By Brindley Hallam Dennis
I won’t, thanks.
It started when I was cutting ivy from old trees in a garden I worked on. The ivy was well established, with roots as thick as my wrist all the way from the ground to above head height. They were intertwined and weaved in and out like the ribs of a knitted sweater. I was using a folding handsaw. It was hard work, dirty work. A drizzle of dead leaves and fine soil rained down as I pulled the roots away from the bark.
I cut them in lengths of a yard or more, and when they came away they suddenly looked like the intricate lattices of some ornamental cage. Cut into six inch lengths, with three or four uprights, small rootlets and bark stripped away to reveal the smooth wood beneath, they became little works of art, wooden sculptures suggestive of lovers, of figures that strode arm in arm, of headless, footless, mythical beasts dancing to magical, inaudible music.
Or perhaps it began when my wife gave me the book on bonsai landscapes. It was the pictures in that which inspired me to use those off-cut roots in the plant arrangements that stood on shelves around the house.
Then again, it might have kicked off when I found the flimsy sheets of gold leaf that grandfather had used to highlight old black and white photographs.
Or perhaps it was the first time I took one of those flimsy sheets and pressed it over the cut ends of an ivy root, and rubbed it in with the back of my folded penknife blade.
The gilding sparkled on the raw, cut face of the wood. In some lights it was no more than a dull glimmer, but in others it positively shone. Sometimes it glittered like the gold on a temple dome.
No. It really started when my friend, noticing one of my attempts asked in amazement, what the hell sort of wood is this? It looks like gold.
And the words just came tumbling out.
It is gold, I said. Well, there’s gold in it.
I turned a serious, horticultural face upon him.
They’re ivy roots, I told him. Very special ones.
I planted my feet firmly apart and splayed my hands.
Plants feed on minerals in the soil, I explained. They eat them, molecule by molecule and incorporate them into their structures. Different plants have affinities with different minerals. I kept a straight face, rooted in the knowledge that so far everything I’d said was perfectly true. I said, there have been experiments in which plants have been used to clear heavy metals from badly polluted ground. That was true too. I said, and they’ve tried prospecting for gold using the banana plant.
His eyes widened.
Straight up, I said. And that was all true too, but I went on.
Over here, I said, it’s ivy. It won’t actually go looking for gold, but if the roots strike a seam, they’ll just follow it along, hoovering up every last morsel.
He looked incredulous, but he wasn’t.
It’s just, I said as if I couldn’t really believe it myself, amazing.
He struggled to grasp it.
So, it runs all the way through?
Absolutely, I said. And I resisted the urge to burst out laughing, which in retrospect might have been a mistake. I looked at him with the expression of an undertaker greeting a grieving relative.
Like the Blackpool in a stick of rock, I said.
Of course, I said, what you can see on the end of the cut is almost worthless, which was true. But if you burn the wood and separate out the ash, you’ll get about sixty pounds a metre of pure gold. That’s pounds money, I said, not weight.
In the silence that followed he didn’t ask, luckily, about how thick the roots needed to be or anything else technical like that.
So, how much did you pay for this? he asked. That threw me for a moment, and then I remembered where they’d come from. Actually, I said, I was paid for getting it. I’m clearing all the ivy from a woodland, somewhere.
He looked shocked. Think knee in groin.
That one’s probably only worth fifteen or twenty quid, I said. It’s the metre lengths make the serious money.
Metre lengths? he gasped.
And even there, I could have let it go and given a great big belly laugh, but I was already hooked too.
I’ll sell you one if you like, I said.
It never occurred to me that he would. I thought he’d see through it. I thought the penny would drop. He’d get the joke, see the funny side. He’d burst out laughing, call me some names. Nice one, he’d say. But he didn’t.
I would have given him the money back. At any time, I would have given him the money back, every last penny of it. Any time, that is, until he came back asking how many more I could get.
The price of gold is always rising. He was offering the roots, in metre lengths, on one of those internet sales sites. He’d worked up my explanation into something that looked like a scientific treatise. He’d added a prominent warning about not being too quick to Cash the Ash, as he called it. The longer you kept them, the more they would be worth. And because your average burglar would know nothing about Golden Rods, which was what he called them, you wouldn’t need expensive security arrangements.
I confessed everything.
He pointed out the disclaimer, in miniscule print, which said that there was no guarantee how much gold you would get from the ash, it being a ‘natural product’.
I told him all about the old sheets of gold leaf, that I hadn’t got many left.
He grinned, and held up a wad of new ones.
Maybe I will have that smoke after all.
If you enjoyed this why not read more short stories from Brindley Hallam- Dennis Here.