All in a Knight's Work

by Ann Levy

Preface

I started this in response to a writing prompt: You come home to find the door open, holes in your yard and a sword in your ceiling.  What do you  do?


After a long, hard day of work, you return home—the only problem is, your front door is wide open, all your lights are on and there’s a sword stuck in the ceiling. The rest of your house looks normal, but you also notice several holes dug in your backyard. What’s going on?

In a panic, you call your dad and the police.  You know your dad’s going to give you hell for moving into your own apartment.  Never mind that this is a good neighborhood, right down the street from the Cole College campus.  He still resents that you live here,  when you could be safely smothered at home with both parents. You dread his tirade, even while you ache for his concerned hug.  You regret calling him when you were still so startled at discovering your “visitor”, and mentally prepare your calming story to him.  You impatiently discard palliative after palliative, knowing there’s no way  that your dad will calm down after he sees the wide-open door and the sword.  Yet, part of you wants your daddy to sweep in and solve all these nasty weapon-related mysteries.

You peer up at the sword as it quivers sometimes, in it’s hole in the kitchen ceiling.  Why the kitchen, you wonder? You stand in one place, slowly turning in a circle, trying to see the room from the perspective of the sword-wielder. You’ve already decided to call him Arthur, at least in your mind. During your slow-motion twirl, you see the deep holes in the backyard again. Arthur must have been preparing to bury something, and bury it so deeply no one could ever find it.  You instantly regret your thoughts. To be fair, they started as an almost-clinical description of the hole, and then they took a dark turn. You get scared and confused all over again.

Maybe because your last full thought was of the sword in the ceiling and Arthur, you briefly consider the possibility that the Once and Future King of England was in your kitchen.  You smile, despite your mood.  Then realization crashes over you like a wave; your dad AND the police are even now making their way to you. You breathe a silent wish that your father arrives first. And gives you a hug.

You hear noises, voices from upstairs.  Your breath quickens in fear, your stomach clutches anew. An image of confronting Arthur as he lies in your bed watching The Golden Girls, flashes through your mind. The voices sound near, and they sound angry.  But they’re not, thankfully, coming from the bedroom.  From the sounds, they’re coming from the bathroom. You creep over to the stairs and freeze at the bottom, listening, watching the curtains over the hall window flutter in the wind.  You realize that you left the window open this morning. It was hot last night and you had had a hard time sleeping.

No, these voices are somewhat familiar.  Come to think of it, you think, it sounds like the next door neighbors, arguing over the chores they’re doing. From their loud discussion you hear that one feels that he is doing the lion’s share of the work. The other is loudly asking about a hole he’s discovered in his garden, near the shed.

The open window reminds you, all over again, of your father.  He will be so pissed that you left the window open, that you walked through the open door when you came home instead of running straight to the neighbors to call 911, that you moved out on your own at all. “Oh, honey, your father’s just worried about you” says your mother’s voice in your ear.  “His worry just comes out as screaming”.

“HONEY????” Shit, he got here first, you think.  You run to open the door, forgetting that you left it open. You’re so glad to see him!! You rush into his arms, and he lifts you up in his embrace.  “ARE YOU OK? WHAT HAPPENED?”  

Rushing through the house as he grills you, your father is looking for something he can protect his princess from. He takes in the organized, neat rooms. He stops at the dining room windows, his eyes widening as he seemingly counts all the holes in the backyard.  It’s as if a giant squirrel made preparations to bury his giant acorns while you were away. Your dad stops with a gasp in the kitchen doorway, and you can see the sword hilt dangling over the table.  He then whirls to check that you are OK.  Again.

More voices! Your dad turns and runs outside with his car keys in his upraised fist.  He stops short, identifying the voices as the police. The police enter, following the same inspection route as your dad.  There are two of them, and they turn to you in unison, with questions and notebooks at the ready. You gulp, on the edge of giggling hysterically.  They ignore your apparent distress, calmly asking your name, your father’s name. Finally they say (in unison), “What happened here, ma’am?” They listen to your stuttered story. They seem to approve of you calling your father in your fear, but not that you called him before you called them.

While trying to both tell your story and calm your father, you remember seeing an elderly, dirty, harmless but shabby-looking man in your street as you were backing down the driveway this morning. You’d watched him walk down the street and around the corner out of sight.  You tell the police about him, adding that you’d thought he was homeless.

Remembering still, but in greater new detail, you put the shabby man together with the holes in your yard and come up with a not-so-harmless man living in a hedge or something near your house. The policemen nod and begin to write down your latest insight in their notebooks.  Neither say a word.

