Ernie straightened his spine, standing tall over the worktable after two solid hours leaning over. His back hurt, a dull ache from staying still so long, and his eyes were bleary.
The little block of wood beside the knife and chisel appeared to be more of a mangled wreck, looking for all the world as if someone had simply hammered at it and hoped for the best. It had begun to take the shape of a duck, he could see, but then his hand had trembled just as he had brought the blade down and sliced too deeply into the feather-patterns. Now, a gouge stood out from the thin lines.
Dismayed, he collected it all in the basket at his feet – it would do for kindling.
A second try proved more fruitful, if still not quite right. There was more of a duck-shape to the wood. It was more apparent this time what it was supposed to be, but not finely done. The carving made it seem that this had been done by the hand of someone who didn’t entirely know what he was doing; someone who was still new to this practice.
Instead of burning this one, Ernie placed it to one corner of the worktable, using it to anchor stray papers, weighing down all the hasty sketches he’d been making of ducks and scribbled notes about what to carve.
The third effort was the best.
This duck had a slim neck, dainty feet and eyes that managed to look bright. A coat of wood stain made it look dignified, and far more realistic, while a dab of black paint gave the eyes some shine. Each feather was carefully outlined, causing Ernie a crick in his neck and a patch of burnt hair from when he’d leaned too close to the candle.
He felt confident, as he wrapped it, that his niece would like it.
When she asked how he’d come to have it, he told her about carving it – creating humour in the failed blocks of wood and the cut thumb – after walking through the park. She listened carefully, thumb brushing absently over the duck’s head as she did, and smiled when his tale finished.
“Third time’s the charm then, Uncle?”