Thursday, 10 December 2009
The Letter Maker
It is said that words have power and I know this only too well. I once knew a woman, not well but enough to share coffee and cake with. It happened that one morning as we sipped our coffee and had toast at our local coffeehouse, The Laugh Ascending, she mentioned that she was a carver of letter blocks. I was curious and asked about this.
"A letter block," she explained, "is a block that you put with others to print words out. You can carve the letters as you wish, but they have to fit a consistent sized block - a type face if you will. The trouble is when well..." she paused and took another mouthful of coffee meditatively.
"Don't get me wrong," she said softly, "I am not a fanciful woman who lets her mind run away with her. In many ways I know that I can be quite, well prosaic, so to speak."
Her voice was soft and reflective as if she was making up her mind whether to tell me something. More to the point, she was unsure if I would believe her. I hesitated to mention that I was less interested in being prosaic, for I loved the poetic and in any case I was naturally intrigued. I persuaded her with silence to finally sigh and order another coffee. I ordered another too, for if it was to be a two coffee story it was worth hearing.
"Some years ago," she began quietly, "I lived in a city, it doesn't matter which. There was a castle and a notable church, but that is not saying much. In any case, I lived in the shadow of the castle alone with only a cat for company. It appears that one day, a small dragon got into my workshop. I had been carving letter blocks and I had lots of them - all in wood, in different sizes and styles. They were stacked up all over the place in the workshop - I preferred it that way. I would occasionally imagine them making up words and even whole sentences.
It was warm in the workshop, the cat would settle by the radiator on a block of yew that I had been given and not used yet. I suspect the dragon was cold, he was not terribly big and certainly not one of those savage beasts in the old stories that eats other creatures. This dragon was an earth dragon and they are quite happy if you give them a pebble or two. I did not realise - I was a lot younger then - that any magic in a creative place can have unforeseen circumstances. I did not at first know the dragon was in the workshop, he did not bother the cat at all and the cat did not bother him either.
I had finished a few letter blocks and oiled them to keep them stable. I settled them in their places and went to bed. Now for some reason I could not sleep, whether it was the magic or not, I don't know. But I kept turning from one side to another and at one point I remember sitting up and looking at the moonlight coming through the curtains. I lay down and began to think of poems to help me sleep. I was struggling to remember a little more of some epic when I heard soft voices whispering in the workshop. I was up in an instant, more angry than afraid. I had worked hard on those letter blocks and I wasn't about to let some ruffians come in and steal them. I dashed down the stairs and flung open the workshop but nobody was there. Instead the whole room seemed to be filled with murmurings and words. I stood for a moment, struggling to make out what was happening when I heard the words,
"The maker, shall we tell her? Should we?" and I noticed the letter blocks on the work bench forming words. As they formed they were spoken - but by whom? I did not know. At that point, a little moonlight fell on a gleaming scale and I saw the dragon curled up neatly as a cat on a pile of large 'S' blocks. It was not him speaking, for he was quite asleep. The cat was upstairs, no doubt on my bed at this point. I thought for a moment, picked up the little earth dragon gently and cradling his sleeping body in my arms I took him out of the workshop. As I did so, the murmuring continued. I turned in the doorway and hushed them. The blocks fell silent for a moment then began again, but quieter.
I took the dragon up to my bed and placed him under the covers telling the cat not to sleep on him. Then I got into bed and slept until the sunlight elbowed its way through my curtains. In the morning the dragon was gone, but had left behind a large nugget of gold and six diamonds. Downstairs in the workshop the letter blocks were still forming words and speaking to each other and it was at least three weeks before the magic dispersed and I could work in peace. "
She turned to me and smiled almost apologetically before sipping the coffee that had been brought. I told her that words and sentences have power, that I knew that as a writer.
"A poem for instance. It can make you smile or weep, or move you. It can make you angry enough to want to change things. In fact apart from music, words are what we have nearest to real magic. Unless an earth dragon comes into your life of course," I added with a smile.
She glanced at me and I knew she wondered if I was teasing her. I assured her I wasn't. She sighed and gazed out of the windows at the people passing in the street. I admired the beauty of her jewellery, especially the six diamonds of her necklace.