THE UPPER ROOM
By John Thomas Tuft
An old Scottish taragee legend retold:
The father climbs the stairs every night at 9pm. The little room at the top of the stairs is where he goes for peace and quiet. And wrestling with angels unaware. And crossing swords with demons and devils. One wall is covered with shelf after shelf of books. A second wall is a large closet filled with boxes of papers and poems. The third wall is covered with hand drawn pictures—some childlike in their simplicity and skill, some elaborate works of what those who know call art. The fourth wall is a large picture window that looks out on rolling hills of tilled fields and forested slopes that lead down to creeks and lochs that flow eternally toward beyond. The father takes a seat and lights a single candle.
He pulls out some letters to read each night. One might ask, “How do we reconcile the beauty created by the likes of DaVinci and Michelangelo, and the devastation and pure misery of places on earth like Yemen, Syria, or Guatemala? Humans are responsible for both. Why?” It is the eternal question of all children as they learn their way upon the earth, especially the pitfalls of learning to deal with each other: Why? The next letter might read, “My Mommy says I am a mistake. Does anybody love a mistake?” Each and every night, he presses on, taking out the next letter to read. “Why can’t I have more? More money, more admiration, more love, more hope?” The next might say, “Who reads these letters? Can I have a miracle, a healing, a sign that you got my letter and even read it?” At the end of the reading, the father places the letters in a brass bowl, lights it on fire, watches it burn. Then he takes the ashes, mixes them with strong wine and drinks the potion until the cup is drained.
At times he selects a book from the wall of shelves. He reads it from cover to cover, ingesting all the thoughts it contains: the conservation of fears or the progression of hopes. He especially likes books full of story. The father laughs, he cries, his heart skips a beat in anticipation as he thoroughly enjoys the magic incarnated by the words. He nods along as the simple truths of a children’s picture book unfold before him. It is the simple joys of being a father that keep him engaged through all the heartaches and expectations.
After he finishes a book, he settles into his rocking chair, and slowly begins to rock while humming a tune. The music starts low, but as he rocks it gently fills the upper room. As his eyes begin to grow heavy and rest beckons, the music takes on a life of its own. The notes dance, high and clear in the light of the candle, or deep and reverberating through the shadows like giants on the march. Some sound like rain hitting the leaves of the trees outside the window, some are fierce, clashing swords with sparks flying from their blades. As the last note fades into the night, the father opens his eyes and takes out his whitling knife. He selects a piece of wood and fashions it into a flute. There must always be new music for the next.
There are nights when the father selects a picture from the wall of pictures. Some are of beauty some are of pain. Some express wonder, some give life to colors. Some ask why, some say look over here at what you missed. Some ask what’s the point and others ask why not? A child’s drawing might be of a family, a house, a dog or a cat. A tree with three branches and enormous fruit. Or a child’s drawing might be of dark fears, of being hurt by someone who is supposed to protect them, or visions of having enough to eat, to wear, to live.
When he finishes with a picture, he takes it to the brass bowl. He cuts it into tiny pieces like dust. Then he takes the whitling knife and pricks open a vein and catches the blood in the bowl. When it is a paste, he takes his fingers, dips them in, and paints his face with all that the picture contained. When the father has finished, he extinguishes the candle and stands at the window for all to see.
As the night wears on, and he is finished with the letters, the books, the pictures, the father stands at the window and watches. He waits. He sees the endless tilled fields; he sees the trees on the slopes leading to the streams and lochs that always flow beyond. In his mind are the questions of all fathers. Am I enough? Can I provide enough? Will they hate me? Will they love me? What more must I do?
Words are magic and writers are wizards.