Antifoni

"The moon is winking at me through the clouds."
 
Stuva Grundlig stood on a bluff overlooking the sea. This was a sign, this winking moon. Tomorrow they would go. They had been ready for three weeks, but during that time there had never been a correct moment. He had been waiting impatiently and keeping everyone else on tenterhooks. The sign in the dark sky above him was neither favourable nor malign, but it beckoned and he could not resist. Stuva was bearded and powerfully built, with a weakness that made him susceptible to exciting propositions. So this was it. Tomorrow they would leave.
 
He was sick of this town and its shoddy buildings. It had been rapidly deteriorating. A period of unusually persistent and heavy rain had caused it to flake and buckle. So much for permanence, he thought. You can't find it here. He dreamed of cities made from stone. Affordable housing was no excuse for compressed cardboard.
 
Snorri Rimforsa had watched with amused curiosity as Grundlig built his boat. He had done it out in the open, in front of his ramshackle house. It had been completed quite quickly in just under two months, and had been sitting on its rollers ever since. Grundlig had worked on it tirelessly through the daylight hours. He occasionally had help from Hektar and Jänsjo, and from some other malcontents.
 
Stuva Grundlig was unabashedly vocal about his ideas, which usually involved masonry and the merits of stone houses. He had become the unofficial voice of the disaffected - their tribune in a way.
 
He had constructed the hull of his boat from ferrous concrete. Where he had managed to get the steel from was anyone's guess, as real metal was hard to come by these days. What was readily available were alloys, which seemed to grow lighter every year. Snorri wondered if there was not some secret process which made possible the melding of metals and plastics. The plastic component seemed to increase with time.
 
He was beginning to sound like Grundlig.
 
Snorri Rimforsa was a retired policeman. He had joined the force young, had done his twenty years, and now still in his forties, was able to lead a modest but comfortable existence in the small house over the road from his boat-building neighbour.
 
The off-white hull glistened. Grundlig must have oiled or painted it with a sealant. Snorri had watched him sand it down for hours at a time until the surface was perfectly smooth. He had to admit that Grundlig had done an excellent job. Despite the more anarchic aspects of his character, he had a single-minded focus that enabled him to do everything well. He had always been that way, even as a boy. They had grown up together, not far from where they were now.
 
People were arriving at Grundlig's house. Vårvind came around the corner and acknowledged him as he passed. Hektar and Jänsjo were already there.  Snorri was sitting on his porch. His policeman's eye, still sharp after all these years, took in the goings-on across the street.
 
The door clattered shut. Grundlig was coming down the path towards the boat. He was carrying a heavy barrel with Stenstorp. They heaved it over the gunwale, laughing and swearing. Grundlig looked happy.
 
Snorri recognized most of the people who kept showing up over the road. He had crossed paths with a few in the course of his work. It was a close-knit community and even if you did not know someone personally, then the chances were you had heard of them.
 
He didn't like Stentorp. He had questioned him once over a theft. Nothing had come of it. Stentorp had left the area after that, and had been gone for eight years. That was an admission of guilt, if anything was. There was a callowness to him, despite his age, and a dishonesty caused by fear. He had bluster but it wasn't bolstered by courage. If you challenged him, he would back down.
 
Valentina came out next. She was Grundlig's wife, more formidable than her husband, big, red-headed and strong. She lugged a bulging sack down the path and swung it into the boat. There were two men on board who received it, Strandmon and Preben. Grundlig was barking instructions to them in his stentorian voice, on how to stow the load. He had the even distribution of weight in mind.
 
From his porch, Snorri watched them work. It was a small boat. He counted thirteen rowing benches. Grundlig had built a karve. What could he be up to? There was a name painted in red near the prow. He strained his eyes to read it - Antifoni.
 
