Thursday, August 14, 2014

Two Occasional Tables

An Occasional Table (1)

George knew that to be an occasional table its main purpose was not to have a purpose at all other than as an ornament or, at the most, as a coffee table that is employed to put coffee table type books on if not coffee cups themselves. George was born a Prince but in the subsequent wars and revolutions became a commoner. In his younger days the palaces had been full of occasional tables as well as framed portraits in rooms used as galleries rather than rooms proper. Most things in the palaces were occasional - only his cot then his bed had a definite purpose. Even he as a Prince was an occasional one, or became such when the republic was still unformed, finally not a Prince at all, not even occasional.

His father, a once and future king, was a helicopter pilot until he was pensioned off through bouts of myopia or forgetfulness that was blamed on myopia, his mother now an ageing Nanny for kids that would have grown up like her one day, Princesses in the making once the monarchy returned, as some still hoped. George became a carpenter like a previous budding messiah or spiritual leader as George thought himself to be given different circumstances, but now crucified upon a destiny that was not of his own making. He carved the legs of the table, giving it ornamentation, curlicue curves, knots turned into buds, snaky ribbons weaving through the grain ... but legs would have been legs whatever the ornamentation; in fact, the fussy designs made the legs weaker than they should have been, eventually robbing them of any purpose at all. Instead of supporting the heavy flat plane of the table's surface, they seemed to buckle as each chisel chop that George gave them kicked in. He was behaving like the obstreperous child he had once been in the Royal days. If a table was to be occasional it needed not to work at all. Obsessed with a basic loss that he felt, some right that had been stolen from him, it seemed as if he needed to make the objects themselves around him as useless as he was. Each table he made more and more occasional. His mother wept to see the frowns of frustration knotting his forehead as he wielded the chisel. A carpenter who made a new world in his own image. Easier with words, though, than wood. These words.

Yet, his occasional tables were a big success. It was as if people, shoddy themselves, needed shoddy goods to make themselves seem real in a shoddy world, where nothing was better than anything else. One occasional table giving its name to this story, an occasional table to end all occasional tables, sloping slowly before toppling, spilling all the refreshments that had been entrusted to its surface. This story sloped, too, before toppling the thoughts that it had once promised to the sound of disappointed shouts from those who read it or heard it read aloud - but it never fully toppled at all, only forever threatened to do so. An occasional story, with little or no surface; no depth to satisfy any of us who fell - or attempted to rise - through it.

George scribbled it all out, before being discovered as its author. And decided to play with the Corgis instead. Like all toys, occasional for every occasion.

An Occasional Table (2)

It sat beside me, as innocent as an object can possibly be without having absorbed the memories of a lifetime. Objects are objects, and not even good nostalgia sticks to them, let alone bad things that happened around their vicinity. It is what it is.

Yet, this occasional table was the oldest thing in my life, having travelled from address to address with the audit trail of circumstances, circumstances spontaneous and deliberate alike. It was about three foot square with two parallel wooden plank surfaces, one above another, topped by four screwed wooden knobs, and vertical posts holding the construction together. It looked very basically made, and it was indeed cheap as chips, as born from a flatpack, except I recalled this one, unlike most flatpacks, had been easy to erect, even for the likes of me. It had usually supported a TV set or just something used like a coffee table, but now the narrow strips along the sides of both plank surfaces had peeled away revealing some sort of cork innards. The screwed knobs at the top had become discoloured with indelible thumbprints. I often wondered why this particular shoddy artefact of mankind had outlasted all my other belongings, as life slipped behind me, hardly noticing it, until today...

It was as if it spoke to me with a voice that was beginning to penetrate my absent-minded existence. A dusty croaky tone that hardly uttered words, but it did possess a whining ingratiating sense of thankfulness toward me for preserving it, or so I imagined. Or was it complaining, showing an awareness of what it currently bore upon it, even jeering at the current use to which it had been put, yes, by the likes of me. A large framed photograph leaned back on its wooden pull-out support, itself in turn supported by the top surface of the table. Upon the lower surface underneath, I had placed all manner of a muddle, like extinct files, and handwritten-upon papers where I had once attempted creative writing of some amateurish sort and a few Radio Times from the time I used to buy the Radio Times, most of them with one form or another of the Doctor on the front cover.

The framed photograph was of my family that had been outlasted by this occasional table. I knew I had got my priorities all wrong somehow. Occasional had become forever, and what should have been forever had gone, had gone indeed forever.

I squeezed back into the flatpack, only for it to vanish like a vehicle for a time lord who never really found his time ... except for those handwritten-upon papers as occasional evidence upon an even more occasional table. Gone with a skip. And a hop and a jump.

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