My Father's Garden: Metal

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Metal is a chapter from R J Dent's novel-in-progress, My Father's Garden.

Submitted: May 01, 2016

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Submitted: May 01, 2016

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My Father’s Garden: Metal

by R J Dent

 

 

1: Statues

 

– What this garden needs is a couple of statues, my father said one day.

He was standing in the back garden, looking at his horticultural empire.

My mother was sitting on the garden bench, drinking a cup of tea and skim-reading a newspaper.

– That’s a good idea, she said. Let’s go to the garden centre and see what they’ve got.

My father cleared his throat and shuffled his feet.

– I was thinking more along the lines of making them myself.

My mother’s smile faded.

– Oh. My father took this as encouragement.

– Yes. I’ve got some nice lengths of chain and that nice new welding torch that needs to be tested. It’d be no trouble to knock up a couple of chain link storks or cranes. Perhaps one of each. They’d look nice. Give the garden a touch of class.

– And have you made a chain link stork or crane before?

– No, but it can’t be that difficult.

– Wouldn’t it be better to start on something small – maybe a starfish – and work up slowly to long-legged and long-necked birds?

– I could do that, my father said dejectedly, but a starfish would be flat and no one would be able to see it.

– That’s true.

– Whereas a stork or crane is tall and everyone would be able to see it.

– Yes, you’re right. They would.

– Right. I’ll get started then.

And off he went, only to return a few minutes later, dragging a huge length of rusty ship’s chain in his wake.

– They don’t make chain like this any more, he said as he dropped it onto the ground.

My mother sat on the bench and watched, saying nothing as my father rummaged around in his pocket and pulled out a picture of a stork.

Kneeling on the ground he started to arrange the chain into a vaguely-stork-like shape. Once that was to his satisfaction, he then went off to fetch his welding equipment.

He returned, set it up, put on goggles, and lit the torch with a couple of pops and a whooshing sound. Carefully, he started welding the chains together.

My sister joined me on my bench.

– What’s dad making?

– A chain stork.

– Oh. What’s a chain stork?

– A chain that’s sculpted into the shape of a stork.

– Oh, yes.

My brother, who is something of a science whizz-kid, came out of the house and joined us on the bench.

– What’s this? Applied metalwork and ornithology?

– In a nutshell, yes.

– Metalwork and ornithology in a nutshell. Cool. And who’s he? he asked, indicating our father. The king of infinite space?

– What’s that mean? my sister asked.

My brother shrugged.

– Dunno. Ask Hamlet. He said it.

– Who’s Hamlet?

– The Wittenberg University student.

My sister looked blank.

– Gertrude’s son?

My sister’s expression didn’t change.

– The Danish prince? my brother tried.

– How do you know a Danish prince?

– I don’t.

My sister looked puzzled, but didn’t ask any more questions.

– So what is it? my brother asked. Gruidae or Ciconiidae?

I looked at my father as he applied the glowing hot torch to the next chain link.

– Hard to tell at the moment.

– They’re endangered, you know.

My father moved the welding torch aside and hit the chain link with a hammer.

– That one certainly is.

– I wonder where it’ll stand, my sister asked.

– I doubt it’ll stand.

– Don’t be so negative, my sister said. It’s bound to be a good crane.

– It’ll be a statue of limitations.

– You shouldn’t mock creativity, my sister said.

– Where exactly does it say that in the Handbook of Mockery and Sarcasm?

– In the what?

Our father was on the third link. There were about two hundred links to go. It was going to take some time.

It took another three Saturdays.

 

2: Stick God

 

The following Saturday morning, my father was out in the garden by nine o’clock, welding the next chain links together. His skills may have been debatable, but his enthusiasm, drive and work ethic could not be faulted.

When he paused to fetch a screwdriver from the shed, I went over to speak to him.

– Dad, would it be an idea to make a wooden stork–

– Crane.

– Would it be an idea to make a wooden crane as a template for the chain link one?

– It would be an idea, yes. I don’t know that it’d be a good idea, but it’d certainly be an idea.

But despite what he said, my father obviously thought it was a good idea, because a few minutes later he started to collect together a selection of long, thin pieces of timber and by eleven o’clock, he’d constructed something made of wood that vaguely resembled something that vaguely resembled a crane, but which was infinitely more frightening. The two pieces of wood he had used for its eyes looked evil. Its posture and its raised claw gave the impression it was about to pounce, like some woodworm-riddled predator.

My sister who had just returned from a friend’s house, walked into the garden, saw the wooden monstrosity staring at her and screamed.

My brother and I went to see what the fuss was about.

– What’s with the totem pole?

