I found Uncle Jim in his workshop at the end of his garden.
“Hello, Paul,” he said, “what’s the problem this time?”
I blushed at this but he was smiling so I sat on a three-legged stool next to his bench and said, “Julie wants a divorce.”
“You’ll have to talk while I work,” he said, nodding at the white-painted board perched on the easel before him. “The Church needs this tomorrow, for the new Vicar.”
“She thinks I’ve been having an affair.”
Uncle Jim pulled a length of string out from a ball, wrapping the end around the little finger of his right hand. “Have you?” he said, tightening the string then rubbing blue chalk along its length.
My stomach churned. “It was only once,” I said. “Last February, when I was in London with the firm and we had a bit too much to drink, and well, there was this girl…”
Uncle Jim cut off the string and wrapped it around his other hand. He pushed his little finger against one end of the board, near the top, then rested the knuckles of his other hand on it, finally plucking the string with his free thumb. He took away the string and a perfect, straight line of blue chalk dust remained on the board. Then he repeated the process to make another line about six inches below the first.
“The trouble with you, Paul,” he said, putting down the string and picking up the chalk, “is that you do everything so tentatively.”
“What do you mean?”
With the chalk, he lightly sketched the words St Michael’s Church in between the lines. Then he poured black paint into a cup which he balanced on the easel.
“Well, you married Julie because you thought it was what everyone else wanted, especially your father. Then you had a couple of kids because it was the thing to do.”
With his left hand, he picked up a short stick with a bulbous end, and with his other selected a brush from the box beside him.
“Then you decide to sort of have an affair. Except you let the booze make up your mind for you. Now, you want me to decide how to handle Julie.”
“But I apologized; told her how much I regretted it. I mean, it’ll never happen again.”
“Oh, it’ll happen again. Because you never do anything definitely. You just take baby steps with everything you do.”
He dipped the brush into the pot then leaned the end of the stick against the board. He rested his brush hand on the stick and with one smooth, confident motion of the brush started by using its edge to make the serif at the top of the ‘S’, then brought his wrist around, gradually flattening the whole of the brush so now its edges perfectly formed the two sides of the letter, finally ending with a narrowed edge again for the bottom serif.
“Are you saying I should just agree to the divorce?”
He moved the stick slightly to the right and in just a couple of fluid seconds, finished the small ‘t’ in St. Michael’s.
“No, I’m saying you should either love Julie fully with all the simple devotion that means. Or get the hell out — tell her you don’t love her; never did — and go live dangerously. Screw lots of women and don’t give a damn.”
I sighed. “I can’t believe it only took you twenty seconds to do those two letters.”
He turned to face me. “Actually, Paul, it took me fifty years.”