The Enlightenment of Schilda, by Joachim Frank .
My name is Theodor Bangeler and I'm a God-fearing carpenter. Let the chips fall as they may, my father used to say — may God rest his soul! — but I think the proper saying is where they may. My father, Christian-Gottlieb Bangeler, was a carpenter, too, but he built barns while I take pride in making fine furniture. I still admire his work, on display in many surrounding villages, but my own trade addresses the needs of persons of standing. Like my father, I belong to the Carpenters’ Guild of Schwittersborn-Hohenlohe, which goes back to the invention of chisel and plane in the 12th Century, replacing tedious hand-carving with the Krumm-knife. My family has been living in this blessed City for as long as the church records go back, which is quite a while except for the interruption by the Thirty-Years War, the war that made orphans of men and bred contempt for the houses of God.
Oh, merciful God, let us never fall into such state of savagery again!
I begged to disagree with the fancy notion that Schilda needed a City Hall since the City already had a place of assembly, which as you know is the Calvinist Church of Our Lord the Savior, and an unnamed yet equally well functioning public outhouse on the City Square for emergencies of the bowel, and a place of jurisdiction in the house of the Judge, where pastry is served after each verdict to defendants and plaintiffs alike by the Judge's virtuous wife, Martha – pastry, it has to be said, that is unmatched in all of the Province of Greater Schilda and Hohenlohe. Even convicted felons partake of Martha’s sweets before starting their sentence. Such is the compassion that binds us together in this marvelous town. So I had wondered aloud (and made myself quite a few enemies along the way) about the purpose of a City Hall.
We in Schilda are known for having a strong sense of belonging and purpose. Whenever I meet a burgher of Schilda outside the City borders I will not fail to have a drink with him in merriment. The Bangelers used to do carpentry for the Duke before the Duke was chased away by our courageous forbearers, my own great-grandfather included, and before the City was duly incorporated with its glorious coat of armor, and sworn to the service of the Kaiser. For some time I have petitioned the Mayor's office for giving me the right to call my enterprise the Schilda Carpentry Shop so as to draw more substantial business, and further petitioned the City to exempt me from tax levies in consideration for most expedient treatment of all orders issued by said City. To this day I’m waiting for favorite consideration of my petition, and I would have ample cause for grievance, but this is of no substance in the current matter.
However, given the fact that Schilda has already proceeded with the plan of building the City Hall, despite my and my friends' repeated good-faith attempts to make our views known, I will not hesitate to lend my professional hands to the efforts to improve upon certain deficiencies of the building, particularly the dearth of light within. Loyalty comes before pride, my father used to say — blessed his soul and the memory of his chips — and how right he was in this instance! Trained as a carpenter, I believe I know the root of the problem: the utter plainness and solidity of the walls, in particular the lack of openings to let the daylight in. By now every child in Schilda – apart from infants, toddlers, and imbeciles – has come to know that the building, though not without style, is entirely devoid of windows. I'm at a loss to understand how an architect would omit windows in a building which is designed to house public functions that by their nature require the presence of light: the signing of documents, the registration of marriage licenses, and all orderly proceedings in the court of law. That is, unless the architect is thoroughly blind. The very concept of public government, as we all know, is adverse to the notion of darkness and obscurity.
The Mayor, in trying to address the problem, has dismissed the day-time use of oil lamps as unacceptable and quite outside this City's means. He and the City Council have now decided to ask for my counsel on this delicate matter. Let me say, lest there is a misunderstanding, that I have the highest respect for the humbleness with which the Mayor is seeking counsel from a lowly practitioner of my trade. I’m certainly willing to oblige, even though my specialty of trade is in the craft of sculpting wood and assembling fine furniture, not by a large stretch capturing light. And even though, it bears re-stating, I was opposed to the project from the start. I have not been trained in the craft of wordsmithery but trust that the written document herewith committed to paper by the aid of the City scribe is — as he claims (I did! – the Scribe) — true to my dictation (it is!) and further trust that it be of equal utility to the Mayor, the City Council, and the burghers at large.
Although I concern myself primarily with wood, I have notions about light, as well, which may help lead us to a solution. Light, so much is known even to the nonspecialist, is an ephemeral fluid. Mirrors prove that light can be filled into depths of space and contained within for a substantial period of time. Light, we read in the Holy Script, is a plentiful gift that is thrust on our planet day upon day by one of God’s perfect fixtures, the unconquerable sun. We carpenters, in addition, enjoy light as the condition under which wood reveals its delicate surface texture and fine grain. On the other hand, light is stopped by opaqueness, a statement easily proven by a visit to the new — may I say dysfunctional? — City Hall. After careful deliberation, and after studying certain documents in the archives of my Guild, I believe I have come up with a proposal.
