I wanted to take something simple and create a story around it. I have already done this with The Nail Polish: An Exercise in Writing you can follow the link here:
This time I chose to use a table as my subject. I decided to adjust my exercise a bit and see if I could create multiple stories around this one simple subject. This is the product of my attempt.
An elderly man drives his beat-up rusty old truck down a dirt road as the sun crests above the horizon. His gnarled hands grip the steering wheel and keep his vehicle on course. Dust flies behind his tires in a tumultuous current creating a scene of chaos in an otherwise calm forest. The colors of the sunrise float about in the sky melting into the blue that they all inevitably come to be. The man is now surrounded by towering oaks that loom graciously above his frail figure. As he has aged he has also grown physically weaker. His body is a diminished version of the man he once was. These oaks have grown stronger and more absolute with time. They are a stark contradiction to one another.
He pulls into an open field and opens the door of his truck. The old rusty door groans in disapproval but it inevitably bends to his desire. He shuffles about to the bed of the truck and pulls out an old saw that is as worn and aged as he is. He lumbers the tool about and begins pacing through the trees. He is performing some age-old dance and they all eagerly await his finale’. He finally decides on his perfect selection and he begins the day long task of cutting this tree down from where it stands. Before he places that saw to his choice he touches the palm of his hand ever so gently to its bark. He closes his weary eyes and for but a second he has left his purpose behind. Once his eyes open he moves with a grace and purpose that we have not seen before. His arms sway back and forth in unison and sweat beads into pearls on his brow. As the daylight dims into darkness he pulls the pieces of his prize into his truck and begins his slow shuffle back to where he came.
Over the next week he lives in a worn down shed sawing and hacking as flecks of oak shriek into the air around him. The sun soaks through the windows and heat swelters inside this box of a building. A thin glass of water cries on the edge of its shelf as his once dry shirt also soaks with the pain and labor of his task. He sands back and forth sliding off the nubs and grit that was once a tree. He moves these pieces out of the picture and smoothes the wood until it is slick to the touch of his calloused palms. He hums to himself in approval at the sight of his work. After he lacquers and finishes the wood his mind wanders back to the tree that once stood among its brothers. He ponders the life it once had and looks forward to the new life it will soon lead. He smiles and hopes and wishes all within a single thought.
He loads his finished product and sets up in his usual place of business. All of his wares catch the sun and the passersby just have to stop to peruse his wonderful wooden creations. He smiles sweetly and he knows that most will simply leave empty-handed. On the side of the road he waits and he whiles his time away within the forest that his heart always seems to wander back to. He lives where these wooden delights once stood. A truck pulls up and breaks his thought. A man and woman get out and speak silently to one another pointing at the table. The husband inquires about it and as he does the frail old man looks to the wife. She stands there with the brightest smile on her face as she stares at that red-orange top. They pay, load the table into their truck, and drive away in their own cloud of dust. His heart is heavy for just a moment as he watches his work and his love vanish over the horizon. He slowly begins humming to himself once more.
We gather our plates and glasses and place them on the tables top. It is a red-orange oak with thick wooden legs. It is a singular piece of beauty that always seems to bring a smile to my heart. I can never understand why. It’s as though it has traveled with the sole purpose of becoming a part of our family.
As we place our dishes upon its surface I think back to when there were only two of us. The table was both full and empty then. There were nights where we would stay up late and drink wine and talk for endless hours about everything and nothing. My hand would slip around my glass and a few splashes of crimson would fall callously onto that tables face. No matter how hard I would scrub it would never let me remove those inhibited splashes. They are now reminders of the nights where love and wine filled our hearts and stomachs. The days before the children came to be a part of our world. The days before they too made their own marks.
The table is now overridden by all the places we set. What was once two has multiplied in only a few short years. Time seems to slip by somehow and it does so faster and faster. My children now sit and kick their feet as they await dinner. I giggle to myself thinking about how they couldn’t even pull themselves up to the chairs just a few months back. Our table that was once brand new and perfectly coated with a clear sheen has been marked by the hands and hearts of these children. They have scarred it with crayons and etchings and left their indelible marks on its cold surface. Something about those marks has warmed it though. They have aged it but given it a new life as well. I set their dinner down in front of them and look at this table. It has followed us from the beginning and it has become a place of congregation. A place where joy and fulfillment happens. It is a vital piece to what is the heart of our home. It fills me with absolute joy.
The house is full of cobwebs and dust. Footprints leave a trail of life in what was once nothing but activity. It is a somber scene full of boxes and papers that have been strewn about. I make my way in and out of each room examining the contents and taking mental notes. Sorrow fills my heart as memories overwhelm my mind. She passed on and now we are left with all of the things that she touched and that touched her as well. I am boxing and discarding things that I have no right to touch and yet there is no one left to complain. It is now my duty.
I enter the kitchen and it seems like a hollowed out version of something familiar. My grandmother had kept it all so filled with scents and aromas and now it is empty. I go to the table and slowly run my hand across its surface. Dust gathers at the edge of my hand. I brush it on my pants thoughtlessly and take a seat. There are stains and etchings covering this table. It is worn and wearing and wonderful. I remember sitting as a child and waiting for cookies. My mind fills my nostrils with the scent of oatmeal and raisins. I look over these spots and nicks and I wonder about the moments that made them. What conversations were had over this table? What friendships were formed around it?
My heart is warm and yet it longs for knowledge and solace. I miss her. I will always miss her. This was her haven. This was her office. This table was filled and emptied and loved day after day and now it is an owner-less item left in a voided house. I cannot bear to part with it as I have had to part with her. I resolve to take it with me. I will refinish this table and start anew. I will let her memories live within my own home and with my own children. Perhaps her happiness lives on in this rigid wooden creation. Maybe I can revive her legacy through it. I sit and tears drip onto the table splashing the top with memories of love, happiness, and now pain.
I gather myself together and stand looking back over this empty room. A promise has been made here. I intend to keep this promise. I intend to keep her memory alive. This table, my table, her table, it is something so simple and yet in it lives an exquisite beauty that no other could possibly know.