I wrote this story as an exercise during an online writing course. There was no set subject – just a one thousand word limit. Very tricky! Fortunately, I had recently visited a local water-garden which stands on the site of a former brickworks. This gave me an idea, and the name of the main character, too…
‘Adversity,’ his father always said, ‘is character-building. It’s good for you, lad. Now don’t forget it. And use adversity well when it finds you.’
All very well for him to say that, thought Mr Willow, but he’s dead now, and it’s to be hoped he’s finished with adversity. I’m still having to put up with it.
But adversity was not the fount of all knowledge, nor was it the foundation of all good and original thinking. Not in Mr Willow’s view. It was a confounded nuisance, nothing more. An obstacle to the smooth flowing of work and harmonious ideas, and, more particularly, to the smooth running of the family brickworks, of which he was now the owner. Adversity was not good for you at all.
He so wanted to prove his father wrong, did Mr Willow. But even if he succeeded, the self-righteous, enjoyable ‘I told you so!’ he had dreamed of so long was bereft of meaning now. His father was dead, dead, dead. Gone, and that was that. There was no pleasure in saying it to a dead man. It was a mere ghost of an idea, just like his father.
‘How is he taking it?’ people asked, after the funeral.
Pretty well, all things considered. He seemed to have rather expanded, in wits and in girth round the middle, too. He seemed to have grown, as his father’s influence waned. But there was still all that nonsense about adversity to be dealt with.
Perhaps his father had looked for adversity when there was none, he told himself. Sought it out. Old fool! What was the use of that, when you could be making smooth progress, have everything running nicely? Why throw a spanner in the works on purpose?
Since his father’s death, Mr Willow had discovered many things about himself, not all of them bad. ‘I am my own man, these days,’ he told people. ‘My father cast a long shadow, y’know. But now there’s just me, and I’m in charge of Willow’s Brickworks now. Me.’ He sometimes admitted that he was rather enjoying it.
On the night of the great explosion, Mr Willow was woken by the shattering collapse of his bedroom window, followed shortly by a thunderous rain on the roof. He leapt out of bed – straight onto the shards of broken glass. It was quite a while then, as the fragments were carefully removed, and bandages applied, before he could limp downstairs and ask just what the blue blazes had happened.
Sir, they said, your brickworks, it has blown up. Mr Willow’s essential kind heart enquired first if anybody had been in the place at the time. Not that we know of, sir. Four in the morning. All locked up, you see.
Having settled that, he enquired as to what might be left of his business. Not much, sir, they said. All to pieces, if you please. Rocks and bricks thrown into the air. The old clay pit is full. Debris falling for miles around – did you not hear the hammering on the roof?
He had heard it, indeed. But he had not realised it consisted of the broken remains of his livelihood. In the morning, the works foreman appeared, cap in hand, to report. All ruined. No-one hurt.
Mr Willow shuffled his bandaged feet. ‘I should come and see for myself,’ he said.
The foreman said no. Oh, no. Remaining walls unstable. And with your poor feet? Never in life, sir. ‘The boys are down there now, making it safe,’ he added kindly.
‘And…’ Mr Willow could hardly find the words. ‘And what can have caused this explosion?’ His unspoken thought: do I have enemies?
‘I made everything secure last night, sir, before I left. As I always do,’ said the foreman, stoutly. ‘But you have been involved in this business as long as I have, sir, and you know full well that dust, which includes brick-dust, sir, is prone to explode. All it takes, sir, is a little spark. Just a little spark.’
Mr Willow did know this. He also knew that in all the years of his family’s involvement with the brickworks, no such little spark had ever caused an explosion. Not even a small one. And all at once he knew, knew he did indeed have an enemy of sorts, and an implacable one at that. Adversity. It was all about adversity being good for you.
His father’s ghost. There was the culprit. That old curmudgeon would have found a way to set a spark, even from six feet under. No question about it. This was his father’s way of having the last word, of leaving poor Mr Willow with adversity, writ large, to deal with. But would he accept the challenge, eh? Would he knuckle down and sort out the mess? Or would he leave the brickworks to rot, sell up, and go to live the life of a poet in a garret? It was an outrageous thought, and many others followed. For the first time he realised there was a choice.
But when at last he was able to hobble across to the ruins, the words ‘good for you’ seemed to hang in the clayey dust that blew over the rubble, and poetry seemed less important than the livelihoods of his workers. Running away was not the solution. He called his still-stunned foreman to his side. ‘Mr Arbuthnot,’ he said, ‘this – this is the face of adversity. Let us face it together. I think we’ll start by clearing the clay pit, don’t you?’
Kathy Sharp is the author of fabulous fantasy novel Isle of Larus myBook.to/MyAmazonLinks and the exciting sequel Sea of Clouds myBook.to/MyAmazonBooks