– It’s a crane pattern, my father said, looking up from his chain welding.

– It doesn’t look like a crane or a pattern. I thought it was a sacrificial offering to the stick god. I’ve set it alight.

My father did not react, but my sister said:

– Well, it’s not burning.

– Oh, I must have forgotten to ignite it.

My sister, who was easily irritated by my brother, went into the house.

– By next week, it’ll be metal, my father said.

– What! You’ve discovered a method of turning sticks into metal. Dad, you’re a genius. That’s an amazing scientific advance.

I could see my father was starting to get annoyed with my brother, but the comment about him being a genius, despite it being sarcastic, had mollified him a little.

– You’ll be scientifically advanced if you carry on, my father warned.

– I’m already quite scientifically advanced, my brother stated. But your accolade is appreciated. Thanks.

– I really don’t understand your fascination with science, my father said.

– Oh, I get it from you.

– What! Science is over-rated nonsense. Too much reliance on facts.

– Yeah, that’s quite a drawback. And yet, you use it every day. You’re using physics and chemistry right now to make your chain statue.

– No I’m not. I’m using my welder.

– Denying it won’t stop it being true, Pater. And now I must leave you to continue your alchemy, while I investigate more up-to-date scientific phenomena. Farewell.

And with that, my brother went off somewhere and my father went back to using science to make his chain crane statue.

 

3: Beaks

 

Once the crane was welded into shape, my father spray-painted it grey. He used a can of car bodywork undercoat. It didn’t make the statue look any more crane-like.

If you imagine a lump of metal balanced on two stilts, with a long metal arm sticking out of the top, you’ll have a rough idea of what my father’s finished chain crane statue looked like.

Generally, it met with puzzlement or insults.

– What’s it meant to be?

– A demented diplodocus…

– A twisted pterodactyl…

– But what is it?

– A scrap-metal sparrow…

– An iron ibis…

No one was too derogatory when our father was around, but he must have pondered on the crane’s lack of similarity to an actual crane. The main problem was the beak. My father was having a lot of trouble with the right beak for the statue – for some reason the one he’d fitted it with looked wrong.

In the end, he made a whole variety of beaks from an impressive range of materials, including old tools, pieces of scrap metal, kitchen utensils, wooden laundry tongs, coat-hangers, tin foil plates and so on – and then got me to help him.

He had them all spread out on the grass at the foot of the statue.

– Is that what a crane’s–

– Stork’s.

– Oh, okay. Is that what a stork’s beak looks like? I asked.

My father held each up the first beak, holding it in exactly the right place at the front of the crane/stork/statue’s head.

– What’s this one like?

– Like a shiny crocodile.

He dropped the beak to the ground and picked up the next one. He held it next to the crane’s head. The morning was then taken up with my father holding up each beak in turn and asking my opinion.

– This one?

– Like a wooden anteater.

– This one?

– Too much like a startled owl.

– This?

– Like a pair of mutant pliers with lockjaw.

And so it went on all morning, with no decision being made because no beak was the right one.

My brother came out of the house to offer his assistance.

– What’s going on?

– Dad can’t choose the right beak. They all look wrong.

My brother surveyed the discarded beaks.

– That’s because the right beak’s not there.

– What about this one, my father asked, holding up another badly-made beak.

– Dad, that’s just a pair of tin snips tied to two sticks.

– No good?

– No good.

– It needs to be a curved beak, my brother said.

My father stared at my brother for a moment, and then he dashed off and came back with a metal winch hook.

He carefully held it up.

I nodded.

He spent the next twenty minutes welding it carefully into place.

Almost immediately, the statue looked like a bird with a hooked beak.

Once the beak was in place my father repainted the statue.

My father had a big sealable plastic bucket and whenever he had a small amount of paint left in a tin he’d been using, he poured it into the plastic bucket. Over the months, he added all of the paint leftovers to the bucket and then threw in some food colouring to dye the paint whatever colour he wanted.

Today it was bright pink.

Once our father had finished painting the statue, we (my brother, my sister and I) studied the latest modifications.

– Very possibly Phoenicopterus roseus, or vulgarly, Flamingus flamingus, my brother said.

– If that’s Latin for what I think it is, my father said, then right you are. Flamingus flamingus it is.

– Do you know you’re reversing your sentences? my brother asked.

– There’s nothing wrong with a little inversion, my father said.

– That’s what Radclyffe Hall said, but it made no difference in the long run.

– What’s that, another one of your cryptic allusions?

– Oh, said my sister. It’s a flamingo.

 

*


 

My Father’s Garden: Metal

Copyright © R J Dent (2016)

 

 

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