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FIONNA INWARD ALLEN

shoes cobbler.jpg

A Gentle Crafting of Time

The bell of a thrifty workshop chimed and in walked the Impatient Lady. Raising a disciplined mind from his tasks, a Shoemaker met with an investigative finger.

The Shoemaker was a successful man, whose days of whipping the cat were long gone.

“Now, what can be done about these days?” asked the Impatient Lady, prodding at the Shoemaker’s diary and the many days until her shoes would be ready. “I am plagued with feet canyons and caveman’s toenails, and the 6 suns, five moons you offer will not do. I must walk happy in time for my nephew’s christening.”

The Shoemaker could see no mercy in the Impatient Lady’s dilated pupils.

“You’re a man who does wonderful things with time. Please, be creative with the obstructive hours that keep me from my pavement-trudgers, and I will reward you ten-fold.”

Swooping out of the door, the Impatient Lady was gone. Her last sentence hovered like an indecisive cloud above the shop counter, which forecasted either ominous rain or a shift into darling sunshine. The Shoemaker was left to ponder the flexibility of time.

A piece of leather could be altered with sole knives and awls, with marking wheels, hog bristles and waxed flax. But what of time? Could one take a tool to that? And with this very question in mind, the Shoemaker stood abreast with problems pith and resolved to do something about the days, just as the Impatient Lady had suggested.

Back in the workshop the Shoemaker stopped “cutting the feather” and instead began lining up the days of the week on his bench, like wooden lasts.

Starting with Monday, he stretched softened, soaped, hammered, trimmed and coated every day until Sunday. The days of the week were quite altered by the time the Shoemaker had applied his craft, in fact the days were almost unrecognisable.

Monday, which had once been a long and discontented sigh in the key of F was now transformed into a happy yawn like that of a librarian on reading the last line of Byron’s ‘Bright Be the Place of thy Soul’.

Tuesday, which now came after Wednesday (he had found the leather folded better this way) became as stunted as a Click Beetle.

Next, and with the flair of a shaman, the Shoemaker cropped Wednesday to the exact length of a hiccup.

Sadly, Thursday was sabotaged in an experimental leather-singeing incident. Irretrievable gentle reader, and thus downsizing the days of the week a hectare further.

Friday, once equal in length to the injured breath of a French chanteuse singing for her broken heart, now exhibited the brevity of a shooting star as observed by an earth-bound onlooker.

Lastly, Saturday, which had stretched like a lighthouse beam across Beeves Rock, was now abbreviated to the marginally shorter gentleman’s lavatory queue at Deepdale Park, 2:47pm, one mild Saturday in 1968.

Sunday remained unchanged. The Shoemaker maintained it was the most perfect day of the week since for the majority, it was not scuppered by that monolithic time-glutton, work.

On Friday afternoon the Impatient Lady decided to surprise the Shoemaker with a visit. She had been brought to town on the important business of purchasing a large Finnish loaf with a hole in the middle.

On entering the shop she noted that the Shoemaker had been very busy indeed, such were the amount of leather cuttings swimming fish-like on the floor.

“Ah!” cried the Shoemaker, rising from his stool excitedly. “You have come to see how I got on with those days!” He knew the Impatient Lady could not deny the ingenuity with which he had approached the project and was eager to demonstrate success to its commissioner.

Regrettably however, the Shoemaker had become so distracted in his attempt to shorten time that the primary task of creating a comfortable pair of shoes for the Impatient Lady had been altogether forgotten.

Blind to this misdemeanour, he ushered his dextrous hands across the modified days with an ill-fitting pride.

“I am forever indebted to you for planting such a seed of genius in my idle mind!” he exclaimed. “Leather is the material of a humble slave. But time? Time is the fabric of Gods! My customers need never wait a day too long again!”

The Impatient Lady’s head grew red and scorched like a sun-baked apple. At last she spat out plagued words: “You have nettled me something! It is God’s work to negotiate time, not that of a lowly shoemaker. Only Mother Nature can speed the spinning of a web or hurry honey from a bee. You foolish jester! You despotic imp! What of my shoes?”

It was not clear whether she was most vexed by her lack of footwear, or by the more profound issues of morality.

With a slam of the door the Impatient Lady disappeared from the shop never to return and henceforth, time began to unravel like a slack yarn, with the Shoemaker at its breathless mercy.

After only a week’s elapse the Shoemaker found he was suffering from a debilitating fatigue. “Why must you always be chasing me?” he whimpered into his pocket watch.

His once-faithful customers could now depend on him only for missed deadlines and disappointment and began to exhaust their currency elsewhere. The Shoemaker found he could no longer afford the quality Italian leather or bespoke silver buckles once deemed essentials, and his materials, along with his last reserves of hope, rapidly began to run omega. The business and the Shoemaker himself danced within distance of collapse, the combination of exhaustion and malnutrition ravaging him with such a tyranny that he began to resemble the very leather from which he had once earned a prosperous living.

One typically blighted afternoon, an official looking letter arrived from sunny Italy. It was a pair of rival entrepreneurs with an offer for the Shoemaker:

“Salvage your fraying reputation and admit defeat.” it read.  “We will buy your tools and any remaining leather at a reduced price.”

The Shoemaker, who concurred there was no alternative but to comply with the suggestion of his rivals, was too frail to raise even an acquiescent pen. But his silence did little to discourage the Italians and only days later they arrived unannounced at his workshop.  

Witnessing no immediate sign of the Shoemaker, the Italians busied themselves with an ogling of his belongings. Amongst all the sole knives, awls, marking wheels and hog bristles, they came across a remarkable piece of leather. It had a curious vitality about its fabric and was generous enough in size to produce at least twenty-four pairs of gentlemen’s brogues.

The rival Italians left another message for the shoemaker, alongside a parsimonious fee of insulting proportion.  They walked from the premises with a legion of tools, as well as that remarkable piece of leather.

Back at their palatial warehouse-cum-atelier-cum-store, the Italians gathered a team of the most expert shoemakers in the region, who set about turning the remarkable piece of leather into 24 pairs of recherché brogues.

On account of their aphelion price tag, the shoes were swiftly coveted by Italy’s portliest capitalists, its most successful diplomats. And to the less well-heeled, they elicited a quality of timelessness. They became the most sought-after footwear in the entire world.

Wishing to capitalise on their increased fortune and noisy reputations, the rival Italians immediately sought out the origins of this remarkable leather by penning another letter to the Shoemaker:
 

Due to a lack of correspondence, we write once more. Please divulge the source of your remarkable leather. It is proving onerous to locate.
 

But the Shoemaker remained ever silent.

And with no correspondence returned, the rival Italians set about a comprehensive exploration of each mighty continent in pursuit of the animal from which the remarkable leather originated. But their quest remained fruitless, and yet they insisted upon dedicating the remainder of their lives to the search. For without this knowledge their dreams and nightmares continued to spin with mystery and that of the unexplainable disappearance of the time-crafting Shoemaker himself.  

Never attempt to alter time. It spirals and bends as it will and as it should, like the inner helix of a tree. Work alongside time and it will stretch for you, shrink with you. But take a tool to time and you will make an enemy of it. And an enemy of time is a prisoner of life’s caged days.

(2006)

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