Things we do for love …

Day Twenty: The Things We Treasure

Today’s Prompt: Tell us the story of your most-prized possession.

It’s the final day of the challenge already?! Let’s make sure we end it with a bang — or, in our case, with some furious collective tapping on our keyboards. For this final assignment, lead us through the history of an object that bears a special meaning to you.

A family heirloom, a flea market find, a childhood memento — all are fair game. What matters is that, through your writing, you breathe life into that object, moving your readers enough to understand its value.

Today’s twist: We extolled the virtues of brevity back on day five, but now, let’s jump to the other side of the spectrum and turn tolongform writing. Let’s celebrate the drawn-out, slowly cooked, wide-shot narrative.

How long is long? That’s entirely up to you to decide. You can go with a set number — 750, 1000, or 2000 words, or more (or less!). Alternatively, you could choose your longest post thus far in the challenge, and raise the bar by, say, 300 words, 20 percent, three paragraphs — whatever works for you.

Things we do for love

Jody, was walking down the slight hill, toward his destination. Stopping to press his nose against the glass of a small shop. One that developed film and sold some art supplies. There was in the window. One of those artist’s dolls, with movable head, arms and legs. It was always interesting to the boy, to see such things. Intrigued as he was with painting and drawing. A passion instilled by his school’s art teacher, John Coulter.

John Coulter was usually referred to as “Mr. Coulter”. Yet during those after school hours that the classroom for art was open. Allowed the pupils to call him, “John”. Though Jody was a bit nervous of doing so. Yet, the other students that John favoured. Seemed to not have such reservations.

The shop front that held the boy’s interest, had lately been rearranged. So that now, at about the height of an eye for a fifteen-year old. Was a glass pot, that held about a dozen letter openers. Black wood, with a carved face of distinctive Nubian features. The neck was wrapped in silver coloured wire that resembled those neck rings, often seen on African Peoples. Descending down into the blade that would open envelopes.

Jody looked for the price tag. It could be seen on a very small label adhering to the glass pot. 25/- … Twenty five shillings in 1964 terms, was a big sum for a British boy. That was more than his whole week’s pay. Delivering medications for a local chemist. He was on a delivery now, walking down to his destination. Pulling his face away from the window, Jody walked on. Deep in thought. Could he justify the cost? He thought back to the lustrous wood. Ebony, maybe? The modelled head was so intriguing. It seemed so completely exotic.

It was easily  a week before another delivery, sent him the same way. Reaching the shop window, today he only glanced in. They were still there. Evidently others found the price a little steep, in 1964. Jody finished up his deliveries that early spring evening. He was paid usually on Saturdays. Monday to Saturday for his wage of one English pound.

The man he worked for was his father’s friend. A Scotsman who was a Chemist. Dispensing drugs and medications from the rear room of his small shop. Two elderly ladies worked the counters, calling for Mr. Catto when necessary. On rainy days, there was always a few extra customers, hanging around. For the bus stop was right outside. Jody, wriggled past the crowd and entered the dispensary. Mr. Catto had one last delivery that day. Given to him to deliver on his way home. It was one of the regular customers at Glebe Court. A retirement home. Built on Parish land. It was gated, to prevent either easy entry or exit.

After his delivery. Jody passed his school, on his way home. He glanced up to the third storey window, that was his art class. The slightly balding head of John Coulter, could be seen. Likely working the potter’s wheel that was his passion. Cigarette dangled from his lips.

Mr. Coulter was one of those grizzled men. Physically not imposing, yet with a face that at the end of a day showed a heavy shadow of facial hair. Usually smiling. If met, by accident, at the bus stop a 1/4 mile away. Would always greet Jody. Once or twice he would be invited by John. To have coffee across the road. In what was then a small café, called a bistro. More than once, the coming of the bus, interrupted their talk. John would chuck down some coins and rush out to meet the vehicle. If it pulled away from the kerb without him, it could be caught at the set of traffic lights barely a hundred feet away. Buses in 1964 were double decker and open backs. Where the passenger could alight or board, at will. Jody would take his time and finish the brew. Coffee made by espresso machine, was very sophisticated then. The boy would pay the bill with the coins left behind. Slipping the change into trouser pockets. To be left discreetly on Mr. Coulter’s desk, the next class with him.

His classroom was always full of ceramics. Thrown on the wheel, or lovingly fashioned by hand. One of the tables was always full of drying clay pots. Buckets of slip beneath the table. The students would have drawing boards. Charcoal, pencil, etc. One or two privileged would be allowed an easel, with half-finished work left to dry.

Mr. Coulter’s teaching buddy was the Science Master. Mr. Townsend. They were friendly as colleagues. Though apart from some small smiles when behind the Headmasters back. Seemed to share very little in common. For the boys at that school. Both of them were the coolest teachers of the day. For Mr. Townsend stood aside, when school assemblies required his presence. The school was administered by the local Parish. Yes, the same parish that ran Glebe Court. It’s fingers were in many pies, in that part of London. Mr. Townsend, rumour had it, was a Buddhist? He certainly never sang the hymns nor bowed his head in prayer, when the Headmaster did. So, maybe he was?

Mr. Townsend had a large strawberry birthmark prominently on his face and taught the students, Physics. These classes were mostly for boys, while the girls studied Biology. Jody often wondered why, it was thus? Especially since two girls sat in for those Physics lessons and one boy sat with the girls, for their subject.

Mostly Jody did not care, except would he ever be through with school? For it bored him with the endless prayer mornings and facetious teachers. Teachers who taught a mind-numbing curriculum. A curriculum designed to prepare the children for a life in the workforce? At least John Coulter was prepared to answer questions outside the spectrum. Even he, though, was cautious about answering the tricky ones. Ever mindful of irate parents.

As Jody passed by the school, his thoughts turned to the letter opener. With the small tip, Glebe Court had left him after his delivery. He had enough, to finally pay for one.

The following Saturday, Jody left early for work. Walking the extra mile toward Hendon Central. Down past the road works that seemed never to be finished. It had started a few years back. When workmen had torn up the traffic roundabout, outside the station. A large mound, planted with shrubbery and trees. It had once held a clock on the side of the mound. One that seldom worked. With hands always pointing to a few minutes before twelve. That had all gone.

Now it was a traffic lights that provided the bottleneck for traffic. The once broad boulevard had been severely reduced. People now jostled each other to and fro. Past the playing fields where he had won a prize for high jump. For both school and scout troop. Jody’s destination was toward the tube station, yet some way before.

Going in, he asked the shop clerk for the letter openers in the window. As the clerk bougt them out, Jody could see a few had been sold since the last time he had asked. Still, there was a good selection. They all seemed the same, yet close-up the boy could see small differences. Some of the woods were almost black and some had streaks of nut-brown. The faces, though similar were also a little different. Taking a few minutes, Jody made his choice. Paid and received a small paper bag. Striped red and white, with the purchase in it. Jody walked on down past the tube station and around to the first street on his left. Up the street, right onto another. Past the synagogue, though the alleyway then arriving at the small chemist shop for his afternoon’s shift.

Mr. Catto was always curious. So, Jody showed him. Such things, in 1964. Were definitely exotic. Mr. Catto pursed his lips, yet said nothing. The boy was out on his way for the Saturday round. All was right with the world.

More than fifty years on, Jody could still feel the smooth wood, It looked like it had just been bought. Yet it had opened a few thousand letters, or more. Handling it, always bought forth a flood of memories. For each envelope it opened, was the legacy. A small thing that could not be measured in pounds and shillings. For in today’s world. The price paid was insignificant, for those memories it held.


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