It was as if time was frozen; fragments of what once was seemed now as shards of broken glass that lay scattered all around me. I pounded on the anvil, large plumes of smoke rose up from the forge and sweat poured from my face. I reached for the tongs and pulled the glowing shapeless mass from the fire and pounded the malleable lump of iron into a horseshoe. Wiping the sweat from forehead with the back of my hand, I walked outside into the light, away from the hot smoky shop. I watched as carriages, with large wooden wheels clattered by on the worn cobblestone streets.
She wore a blue cotton dress that billowed in the wind, her carriage drawn by horses prancing proudly in front of her as if they knew their passenger was one of great importance; one of a different ilk than I, the town blacksmith. I am a common working man, a nobody, a forgettable man whose footprint upon this Earth will be more insignificant than most. I’ve resigned myself to that fate. It is the fate of most. It is my fate and I’ve accepted it.
Today she was alone, her husband, the banker, had fallen ill and Doc Messenburger, along with the two servants were tending him. She had come into town, I suppose, to pick up supplies – groceries, paregoric, or some elixir from the druggist. I often pondered what people were doing as they hurried around the village going from shop to shop, or stood on the boardwalk, in the shade and carried on with each other in animated conversations.
I watch her climb gracefully down from the carriage assisted by a young man, dressed in denim and wearing a tattered straw hat. I’m sure the young man’s motives were cleverly obfuscated for the lady seemed to accept his assistance with grace and a smile. After he had helped her down from the carriage, he watched her walk away with more than slight interest – more interest than a young man should have for a married woman of stature. I could see he wanted to follow her but didn’t. You could see anguish on his face. I could see something else.
She walked into the druggist’s shop. I watched her start to open the door but stop when a kindly old gentleman, in a black shirt, and expensive gray hat, gently took the door from her gloved hand and opened it for her – she smiled slightly and nodded her head. I could not tell if she said anything or not, if she did it must have been a whisper. I watched her disappear into the shop.
It was a typical summer day. The sun was mid sky and a few beautiful, forlorn clouds dotted the otherwise perfect-blue sky. It is mid-summer in the Midwest and the town and its people seem to be in slow motion, and for an observer such as I, it makes the watching much easier than on those brisk days of October when people rush in and out of the shops, hurrying to get their goods and get back to a warm place, out of the chilly October wind. Today though, was too hot and too humid a day for bustling around town doing errands, yet some errands would not wait for a cooler, more temperate day. Her errand must have been of great importance for she seemed to be in a hurry. I watched her leave the druggist’s and walk back to her carriage – gracefully and with the slight arrogance that was befitting her station.
The young man, apparently more patient than most his age, had milled about nearby the carriage the entire time. The carriage is parked right across from my shop, so I have a good point of observation. He takes her small, properly gloved-hand into his large, smooth, boyish hand and helps her back up onto the buckboard. I watch her smile at him again as she placed the package she had procured at the druggist on the carriage floor. His gaze never left her though and she looked back at him; for a second their gazes locked for what to them must have seemed an eternity – but to was really just an unimportant second – a wisp of time in my day.
She grabbed the reigns gracefully and shook them; the horses pranced at her gentle urging and the carriage clattered loudly as it bounced on the cobblestones below, and louder still as it gained speed. I watched the young man watching her drive away with an expression I am not sure I could accurately describe. Longing? Desire? Yearning? Admiration? Maybe all of them and maybe none of them, I think as I watched the carriage pass from the cobblestone street to the dirt road that would take her back to her place where she belonged.
Huge plumes of dust rose up from behind the carriage as it made its way down the dirt road carrying an entire life’s story and a package. The package must contain something important I think as I give the young man one last glance. He is still looking in the direction where the carriage had been, still watching with the look I am not apt enough to describe.
I have had my daily quota of observing people and I have much work to do, although I am sure it is not that important if another horseshoe gets made today or not. No one has been in my shop yet today – no one needed horseshoes or nails. Perhaps it is too hot for shoeing, or perhaps it’s too hot in my shop.
I pick up the billows and fan the forge and sparks fly up in my face. I look into the orange glowing coals and I see the young man’s face; he was yearning. I see it clearly now. It was an unrequited yearning. The dreamy faced young man I see in the glowing coals of the forge is me. Not the man I am now, but a younger, more winsome man. It is the face of the young man I once was and I see the yearning in his. I can still feel her gloved hand in mine and feel the gentle, soft sweet cloth of her dress on my skin.
I put the iron into the forge and fan the forge with the billows. Great clouds of smoke rise in the air and the heat from the forge rages against my flesh. With beads of sweat dripping from my brow, my thoughts, like those ephemeral clouds of smoke around me, drift away.
What we believe is the only reality we have. I fancy myself a great observer of people and what I believe about them is only true to me. The hammer strikes the glowing, malleable, iron and I shape it as I will. My reality is shaped in the forge of my mind and it becomes whatever I wish to make of it. Sometimes the forge burns fiercely and the iron is as malleable as soft clay. And sometimes the forge is out of control too hot or cold and no matter how hard I hammer the iron – it just won’t become what I want it to be.
Another horseshoe is done. I hang it on a hook in the shop and wipe my brow with the back of my blackened hand: another day in the life of an ordinary man. The forge is still hot and I think about putting another ingot of iron in it, but instead I walk outside again to observe life again, to see what I may be missing. I never used to think I was missing anything, and I’m not sure, from what I’ve seen from the boardwalk in front of my shop, that I’m missing much at all.
I observe the people lolling around on this hot summer day, engaged in conversation or just dozing off in the shade. I can only imagine the ocean of their lives, all I can observe are the ripples on its surface. And my reality will always be what I believe it to be, but it may well be that the reality I believe is but a ripple on an endless sea.
It is too hot to work. But in the shade outside my shop, it is a perfect day to observe and imagine even if all I ever see are the ripples of lives on the ocean of my imagination.
This man still yearns and the forge still burns, and life goes on all around me.
I drift back from the land of frozen time and find that I am late for work. There are no forges, carriages, anvils or billows. There is just the steady rain outside my window and the rhythm of it reminds me that it’s time to go to work.