Beth sat in her workshop opening and closing the blade of her jackknife. Over the years she had come to find solace in its imperfect perfection. The cool steel on her fingers was as familiar to her as her own reflection.
She opened and closed the blade over and over as she stared at the small statue she had carved. She remembered the countless days of her childhood that were spent in the woods with her father as he taught her how to search the forest for the perfect pieces of wood. Fall was the best time to hunt. The smell of decomposing leaves mixed with the crisp autumn air became her siren song; the heady bouquet intoxicating her as she followed her father off the well trodden paths behind their home.
As a young child she never fully understood his reverence for the wood and the knives he used to carve it. He would hold each piece lovingly in his rough hands and turn the freshly severed piece of branch around and around.
“You don’t see the tree, or even the wood,” he told her. “You see what the tree wants to give you.”
Often she would squint and stare at the wood trying to see what the trees had given them. On her ninth birthday her father asked her to pick out the day’s wood. She searched and searched as he watched. The role reversal was uncomfortable and exciting. She glanced back at her father who stood straight faced as she studied each potential branch. She finally settled on a piece of ash hoping with all her might that it was a good choice. The last thing she wanted was to disappoint him. Her father handed her the hatchet and showed her where to strike the tree.
“If you do it right, taking this branch will actually help this tree. Now it can put its energy into growing new branches instead of feeding this dying one.”
When they had returned from that day’s hunt her father gave her a jackknife of her own. She hugged him till her arms were tired. He smiled as he handed her the piece of wood she had collected earlier then told her to show him what the tree had shown her. She instinctively picked up the piece of wood and began to turn it around and around in her hands just like she had seen her father do hundreds of times before. Try as she might, she couldn’t see anything in the wood. She cried as she admitted her failing to her father.
“Leave it,” he said with a knowing smile. “It’s not ready to give up its secret yet. You’ll know when the time is right.”
Her father gave her a new piece and asked her what she thought the tree wanted to show them. She took the new piece and studied it for a few seconds before seeing the unmistakable image of a whale. She could see it there trapped beneath the wood’s layers. Years of growth rings had wrapped around its girth trapping it in a woody cell. She could see that it longed for release.
“I see a whale papa,” she said. It was more of a question than a statement. “It’s so clear. I can see what needs to be taken away before it can be free.” Her father smiled down upon her.
“I see a whale too Beth,” he said. His eyes looked misty. “In fact I saw a whale in that piece of wood almost immediately.”
He gave her back the wood with the imprisoned sea creature then turned to find his own piece. Beth set to work immediately with her new jackknife. Soon the whale would be free. By that afternoon she had a finished statuette to show her father. She hadn’t let him down after all. She finally understood her father’s love of wood. He had given her much more than a knife that day. She had discovered on her ninth birthday that in her hands her knife had power.
Over the years her talent blossomed and soon people were seeking out her work over her father’s. When the governor asked Beth to carve a statue for his wife’s birthday she wondered why he hadn’t asked her father too. Later her father told her it was the proudest day of his life, second only to the day she was born.
She thought of her very first piece of wood. Surely it was the perfect choice for such an esteemed client. It held such meaning for her and this was after all her biggest client. This carving would make or break her career. She studied the piece trying to will it into showing her what it wanted her to see. It wasn’t time. The piece of wood clung tenaciously to its secret.
Her daughter’s voice shook her from her reverie.
“Mama, does Grandpa still carve wood in heaven?”
“I think so sweetie,” she answered. She kept her gaze on the newly carved statue.
“Is that a new statue, Mama? Is it for Grandpa’s funeral?”
Beth nodded and turned to her daughter. She smiled through red brimmed eyes.
“Yes it is. Do you like it?”
“Yeah, it looks just like him.”
Beth glanced to the now empty spot on the shelf by her window. It would take a while for her to get used to seeing the shelf empty. Her very first piece of wood had stood on that shelf for forty two years. She picked up the newly carved statue of the old man hugging a little girl and smiled down upon her work, just like she had seen her father do hundreds of times before.
“You were right Papa, I just had to wait.”
Author’s Note: Today’s piece was inspired from a prompt provided by Writeanything.com. This week’s prompt:Pick and ordinary object and give it an extraordinary use. I hope you enjoyed. Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.