He hadn't noticed this before. It must have been a recent addition. He wondered what Grundlig was trying to say by using this name. It implied a call and response. Snorri, with his analytical bent, had the sense that Grundlig had been shouting into the wind, a man alone with his ideas. But now the gathering of people in his garden was the response he needed. It created a completeness, where a multitude of disparate parts became aware of each other and functioned as one, resulting in a higher level of meaning than any one of them could have provided alone. It was a completeness usually associated with music - hence the name. Snorri could see that this was a turning point, where thought became action, and it was all centred upon the boat. As he sat there on his porch he was moved with emotion and felt tears in his eyes.
 
The vessel was now loaded and Grundlig stood with a large bottle of wine in his hands, surrounded by his shipmates. Snorri started to count them. It was tricky as they kept moving around, but after several attempts he settled on the number twenty-six, including Grundlig. who still held the unopened bottle. He seemed to be waiting for something.
 
What he was waiting for became apparent presently when Örfjäll shuffled into the yard. He was probably the strangest person in the town, barely half the height of most men. He wore a sleeveless leather coat. A raven was tethered to a ring on his shoulder. The bird had slashed his right cheek with its talons and shat down his back, but he was unperturbed. He was tough through and through. No pretence.
 
That quality of toughness was no doubt honed by the necessities of survival. Beyond it was another quality, much more nefarious and hard to describe. He seemed to have the ability to look into other places - those not bound by the physical world. You would never have known it from his weather-beaten face and foul mouth, but if you became familiar with him, you could detect it - in his stance, or in his eyes, or even in the odd word that punctuated his curses.
 
Once Örfjäll had joined them, Grundlig relaxed and brought a closed fist down on the little man's head with a burst of laughter. Then he pulled the cork from the bottle and slugged it down. He passed it around and everyone took a swig. Eventually the bottle found its way back to him. He tipped it upside down and spilled the remaining contents on the ground, then he suddenly hurled it against his house. It bounced off a wall and fell unbroken to the grass.
 
Everyone then set to pushing the boat out into the road, and down to the sea. Normally such boats would be carried, but not this one. There was a frantic scrambling to bring the exposed rollers at the stern forward, and place them under the bow, before the vessel was grounded. Six people prevented it from gaining too much momentum by pulling on ropes.
 
As they passed his house, Grundlig broke away and came up to the porch.
 
"You should leave your boring life behind, Snorri, and come with us."
 
"Where are you going?"
 
"We're abandoning this shit hole."
 
"But what's your destination?"
 
"We are going to a better place."
 
He paused and looked down to the water.
 
"Better to die at sea than in a cardboard box. Are you coming?"
 
"No, Stuva. I like my boring existence. I'm staying here. But good luck."
 
Without another word, Grundlig shrugged and turned back to his companions. Soon they had the ship afloat and waded out to board it. Someone tossed Örfjäll into the boat and he took his position as rudder man, in the stern. The raven on his shoulder stood out starkly against the overcast sky. The rowers readied themselves on the benches and took up their oars. They held them up parallel to the water, making the Antifoni bristle as she drifted out into the bay.
 
Grundlig stood in the prow, gazing majestically into the distance. Then he stepped out, on to the raised oars on the leeward side, facing the shore. Snorri watched as he leaped nimbly between them in a dance which tempted fate. He traversed the length of the boat twice, then climbed back aboard. The oars dropped into the water and the Antifoni disappeared out to sea.
 
They never came back.
 
Six years passed. Patches of grey appeared on Snorri's temples. He still liked to sit on his porch in the mornings and look out to sea, from his new stone house that occupied exactly the same position as his old one.
 
In a twist of irony, not long after Grundlig had departed with his crew, a new municipal authority had decreed that the previous experiments with cardboard had been an abject failure. A new town was built from stone. It was possible that Grundlig's ranting had been heard from above. He should have stayed. Or perhaps Snorri should have taken him up on his offer and gone with him.
 
He shared his house now, with Utrusta and their young son Stuva. As he aged, his thoughts were frequently drawn to the fate of The Antifoni, and her crew of brave or stupid men, and one woman.
 
He tried to remember their names.
 