As far as I can tell, the plan is quite novel, nor has it been proposed previously.
I am prepared to present my plan to the citizenry of this renowned town, to the esteemed City Council, and to the Mayor’s office with my humblest compliments. As the solution to the City’s problem is of high public interest, I hereby submit and declare that I refrain from claiming a remuneration for my service, even though I would like to state, and go on record saying, that I would not at all be adverse to receiving a due compensation for the expenses occurred thus far, having six mouths to feed at home, my wife and myself not counted. It also goes without saying that the modest cost of supplies required in this enterprise, most importantly the linen sacks and durable hemp strings, would have to be defrayed from the City’s purse.
According to my plan, then, the citizens of Schilda are urged to come to the magnificent yet obscure City Hall on a day to be announced and agreed upon by the citizenry or their representatives, and bring with them a good number of sacks of linen. My plan will be most effective if all able-bodied burghers were to assemble at the exact same time of the day. Make it noon, let us say for now. The sacks they bring with them should be of the finest quality, and free of holes or other defects that might render them transparent. However, in anticipation of the possibility that not every volunteer will own sacks of such quality, I will procure a good number of them wholesale from a trustworthy source. At midday, when the sun is highest and its rays the brightest, the linen sacks should be opened in the direction toward the sun and filled up to the top with light. Each sack is then to be swiftly closed with a piece of string, so as to prevent leakage of light back to the outside from whence it has just been gathered.
The sacks are then to be carried into our new City Hall, one by one, and emptied by opening the strings. The proverbial lightness and weightlessness of light makes this an easy task. Even children, with proper supervision, should be able to contribute in this community event. The gradual accumulation of brightness in the City Hall should be a divine sight, praise the Lord! If the Mayor’s office approves, I would also humbly suggest that a band of musicians be hired to stress the significance of the event in the public’s ear, as well. I have word from a friend that they would render such service at a considerable discount, for the public good.
I’m prepared to call and stage the event with the help of handymen; to procure 100 sacks of the finest light-proof material and 40 yards of light-proof hemp string from a trustworthy supplier; employ the services of a Church-approved weather augur to ensure a cloudless day for maximum efficiency; provide room and board for out-of-town visitors willing to lend their hands; erect signs all over town to point to the location of City Hall; and install a large clock for the appointed day so as to synchronize the opening and closing of the sacks.
I’m at the Mayor’s feet as I speak, awaiting anxiously but confidently his favorite consideration of my proposal. It is, as far as I can see, the only way to restore our citizens’ confidence in Government. My father, rest his soul, would have received great pleasure and satisfaction from seeing his son engaged in such worthy cause.
May God bless this enterprise in furtherance of His greater glory!
Your Honor, members of the Jury! When I first heard about the groundless charges I could not believe my ears, which have been faithful to the spoken word for all my life until now. I’m deeply hurt by the allegations the Mayor and the City Council have launched against me. It is true that the remedy I promised has not produced the expected result — and there are reasons for this that I will go into during the time your Honor has kindly granted – but I must first point out the obvious: that I cannot be held responsible for the architectural deficiencies that existed in the beginning, deficiencies I have sought to address. Had it not been for the blindness of the architect and the parsimony, bordering outright cheapness, of the City’s bursar, we would have a well-functioning City Hall, flooded with light through appropriate openings of the brick walls, with bubble-free panes of glass framed in lead and inserted in the professional manner. Had it not been for the man’s lack of appreciation for the most basic tenets of urban construction, my services would have never been solicited and I would not be standing in this Court at this juncture.
Some of my detractors have gone so far as to suggest that the interior of the building is now darker than before, an allegation so preposterous I will not dignify it with further comment. It is possible, though, that some of the handymen I hired have defied my orders and reversed the sequence of actions; that is to say, they might have brought open sacks of fine linen into the building, then closed them, allowing the little residual light to slip in, be trapped, and carried out. This goes all to say that hired hands are much like cats, in that they are difficult to keep in check when they come in numbers. They exhibit no loyalty to speak of except for the crassest loyalty we know: to the gold ducat.
The charges, respectively, are that I have knowingly procured sacks of inferior material, such that the light was able to leak out before it could be brought to its destination; that I overcharged the City for those sacks and pocketed the profits; that, further, upon my instruction and for my profit, the handymen have taken a number of items of City property stored in the darkness of the building and sold them in shady establishments where no questions are asked regarding the source of the merchandise.
