Architeuthis Dux

Joel E. Stewart


My shoes are wet. I can feel the canvas tighten as my feet begin to swell, soaking up the salt water. It has happened again and this time it is much, much more burdensome.

It can't be fifteen or twenty minutes since I stepped out onto the dry cobbles, breathing in the sweet evening air and wiping, fruitlessly, at the dust that still covers my shirt and trousers.

The walk to the only local store that stays open this late is a short one but the evening was magical. I was glad that I'd been forced out into it. It occurred to me that on some days the very essence of every real reason there is to keep going hangs as vapour in the air outside one's door. You could easily stay inside, but it will be sheer luck, not your work, that brings you through till morning. This was just a passing thought. I doubt I really believe it.

I crossed the threshold from the false Victoriana of the cobbled Mews and stepped onto paved reality. The quiet corner strewn, as usual, with used prophylactics and the crumpled elbows of well-finished roaches. Reality kicks in hard beyond my street. But the whispering through the leaves of the trees above was party to the reality this evening, and much bigger and more imposing than the rubbish on the periphery. I followed the trunk of the tree to my left with my eyes, inwardly embarrassed that I couldn't identify it. I know my wood as slabs and blocks. I know it by grain and hardness and its reaction to certain stains. When I saw the cherries, hanging in richly coloured pairs like perfect metaphors for nothing but themselves, I pulled one pair and stripped each from their stones with my teeth. Absolutely ripe. Sad that I shouldn't have noticed the tree before, but I was happy now. I compared the taste on my tongue with the smell of the dust on my shoulder. How different, but I wouldn't want to choose a favourite.

Then I was back where I've been all month. Alongside her. She has me, like they all have, completely in her grip. And it won't loosen, save for a minutes breath in the evening air, until the last cloth of wax is soaked into her skin and the client has delivered the cheque.

The client this time is not, as you might expect on seeing her, the museum. The museum is a noble home for my creatures, but the pay is poor. And to be honest the constant niggling of the 'experts' over details does raise my hackles, despite its obvious import. No, she is destined to decorate a restaurant in New York. Seafood-Fusion or some-such nonsense. I really don't care. As soon as I heard what they wanted I positively jumped at the chance, the hefty cheque nothing but a bonus.

Even in the aisles of the store my mind's hands were running over the curve of her mid section. My dust-masked reflection in the huge eyes that I could not resist waxing to a premature shine. Cherry is not the easiest wood to work with, especially for a piece with a section as complex as her front end. But I have the tools, and a wish to prove to myself that I can control the Cherry even at such a large scale. She'll last forever too.

The rich resinous smell of her is imbedded in my nostrils. This fact alone would be enough to keep her foremost in my mind, but it is not that. It is simply that she is my work and when I make things it is like growing new limbs for a laboratory, or gestating a wooden litter. I am eventually able to give them up at least, but not until they are absolutely finished. Until then they loom even larger in my mind than in their actual physical presence. It is my obsession that I blame for the emptiness of my bed and the ragged sadness wrapped in letters and photographs in my drawer. It is as likely that it is my salvation. What do those without such an obsession blame it on? I suppose they find something or other.

Though I did need the provisions I wouldn't have made the trip to the store were it not for the fact that one of my more inventive finishing processes requires the combination of Aluminium foil and a blowlamp. My discovery of the ragged, inch long strip of foil left on the roll in my kitchen caused me to notice that I was completely without food for the evening meal. I would have gone hungry had there been a full roll.

So I blearily skimmed through the store, picking out my usual basics and treats. Sure of, but resigned to, the fact that I probably wouldn't get more than a days worth of food out of the trip and that the rest of the ingredients, they had seemed a good idea at the time, would turn out to be incompatible with one another. The provision gathering part of my brain is used to being cramped into a corner by one huge wooden thing or another.

Crossing Federal hill on the return journey I think it did cross my mind. Could it happen again? If it really had happened the first time, then surely there was nothing to stand in its way a second. I was getting better, and this was about the stage in the project.

The cobbles were wet on my return.


So here I sit on my doorstep, water pouring around me through the cracks, waiting for the thrashing inside to stop. Glad that, since it is the weekend and the houses mostly working studios, there is nobody else at home on the street. The Condor, called forth with whatever random totemic force my work has become possessed of, had passed away in just a few hours and she had been air breathing. The damage had been minor that time.

But what of the Squid?

The work on the Condor had not been full scale, but the corpse that I'd bagged and dragged away had been.

It can't last long in there, but Architeuthis Dux, the Giant Squid, is reported to be capable of 59ft, 1,9580lb. And that's just conservative speculation. My mind flashes the circular saw detailing of Architeuthis suckers and those spikes on the tentacle clubs. They had been a lot of fun in the carving. I surprise even myself by worrying about the damage possible to my wooden original.

The ground beneath me is darkening.

Oh dear me.


Text & Illustrations copyright Joel Stewart 2005