The policemen finish their writing and split up to search the house for clues. One goes upstairs; the other heads toward the back porch. You offer to turn on the porch light, so the cop headed out back isn’t searching in the dark.  He thanks you, says he has a flashlight and disappears down the porch steps.

Your father is rubbing his chin.  You know that he won’t stay silent for long. He grabs you into a hug, then holds you for a long time, frozen except for his hand rubbing your back.  You have enough sense to know that you aren’t the only one comforted by his hug. He finally breaks away, asking if you’ve had dinner, offering to go out and bring back some food.  You surprise yourself by saying, “I could eat.” He makes sure that the police are still in the house, and extracts a promise that you’ll lock your doors after him. Then he leaves, promising to return soon.

You hear a knock at the front window. Assuming it’s your dad coming back for some forgotten item, you turn toward the window and push aside the curtains.  A look shows the Shabby Man with his hand raised ready to knock again, a  questioning smile on his face.  You swallow a scream, and check around wildly for the policemen.  When you turn back, Shabby Man is in the front door.  Shit, never closed that! you think. You start to leap away, meaninng to call for help, but the friendly look on Shabby Man’s face stops you, and you turn to him. The two of you look at each other warily and you’re shocked to feel that he's….sane.  Agreeable. Safe.  You motion him to sit down, wondering why you’re not running, screaming, crying.

“Excuse me, young lady.  I owe you an apology”, he starts.  “I’m sorry that I dug up your yard.”

He continues, telling you a most bizarre story.  He’s an ex-professor of medieval history, (“I used to teach at ColeCol”). Now, he’s out of work, citing differences with his department head over the speed of his research.  He’s living on the streets. “You know how that goes.” He flaps his hand, as if sweeping an annoying mosquito away from his face.  You find yourself agreeing that, yes, you know how that goes.  You actually have no idea; you work at the bakery across town and have lived either with your parents or in this house all your life. But you don’t want to interrupt his story with reality.

His research was in the privileged and noble families of the area. He has found that your house – yard – is the final resting place of Granyar the Clumsy. He was a youngest son of a noble knight, fourth in line for inheritance, preceded by older brothers. Granyar was a knight by birth, but his training didn’t go well. He was allergic to horses, a source of embarrassment and concern for his pugnacious father.  He was ignored growing up, more favor given to his three older brothers by their father.  He was landless, and took to traveling to save his father the shame of having his constantly sneezing knight-son at home.  He was known for his stories and short poems about the areas he traveled in.  Besides his sneezing and clumsiness, he was known for his  gentle manner and his kindness.

Shabby Man’s story didn’t lose any of it’s interest for you despite the fact that Granyar and his judgmental father lived over 500 years ago.  You still feel sympathy for Granyar. But you’re not sure what definition of “area” that Shabby Man uses; you don’t recall any tales of knights or nobles in this region.

“I believe that Granyar, knowing that his travels were near an end, chose to bury his possessions in your yard”, Shabby Man finishes.  He looks at you expectantly when he’s done talking.  You wonder what sort of answer he’s waiting for.

“Is that your sword?” you ask, gesturing toward the kitchen ceiling.  Shabby Man nods; he has an explanation ready for the sword.

“I had a final meeting with my department head one afternoon.  It didn’t go very well; I think the only thing we agreed on was the time of day!  I had an old sword in my office, one that I’d gotten as a Christmas gift from my wife.  She thought it looked like something a knight would use. ” Shabby Man shakes his head in dismay at his wife’s delusions.  Apparently, the sword isn’t “knight” caliber.

“I surmised that the dean was going to have me escorted out of my offices very soon after our talk.  So when I came back after the meeting, I saw the sword and took it home with me that very evening.  I buried it under my back hedges, by my garage.  And it was fortunate that I did! The  next morning, these men showed up, announced their intentions to enforce the dean’s wish for my sudden “retirement”, and marched me right out of my office, down to my car.“  You shake your head; in sympathy, Shabby Man thinks. You’re actually appalled at how easy it is for an slightly-off-his-rocker old man to get a sharp weapon.

“I couldn’t go home in such a disgrace; I had to reclaim some of my honor. So I’ve been living in sheds, in parks, under bridges. Oh, that’s a real thing, young lady.  I even had a CARTON!” Shabby Man says proudly. “I bided my time, waiting until the coast was clear.  Those neighbors of yours are ALWAYS home!! But today, finally, I could search properly, with my sword!”

Using the sword as a sort of divining rod, Shabby Man had dug several holes searching for Granyar’s buried treasure.   When he had no luck finding it in the yard, he decided to check the foundations.  After no success, but still certain the treasure was near, he figured he’d better go inside and look in the basement for it. Then….

