Published: Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Wordsmith

Luis Guirao Ochoa was an old man of waning health. The wrinkles on his forehead had weighed him down over the years with a saucerful of memories he chose to never forget. Anything he saw condensed into tiny droplets that slowly made their way up his creased and bumpy cheeks and the steep ridge of his nose to rest there. Sometimes the memories overflowed, getting tangled in his long, flowing beard. –For all intents and purposes, they were lost to the world but Luis Guirao took comfort from knowing exactly where they were hidden away.

The WordsmithHe was the town’s only Wordsmith. The recession had hit the small town hard and many of his competitors had shut down because of persistent failure. But his workshop still remained illuminated every night with the fancies of creation. The furnace still cackled sleepily, the hammer was still hot from caressing sheets of words into shape and the raw iron still gleamed amongst the mundane in the hopes of attracting the master’s attention. Like every other night, Luis Guirao hunched near the furnace and rummaged among his memories in the sweltering summer heat, pulling one out after the other, turning them over slowly back and forth, examining them by the light. What he waited for was to see whether the dull-orange of the furnace caught any of the memories in such a light so that iron would suddenly contort in his imagination. Looping its liquefied sinews over and around itself, twisting and snaking into words that delighted the townsfolk: maybe a metaphor for the conflicting feelings of being stood up on a first date, when the anxious hair-flips and jittery legs stop once you glance at the clock and realise, with a relieved sense of heartbreak, that tonight won’t be the night after all. Reserved for neither disappointment nor gratification. Or a sentence to show the entire world the true beauty of the solitary red streak of the sun racing across the morning sky, focused on travelling the world and back again before the first birds stirred in their nests.

In the embers of the furnace, a memory flared up and Luis Guirao’s eyes glazed over with a vitality that belied his advancing years. He dashed for the iron and shoved it in to soften in the fire while he readied the anvil and his hammer. He always complained to anyone who would listen that his hammer had become blunt and weak over the years, changing its face with every blow, being changed by every word it created. But he carried on working with it, nonetheless. His loose robes swished about as purposefully as a drunkard on a nocturnal amble through the cobbled streets of the town.  With the first thump of hammer on moist metal, the malleable sheet threw open its arms, unknowingly, to this gentleman caller, gradually bending into the hammer’s image. At this point, Luis Guirao was a by-stander, a commoner granted audience to what he believed to be divine creation flowing out of the ends of his neurons and into the world as we knew it. The words usually took the night to cool and he went to bed heavy with the optimism that always preceded sleep.

Dawn brought with it a side-order of caution as Luis Guirao stumbled out of bed, narrowly avoiding contact with the corrugated iron he had forgotten to pack up last night. He made a beeline for the words, which were wrapped delicately in a yellow, stained rag. He could discern a faint smell of burning fabric as the rag seemed to have lost its overnight battle to contain the words. The hot iron had imprinted on to the yellow threads, giving birth to its negative, different but equally wonderful. Luis acknowledged the universe’s skewed sense of egalitarianism. He slowly unwrapped the words and stared at them. It was a woman. A woman standing by a dusk-hit lakeshore as the first of the mosquitoes start their pilgrimage around her head.

Luis Guirao deflated like a balloon poked full of a hundred fingers. This was not the memory the embers had illuminated. Where was the reverential silence he had felt as the woman looked over the water’s edge, contemplating what lay beyond? Where were the short, hesitant breaths that mixed with the drunk-blue of dusk and let out gusts of longing? And where was the irritable sigh of relief as the mosquitoes interrupted her despairing train of thought?

This wasn’t the image, at all. Some parts of the iron had melted off and stayed behind in the furnace, unable to cross the divide between reality and his imagination. The emotions silently mocked him from their spot. Luis Guirao looked at the mutated words in front of him. He had failed his memories, once again. The words would be thrown into the growing pile of failed metal in his backyard. Soon there would be enough to compile a novel. A very bad one.

Luis Guirao slowly shuffled into the kitchen to make himself some tea.  Outside, the birds parted their eyes to the tune of the sunlight, a tune that would elude Luis for the remainder of his days.