered the small room inside and lit it with an oil lamp. And there, in the center of the room, was a large chair surrounded with shavings. Beside it was a large block of wood.

Johann was speechless, marveling at what he imagined was his father's greatest work. He walked around the piece, feeling it's rounded corners and flawless surface. A workbench was situated behind the chair, lined with his father's tools, a letter and a small painting pushed to the rear of the table. He read the letter, written to his father from his mother, who had died long before Johann could remember. The letter was one of her last, entrusted to Bjorn with a final project and a painting of her that she had entrusted to him as a keepsake. He eyed the painting then and blew away the dust from the weathered face and saw her staring back at him: his mother.

She had silver, beautiful eyes.

Later that evening, bewildered and baffled, Johann was locking up his shop. When he turned to leave the woman was standing there before him, his mother, arrayed in a platinum gown that sparkled in the light of the full moon.

Johann's eyes became wet with tears.

"Who are you really?" He asked, very distraught. "If you are my mother, why did you leave?"

The woman approached him, putting her hand on his shoulder. The touch of her calmed his soul completely, so quickly that he nearly forgot why he was crying.

"Your father," the woman began in a smooth, breathy voice, as soft as velvet and as cool as a breeze, "he was a strong man. I fell in love with him when he was lost in the deep wood long ago. Our love was not meant to be, but I knew he could not bear to be apart from me without a treasure to remember me by. So, when you were born, I left you to him to raise and I blessed him for it with prosperity and talent. But now you are older, and you are free to return if you wish. All you need is ask."

Johann was speechless and could not decide what to do. But, did he go with his mother to the distant realms? We do not know this. That is not ours to say.

What do you think?

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