Örfjäll, Docksta, Svartäsen, Vårvind, Sinnerlig, Ranarp, Lagrad, Ribba, Synas, Trofast, Lixhult.......
 
There were more, but they had all gone now.
 
 
© Tom Newton 2017

"The moon is winking at me through the clouds."
 
Stuva Grundlig stood on a bluff overlooking the sea. This was a sign, this winking moon. Tomorrow they would go. They had been ready for three weeks, but during that time there had never been a correct moment. He had been waiting impatiently and keeping everyone else on tenterhooks. The sign in the dark sky above him was neither favourable nor malign, but it beckoned and he could not resist. Stuva was bearded and powerfully built, with a weakness that made him susceptible to exciting propositions. So this was it. Tomorrow they would leave.
 
He was sick of this town and its shoddy buildings. It had been rapidly deteriorating. A period of unusually persistent and heavy rain had caused it to flake and buckle. So much for permanence, he thought. You can't find it here. He dreamed of cities made from stone. Affordable housing was no excuse for compressed cardboard.
 
Snorri Rimforsa had watched with amused curiosity as Grundlig built his boat. He had done it out in the open, in front of his ramshackle house. It had been completed quite quickly in just under two months, and had been sitting on its rollers ever since. Grundlig had worked on it tirelessly through the daylight hours. He occasionally had help from Hektar and Jänsjo, and from some other malcontents.
 
Stuva Grundlig was unabashedly vocal about his ideas, which usually involved masonry and the merits of stone houses. He had become the unofficial voice of the disaffected - their tribune in a way.
 
He had constructed the hull of his boat from ferrous concrete. Where he had managed to get the steel from was anyone's guess, as real metal was hard to come by these days. What was readily available were alloys, which seemed to grow lighter every year. Snorri wondered if there was not some secret process which made possible the melding of metals and plastics. The plastic component seemed to increase with time.
 
He was beginning to sound like Grundlig.
 
Snorri Rimforsa was a retired policeman. He had joined the force young, had done his twenty years, and now still in his forties, was able to lead a modest but comfortable existence in the small house over the road from his boat-building neighbour.
 
The off-white hull glistened. Grundlig must have oiled or painted it with a sealant. Snorri had watched him sand it down for hours at a time until the surface was perfectly smooth. He had to admit that Grundlig had done an excellent job. Despite the more anarchic aspects of his character, he had a single-minded focus that enabled him to do everything well. He had always been that way, even as a boy. They had grown up together, not far from where they were now.
 
People were arriving at Grundlig's house. Vårvind came around the corner and acknowledged him as he passed. Hektar and Jänsjo were already there.  Snorri was sitting on his porch. His policeman's eye, still sharp after all these years, took in the goings-on across the street.
 
The door clattered shut. Grundlig was coming down the path towards the boat. He was carrying a heavy barrel with Stenstorp. They heaved it over the gunwale, laughing and swearing. Grundlig looked happy.
 
Snorri recognized most of the people who kept showing up over the road. He had crossed paths with a few in the course of his work. It was a close-knit community and even if you did not know someone personally, then the chances were you had heard of them.
 
He didn't like Stentorp. He had questioned him once over a theft. Nothing had come of it. Stentorp had left the area after that, and had been gone for eight years. That was an admission of guilt, if anything was. There was a callowness to him, despite his age, and a dishonesty caused by fear. He had bluster but it wasn't bolstered by courage. If you challenged him, he would back down.
 
Valentina came out next. She was Grundlig's wife, more formidable than her husband, big, red-headed and strong. She lugged a bulging sack down the path and swung it into the boat. There were two men on board who received it, Strandmon and Preben. Grundlig was barking instructions to them in his stentorian voice, on how to stow the load. He had the even distribution of weight in mind.
 
From his porch, Snorri watched them work. It was a small boat. He counted thirteen rowing benches. Grundlig had built a karve. What could he be up to? There was a name painted in red near the prow. He strained his eyes to read it - Antifoni.
 
