The Final Fanblade Fable
Turn right at the last page – avoid the epilogue and then there are four leaves left. Blank leaves. Fly-leaves. Old-fashioned books often had blank fly-leaves fore and aft as a rather posh transition from the hard covers to the text itself. As a child, Hiver Jawn used to write on these fly-leaves because, in those days, real paper stationery was expensive. It also seemed more permanent, more satisfying, to append his thoughts within a hardcover book instead of in those bright shiny red exercise-books with tables of weights & measures on the soft back cover. He used to put his name with the address ending “England, Great Britain, Europe, World, Universe” proudly written in his neatest hand on the first available fly-leaf. It always started off neatly. Then a short poem over which he agonised:
“I am a visitor to this world
I love the haze that’s hurled
Between the poles of the earth
And I love both sadness and mirth
I love everything there is to love
I even love you, my sweetest dove.”
Then a few philosophical thoughts, such as:
“If God made everything,
Who made God?”
Then a story or fable by Jawn himself, often featuring Lemuel Gulliver who seemed to fit suitably into the smallest space possible as well as into the largest. Followed by Jawn’s childish signature as an imprimatur, a stamp of authority that everything he had written was sacrosanct (if increasingly less neat) and everlastingly memorable, recorded between hardcovers before one had reached the pre-printed title page proper.
He rarely understood the book itself. Even if it was abridged for children. It was above his head, in close-printed ranks of dead insects in their Sunday best. There was often a frontispiece: a colour-plate depicting Robinson Crusoe and Man Friday or a logger in Canada being stalked by a Red Indian. The book itself never matched the wonder and promise of the frontispiece. So he skipped all the pre-printed pages – all 256 of them – until there were four leaves left: blank but stained by patches of yellow foxing – and he seemed to feel he was desecrating something when he scratched his fountain-pen nib across in anger. His mother had just scolded him for messing up the book and he would be sent to bed early without tea – so he scribbled harder – the ink spluttering in all directions – before she could stop him.
Later, having salvaged the book from the bin, he was able to work out a monster’s face slowly emerging from the depth of his scribble on the last four leaves. He did not know then that this was a good likeness of his own face when he became really old. Jawn hoped he’d never be old. Never grown up. And, looking up to see if his Mother was close by, he scribbled over the scribble. But the scribbled monster was still there – a scribble behind the scribble.
Maybe he still owns that book today. A memory of his childhood. He can now read the pre-printed pages – even enjoy them. ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ by John Bunyan. He notices that there is a childishly drawn beard on the young man’s face in the frontispiece – a long and straggly beard – perpetrated with yellow crayon, because a grey one was not available.
If God made me, who made God?
And the Venetian blind rattled like a wind-spun fan. No leaves left. No blades left to hone.