haibun
A Quarterly Journal of Contemporary English Language Haibun
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June 2008, vol 4 no 2

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Melissa Meek

 

Toolkit

bodies braced, breaths held
a strong hand enclosing hers
the stubborn nut shifts

A year after their brief registry wedding he comes back from Africa with a ring made out of a two-shilling piece (older florins and half-crowns contain some silver so are quite malleable). He has tapped away at it during the jungle evenings until the centre is pressed out to a thickened rim (date and lettering left intact), the final internal diameter gauged from his own little finger.

He is an engineer - as their fathers have been and as their sons will be - and from the start he sets out to initiate her into the beauties of the internal combustion engine. In their second year she spends the winter in a primitive cottage above a Cornish beach, where he shows up between overseas contracts. At night, while the babies sleep and storms fling driftwood and shingle up to the door, they take apart and rebuild his beloved motorbike on the living room floor.

lying close in bed
the candle flickering out
as the record fades

In a drawer of the kitchen table she assembles her own toolkit. Carefully selected
additions appear at Christmases, birthdays and homecomings; on one return from some far-off place he presents her with a specially adapted half-inch angled ring spanner, the sides painstakingly filed wafer-thin so that it can reach into otherwise impossible spaces.

waiting to meet him
arms full of sleepy children
this sunburned stranger

With growing confidence she tackles the maintenance and repair of a succession of elderly vehicles - from cleaning and re-setting spark plugs to diagnosing faults and scouring scrap yards. Living in remote areas with young children, little money, and him away for such long periods, it's as well to be self-reliant as far as possible, in this and in so many ways. By the time of his early death she's been an apprentice widow for so long that her way of life is unaffected.

Nearly forty years later her collection of tools fills several boxes and shelves, but those old, thoughtfully chosen gifts are still the ones most called upon. Today there's an awkwardly placed nut to loosen on the radiator. She kneels stiffly and peering up recognises, for perhaps the hundredth time, a job for the 'special' spanner with the pared-down sides. And as she probes it into the narrow gap and applies it (a perfect snug fit - yet again), she feels (as always) that long-ago loving-kindness giving strength to her thin wrist.

gun-metal grey ring
his handiwork bright and new
across time and space

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