The Fable of the Table

from The Cosmic Balancing Act

There was once an old table-maker who made the finest tables, and had done so for many, many years. Flat were his tops, even were his legs, smooth were his burrs and his fiddlebacks. And many were the creditable houses and inns that boasted of one of his tables.

As a youth he had apprenticed beneath the greatest craftsmen, learning his joints and his finishes, and it had taken him a very long time to reach the top of his trade. But now he was there, with his own apprentices, and an order to book to keep them for an eternity; and barely a week went by without the completion of another magnificent table.

Until one day, when – just as he was finishing a piece – the table-maker noticed that this table was defective: for its legs were uneven, and it wobbled on the flattest of floors. Worse still, there was a ripple in the top, so even if it had not wobbled, it could never have been level – and levelness is all to a table-maker.

And the more he looked, the more he found fault, for the inlays were rising from their grooves, and the grain was twisting, and the fiddlebacks were popping. It was as though the whole table had some kind of curse upon it.

“I have seen this sort of thing before,” the table-maker told his apprentices. “It is as though the whole table has some kind of curse upon it. And there isn’t not a sanding nor a turning nor a polishing nor a substantial reassembling as will mend it: for the table is a dud: ’tis a waste of our precious time to even speak of it.”

And so, in spite of the hours spent upon it, the table was thrown out of the workshop, and sold as firewood, and never seen again until the end of the fable.

Now the old firewood seller – who had gathered and carried, and chopped up and sold firewood for all of his days – chanced to be unloading his old firewood waggon that very evening. “Why,” he remarked to his horse – who was an old firewood seller’s horse, who had never known a day of sickness and had hauled firewood for longer than he could remember – “Why,” said the old seller, “this appears to be a rather fine hand-made table that some wasteful and impetuous individual has cast out in a moment of rage. You know, rather than chop up this table and sell it for a disappointing price, I think I shall keep it, as a table, as it is rather superior to the one I’ve been using all these years, which really should have been used as firewood all along.”

And so the old firewood seller set up the table in his parlour – and burned its humble predecessor that very evening. But soon did he regret it: for the table was very far from level, and kept wobbling around the parlour like a nervous animal. And though he did his best to steady it, by putting little wedges under its feet, it transpired the top was rippled – and his drinks and his soups and his gravies were persistently spilled. And even then, when he’d found the flatter parts, and rearranged his place settings accordingly, he was just settling down with his boots off to a nice glass of port, when he trod on a piece of popped fiddleback which really hurt his foot.

“Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! That does it!” he fumed. “This table is more trouble than it’s worth! I would rather eat off the floor than endure another moment of its almost sentient mockery!”

And he beat the table, and he kicked the table, and he threw the table into the fireplace. And when it was half-burned he threw it into the street. For he could not even stand to look at it, nor share his humble home with its sorry ashes.

And so the old, burned, defective, fire-damaged, missing-legged, useless table, with its warped top and busted inlays, remained in the street all night; soaked by the rain, frozen by the wind and split by the morning frost.

And it was upon very next morning that a man was passing by, on his way home from a gathering in the town: for the man was wealthy and decadent: an old conceptual art-wright.

“Well bless my whiskers,” said the old conceptual art-wright (who often deployed cliché in an ironic, post-modernist manner) “if it isn’t a completely ruined table of absolutely no use to anybody, even as firewood.

“Does this not say? Does this not reveal? Does this not raise and attest to issues of table-ness, furniture-dom, the carpentry-esque, and society itself? I fear that I feel an exhibition coming on . . . ”

And so the remains of the ruined table were exhibited in a gallery (owned by an old and traditional bad-art-monger) and, soon enough, auctioned for a small fortune.

And, very surprisingly, it also happened that at this very time, the old table-maker reached his retirement – and took a holiday in the city, where he had never been.

As bad luck would have it, he chanced to pass by the old bad-art-monger’s old gallery, where the dregs of his awful table were on display. Dumbstruck and aghast, he entered the gallery and stared at it.

“Where did you get this from?” he asked the old conceptual art-wright – who happened to be receiving visitors that day. “And what have you done to it? And who is responsible for this abomination?”

“I have found it,” said the old conceptual art-wright. “And I have nurtured it and named it. I alone have noticed what it is; for this item is wrapped in mystery and meaning. It tells us everything, and yet it tells us nothing. It questions and accuses. It speaks of the folly of existence. It is art!”

“Art?” said the old table-maker. “But how can that be? Why, it is not even a table.”

Moral: Yeah. Exactly. Think about it.

© Adam Acidophilus 2018