Read After Covid…27

Last night the dreams came. I had been sleeping deeply for the weeks previous but then they started to creep in, slipping through the small fissures in night’s oblivion. I don’t always remember them in the detail that I would want – mainly it’s just an imprint, a nagging feeling of something that may have happened. Last night’s was about a big old four-bar gate.

In need of some white paint.

My wife and I were at a younger stage in our lives, before children and well before the light had begun to fade on our optimism. That’s how I see it now, a landscape that was once a canopy of sunlight, faded with the arrival of clouds, my shadow shortening as the problems of a nebulous world drift in from some place else. This dream was one of those that had not yet been affected by cloud-cover. We were still young enough not to worry.

Anyway, we had this house, it was rented but it was big. We lived in a nice part of the countryside, that golden stretch that knocked on the door ever morning to see if anybody was wanting to take a stroll. The air was probably full of smells that were a potpourri of pastoral imaginings, manure, a haze of pollen carried on the air, and a hint of freshly cut grass. I didn’t see any cars, nor heard their distant rumble. There was nothing apart from my wife and myself, these younger versions, and this place that was our home. That was until I noticed that the gate had been broken.

We have always liked gates such as that. They were the perfect aesthetic finish to the driveway of a house. They had to be made of solid wood and they had to be painted white. They were not so much gates to block entry, more to announce ourselves as being there, wherever there was. I had been out in the garden that passed for fields and I had noticed that the gate was a little damaged. My wife supposed that some type of truck had reversed into it and had driven away before realising what had been done. Looking at it, I thought that it was easily repaired and thought through how I should approach it.

If truth ever got in the way of any of these sunlit scenarios it would remind me of my particular skills in the way of mending gates. My wife does the plumbing whilst I do the garden. At times, she laments the fact that I do this writing thing and not the general maintenance thing. Yet in this dream, I saw that I could fix the gate. Truth would have done me a disservice if it had suggested otherwise – you see, one of my previous incarnations saw me as a landscape gardener and erector of fences, and builder of gates. So, before truth could get in and dissuade me from my task, I was waiting for the end of the working day so that I could set about this repair. I even had the whiff of freshly-sawn wood in my nose.

When the end of the day started to arrive, I turned to the big old four-bar and was pleased with the opportunity to show my skills. I had planned out my approach, I could replace the broken timber, and I could secure it against whatever may be thrown its way. After that, I would apply fresh paint – good as new. But when I turned to it, the gate had been smashed by a more severe, malign force than before. This would take more than me with my little bag of tricks and knowledge.

My wife is the realist and had called in a carpenter even before the additional damage. It was him in his blue workman’s overalls who greeted me as I surveyed the damage. I greeted him and he returned it with that tradesman aloofness that was reserved for such meetings. He would have chatted to my wife in a breezy, even peacock-like manner, his skills the sign of his undimmed manhood, but for me there was only the time one would spend on a cuckold. I had failed some test and he had been called to pass it.

If conversations can often form the social lubricant for ordinary, everyday interactions, this one was on a more primal level. Here, in our house, on our land, at my wife’s behest, had come a usurper. He was dressed for the job, casually capable, and charging for his time. And rather than exchange a little ‘time of the day’ he was more intent upon establishing himself as a thing superior than myself. My gate had been smashed, beyond any repair that I could make, and an outsider had been invited to mend it. And we were paying for the privilege. To cap it all, the sun was quickly fading into the coming night.

Sometimes situations can be rescued by a few well chosen words or questions, so I decided to ask him about his work. Almost immediately, he warmed to that approach. I was stroking his feathers and he didn’t even know it. Given that amount of respect, he would blab and inadvertently tell me much more than the secretive combatant would have ever done.

“Oh, yes, there have been a few gates damaged around here. I have had work from a lot of houses. Most of the people around here are well-off and they don’t mind spending a bit on a job well done.”

He did go on. And on for a while longer, but we were paying for his time and I didn’t want him to think that he was anything other than a bloke who we had called in to complete a little handiwork.

“If he thinks we are rich, he’ll charge a lot of money,” my wife said as I woke into a cloudless morning whose only threat was the virus.

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