FICTION: Hobby by Paul Wooldridge

He clears the debris. He pushes the shards of wood onto the floor and sweeps them to one side, adding them to the pile in the corner. He holds the broom tentatively. Spots of blood expand across his bandage, turning it from white to sodden red. Once cleared, he applies fresh gauze to his hand and makes his way upstairs, back to the house, back to his family, locking the door behind him.

#

Next morning he kisses his wife, places a hand on her cheek and one on the small of her back, careful not to leave any trace of blood on her dress. He holds the kiss longer than she was expecting. He kisses each of his daughters, squeezing them close to him. He inhales their scent, feels their soft skin against his and buries his face in their long hair. He leaves home and drives to work

#

In the cellar, he selects pieces of doweling, balsa and thinly manufactured plywood. He begins by turning pieces on the lathe, carefully creating cylinders of different length and varying diameter. Each have intricate details, crafted with fine tools that spray shavings into the air.

#

His daughters scream before bedtime. Both throw tantrums and he fights to keep his voice calm as they both rail against him. By the time they are both asleep he feels a faint ache somewhere within his skull. The pain stays with him, in the background, throughout the evening and into the night.

#

He begins to cut larger shapes from sheets of plywood, adding details to the edges and across their flat surfaces. He grips the table top jig-saw with his left hand. His right has stopped bleeding and he rests it on the work top, his fingers curled in on themselves.

#

At work he is called into a meeting. The project he has worked on for the last six months is scrapped, in favour of a project overseen by his colleagues. He isn’t thanked and throughout the meeting his hand itches, causing him to rub his knuckles through the bandage. He is required to work late in order to support the new project.

When he returns home his wife barely speaks to him and the few words she does offer are barbed. He eats his tea on his lap, beside his wife who silently watches a soap opera. The air is heavy with her frustration.

#

Beneath the house he carves intricate shapes from balsa wood. He checks these small pieces against the cylinders and the large flat shapes that are laid out on his work top.

#

During the night his daughters call out to him. He staggers to their room, neither awake nor asleep, and tries to calm them. He whispers, strokes their hair and attempts to dispel their fears. His head is throbbing and his eyes ache. He returns to bed after two hours at their bedsides.

#

At work he remains at his computer, typing. His hand no longer bleeds but he keeps it covered. The fingers on his right hand are buckled and their movement is limited. He stops frequently to rub his hand, feeling the soft swollen knuckles beneath the bandage. His headache worsens. It feels as though a muscle, somewhere behind his eyes, is cramped but he’s unable to loosen it.

#

In the cellar he starts to paint each of the wooden pieces.

#

In the evening, he finds his wife crying in the bed room. He holds her to him as she sobs into his chest. He strokes her, speaking gentle words of comfort and reassurance. She begins to quieten and then unloads her anguish upon him. He nods and agrees. He looks at her with concern and sympathises. His support is automatic. Reassurance and understanding falls, without thought, from his mouth and he cradles her. His fingers wipe away her tears, as if by themselves. The pain in his head resonates and he realises he feels distant. He’s physically present, he repeats the actions he has learnt, but he feels separate from the interaction.

#

In the cellar he takes the delicately painted elements and carefully glues them together. The large pieces form an ornate scenery, a three dimensional house and a car, while the wooden cylinders form four small figures. Minute shapes, depicting hair or details of clothing, are then applied and the diorama is left to dry.

#

In the morning his children scream at him. They’re enraged because their toast is dry or that they’re unable to wear trainers to school. He feels numb, but repeats the platitudes he’s learnt by heart, the words and actions required to calm them.

#

In the office his work is pulled apart by his boss. He apologises, instinctively, and reassures him. The mistakes will be corrected. His emotions are dulled and the voice of his superior feels quieter, as if from further away. He returns to his computer in a deadened haze and types throughout the day. His head continues to ache and pain arches above his eye socket. He pauses and removes the bandage from his right hand. He traces his bruised knuckles and crooked fingers with the those of his left hand. His digits are bent and his hand is crisscrossed with scars. Some old, others fresh and still an angry red. All are cushioned amongst slowly healing bruises, each in faded shades of purple and yellow.

He returns home late in the evening. He walks up stairs and enters his children’s bedroom. He watches them sleep and gently kisses each of them. Feelings of love, anger, adoration and frustration flair somewhere within him, but are quickly extinguished by cold detachment.

He enters the master suite and finds his wife asleep. He kisses her, taking care not to wake her, and closes his eyes as a sense of isolation sweeps over him. Despair, love and failure flicker weakly within him but the overriding sensation is one of disinterest, a sense of absence.

He returns downstairs and enters the cellar, locking the door behind him. He places his finished scene in a small brick alcove in the wall on the far side of the room. He stares at it. Four wooden figures stand beside a car, in front of a house. Two of the figures are positioned side by side, both taller than the other two, who stand in front of them. Three of them have long hair. All are smiling.

He stands, expressionless, in front of it then smashes his fist into the scene. The wood cracks under the blow. The figures splinter as his knuckles slam through the scenery, crushing it against the wall. He retracts his fist then instantly hurls it back amongst the broken wood, pounding the diorama over and over again.

After a few minutes of frenzied punching, he steps back. Sweat glistens across his brow and his right arm hangs limply by his side. Blood drips steadily onto the floor. His chest expands and contracts with heavy, exhausted breaths. His head is tilted upwards. His eyes are closed and tears pour over his cheeks and around a wide, euphoric smile. He rocks with relief and gentle laughter.

Still smiling, he sits at the work top and begins pulling splinters from his pulverised hand. He wipes away the blood and attends to the larger tears in his flesh. He wraps a crisp white bandage around his hand and gingerly picks up the broom. Once cleared he makes his way upstairs, back to the house, back to his family, locking the door behind him.

savard

 “No man is really happy or safe without a hobby.” – William Osler

A hobby is merely a way to cope when life has slipped beyond control.

This is the first piece of fiction that Paul has published. Up until recently he has only written poetry, preferring formalist pieces that mix his mundane experiences as a husband, a Dad of two young daughters, and as a son who lost his father, with large amounts of dark pathos and humour. He is currently working on a project, showcasing a collection of poetry, and has so far had poems published in The New Humanist Magazine, About Larkin (The quarterly magazine for the Philip Larkin Society), The Fat Damsel, The Cannon’s Mouth, A Swift Exit, The Good Funeral Guide, and Graffiti Magazine.

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