“Well, it had been a long day.  I needed to use the restroom, and have something to eat. I saw your refrigerator and decided to see what you had that looked tasty.  But I needed a place to set my sword down while I looked, so I stuck it in the ceiling. It quivered when I stuck it there, and I believe that is an indicator that the treasure is, in fact, nearby.”  Shabby Man nodded, picturing the scene.  “I was disturbed by the sound of you at the door and ran outside. I went through the hedges, to the shed.  I have a little nest in the shed.  I even brought a blanket for warmth.  It’s almost as comfortable as my carton. You didn’t see me, you were looking around in fear and confusion”,  Shabby Man finishes.  He peers at you in concern, “Are you quite alright?”

The sound of your dad’s car in the driveway stops you from answering. You imagine your dad, confronting Shabby Man, refusing to hear his whole story. You whirl to face Shabby Man, trying to transmit rationality to him with your mind. You try to direct him where to sit, how to act, how to appear non-threatening to your father. Your dad comes up the walk from the driveway, stops and looks at the house intently. Oh no, he’s heard you and Shabby Man talking.  He’s probably trying to figure out where the policemen he left here are.  Probably thinking, Should I stay and protect her, or should I run for help and then return with reinforcements and maybe a gun?

He looks confused.  These questions are so much more easily answered by someone else!

Your dad climbs the porch steps and peers in the front door.  He steps inside, trying to look everywhere at once.  He’s looking at you, checking for signs of distress.  He’s looking past you, checking for signs of those policemen.  He’s looking at Shabby Man.  Then he does a double take at Shabby Man, and his eyes widen in recognition.

“Professor Abrams?”, he asks.

Shabby Man turns toward your dad to see who this is that called him by name.

“My name is Kevin Brisbane.  I teach math and physics at ColeCol.  We met when I first started teaching.  It was at a gathering for all new and retiring teachers.  Remember? We talked a little about the mathematics of medieval swords – if they had to be big and heavy to be dangerous.”

Professor Abrams narrows his eyes, and then says, “Yes. Yes! I remember you.  Nice to see you again.’ He smiles, nodding at your dad like he was remembering how good the cheese hors d’oeuvre were at  the party.

“I remember that you left about a year ago? How have you been?”  Your dad pulls out his surprisingly smooth “company manners”.  It’s a shame he never uses them at home, he seems quite reasonable, you think. The two men trade pleasantries, talking about their common interests of ColeCol,  and teaching.

Then Shabby Man admits to your dad, “I remember you because you looked so excited and exhausted when I first met you.  You reminded me of myself; of how much I wanted to be a teacher, and of how much I loved my first year at ColeCol, hard as it was.  Not every student is as enchanted by the medieval time period as I. Our talk about weaponry was fascinating, as seen from your mathematical point of view.  I thank you taking time to talk to an old, almost-retired teacher.”

Your dad smiles, and says, “I remember.  Thank you for taking the time to talk to a new, still-green-behind-the-ears teacher.”

Still talking, obviously enjoying each other’s company, your dad and Shabby Man walk into the kitchen.  You can see them still talking as your dad pulls Excalibur from the ceiling and hands it, hilt first, to Shabby Man. Then, they both open the refrigerator, their talk apparently turning to food. As he talks, your dad makes sandwiches, puts a kettle on to boil, and comes out into the living room. “We’re having tea.   Do you want anything, and where are the mugs?” Shabby Man remains in the kitchen. You motion your dad away from the doorway, and step back as he advances to you.

“WHAT’S GOING ON?” you hiss, “And, yes, I’d love some tea.”  You tell your dad what Shabby Man (he’ll never be Professor Abrams to you)  told you about Granyar and the search. Your dad knows this guy, he says.  His name is Professor Ted Abrams, professor of Medieval Studies.  He retired a year ago, after a decline in his mental health.  A form of dementia, your dad guesses.  He lives in a nursing home nearby.

“He reminds me of me, a little.  Or, me in about thirty years. You know, not real good at the everyday, little things, kind of awkward with other people?” You feel a stab of sympathy for your dad; you’d never known he felt like that.

He continues, Dr. Abrams has a family, a daughter and her three kids. They came to the teacher’s offices when Dr. Abrams officially left, although he was mentally gone for a while before that. I think they stayed with him until he could move into the nursing home here in town. He had to wait until the room he wanted was available.    

Your dad moves back to the kitchen when he hears the kettle scream.   You call, “Mugs are in the cupboard by the sink, and the tea bags are one shelf up. I have herbal.”