He hadn't noticed this before. It must have been a recent addition. He wondered what Grundlig was trying to say by using this name. It implied a call and response. Snorri, with his analytical bent, had the sense that Grundlig had been shouting into the wind, a man alone with his ideas. But now the gathering of people in his garden was the response he needed. It created a completeness, where a multitude of disparate parts became aware of each other and functioned as one, resulting in a higher level of meaning than any one of them could have provided alone. It was a completeness usually associated with music - hence the name. Snorri could see that this was a turning point, where thought became action, and it was all centred upon the boat. As he sat there on his porch he was moved with emotion and felt tears in his eyes.
 
The vessel was now loaded and Grundlig stood with a large bottle of wine in his hands, surrounded by his shipmates. Snorri started to count them. It was tricky as they kept moving around, but after several attempts he settled on the number twenty-six, including Grundlig. who still held the unopened bottle. He seemed to be waiting for something.
 
What he was waiting for became apparent presently when Örfjäll shuffled into the yard. He was probably the strangest person in the town, barely half the height of most men. He wore a sleeveless leather coat. A raven was tethered to a ring on his shoulder. The bird had slashed his right cheek with its talons and shat down his back, but he was unperturbed. He was tough through and through. No pretence.
 
That quality of toughness was no doubt honed by the necessities of survival. Beyond it was another quality, much more nefarious and hard to describe. He seemed to have the ability to look into other places - those not bound by the physical world. You would never have known it from his weather-beaten face and foul mouth, but if you became familiar with him, you could detect it - in his stance, or in his eyes, or even in the odd word that punctuated his curses.
 
Once Örfjäll had joined them, Grundlig relaxed and brought a closed fist down on the little man's head with a burst of laughter. Then he pulled the cork from the bottle and slugged it down. He passed it around and everyone took a swig. Eventually the bottle found its way back to him. He tipped it upside down and spilled the remaining contents on the ground, then he suddenly hurled it against his house. It bounced off a wall and fell unbroken to the grass.
 
Everyone then set to pushing the boat out into the road, and down to the sea. Normally such boats would be carried, but not this one. There was a frantic scrambling to bring the exposed rollers at the stern forward, and place them under the bow, before the vessel was grounded. Six people prevented it from gaining too much momentum by pulling on ropes.
 
As they passed his house, Grundlig broke away and came up to the porch.
 
"You should leave your boring life behind, Snorri, and come with us."
 
"Where are you going?"
 
"We're abandoning this shit hole."
 
"But what's your destination?"
 
"We are going to a better place."
 
He paused and looked down to the water.
 
"Better to die at sea than in a cardboard box. Are you coming?"
 
"No, Stuva. I like my boring existence. I'm staying here. But good luck."
 
Without another word, Grundlig shrugged and turned back to his companions. Soon they had the ship afloat and waded out to board it. Someone tossed Örfjäll into the boat and he took his position as rudder man, in the stern. The raven on his shoulder stood out starkly against the overcast sky. The rowers readied themselves on the benches and took up their oars. They held them up parallel to the water, making the Antifoni bristle as she drifted out into the bay.
 
Grundlig stood in the prow, gazing majestically into the distance. Then he stepped out, on to the raised oars on the leeward side, facing the shore. Snorri watched as he leaped nimbly between them in a dance which tempted fate. He traversed the length of the boat twice, then climbed back aboard. The oars dropped into the water and the Antifoni disappeared out to sea.
 
They never came back.
 
Six years passed. Patches of grey appeared on Snorri's temples. He still liked to sit on his porch in the mornings and look out to sea, from his new stone house that occupied exactly the same position as his old one.
 
In a twist of irony, not long after Grundlig had departed with his crew, a new municipal authority had decreed that the previous experiments with cardboard had been an abject failure. A new town was built from stone. It was possible that Grundlig's ranting had been heard from above. He should have stayed. Or perhaps Snorri should have taken him up on his offer and gone with him.
 
