The Mallet

The bottle was said to contain the very elixir of creativity. Triple distilled from the best ingredients. It sat encased in a bit of a glass box. On the plaque beneath the box sat a small golden mallet and a legend scrawled on parchment.
If you looked very closely at the parchment, you could see the spidery script. The script read: “Open only in great need, drink only in despair, and abandon all hope afterward.”
This bit of a puzzle sat gathering dust on an upper shelf in the corner of Warburton’s crowded studio. Unlike my craftsman’s workshops, Warburton occupied an artist’s studio. Warburton was not my master but more my mentor.
Whenever I was in Baltimore, I’d find myself walking into the cavernous studio space near the waterfront. It had been a few years since I had visited, but the only thing that had altered was the thickness of the dust that covered everything but his workspace and tools.
Warburton poured me coffee and asked how my anthropology career was going. “Rough,” I said, “I am at my wit’s end with the new job and have no idea where I’ll go from here.” He just looked at me and pointed towards a stack of freshly delivered mahogany planks, “sort those out, rick them in the back and make sure that you sticker them well. I don’t want any twist or cupping because you’ve forgotten what I taught you.” I was rather pointedly transported back to 1967 when I had walked in looking for plank ends and scraps to practice my carving on as a youth. Right after sweeping up, I was taught to stack and store wood properly.
As he always had, he paid no attention to me while I set to the job but gathered the tools he’d need for the work on the bench. About an hour later, he called me over. “I rather suspect that this may be our last time together. So here’s your last lesson from your master. Get me the glass box.”
I fetched a stool, climbed up, and then brought him the box with the bottle. ” Been drinking heavily, haven’t you? I can see it in your face and smell it on your breath. So I’m going to give you this.” Then he explained that many artists, musicians, and craftsmen had sought after this as the wellspring of creativity and grit. “Am I supposed to use the mallet to break open the box?” “Nothing that complicated. Just open the box and take the bottle out, open it and drink. What’s in the bottle doesn’t matter. It’s whatever cheap brandy you’ve been drinking.”
I was puzzled, “Then what’s the mallet for?” He gave me that look that said I was thick-headed again. ” It’s not the bottle that’s important. It’s the mallet. Read the parchment and decide if you need the contents of the bottle enough to drink it. If not, use the mallet to break the bottle.”
I woke up on the day after Thanksgiving with horrible back pain, a terrible taste in my mouth, and a delicate stomach. And I’d had another of my “visits” with the dead dreams. Warburton had died years ago. I had been trying desperately to cease drinking for the past six months, in part because my new job was so toxic that I knew that doing it and continuing to drink would kill me. Whether I actually talked to Warburton or just had a drunken dream, I don’t know, but I resolved to use the mallet that day.

5 Replies to “The Mallet”

    1. Apprentices are frequently taught through riddling or indirection. The wood stacking was to teach me how different woods dry and store. I spent time sweeping and cleaning because that’s apprentice work, but you also learn the shop and tools. You learn the importance of a clean environment. Then the riddling; you get handed something and asked how it was done.

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      1. I like that. Its a far better way to teach. This was you have to think for and fend for yourself and so you become stronger and wiser as a result. No wonder your carvings are so beautiful.

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