posted Sunday, 18 June 2006
I don’t know where to begin – that’s what they say when you get into a situation you don’t understand, but you want to get it off your chest as quickly as possible – without, if possible, confusing the direct lines of cause and effect. So, yes, I’ll begin with the effect, because I still don’t fully understand what the cause was … and still is. Or when it started. My wife Alison is none the wiser, it seems.
With most situations of decay, everything decays, except possibly metal or stone. But stone soon enough crumbles in the cosmic scheme of things and if matter gets hot enough metal bends then melts … much like my sense of reality. My sense of reality? It was steadfast, unimpeachable, so blindingly certain, that I couldn’t really believe it when that very sense of reality of mine itself began to bend and melt … before my very eyes. And Alison’s, too, judging by what she says.
Decay is the best word for it. Other people – who have explored the Thesaurus – may use the word Entropy. The natural propensity of life, the universe, everything … toward inbuilt decay. The softening of Creation’s very arteries as they thread – in increasing tangles – the weft and woof of all known reality and truth as we know it. But who had heard of this Decay just attacking one aspect of life? All the rest remaining as steadfast as ever. In this case it was wood alone that decayed. Wood still on trees and wood manufactured into furniture. Wood in buildings. Wood in otherwise still thriving forests. Wood in woodfuls of it, in fact. Woods of wood where the bark began to crumble first, then the inner rings of age, branches crashing to the ground and soon turning to mulch, leaving the leaves as green as when they were growing on the tree. Peppering the soft bogland of the previous wood like emeralds in the moonshine.
Buildings where window frames softened into the likeness of the putty that once fitted the glass tightly within such wood-planed margins. Sash-joints wilting leaving the heavy plumb-lines taut but allowing the panes to crash to the ground, where they splintered into shards fit to kill an army of folk – except by then most people knew what was happening and avoided the sides of building as once they superstitiously refused to walk under ladders. Mahogany tables turned into ghosts of tables. Willow cricket bats turned as willowy as wisps and couldn’t stop the hard red ball from scattering the non-existent stumps. Oaken vats spilled their innards of port wine across the cobbled cellars of our past.
Yet the rest of life remained as steadfast as ever. My sense of reality was only affected in its sensitivities for wood. The feel for knots and shavings of wood. The texture of wood disappeared and became little more than dark custard. Whilst flesh, leaf, pebble, stalk, blood, metal, mineral, air, water, all these things and more managed to retain their consistency of truth. It was just the wood that went.
I promised to start at the beginning. But I failed. Shows how confused I am by recent events. It all started when Alison and I went to a concert. Before that, wood was wood. I carbon-date the change from that evening of the concert when… but let Alison speak. She has a better handle on things than myself.
Yes, he’s right. I vouch for every word he’s said. Except I can see the wood for the trees better than him. He’s a bit loose-limbed in the thinking department where he used to be so hard-headed about things.
Hey, Alison, I may have passed these narrative things over to you so that a new perspective can be given, but no need to imply my thinking arches have fallen. My thoughts are still thoughts. It’s only wood that’s gone AWOL.
Anyway, whatever the case, he’s basically right. The concert was a televised piano recital given by an up and coming pianist, a young lady who played Schubert, Beethoven and Brahms. Or who was due to play these composers, but soon after the third movement of the Schubert – with most of the audience having spent their coughing fits on empty spaces of silence between movements – the lid of the grand piano toppled from its prop with a thunderous crash. I actually saw the prop wilting in the television lights…
Come on, Alison, it was not so much the lid’s prop that wilted as more the lights dissolving it before our very eyes. The keys later soon clattered to the ground like rattling bones. And the sides of the grand caved in. The stage gave way and the poor lady pianist vanished in a smoke of splinters. Splinters that became diamond dewdrops on the TV screens across the country – assuming the screen’s casing hadn’t crumbled first. But we shall never know.
It was never as sudden as all that.
Yes it was, Alison.
No, you yourself earlier said that people avoided the sides of buildings for the fear of falling windowpanes. If all this had happened at once, then there would be no need for this ever-present caution on their part. The windowpanes would have long since fallen.
Hindsight, Alison, is not a luxury I can afford. The events are seen through the filter of my present observation of past events. Unless, of course, things are changing even as I narrate them. And if they are thus changing, hindsight will be duped just as easily as a direct account of events on the spot, like a horserace radio commentary. Back to the piano…
Well, yes, the concert piano was a grand. With open lid and resonating chords that filled the concert hall and also filled the rooms of viewers countrywide. In these parlours where families crowded round the TVs to watch when otherwise they wouldn’t … they must have known, beforehand, that significant events were afoot. Why else would they be watching a dry boring old Schubert piano recital? A record audience for such an event. 30 million in the UK alone. Eager for every note. Eyes twitching away from the screen to view their own surroundings to see if … well, to see if their own upright pub piano was as steadfast as ever. The one where they played Russ Conway ditties as well as popular classics. Not that many families own pianos these days. And, yes, the wood from their own upright pianos began to crack, splinter and crumble and finally mulch itself into shapes like dog manure. The tautened piano-strings remained behind like a harp, where the hammers still desultorily hit them without anyone touching the keys…
I can’t recall any of that, Alison.
Well you forgot my birthday, didn’t you.
I’d bought you a carving by that famous sculptor…
But it wasn’t there was it?
The carving was there, Alison, but the wood it was made from didn’t fill the carved space…
There’s a terrible draught in here.
Let’s cuddle to keep warm. Touch each other there and there…
Wait, stop, I can hear piano music.
It’s a recording.
Yes, must be a recording.
I hear choking noises as if things are coming to get us.
People coughing between movements, shuffling along in their seats.
But, wait, look at this photograph I took at the concert just before the piano went.
Yes, I can see there is a hole in the pianist’s stocking. END
(published 'Irregular Quarterly' 2004)