1st September


There was a man who at different times worked as a gardener, a carpenter and a forester. He was someone, therefore, who handled woods and plants of many kinds, and he went through life picking up splinters or skelfs along the way. Some he acquired simply because he laboured hard, and the insidious little darts found their way into his hands in the course of a working day. Others came to him because he was distracted or careless, and his palms or fingers were punished for his lack of attention. He tolerated skelfs as small nuisances hardly worthy of consideration in the longer, larger scheme of existence. Often he would not even notice a skelf’s arrival for a day or two, until it made its presence felt, jagging away under the skin, perhaps threatening infection. Then he would get to work with the point of his pocketknife, or with a needle passed through flame, digging around the skelf and marvelling that something so tiny could cause such irritation.

But there was one that went deeper and further than any of the others, and which he could not extract. At first it gave him no pain, and by the time it did it was so far into him that it was no longer visible. Yet he knew it was there because of the insistent throb of its movement, as it burrowed still deeper, travelling from his palm, through his wrist and up his arm. Every day he felt it, but could not see a trace of it. And he understood that it was not going to stop, that it was moving, fractionally but relentlessly, towards his heart.

What was this terrible, miniature arrow that flew so slowly within him? It was nothing a doctor could identify or treat. No operation could save him from it. It was not something of wood or plant. It was not something of anything. It was an absence of something, and he did not know what it was but he felt it and it made him sad and fearful. And with good reason, for, before he grew to be an old man, that absence, of whatever it was, would kill him.

Reader: Kate Molleson
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
Harmonium: Kit Downes
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