Your Honor, and distinguished members of the Jury, you have my word, which I will further fortify with another oath upon request, that none of these charges have any substance whatsoever; that I have acted selflessly and in the best interest of the City; and that the deficiencies that led to a failure of the enlightenment to take hold were due to unfortunate circumstances entirely outside my control.
I cannot be held accountable, to start with, for the failure of the weather augur to forecast the hail storm which descended upon the City on the appointed day like the wrath of God. This man had been recommended to me by the priest, no less. You will also agree with me that hail storms are in the habit of arriving with no forewarning, so as to perversely maximize the devastation wrought upon people and property alike, and that there are limits to a mortal’s foresights when it comes to such catastrophes.
In consequence of the pigeon egg-sized hail falling from the sky, some of the sacks were punctured, freely leaking what they were supposed to contain, and some of the handymen were injured with flesh-wounds, particularly to their scalps being exposed to the sky, and some of those injured deserted the job, taking the sacks with them to an unknown destination. Many of the remaining handymen took shelter inside the building during the storm, and some of those in their idleness, as they were waiting for the weather to calm, chanced upon crates containing the City scribe’s writing utensils, the City seal, the banners displayed during the annual tournament, and the fine garments in which the City official are dressed on those special occasions. These crates, I came to understand, were awaiting the ceremonial opening of City Hall, delayed by the unfortunate circumstances which are well known to you and which I don’t have to describe in this Court. I deeply regret the disappearance of a few of those crates, but must reject the groundless, vicious charge that I directed those thefts to be carried out for my own profit. May I point out that, if I had been the mastermind, all of the crates, not just a few, would have been whisked away. Your Honor, the fact that the job was done so sloppily is the best proof that I could not have been in charge.
Let me summarize, then. In pursuit of a selfless act designed to undo the damage wrought upon the City of Schilda by a hapless, incompetent architect, I suddenly find myself accused of crimes that I have no knowledge of. The charges are baseless and entirely without merit. If this is the gratitude I receive for my good citizenship, then I will refrain from doing good deeds benefiting the community in the future, and others in a similar situation will likewise think twice before they contribute to the common good. I ask all charges be dropped, and my good name restored, so that I may go home to my grieving wife, who as you know is ill with consumption, and to my hungry children who dearly need a caring father and provider.
My dearest Balthazar! I know it must have been hard for you to see your father publicly denounced and spat upon. In prison, without the tools of my trade to keep my hands busy, nor the means to challenge the unjust verdict, I have spent my days thinking about my life. Now that my own light is dimming, I do grow comfortable with the dark, which I see as the final destination of all our lofty aspirations. The guards tell me, incidentally, that the City Hall has been moved, to a place closer to the sun. I very much doubt that this will overcome the main deficiency.
It gives me comfort that all your surviving sisters are decently married; all your brothers have left to seek their fortune outside of Schilda; some even ventured outside the province. As the youngest of my offspring, you have borne most of the hardship of motherless upbringing, and I have always kept you close to my heart. Now that I have lost all hope to receive a pardon, I feel the time is for me to pass on possessions that will benefit me neither in this life nor ever after.
Mark these words as they will be of some import to you: I want you to go to the large oak tree at the edge of the woods by your uncle’s house. Bring a spade with you, lest you may risk loosing your fingernails. A small spade will suffice. Be sure nobody sees you, not even your uncle and your cousins, dear to you as they may seem. It is your future that I’m concerned about, not theirs. At a depth one clafter under the far side of the tree (that is, coming from your uncle’s house) you will find a leather bag with two scores of gold ducats in it, a fortune I amassed during a more productive time of my life. Spend each of the ducats wisely, and may God be with you in all your ventures!
Never fail to think of me and your poor mother when you go out into the world!
-- Your loving Father.
Joachim Frank is a German-born scientist and writer, since 1975 in Albany, New York. He has just moved to New York City. Joachim took writing classes with William Kennedy, Steven Millhauser, Eugene Garber, and Jayne Ann Philipps. He has published several short stories and prose poems in Lost and Found Times, The Agent, Inkblot, Heidelberg Review, Groundswell, Peer Glass, and Open Mic, all print. He wrote three novels, still unpublished. Some of his poems have appeared in the online journals Offcourse and Raving Dove. Recently, several pieces of fiction (short stories and flash fiction) have been published online, by elimae, 3711 Atlantic, Cezanne's Carrot, Brilliant, Ghoti Magazine, Eclectica, The Noneuclidean Cafe, and The Duck and Herring Pocket Field Guide. He has also shown pieces of photography in regional exhibits. A portfolio of his photographs can be found at Pedro Meyer's international photogallery zonezero.com.
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