I wrote this quickly a little while ago: it was my answer, in a short story and in allegory, to a friend’s deliberations: ‘I am not ready.’ ‘How do I know if he’s The One.’ You get the picture. I said before that I see metaphor in everything; I’ve noticed I have a habit of using allegory when problem solving. I’d better add that ‘he’ didn’t look like a duck. And he didn’t waddle. But if he had, the same rule applies…..
IF YOU LOVE HIM
Walter looked a little like a duck. His nose was beaky, he had an unattractive gait which was more of a waddle really. For a man, he was short, but he compensated for it with good cheer. Always good cheer. In Walter, there was not a whiff of arrogance or the slight bitterness one sometimes sees in those who have a chip on their shoulder due to perceived misfortune. He woke, comfortable in his own skin. Mostly.
And there was one more thing: Walter was very, very funny. He had the sort of timing which would cause his friends – and he had many- to double up; to have painful sides. He was also articulate, without being showy, for Walter loved words: he felt them in in his mouth like something smooth and minty (a humbug) or experienced them as something rough and to be handled carefully; with a firm, dexterous hand: he kept his words in his word hoard. He visualised it like that: a compartment containing treasures set on an orient carpet of etymology and variant. Just occasionally the words made tenebrous sounds; he couldn’t shake them off. Because sometimes they said,
‘You are lonely, Walter: you are lonely.’
Walter’s mother loved him dearly; to his father, he had always been a bit of disappointment: he wasn’t a man’s man, but a boy who fell in the scrum. A boy who didn’t. Walter was flatfoot clumsy and, in a person who did not know him, he might cause giggling – or perhaps the the foolish scorn of those who really should know better but don’t. Walter, also, had never had a girlfriend – but he lived in hope. Waddling on through and making people laugh, but seeing the eyes of the women pass to another man.
That day, on his way to work – Walter restored fine musical instruments and his hands were a beautiful picture as he worked in detail, where nothing fell or was broken – he had an odd sensation that today was different; an inchoate feeling – not of dread, but of a sort of warmth spreading up through him. One might say a new kind of happiness. There was a woman waiting for him at the shop; she carried a cello and was tall and willowy, with the gentle flush of the English rose and strawberry blonde hair; she wore a white coat. Almost, he dared say, a little like a swan. Walter didn’t mean to look a little too intently, but then she was, to his eyes, heart-meltingly lovely. The words became entangled and he said, in a rush,
‘Yes, yes, of course. I can restore your cello to health. It will take this long; these are the procedures I am likely to follow and yes – it is a truly fine instrument which you’re so right – so so, ah, so right to treat with reverence and want to bring back to its former glory.’
He was avoiding her eyes for fear of blushing, but, when he looked up, she was staring intently at him. There was an awkward silence. Now or never. He wouldn’t die if she laughed in his face. Of course she would laugh in his face. He was the boy who fell in the scrum; the boy who didn’t. But she said,
‘I have a break at about 11. I wonder if you would like to come and have coffee with me. At the new shop over the road?’
Well now. They were both blushing. Later they drank their coffee and talked and talked and the next day, too. Like him, she loved to play with words; to handle them and feel their heft. And Walter worked on the cello until he had brought it back to clear, resonant notes and a burnished beauty; she struck some notes right there in the shop and he almost cried. But the willowy creature stopped him, right there, with a kiss and the world around went silent. And he was the boy who did.
Yes, they do make a funny-looking couple, the swan and the duck. But they laugh constantly and make the kind of music that reverberates long. They hear – and, I should say, feel – the grace notes: those notes between notes which are taken in on a visceral level. There are three little ducks or swans. They have their mother’s grace and their father’s waddle – a curious combination, but a good one.
So, my friend, if he looks like a duck, but he makes you double up laughing. If he can nurse something tired and jaded back to life. If he talks and his words do not enervate but buoy you up. If he smiles at everyone and there is no tiring bitterness about the man, and if, together, you hear and feel the grace notes, then kiss him and be transported. You know I’m right.