This week marks the final week in our series of Christmas Short stories and The Kilkenny Observer is delighted to welcome Patrick Griffin
(A re-imagining of the Christmas story)
By Patrick Griffin
There was no question about the quality of the table in my workshop.
“You are an exceptional carver of wood,” my customer said.
I watched him as he circled the table and ran his fingers over the highly polished surface. He knelt down and peered beneath the table top as if he were examining the joints, the carving and the very soul of the wood itself.
“I wish I could say that indeed it was my workmanship, but it was made by someone who was here only for a short while,” I replied.
“Do you have more pieces by the craftsman who made this?” my customer asked.
I told him that it was the only piece of its kind that I had.
“It’s a pity. Such a pity,” he said. “He certainly is talented.”
Again he walked around the table. Occasionally he stopped and peered at a joint, pondered over a place where the leg joined the table top and muttered “Exceptional, exceptional.”
He looked at me and said, “Where can I contact him? I would like to commission him to make something for me.”
I told him I had no idea who the craftsman was, only that he had made the table for me in return for a small favour.
“He arrived on an evening like this,” I told him, “bitter weather with the promise of worse to come. My wife was preparing supper while I counted the meagre few coins I had earned that day. I had locked up for the night when I heard a banging on the door. I was tired and for a moment I considered ignoring the incessant hammering of fist against wood. When it continued to the point where I could leave it no longer, I slid open the bolt and saw a young man, huddled against the doorpost. He looked tired and bedraggled.”
“I apologise for calling on you at such a late hour. I could smell the wood chips and the sawdust. My line of business” the stranger said to me. “My wife and I didn’t plan our journey well. We are hoping to stay somewhere until this storm blows over. I have little money, but I could do some work as compensation.”
I was in no humour to hold a casual conversation with a complete stranger. My first instinct was to dismiss him, shut the door to keep out the howling wind and retreat to the warmth of my bed.
A young woman stood shivering behind him. With her clothes pulled tightly around her it was obvious that she was highly pregnant. She’s only a girl, hardly more than a child, I thought. It would be heartless of me to turn them away, certainly not on a night like this.
“Just for tonight,” I said.
“I will repay you,” he smiled. “Let me be useful in your workshop.”
I assured him that I needed nothing and I led them to a room which was nothing more than a store at the back of our humble dwelling. I pulled some blankets from a chest and wished them a good night’s sleep.
On the following morning I made my way to my workshop and saw the young girl tidying my workbench and the young man working on an item of furniture.
“Forgive me,” he said. “But I had to repay your kindness in some way. I found some planks of cedar stacked against the wall.”
I looked at the piece of work he was sanding.
“That’s a fine table,” I commented. “You know how to work wood. Where did you learn your craft?”
“It was a family trade,” he said. “There are a few other items I could finish for you, in return for another night’s stay here, at least until the storm blows over.”
“Your wife,” I said, “she is near her time? Your first child?”
“Yes,” he smiled.
“Until the storm blows over,” I said.
For two days we worked side by side but very few words passed between us.
On the morning of the third day the storm had passed. I arose early, as was my habit, and I went to my workshop, but the sounds of the saw and hammer were not to be heard. The workshop was tidy. The table was finished. The travellers had gone.
“That was the last I saw of them,” I said to my customer. “No. I am wrong. I did see them one more time. They were returning this way to their own town. It was some time, maybe even a year after the census.”
“Ah, yes, that census,” he said.
“They stopped here to thank me again” I continued. “Their child, a little boy, was with them.”
“And you never heard from them again? he asked.
“No. It’s strange that I never asked them their names. I do remember one thing about them. They named the boy Joshua. They passed into obscurity. And just like the rest of us, it’s unlikely anybody will remember them a hundred years from now.”
*Pat Griffin is a recipient of the RTÉ Francis MacManus Short Story Award and a Tyrone Guthrie Bursary. His stories have been performed at the Frank O’Connor Short Story Festival, Cork, and at Bewley’s Café Theatre, Dublin. Also, he has written documentaries for local radio. RTÉ has broadcast his work on Sunday Miscellany and A Living Word.