“Any Lipton?”

“Uh, yeah, behind the herbal.” Shabby Man and your dad scramble around, pouring water, opening drawers until they find the spoons and the sugar.  You wonder why they’re taking all this time; expending all this effort on such a homely task. You realize, suddenly, that they’re buying time.  Neither wants to talk about the break-in.

They walk mincingly into the living room, with mugs of hot tea for you all.  They set them down on the coffee table, and start energetically stirring and sipping, until all of you sit back, tea managed. Your father looks searchingly, almost inquisitively at you, and then sighs, a big huge sigh.  “Professor Abrams. I have some more findings about Granyar.  You were right in thinking that he knew his end was near when he was here. He buried his treasure, and wrote down the location.  That secret was passed down in his family, generation after generation.  Recently, his treasure has been dug up and moved to a site nearby.  This is where someone with your expertise can help us.  It needs to be studied and catalogued.  We need someone of your stature, with your knowledge of handling medieval artifacts. We have a staff of scientists at your disposal.   If you agree to help, then I can take you to the treasure’s location.”

You think to yourself, I bet the location of the treasure is in the nursing home.  You give your father a smile, to show that you’ve figured out his ploy to help Shabby Man, and you admire him for doing it.

Shabby Man expresses his surprise and delight at your dad’s findings. He readily accepts the offer to head up the “research”.

Your snack is interrupted by the arrival of the two policemen, one coming inside from the backyard, and the other coming down the front steps. They nod toward Shabby Man, and ask (in unison), “Who’s that?”

Your father introduces him as a friend of the family, sent by your mother to check on you. “I called your mother when I went out for food. She asked me when we’d be….OH! DINNER!” Everyone smiles, realizing that dinnertime has come and gone.  Your dad invites Shabby Man to stay and eat with us.  He accepts, and your father turns to the police.  “If you haven’t found anything, Officers, I guess we’ll take care of this ourselves.  Maybe get her better locks, or convince her to move back home. Thank you so much for coming out so quickly. I’m sorry that we took up your time. “

You tense, knowing that the policemens’ reactions are the turning point. They nod and one of them says, “We’ll keep a watch out for anything odd, Mr. Brisbane.  It seems your neighbor has a hole in his side yard, also, but no-one was around to actually see anything.  Call, if you see anything else. “

As they leave, one lags behind the other and motions you and your dad over.  “This guy looks familiar to me before.  I was taking classes at ColeCol, and one of my elective courses was taught by this guy, Professor Abrams was his name.  Great guy. Great family, too.  Heard he left, a while ago.  But no way that can be him, he must be past retirement by now! Well, good night!”

He smiles and runs to catch up with his partner.  Your father and you both look at Professor Abrams and sigh.  Then you look at each other and smile.   Your dad goes into the kitchen, pulling out his phone as he walks. You and the Shabby Man start taking dinner out of the bags.  Your father returns, triumphant.

“I’ve contacted the museum, the one that houses Granyar’s treasure.  They would like to start cataloguing it immediately.  They’re sending out a representative to come and take you to it, if that meets with your approval. They should be here in about a half hour.”

Shabby Man nods, his immediate attention taken up by the food in front of him.

You all three chat over dinner, waiting for the representative, hoping he or she remembers not to call Shabby Man “Grandpa”.

You’ve learned things about your father, things that have make you think of him in a new way. You’ve seen the gentle, thoughtful way that he treats Professor Abrams. You knew he had always had manners, that he always prided himself on how he acted, that he had taught you to be kind to others.  But you had never realized before today that he worries about getting older. He both acknowledges the accumulated experience and wisdom that comes with age, and fears the infirmities that accompany them.  You resolve to talk to your dad about this whole topic; to discover what he is awaiting anxiously and what he fears about his old age. You look down at papers that wrapped your dinner, the ones that have become your plate.  When you look up at your dad, you see a middle-aged man; one with likes and dislikes just like other people. You stop chewing, and study him from this new perspective. Then you realize that your father is looking back at you with a questioning look on his face, probably wondering why you’re staring at him.  You hurriedly focus on Professor Abrams instead. He is examining a button on his coat, apparently oblivious to the world outside his head.

You see, in a flash of insight that your dad both wants and doesn’t want his life to change.  That he hopes he’ll accept the changes with grace, that he won’t end up as an unemployed professor being tricked back into his nursing home.  You wish you could show him that he’ll always be your “Daddy”.

A car pulls up in front of your house.  You smile brightly at Professor Abrams.  “Your ride’s here!”    

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