The History of Walter Knott

A Coracle

A story must have a beginning and end or it could not be heard. Much has to be left out of any story and particularly of the one that follows. I suppose the same is true of you and me: in order to see each other we must see only parts or else we would both dissolve into infinity. Time rushes us forward and we must limit what we see and know so that we can see and know at all.

If we had more time I would start with the full details of how the squirrel in what is now Missouri dropped an acorn having been startled by a thunderclap some eight hundred years ago. I would describe events around the oaktree as it  grew over seven centuries , how it was cut down and the many ways its wood was used, particularly in 1832 by a Tennesse backwoodsman named Joshua King who worked on a prow strut from a British privateer that had taken the ship from Barbary pirates some twelve years earlier before its wreckage was washed up on Cape Cod and found by Horace Cutler, the cousin of the backwoodsman, and presented to him as a souvenir  upon his marriage to Eliza Garrett of Virginia. Joshua shaped the said piece of wreckage into a coracle upon which he slid among green swamps, intent on dark and nameless deeds.

If time were not a constant limit I would narrate how after the Civil War the said coracle was discovered preserved in the marshes, and removed to the residence of a former Confederate General who had the thing split in two and made into a couple of clock cases garlanded with elaborate and wondrous carvings. One of these, containing an expensively jewelled timepiece was a gift to the General’s Daughter, Felicity, upon her betrothal to the Reverend Henry Woodall out of England, the happy couple returning there after the ceremony with said clock to take up residence in a vicarage upon the estate of Lord  Ferrers of Hardcastle. Various domestic circumstances, tragedies, miseries, jealousies, hatreds, and sexual midemeanours conspired with wider historical events including several general strikes, two world wars, the collapse of Christianity and the introduction of commercial television to deliver the clock firstly to a bric-a-brac shop in the East End of London, thence to the domicile of Harold Dunwoody who was found dead and mummified there among his thirty years’ aquistion of junk in 1978 and from there via a municipal rubbish heap to the marble mantelpiece of a draughty flat above a shop which sold hamsters,  electric cable and secondhand cremation urns.

It remained there until immediately prior to the commencement of our story proper to which we now turn conscious of the pressures of time and the need to strip the said narrative to its bare essentials.

In the summer of 1983 the occupant of the flat was Mister Sid Grogan, a six feet seven inch wrestler who weighed in at 18 stone. He took to himself a lover named  Bertha Biggs, a fellow wrestler of five feet and one inch, weighing in at thirteen stone eleven.  Like most couples, their love-making was not easy to distinguish from their fighting, though their relationship was more physical than most. The morning of  5th July had started well enough with a few affectionate forearm slaps after breakfast followed by some mutual leg scissor holds and a couple of Boston Crabs before Sid settled down with his emboidery and Bertha set to skinning an aged goat that had come their way.

Shortly before the rupture of this relative calm in the affairs of the morning, young Walter Knott was nearing the completion of the errands his mother had set for him. He was on his way for the final item, a shroud-sized length of black linen, which took him beneath the window of Sid Grogan’s flat. The couple therein had become engaged in a violent argument regarding the disappearance of a package of purple tassles. Grogan had flung Bertha against the wall and she picked from the window sill, and threw at him, a large imitation Chinese vase which smashed upon his head. In a fury, he responded by lifting the clock from the mantelpiece and hurling it at her. Fortunately for her it missed. Unfortunately for Walter, it sailed through the window and crashed into his skull.

Now, Cynthia, you and I both have so much to do and so little time. Therefore. I’ll  tell you what happened to Walter after his accident as quickly as I can.

He remained unconscious for six months, had three brain operations and twelve plastic surgery operations, and was fitted with an artificial eye. When he awoke he remembered little of his previous life and so began many years of rehabilitation. When he was 22 he entered a nursing home but had to return to more secluded premises after appearing for breakfast one morning wearing only one sock, and that on neither of his feet. Eventually however, with the patient perseverance of an occupational therapist named Nancy he began to live more and more independently. Nancy gave him a list of things to do each day, and by following the lists he was able to accomplish ever more complicated tasks. Sometimes he got things in the wrong order, for instance wearing his trousers where his cardigan should be and vice versa, but by the age of 45 he was well on the road to recovery.

He was trained in the use of a map and compass and entrusted to run errands for the nurses in the local area. Walter, who now preferred to be called Mister Knott, dressed smartly in a dark suit and always carried a briefcase. If you saw him you would think him quite a respectable old gent especially as his thick silver mane of hair covered most of his scars and the place where his left ear should have been.

Mister Knott was sent to a psychologist who supplemented the lists of practical things to do with lists of things that would make his life more fulfilling and contribute to his emotional, spiritual and moral wellbeing. By the time he was 62, Mr Knott was given his own flat, and although visited weekly by a support worker he lived a mostly self-directed and full life.

Each day was filled by things to do from the list he had made the night before. Many times he would lie awake at night thinking of the next day, and would add to the list. Just like you and I, Cynthia, Mister Knott had hardly any time left over at all. Certainly, he wouldn’t have had time to listen to a story like this one.

Then one day, when he was 67, something dreadful happened. He had been in town and finished his shopping when to his horror he discovered he had lost his list. Mister Knott was in a panic. He could only remember two things from the psychologist’s list. One was to telephone a good friend. But he didn’t have any good friends; in fact, he was too busy to have any friends at all. The other was to do something he had never done before.

So he went into the cathedral. He stood in the centre and slowly looked up into the darkening gloom that disappeared into the great nothingness above. “Now what?” thought Mister Knott. The end.


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