Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Thursday, April 25, 2013

"Braille of Brocade" by Mary Healy A Short Story

March 1 to April 28

"Braille of Brocade"
a short story by
Mary Healy
That first day as he watched her, he wondered what few sentences summed up the damaged life he was about to take on. She was hunched over the box of tacks, hair as black and shiny as ebony, shading eyes that were dark and deep in an elfin face. She wore coloured knits on her thin legs, scarves wrapped, turban like, around her head. Her pale skin was darted with tiny studs of angry jewels. Over the next few weeks he was continuously surprised at the various ways her flesh was mutilated, as if some vicious being had possessively stamped itself all over her body. A bright green snake licked its way up over the waistband of her trousers, its lewd forked tongue creeping up to where the skin was delicate, translucent. A pierced heart shape tattooed the fine skin of her ankle. One day he saw her reach for a tin on the high shelf and the piercing on her navel made him wince.

On her first morning she remembered following the sound of a cello. She made her way through the graveyard of dusty furniture surveying the detritus of old wardrobes, dressing tables, and misty mirrors. Some of this furniture was decades old, passed on from house to house, from family to family, from auction room to the welcoming hands of a new start. And here they landed in a place where she supposed there was hope. As she moved through the building she began to feel the presence of people who had lived among these ruined things, chairs that held friends, beds that held lovers, wardrobes and drawers that stored whispers. And she heard these but closed them off; she had enough whispers and secrets herself without listening to the chant of others.

She passed a pair of arm chairs, stripped down to a naked frame, defeated cushions lay nearby with faded patterns, the fabric on the underside still retained the original colour. A flaccid tassel hung from the side of the cushion, a reminder of its former glory. She moved further into the Aladdin’s cave of dead wood, seeking out a man she heard described as difficult. Her first sighting of him was a reflection in a dusty mirror; the silver was spotted and warped so he appeared old and faded. When she met him face to face his quiet energy surprised her.
On that first day he handed her a tool and told her to take the fabric off a piano stool. She was careful not to rip the fabric, or bruise the wood, aware that possibly    

Braille of Brocade.
neither mattered much but reluctant to do damage. She worked one tack at a time, it was how she dealt with life, one step at a time, the more precarious the situation, the slower you went. He noticed this. Some people worked with a vengeful energy, ripping everything asunder, her touch was light and careful, almost afraid to engage and he realised that what ever had happened, had been imposed on her, that she was a victim, not perpetrator. She worked at a steady pace he observed, making a mental note for the report, ‘worker shows consistent careful pace.’ She was quiet too; there was serenity about her that was contemplative, self contained.

At eleven he flicked the kettle switch and settled himself with his paper.

‘Help your self,’ he said, indicating tea things. Shaking open the paper he realised there was a time in his life where such behaviour would have been regarded as rude, in this context it was a statement. To have endured things once, was enough, he knew that. When he finished reading, he noticed she had stretched herself out in a sun spot, her eyes closed. Like a cat, he thought, feline and delicate with an instinct for survival. As if she sensed his appraisal she opened her eyes and met his, calm, reflective, herself. And he realised in that look she was not as young as he had first thought, her eyes were older, more mature, damaged.
One morning she took a large package from the courier and nearly fell under the weight.
“O.k. there?” he enquired to which she replied “of course,”
And he realised she would shoulder burdens quietly, uncomplaining. That she was practiced at this.
“Open it up” he said.
Carefully she peeled back the paper revealing a bolt of fabric He watched her pause, and her surprise. He realised she was one of those rare few who ‘got it’
“Close your eyes” he said quietly.
She could feel him move near her; could feel his warmth, smell his scent of soap and wood. Taking her hand he placed it on the material, finding where the textured weave rose from the smooth fabric, finding the ripple of the weft and weave of the brocade, the Braille of its beauty.  It intrigued him to see her experience it and he knew the pleasure it gave her, the surprise of exquisiteness that delights the senses, wipes out

Braille of Brocade.
the world around you. He knew she was connected to the vision of the creator, sensually, tactilely, visually entranced. The language of one artist to another.
She stood there lost in the experience and when she opened her eyes they were tragic, mystical. He saw a small smile play on her lips and he nodded, turning back to his polish, abashed at her naked vulnerability. There was purity in her that life had not destroyed; it was carefully hidden, protected, but there.
That evening sitting on a timber park bench she fingered its weathered grain, humble and honest. This is real, she reflected, not some reassembled piece of a tree, whose timid quavering voice was silenced by the roar of a chainsaw and the whine of a shredder, its evisceration echoing around silent green forests. This deception offended her at some level. Why bother, why cut trees down, mince them into dust and glue them back together again. What was wrong with wood in the first place, she wondered. Why can we not accept things the way they are?

