Luke continues sanding the wood. He’s already used the white spirit to bring up the grain – and now with a sanding block, then the medium grade paper, he works the wood to flatten its little, raised teeth.
Of course, it’s far more block of wood than instrument at this point in the process, but the guitar the wood will become is there in shape. And spirit too, Luke likes to believe. He can’t prove it, but the guitar and the music it will ultimately make is always there in the wood. Spruce, like this one, sad and ancient. Still holding the whisper of the trees when they were young. Cedar – brighter - made for upbeat notes and summer days. Mahogany, dense and slow; great for playing the blues.
What Luke loves most are the scars in the wood because it’s the scars that give a guitar its voice. Its unique timbre and tone. He can sand all he likes, he can spend hours smoothing and oiling – soothing and healing – but the scars are still there. Because that’s the nature of scars.
Next will come the shaping and turning of the wood and then the addition of frets and strings to give the guitar playability. Finally, the colouring and decoration. But still for Luke, it’s this point, the beginning of it all where anything is possible, that’s his favourite. Besides, the quiet of his workshop and the repetition of his action allows him space to think.
He thinks about Martha working away at her pots. Mending, as she calls it. He hopes she’s ok because he’s noticed she’s been looking pretty tired lately. He honestly doesn’t know what he and Hesta would have done if she’d hadn’t agreed to come and stay with them when Ruthy went. He likes to kid himself that Hesta needs her grandmother more than he needs his mother, but not very far below the surface, he knows this isn’t true.
He thinks about Hesta up in her room. About his unknowable daughter – as secret to him as a cat’s passing thought, or the reason why some plants in his garden choose to grow while others don’t.
He tries not to think about Ruthy; but in the not thinking about her, she bursts into the workshop. Vivid, loud, shattering his peace. Luke closes his eyes and shakes his head, forcing Ruthy out of the room with this small motion. She’s not allowed to be here and Luke wonders if she’s finally happy.
Hesta sits by the window, looking out at the wet garden. Everything is grey or off-grey purple. She’s got her regular itch and little desire to ignore it. She goes over to her desk and sits in the chair, adopting her usual stance. She knows this is ritual and is almost embarrassed to admit this fact to herself.
It’s her right arm’s turn today, stretched out fully on the desk, having brushed aside the messy pile of homework books and folders so it has its own space. Her left hand opens the desk drawer to find what’s needed. Past the gel pens and keyrings, the little shell donkey from a long ago holiday, to the craft knife. Hesta takes it out and places it on the desk.
A few days ago, her grandmother had asked why she always wore long sleeved tops, even in this heat, but she’d managed to head her off at the pass. It’s what all the kids are doing these days, Nanna, she’d said. Bare arms are so old news. Her grandmother had looked at her with a mixture of disbelief and concern.
Today’s camouflage is one of her innumerable band teeshirts, guilt trip buys from her dad. A Captain Beefheart one – obscure enough to be cool for anyone of her age who might see it. She rolls up the right sleeve and traces her fingers along the silver rivulets of the older scars. She’s comforted by their softness and the contrast with the untouched skin around them. Some of the more recent scars are pinker or redder and they have a jagged quality when touched, as though they’re still to settle into themselves.
When her room is darker, Hesta likes to switch on her desk-lamp to better see the sheen of the older scars. Their pearlescence reminds her of the dried honesty flowers her grandmother has put in their kitchen, or of the light from stars in faraway constellations.
Oh, but how Hesta misses her mother. Beautiful, vibrant Ruthy. Insufferable, dominating and so, so kind. Hesta picks up the craft knife and begins to cut.
Martha arranges her pots on the dining room table. They’re in a higgledy-piggledy line because their shapes and sizes are so disparate. It was only when she’d brought them all to Luke’s house did she finally acknowledge to herself that she was going to stay for longer than a passing, few days. Martha knows Luke and Hesta need her and that feels good, amongst all the things that don’t.
The thick, gold paste Martha uses to paint over the cracks in the pots is a part of a process with a long tradition. Kintsugi, the Japanese art of mending breaks with glue and powdered metals. She’d been on a course at night school a couple of years ago and has been practising it ever since. The method and its philosophy enthrall her.
She repeats her own mantra. For each broken pot, you have to recognize and respect its history. You embrace its flaws and imperfections. You see the beauty in broken things and know the precious scars you are making are only the next stage in the pot’s useful life. Damage is never to be hidden.
