No 25 – the carpenter who looks for love
The carpenter is a small man, shorter than many of the women he works for, he struggles to fit high shelves, reach up to repair the few wooden mouldings still left in the less modernised houses, stands on a pair of neat varnished steps that he carries from house to house, job to job.
He wears the same clothes and sometimes, surprisingly, he is in fashion, cutting edge, the battered denim cap, the donkey jacket, the carpenter’s baggy jeans fall in and out of style. He continues to wear them, happily indifferent to the vagaries of style.
His hands are small, finger nails short, kept tidy by constant use of sandpaper, the fingers are strong, flexible and when engaged in work seem capable, clever.
To the women watching him work, there is something almost magical about his hands, the sureness of movement, their ability to reach into a tool box and pull,out exactly the right tool and the way that each tool fits perfectly into the hand.
Sometimes, the women wonder how else his hands might feel, how sure and deft they might be moving across bodies, exploring the curves and grain of their flesh, but then he looks up, weak blue eyes, skin pitted with old acne scars and somehow the moment passes and they bustle off to the kitchen, pull down the mugs kept for builders and open a packet of biscuits bought especially for him.
He never eats more than 2 and all over the neighbourhood, women sit in kitchens, bedrooms, dining rooms, admiring shelves, cupboards, neat wooden boxes and absently find themselves popping one and then two and then three biscuits into their mouths.
The carpenter is looking for love, or more accurately he knows that love is missing from his life and would, if he had any idea that love can be looked for, then he would be out there, looking, but instead he fills his life and his front room with wood and glue and shaving and tools that fit him perfectly and sometimes at the end of a day, he muses about what it could feel like to fit perfectly with someone else, to have the same sense of rightness that he feels when he picks up his hand sander and feels it fall into grooves within his own Palm.
The carpenter works from home, his front room is his workshop, smells of newly sawn wood, glue, carefully applied varnish lost from his open windows in summer, drift down this street to blend and curl to make new perfumes with the home cooking of Mrs Mohammed at no 37.
Some days you can walk past and see him, back bent over a piece of wood, attention completely focussed on the task in hand and then he doesn’t have time to feel alone and if you stand quietly, watching, you see only his attention, his care, his love of the piece of fine oak under his hands, but, if you stand awhile, eventually, he will straighten up, stretch his shoulders towards his ears and sign and in that sigh you hear the emptiness of a man who makes beautiful objects that live in other people’s homes.
The carpenter has a name, it’s on his letter headed notepaper, the paper he uses for his invoices, each one hand written, numbered in an arcane system of his own devising, detailed, every expense listed, a full description of the item made and at the very bottom of the page, the amount requested, often surprisingly small, written out in full, no numbers, pounds and pence in an old fashioned awkward joined up hand writing, but,at the top of the page, next to the careful line drawing of a hammer and a saw, is his name “Ray Cootes” master carpenter and joined – no job too small.
And actually, he is a master craftsman, time served, city and guilds apprenticeship with Neville Rushton, seven years on the job, two years before he was even allowed to consider starting a piece of work without Neville’s firm direction.
Neville, a man who made taciturn seem chatty, another carpenter living alone, but one who seemed happy, content with the life he had carved out in the cramped and old fashioned, even 30 years ago, little carpenters workshop, Neville who had taught him almost everything he knew would sometimes run his thumb along the grain of a piece of wood and nod to himself
“ wants to a chair,this one “ he would say and then it could be nothing but a chair, even when there was no order for a chair.
Ray is more pragmatic, more business like he thinks, he has learnt to create the items ordered, even when he too hears the wood. He makes tables or bookcases or garden gates out of pine and oak that want to be something different and their inherent wrongness grates on him, but his customers, his women never seem to sense this and always tell him how happy they are with the finished item and he has learnt to smile and nod and awkwardly hand over his handwritten invoices.
His customers are nearly always women, women of a certain age, spreading comfortably into middle age and beyond. Old enough to appreciate his skills, old enough to want items that will last, old enough to feel uncomfortable with flat packs and Swedish design.
They like effort he makes, the extra touches, hand finishing, more coats of paint then are absolutely necessary, a little extra carving on a wooden gate, a few minutes more spent hanging a door so that it will always close with a satisfying snap and they tell their friends about him, make sure that he always has enough work, is always busy, always has a list of small orders to complete.
But he cannot find love amongst them, no matter how much he puts in, how often he carves secret tiny hearts on the underside of chairs, table, on the backs of bookcases.
He used to hope that one of the, one of these comfortable, cushiony women would run her fingers across his work and find his secret messages of love and loneliness.
But,,it hasn’t happened yet, so now he has another plan, another way to find love.
Upstairs, there is another workroom, a secret workroom, where nobody has even been. The room is small, brightly lit, tiny tools, precision sharp laid out in neat rows. The door, well fitting, solid, has a lock, the only door in the whole house with a lock and the key lives on a chain around his neck.
But wait, this is not what you think, this is not that kind of room, this is not that kind of story. There are no bodies here, nothing like that.
There may be, there will be other houses, other storeys /stories on this street and yes, there may be bodies, but not here.
Ray has a secret, he is engaged in secretive work, work he cannot, doesn’t want to share with anyone.
Ray is building, room by room, a dolls house, a perfect copy of this house, his house, but, not, not this house, not exactly.
The house that Ray is building is for someone else, someone that Ray is waiting for, is still confident will come.
A long time ago, late at night he watched, he can’t remember the title or the plot, a film and one line stayed with him, told him what to do, how to find the love he knows he deserves.
“Build it and they will come” said one of the actors, Ray can’t remember who or even why, but the next morning he started planning this dolls house,making ready for something or someone to come.
Tonight, Ray is working on a tiny Welsh dresser, he has already purchased the plates and bowls that will sit on its shelves.
He hums under his breath, a happy engrossed sound, a tiny scrap of sandpaper wrapped around his little finger, smoothing the wood that can only be this Welsh dresser and he waits, knowing that one day she will come.