He shared his house now, with Utrusta and their young son Stuva. As he aged, his thoughts were frequently drawn to the fate of The Antifoni, and her crew of brave or stupid men, and one woman.
 
He tried to remember their names.
 
Örfjäll, Docksta, Svartäsen, Vårvind, Sinnerlig, Ranarp, Lagrad, Ribba, Synas, Trofast, Lixhult.......
 
There were more, but they had all gone now.
 
 
© Tom Newton 2017

Narrated by Tom Newton.

POST RECITAL

Talk Icon

TALK

BR: Hi. Do you still want to talk about that story? Looks like you’re busy.
 
TN: Well if you don’t mind talking while I assemble this thing. I’ve got to finish it and I haven’t really started.
 
BR: What is it?
 
TN: It’s a cabinet for the studio. Somewhere to put the mic collection. In fact....look at these instructions. There’s a picture of two people.
 
BR: Hmm, I see.
 
TN: Maybe you could help me and we could talk about the story...
 
BR: Okay...
 
TN: Two birds with one stone.
 
BR: Is it an IKEA cabinet?
 
TN: Yeah.
 
BR: I heard they had structured themselves to be part of a non-profit so they don’t pay tax.
 
TN: Well, there are stranger things afoot in the world.
 
BR: Speaking of strange, your story seems to be set in a weird 21st Century Viking settlement, half modern, half ancient. A sort of ‘semi-anachronism’.....
 
TN: Look, these instructions say... well they don’t really say....there aren’t any words.
 
BR: Yeah...
 
TN: But the picture implies that we'll need a screwdriver and a hammer. And two men.
 
BR: Simple tools, that's good. But... those two guys don't look like us. They don't have beards.
 
TN: Nope.
 
BR: Or any hair at all. Can actual humans follow these instructions?
 
TN: Yeah. Well I’m a real pro at this shit. Fuck the screwdriver. I’m going to use my screw gun. Speed up the process.
 
BR: Okay good.
 
TN: I’ve found that if you grind down the little Allen key they give you, you can shove it in your screw gun. Speed it up a little bit more. We’ll start by laying out the hardware.
 
BR: Wait a minute. The instructions say this thing is called a Stuva Grundlig!
 
TN: So?
 
BR: The main character in your story is called Stuva Grundlig.
 
TN: Well, he had to be called something. That’s the thing about characters - they tend to need names. Not always but usually.
 
BR: But the same name as an IKEA cabinet?
 
TN: It’s probably just chance. And anyway a cabinet has to be called something too, if it’s one of many and you’re trying to sell it.
 
BR: Okay...
 
TN: Could you help me lay out these pieces? We’ll use the packaging as protection so they don’t get dinged up.
 
BR: Hmm, I don't know. Chance? I like synchronicity and all, but...
 
TN: My god, look at these cam locks. They’re made out of plastic! They used to be metal. What’s happening to the world?
 
BR: Tom.
 
TN: Yeah.
 
BR: You’re not being straight with me. There are too many connections between your story and this piece of IKEA furniture. They can’t be coincidental. What’s going on?
 
TN: Okay, okay, you’ve got me. I wasn’t going to tell you. I didn’t want you to get any preconceived ideas. You see, in my work as a prop guy, I’ve built tons of this stuff. One time we had a tractor-trailer load of it to build. It filled a whole stage. Took a few days. As each piece was made, we cut out the name from the packaging and taped it on, so we could identify it later. When all the furniture was built, I walked around and looked at the names. It suddenly occurred to me that these furniture names could be the names of characters in a story. And that became Antifoni, another IKEA name, I might add.
 
BR: Ah, and each character has the deep symbolic essence of the piece of furniture he's named for, right?
 
TN: No, nothing so serious as that! There’s not much more to say. Just having some fun. Though it showed me how the imagination can reconfigure things.
 
BR: Yeah, yeah.
 
TN: It’s a kind of alchemy. Maybe I’ve unwittingly come across the philosopher’s stone.
 
BR: Or maybe the philosopher is stoned.
 