The resin and gold dust are mixed and ready on their holding piece of paper and Martha begins to paint along the admittedly ugly, teapot’s spout. On its deep red china, the gold paste stands out like a bulging varicose vein.
So much of the house is still full of Ruthy’s things, representative, in Martha’s opinion, of her rather garish taste. Still, she thinks, at least Ruthy herself isn’t here anymore. Some broken things can be truly mended. Despite the pain that she’s now almost used to in her stomach, Martha feels a surge of something like optimism.
In the kitchen, at Ruthy’s old table, the argument goes like this. It always goes like this.
“But I don’t get it. People don’t just go. She wouldn’t just leave. She loved us; she loved me. I know her and there’s no way she would leave without talking to me. Dad, you know this?”
“Martha, I’m sorry, but I don’t know what to say. Some things… many things, make no sense in this world. I wish I could say something else, something to make more sense to you; but there’s nothing. It is as it is. Your mother left and for whatever reasons she had, she chose not to tell us about why she needed to go.”
“That’s bullshit. I know it is. You barely even bothered to look for her – not even to check she was ok.”
“Sweetheart, you know that’s not true. Your dad, I, her friends, we all looked. We looked so long, but the hard truth is, if someone wants to leave, they have that right. I know your mother loved you and maybe when she’s sorted herself out, she’ll get in touch. You never know. Maybe this is only for a little while and she’ll be back. Until then, let’s get on with things the best we can. Come on, darling, it’s all we can do.”
“I don’t get how you can just accept this. I love her… I miss her. I don’t get how fucking totally passive to the situation you both are.”
Hesta pushes back in her chair, heavy, angry tears rolling down her nose and on to the placemat. Luke looks as is he’s about to say something else, but stops when he catches the expression on Martha’s face. She looks both impassive and determined. It’s a look he’s seen on his mother’s face many times in his life. Luke’s relieved the look has prevented him from speaking further. He’s even more relieved that Hesta’s crying has stopped her noticing that same look.
Hesta is thinking about her mother and a memory she has of her. Horse riding when Hesta was a tiny thing and far too scared to go on a horse by herself at the local stables. Ruthy had gathered her up and in Hesta’s memory, mounted the horse all in one movement. They’d galloped round the paddock, wildly and raucously. Sometimes riding in rhythm with the horse’s movement and sometimes not. Either way, it didn’t matter.
Martha is thinking about what’s growing inside her. Or more specifically about the time it must have been growing when she didn’t even know it was. In the spring, watching the fledglings emerging from the nest in the walnut tree at the bottom of the garden. Or early summer, drinking tea, head heavy with the smell of apple blossom; oblivious to the canker she was being blighted with.
Luke is thinking about damp, out of the way places. About dark ground where nobody chooses to walk. He’s picturing green and black mould and how it works so efficiently to return things to the earth. He’s wondering if bones, when they’re bare, look like the striplings of silver birches in the moonlight. That is, if he ever allowed the bones and the moonlight to meet.
Martha has mended her most recent pot and it’s drying in the dining room window, the little flecks of gold catching in the sudden, bright sunlight. She wants to be able to use the pot later in the week – possibly for flowers, maybe even for lemonade. She always uses the food-safe compounds just in case. She runs her fingers along the scars to check they’ve healed sufficiently to be resilient enough for future use.
Luke is back in his workshop, mending guitars. He’s got a couple to restring today and it’s not going well. There’s something about the way he’s doing it that’s too awkward and he’s getting the tension all wrong. No sooner has he wound each string, then they break with a small, defeated ping and he has to start again. He’s patient though and will continue doing the winding and stretching until he gets it just right. There are some things it’s just not worth rushing and mending guitars is one of them.
Hesta can never be accused of favouritism – it’s her left arm today. The full ritual, exactly as usual. She always manages to get past the sharp, rusty pain she feels at first as the knife cuts flesh – the overwhelming sweet relief that comes seconds after always puts paid to that. An odd thing though she’s noticed is the blood is seemingly running quicker. Leaking out of her in wet, stringy streams. She wonders if her heart is beating faster than it does on some days.
Hesta, Martha and Luke are all thinking about horses, although of course not one of them will ever know this of the others. Some things are far best left unsaid.