This past semester I took the 2nd year creative writing unit (last year I took the 1st year one; technically I'm a 3rd year but they weren't offering the 3rd year creative writing unit this sem) and I had a wonderful 3 hour writing workshop every week on Wednesday at 9am. I had a really great group of people in my workshop and although we had 30 in a class ideally meant for like, 12, I still took some good stuff out of it.
I could ramble on about my creative writing class until kingdom come, but that's either a post for another time or a post that I should never publish for your own sake lest I bore you to the brink of death. I'll probably write it up and post it either way. Tough luck for ye who click on THAT.
Let's move onto the story.
I had to submit a folio which comprised my story (prose of about 2000 words) with a commentary (500w) to accompany it. As per usual I chose to write a story (poetry was also an option), and as per usual I waited until 12 hours before having to walk into the room and hand my story around to the class, to actually sit down and write my story (which I had no clue, no preformed idea). Flicking through the pages of Psalms, I met with an analogy I couldn't understand and thus birthed Wineskin in the Smoke.
Don't expect it to be a whole lot better than Biscuit Man, I spent more time on Biscuit Man, and I'm sure my writing skills have only improved marginally since then.
ENOUGH PREAMBLE. JUST READ IT, 'KAY?
Sorry, was that too harsh?
Wineskin in the Smoke
The old man Thaddeus sipped from a cup held by his eldest granddaughter, Isadora. He kept the water in his mouth for a moment before swallowing, as if slowing down now might buy him a little extra time. He and time went way back, but at this point he knew he didn’t really need much more.
“The fire,” he groaned, his voice quiet and crackly.
Thaddeus strained as he pulled a feeble breath of air into his lungs, something he felt that he should perhaps do a bit more often. Turning his head away from the light and away from the room full of people gathered by his bed, Thaddeus was beginning to feel the chill. He wanted more.
“Don’t worry, grandfather, breathe. Easy. We’re all here, and we have our song prepared,” assured Isadora. She looked down at her grandfather’s face, studying every blink of his creased, translucent eyelids, his tawny irises. Her own heart felt a little unsteady, rattling in her chest as she glanced up at her father uncertainly.
Daniel, the old man’s only living son, knew his father well. He almost knew him completely. Almost. But every man hides a morsel of himself, even from his dearest, most beloved companions, be it miniscule or monstrous. Ever since his brother Henry disappeared all those years ago, Daniel knew his father had plastered himself with a strong, brave veneer, a veneer which Thaddeus never allowed to be removed, though unpleasant dreams would always love to try. From then on, Daniel vowed to fill that empty space that Henry’s disappearance had dug out of his father, by strengthening their relationship, even if sometimes to entertain himself with the thought that maybe, just for a little while, Daniel could be two sons in one.
Many were huddled by the door when Daniel began to usher them towards the fireplace. He instructed them in low whispers to form a barricade against the harsh light and heat of the fire. The swirling wisps of gold flames promised a heat too warm for comfort at this time, as they performed a deceptively inviting, flickering dance above the scarlet embers. It was Daniel who was the only one who understood precisely what his father desired.
Thaddeus turned his head back again and sighed a sigh of relief. He looked up at his granddaughter and tried to give her a reassuring smile. The music lessons he had promised to give Isadora would never come to pass, and his practised smile gave away a sliver of that sole regret. He felt as though he had soaked up enough warmth to last more than a lifetime, he felt it so clearly as though the heat was seeping outwards from his bones. Soon it was time to let the cold take over.
About a dozen people were positioned before the hearth and many more were dispersed about the room – some at the foot of the bed, some standing alone like stone pillars, and others clinging onto one another. They were all his friends, his life-long friends, as well as family, of course. Thaddeus valued family above all, for his friends and acquaintances had become family too.
Perched on the edge of the bed, holding Thaddeus’ soft, dying hand sat Sophia, Daniel’s younger sister.
Sophia remembered how, long ago, her hand used to look so small wrapped in her father’s – it was like his voice when he sang to her, a warm blanket in the winter time, a comfort that chased away the terrors of the night, calming the storms in her mind into slumber. She didn’t realise back then how lucky she was that his was the voice she got to hear every day. Romantic German lieder from the kitchen as he prepared his family-famous soup for supper; songs from her favourite musicals in the garden as she and her brothers played while he searched his immaculate flowerbeds for the brightest blooming tulip (one of his many small currencies for Sophia’s wide smile); or her favourite of them all – the lullabies he would create, a new one fresh every night when she was a child, singing her stories that would flavour her dreams sweet. His song was her strength, even after she had learnt to make her own.
Right now she would not cry. She couldn’t. Sophia had a list of tears hidden away somewhere safe and ready to stain her pillow later that night.
Later, but not now.
“Father,” she sighed, “Is it time?”
All who were present in the room that winter evening felt the long, drawn out space that followed the daughter’s question. There came a screeching from the wind as it assaulted the windowpanes. The rain pattered while the fireplace crackled, and the people breathed and looked on, breathed and looked on.
“Yes,” Thaddeus replied with one labouring, internal push of effort. “Yes… it is time.”
Daniel gave a silent nod as he knelt by his father’s side at the bed. It was a hesitant nod, unwilling but wholly dutiful. He kissed his father’s left temple and took Thaddeus’ cool, vacant hand between both of his warm palms.
Sophia gave her father’s hand one final squeeze. His skin was cold now, so cold. She stood up from the bed and walked around it, her eyes never leaving her father’s, although his appeared half-closed. Thaddeus’ friends made way for her at the end of the bed where there was a space in front of an empty chair.
Isadora emerged carrying a cello and bow. She passed it over to her aunt without a sound. Sophia received the instrument and sat down in the chair with it at the foot of the bed.
Then the music began.
It unfolded like a healing breeze as the mellow sound began to fill the whole room. The cello’s melody started in a high register with a slow and subtle vibrato, swiftly transforming the atmosphere in the room into a heavenly wash of winsome and refined timbre. Chords resonated in the air and along the walls, against the ceiling and through their bodies from their hearts to the ends of their phalanges as she continued in her song.
Sophia played out long phrases of slurred notes, and a movement began in her generous, gracious rubato as something floated, flew about above all their heads. A strange and beautiful stardust, perhaps, bespattering the room like a drizzling rain without gravity, though no one was at all certain.
The cellist remembered her father mention a long time ago how the tone of the cello sounds more like the human voice than any other musical instrument. She thought of his voice and imagined him singing as she pulled and pushed the horsehair across the strings and began to hum her own tune.
Soon the entire room had joined in, singing and humming along to the exquisite, spontaneous piece the old man’s daughter was playing. Daniel was last to sing.
The old man smiled as he looked upon the room before him. It seemed as though his smile was a different one than any other he’d smiled before – restored, pure, or perhaps new, in some mysterious way. His eyes were bright though he was colder than ever.
A momentary twinge of sadness pressed on Thaddeus as he realised that in other circumstances he would have been able to participate in the music-making. This time the music enveloped him. It was the most comforting thing he had ever heard, ever felt – a divine peace that caressed his soul. This strange joy felt oddly cold to the old man and gave him a longing for a warmth he knew would not come, not even through this song. Music was his insurmountable passion in life, and it would live on without him.