Some days later in the workshop he sensed her presence near him. He was working on a table, it was stripped back to the bare wood, the ripples of the grain were clear.
“It’s like a tree within the wood” she said.
“It is” he said, “and one time this table was a walnut tree, a rare beauty in its twisted perversity. See the grains here, each one tells what that year was like. A wide grain like this tells it was good weather, this narrow band here indicates that it was a cold wet year.”
“So bad weather adds to the beauty of the wood?”
“Well really it is the beauty of the piece; it’s what makes it original, the poorer the conditions, the richer the markings.”
She raised her eyebrows, he continued.
“This was probably growing sometime in the 17th century, a tree in a field with long grass whispering around its roots. A time of horses and scythes, it probably took several days to cut it down, or maybe it was felled in a night of great wind.”
“And this?”
She pointed to a big angry patch in the middle.

Braille of Brocade.
“That was clown who couldn’t put the lid back on a tin of paint, seeped right into the grain. I’ll have to sand it back down to where the damage began and then build up the layers again when I have the stain removed. Underneath the beauty is still there. You just have to know that, just believe it’s there and find it again.”
“It’s beautiful, even without polish.”
“The polish is only partly cosmetic. Some of this wood is beautiful but fragile. It wouldn’t last so long without the polish, it protects it, and keeps it from being marked or permanently disfigured.”
He smiled, embarrassed, but she seemed to be absorbed in some thought.
Some days later she arrived at work to find the door locked. A light mist began to fall, and she sheltered in the eave of the building. Something must have happened to him, he was a creature of habit, one who was solid, reliable. An oak she decided, smiling, while I’m a walnut. Rain began to fall heavier; it danced in little puddles, pock marking the ground. She realised she liked this place, that her time was nearly up just when she had found some where safe, some where she could live a life for a while. She realised how little she knew about him. Yet she knew instinctively he was a man on his own. She knew this from his clothes, from the way he arrived with a lunch roughly wrapped. There was a simplicity about the way he lived, she knew too he was a contented man, restful, fulfilled. Handsome she thought, in a subtle way, like an unpolished work. She began to make her way towards the bus stop, as she walked she began to cry, tears joined raindrops washing her face. At the bus stop she stood into the shelter and watched the wet world whiz by. A van pulled up, the door opened.
“Sorry” he said “I went out to deliver the bureau, got a puncture.”
As he opened the workshop door she noticed the fabric of his shirt clung to his back, lightened and pink from his skin underneath. He turned to her.
“You’re drenched” he said.
“So are you” She said.
“Here, come in and we’ll get sorted”
He pulled her indoors and the relief from the down pour fell to silence.
“You’re drowned” he said.

Braille of Brocade.

Looking down she realised he was right, her hair held the glisten of rain drops, she was probably a sight.He appeared to be studying her.
“Come on, we’d better get you out of those wet clothes. I mean, better get you home to get some dry things,” he looked flustered. She smiled;
“Its ok, I know what you meant” she said.

In her last week a silence grew between them; a space full of unspoken words, the whispers of loneliness crept out of the echoes of the wardrobes and sighed into the silence. They avoided each other’s eyes, spoke too brightly, too surely, saying nothing. The last day came, a day of rainbows and swift showers. She worked quietly, completing a final layer of beeswax on a table. He seemed to be at the farthest end of the building all day, his back closing her out, shyness in the space between them. It came to finishing up time and he stayed where he was, slowly she got her coat, and came over to him.
“I suppose its time to go,” she said.
He didn’t speak for moment, and she waited.
“Thank you for everything,” she said, “I really enjoyed working with you.”
He looked up, his face unreadable.
“It was my pleasure,” he said, “I have something for you.”
He lifted up a dust cloth and there was the piano stool she had worked on the first day. Now it was perfect, all the little scratches and damaged pieces were repaired, it was re upholstered in a fine fabric, a piece from the bolt she had opened. She looked at him with tears filling her eyes.
“For me?”
“Yes” He said, “a reminder that there’s always hope.”
“It’s beautiful.”
“It is, it just forgot for a while”


This story is protected under international copyright laws and cannot be published or posted online without the permission of the author.  I thank Mary Healy for allowing me to share this story with my readers.   
Mel u

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