Strong hands trace the grains down the length of lumber.
“It’ll do then?”
Muscular hands grasp the beam, pulling it down from the delivery truck.
“Care to help?”
Then comes the cuts, sharp and sure. Sand glued to paper tears into the beam’s edges. First, they rip tiny shards free. Then the stubs left are ground and smoothed away.
“I will make you shine.”
Lifted into place atop two strong pillars. The work of placing the balusters starts. The measuring, the chiselled crevices. Each paper-thin layer shaved away until wooden sculptures slid true into their homes. Glued then fastened with a single piercing nail.
“You may live longer then I do.”
He stains its grains to match the steps he stands on, each brush stroke rhythmic, a perfect dance of a man’s hand. Then he seals the deep cherry-red with varnish to make wood shimmer in the light.
“Indeed, that’ll do.”
He brings his bride home. Her manicured nails slide along the new banisters curves as eyes roved over the entryway, the steps, the home he has made for her.
One day his bride carries a babe up those steps to bed. Laid against mother’s shoulder, the child revels in the gentle pat of those manicured fingers.
The babe spits up, drenching mother and railing with sour droplets.
The reprimand is startling and the babe wails, but only for a moment. A mother’s shock and disgust replaced in a heartbeat with love.
As that babe lays sleeping, manufactured nails scrubs cherry-red wood clean.
“Gregory, I think I took the finish of the banister.”
Soon baby feet grow and race through the house. His favourite car finds the perfect track down the ripples his father etched in that beam years ago.
“It made it!”
He whoops and hollers, driving the second car down the length of the banister by hand, unaware of the scratches he leaves in his wake.
Cars turn to girls and hushed voices as one night two shadows slink upstairs away from adult eyes.
“Avoid the next step,” he whispers.
As his partner attempts to skip the step in high heals a light switches on. A shriek fuelled by adrenaline and surprise pierces ear drums. A heal snaps from its shoe and a girl grabs at balusters to keep from sliding down the stairs length.
Another snap tells them all that more than a high heal is broken.
“I’ll fix it, Dad!”
The ups and downs, the rides and sounds. The staircase resounds with echoes as life speeds by. A banister once shiny loses its lustre, as age robs its craftsman of the strength and mobility needed to restore it.
The empty nest comes.
Sounds of bustle from the kitchen carry through the hall and up the steps.
“Gregory,” she calls. “Dinner is ready.”
He hears her and rolls his newspaper tightly in one hand. Yes, he still reads it every day.
First, he shuffles to his slippers, then to the steps. The banister cool smoothness greats him with a familiar hello as he rests his hand atop it, ready to start the decent, one slow step at a time. But wait.
He presses fingers to his left breast. His arm lets out a throb that starts from shoulder and shoots through fingers.
His call is feeble and frustrated. The deep breath he grasps for sends a second shock down his arm. Then his feet crumble. The cherry-red banister is all that holds him from plummeting down those steps.
This time the call caries and she comes running.
“Gregory, you’re white as a ghost!”
“Dear, I might be one soon. Phone.”
All he hears is the shuffle of his wife’s sandals. All he sees is the cherry-red steps. But he feels the banister, he never let go of it. Its coolness has warmed under his touch. His grip shakes.
“I guess re-sanding you will have to wait another year, my dear.”
He speaks despite the darkness creeping into his side vision. A blink clears it for a moment, and he notices the broken baluster has slipped beyond its brothers and needs to be knocked back into place.
“I must tell Gorge on his next visit. He never fixed that thing right.”
“Gregory, they are on there way. Gregory!”
He lets go of the banister and now all he feels is his wife’s manicured nails digging into his arm as she tugs his shoulder. Can she pull him back to this reality? The cherry-red staircase holds them both.
©2021 Mary Grace van der Kroef
Gregory was written for a small writing competition. We didn’t make the cut this time, but that’s okay. Learning and fun happened.