Dimension of Delights
If it hadn’t been for his wife, Jiminy Jay would have hardly recognised a teapot. To him, tannin should be that solution strong enough to descale a kettle and come from three tea bags in a mug full of boiling water.
He was a hardy soul - a builder needed to be - but was good-hearted and would never overcharge the elderly or anyone living on the bread line. He saved that for his wealthy customers who invariably expected their patios or tiled driveways to be laid the next day because several years previously one of these affluent customers almost made him give up on human nature.
The owner of a large country estate wanted to clear his woodland for a golf course. Unfortunately it meant evicting Teddy, an elderly hermit who paid a peppercorn rent, from his cottage. If Jiminy and his crew had refused to demolish his home, the job would have gone to another builder without any scruples about forcing the old man to leave. So Jiminy persuaded the landowner to let the hermit live in a small gatehouse on the outskirts of the estate. He also helped move in Teddy’s ancient furniture, boxes of polished stones, small mirrors, enamelled tiles, pieces of broken jewellery, and other sparkly odds and ends which would have otherwise gone to landfill. Somewhere at the back of Teddy’s addled thoughts had been the intention of creating works of art with this hoard. On reaching his late eighties the interest had evaporated, so the old man gave his precious hoard to the builder who had saved him from being made homeless. This unusual gift inspired Jiminy to transform his dark, dusty cellar crammed with wine racks and crates of stuff not quite worthless enough to put in the wheelie bin into a gloriously cluttered workshop.
Before then the builder had not created anything more artistic than crazy paving but, to his and everyone else’s amazement, the works Jiminy fashioned with Teddy’s precious hoard became locally renowned for its decorative originality.
It was also gratifying to learn that the cleared the woodland where the old hermit’s cottage had stood became waterlogged so the golf course was out of the question anyway.
Like many builders, Jiminy’s arthritis started to take its toll as the years crept up on him. His wife, Lenora, was soon bringing in more money from her hairdressing business than he did for demolishing eyesores and heaving bags of sand and aggregate about. So she persuaded him that the business would do just as well under his much younger partner and he should retire. They could dip into their pension pots to go on that world cruise. The children no longer needed them; two were in university, and the other a tour guide in the Far East. She could easily find them cut-price holidays. But Jiminy always held back from renewing his passport because he preferred to beaver away in the cellar, creating things of beauty instead of watching the sun set on exotic horizons.
He was a stubborn soul; always had been, ever since Lenora had known him. She had walked into the marriage with eyes wide open, knowing other men who had been charming, attentive and generous and then, after the nuptials, turned into monsters. One friend who believed she had met Prince Charming ended up being his punch bag. Jiminy, for all his devotion to his unlikely hobby, surreptitious cigarettes and craving for cholesterol rich food, was the man for her. She had no problem with him disappearing into the cellar for hours on end to glue together the semiprecious pieces from Teddy’s hoard and other oddments he had gleaned from demolition sites because, down in his workshop, the coloured glass, mirrors, copper and broken tiles were transformed into works of art regularly hung in local exhibitions. No one quite knew what many of them represented, even the manager of the gallery who took a 50% cut from customers who bought the pieces, but that wasn’t the point: Jiminy created wonderful objects that were a delight to look at. It was extraordinary that an expert in demolition could create works of such exquisite delicacy. Their house was the envy of Leonora’s friends, whose horizons stretched no further than IKEA or Homebase. The furniture decorated with crystal, glass and ceramic made her suburban living room resemble a sultan’s palace. Her more self-possessed acquaintances put it down to the fact she was surrounded by mirrors all day in her hairdressing salon and came from a culture that revelled in religious embellishment.
Even after the walls of the four bedroom house groaned under the weight of Jiminy’s artistry, he continued working in the cellar despite the encroaching arthritis. He told Leonora that he had visited the doctor for anti-inflammatories, but was more concerned about something he hardly dare admit to himself, let alone tell his wife.
Then he heard that Teddy, the old hermit well into his nineties, had died. The news affected Jiminy in a way he hadn’t expected.
It triggered the idea for a new project.
While Leonora watched TV, chatted on the phone and did the salon accounts, he was busy welding, glueing and polishing his most ambitious venture. Despite its size and amount of material being used for its construction, Jiminy hadn’t given a thought to how he would get it up the narrow cellar stairs. That didn’t matter: while he was happy, so was Leonora. Her surreptitious glimpses down into his sanctum were rewarded with the flickering of a welding torch on the other side of the half-open door while he worked on his secret project. It was unlike him not to tell her what it was.
As Jiminy’s creation took shape even he was baffled as to what he was making. It couldn’t be hung on the wall, stand in the porch or dangle from the ceiling like a chandelier. When he was last able to stand back and admire the shimmering archway studded with polished stones, shells, pieces of mirror, crystal and pieces of broken costume jewellery, he wondered if he had constructed the entrance to Aladdin’s cave.
Jiminy was so proud of the mysterious archway he was tempted to call Leonora down to see it, but she was bound to ask what it was for and he needed time to work out a sensible response. She was too practical to accept that it was intended as the entrance to a dimension of delights.
So he opened a bottle of chardonnay from the rack of wine left in cellar, half-filled his tea mug and sat sipping it to admire his handiwork.
As he gazed into the depths it framed, Jiminy became aware of a distant glow. At first he thought it was his eyesight. Like his hearing, it was another of those things he was reluctant to admit were deteriorating. Or could it have been caused by the heart condition he was refusing to tell Leonora about.
Then curlicues of light started to wend their way about the decorative portal.
Something was taking shape inside it.
Jiminy wasn’t imaging that.
Although Teddy had been the inspiration for his artistic endeavours, the old hermit was the last person he expected to see. But the recluse was no longer stooped, wizened and elderly. Before the retired builder stood an effete young man with the shadow of a beard. He could have stepped straight out of the sixties counterculture, yet it was undoubtedly Teddy. He beckoned to Jiminy as though enticing him to paddle in the surf of the luminous sea lapping the shores of the paradise behind him.
Jiminy took a precautionary sniff of the wine he was drinking. It surely couldn’t have gone bad. It tasted all right to him. So what had brought on this hallucination? He was tempted to call Leonora down to make sure he wasn’t hallucinating. It might have been caused by his medication - he was warned about side effects - but then Jiminy would have to explain why he was taking it.
Jiminy rose and approached the glittering archway.
What the hell, he thought, if I’m only dreaming then it can’t do any harm... and that sea really does look inviting.
So he placed his mug on the workbench and stepped through into the pleasant infinity the youthful Teddy was inviting him to enter.
The evening went fast and it was soon 11 o’clock. Leonora wondered why her husband had not come up for his cocoa. Jiminy was a man of habit. He would not have sat admiring his handiwork well past bedtime.
She apprehensively descended the cellar stairs into his secret kingdom.
Her husband was sitting peacefully, apparently dozing, before the intricate archway he had spent so long constructing.
Something was not right.
The moment Leonora touched his cold cheek she knew what had happened and took a deep breath to stop calling out.
Nothing could be done.
The paramedics told her that it had probably been a heart attack, though Jiminy looked too comfortable for it to have been painful. All Leonora could do was count that as a blessing against the devastating sense of loss.
Although he would have hated it, she arranged a Roman Catholic funeral with a horse-drawn hearse. The eulogy, the flowers and elaborate ceremony for a man who regarded religion for the emotionally insecure helped ameliorate his loss for family and friends.
And then, purged of grief and being a resourceful woman, Leonora went back to work and six months later married one of Jiminy’s close friends who had lost his wife to cancer five years previously.
It’s what Jiminy would have wanted.