TN: Hey, can you hold this piece up while I attach it? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere....
 
BR: Okay...

BR: Hi. Do you still want to talk about that story? Looks like you’re busy.
 
TN: Well if you don’t mind talking while I assemble this thing. I’ve got to finish it and I haven’t really started.
 
BR: What is it?
 
TN: It’s a cabinet for the studio. Somewhere to put the mic collection. In fact....look at these instructions. There’s a picture of two people.
 
BR: Hmm, I see.
 
TN: Maybe you could help me and we could talk about the story...
 
BR: Okay...
 
TN: Two birds with one stone.
 
BR: Is it an IKEA cabinet?
 
TN: Yeah.
 
BR: I heard they had structured themselves to be part of a non-profit so they don’t pay tax.
 
TN: Well, there are stranger things afoot in the world.
 
BR: Speaking of strange, your story seems to be set in a weird 21st Century Viking settlement, half modern, half ancient. A sort of ‘semi-anachronism’.....
 
TN: Look, these instructions say... well they don’t really say....there aren’t any words.
 
BR: Yeah...
 
TN: But the picture implies that we'll need a screwdriver and a hammer. And two men.
 
BR: Simple tools, that's good. But... those two guys don't look like us. They don't have beards.
 
TN: Nope.
 
BR: Or any hair at all. Can actual humans follow these instructions?
 
TN: Yeah. Well I’m a real pro at this shit. Fuck the screwdriver. I’m going to use my screw gun. Speed up the process.
 
BR: Okay good.
 
TN: I’ve found that if you grind down the little Allen key they give you, you can shove it in your screw gun. Speed it up a little bit more. We’ll start by laying out the hardware.
 
BR: Wait a minute. The instructions say this thing is called a Stuva Grundlig!
 
TN: So?
 
BR: The main character in your story is called Stuva Grundlig.
 
TN: Well, he had to be called something. That’s the thing about characters - they tend to need names. Not always but usually.
 
BR: But the same name as an IKEA cabinet?
 
TN: It’s probably just chance. And anyway a cabinet has to be called something too, if it’s one of many and you’re trying to sell it.
 
BR: Okay...
 
TN: Could you help me lay out these pieces? We’ll use the packaging as protection so they don’t get dinged up.
 
BR: Hmm, I don't know. Chance? I like synchronicity and all, but...
 
TN: My god, look at these cam locks. They’re made out of plastic! They used to be metal. What’s happening to the world?
 
BR: Tom.
 
TN: Yeah.
 
BR: You’re not being straight with me. There are too many connections between your story and this piece of IKEA furniture. They can’t be coincidental. What’s going on?
 
TN: Okay, okay, you’ve got me. I wasn’t going to tell you. I didn’t want you to get any preconceived ideas. You see, in my work as a prop guy, I’ve built tons of this stuff. One time we had a tractor-trailer load of it to build. It filled a whole stage. Took a few days. As each piece was made, we cut out the name from the packaging and taped it on, so we could identify it later. When all the furniture was built, I walked around and looked at the names. It suddenly occurred to me that these furniture names could be the names of characters in a story. And that became Antifoni, another IKEA name, I might add.
 
BR: Ah, and each character has the deep symbolic essence of the piece of furniture he's named for, right?
 
TN: No, nothing so serious as that! There’s not much more to say. Just having some fun. Though it showed me how the imagination can reconfigure things.
 
BR: Yeah, yeah.
 
TN: It’s a kind of alchemy. Maybe I’ve unwittingly come across the philosopher’s stone.
 
BR: Or maybe the philosopher is stoned.
 
TN: Hey, can you hold this piece up while I attach it? Ah, now we’re getting somewhere....
 
BR: Okay...

Music on this episode:

Symphony No. 6 In B Minor, Op. 74, 'Pathetique' - I. Adagio, Allegro Non Troppo by Tchaikovsky.

License CC PD

The Flying Dutchman by Richard Wagner.

License CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

THE STRANGE RECITAL

Episode 17122

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