John Anderson Learns the Skritch


John T. Anderson
42 Foliage Lane
Hapdorn 5A03F

20 Eigthmonth 4599

Dear Ken,

It looks like I’ve been bitten by the skritch-bug! No, I don’t have a rash. I mean that I’ve developed a fondness for a wonderful musical instrument called the skritch.

I was first enchanted by the skritch that night when we all took Harshan and Melissa out to the theater to see “Tahibfeneng Eptharkta Thorgelmü”; the famous epic about the founding of Thorgelfayne. Melissa wrote to you about that, I believe, so you know that it began with a skritch solo. What a marvelous noise that skritcher conjured out of that sleekly rounded wooden box! The enchantment blossomed into a love affair the night that “Lado Plays the Skritch” came on television.

So here I sit in my room late at night, practicing my heart out. “Practice makes the maestro,” my instructor keeps telling me, so I don’t let my apparent lack of progress get in the way. In fact, when you’re just a beginner like me, it’s like flying an airplane: you have to check every piece of equipment and every dial and gauge before you can take off! Not that a skritch has dials or gauges, mind you, that’s just an analogy!

Here’s how it goes: First, seat yourself properly and comfortably—preferably on a backless stool, so you won’t be tempted to slouch. We don’t have a stool in the house that’s the right height, so I have to settle for a regular chair. Now, cradle the skritch gently between your knees. The best skritches are made of expensive bimbka wood, but mine is just a second-hand umbrella-wood skritch. Place your subordinate hand (in my case, my left hand) around the neck, positioning each finger over the appropriate string. Now that the skritch is in position, pick up the bow with the thumb and second finger of your dominant hand and hold it just so.

All these little picky details are important, and with practice (that word again!) they become automatic; but at this stage, I get so involved in all this positioning and holding that I forget to breathe. So I have improvised a final step: gasp for air!

My teacher says I play like a carpenter. “We do not saw the skritch in two,” he says, “we caress it gently with the bow. The music wants to be seduced from its wooden lair. If we attempt to drag it out by force, it will protest with screams and scratches!” This is a picturesque way of looking at it, and the second part is definitely true.

I just have to learn to combine the four elements of skritch, bow, posture, and inspiration in the proper way—and that is the object of my nightly wrestling matches with this thing.

Which brings me to Panu. I was happily skritching my way through mindless scales and simple tunes, when there came a rapping at my bedroom door. “Come in,” I said, still enraptured in my talent.

The door opened just wide enough to reveal Panu’s tall, slender frame. His dark skin contrasted sharply with the white wadding in both ears. He looked very sleepy and very impatient. “Do you know what time it is?” he asked in a cranky voice. “Half-past thirty-two!” he answered himself in disbelief. “When are you going to stop pulling the hairs out of that poor, tortured beast?”

The muse within me wilted like a flower. “Does it sound that bad?” I asked sheepishly.

He yawned and wiped his face with his hand. “Of course it does,” he said. “All beginners sound horrible, even the ones that turn out to be masters.”

“I am very inconsiderate of you,” I apologized. “You know my sleep cycles are shorter than yours, so I forgot the time.” Homelander days are one and an eighth as long as Earth days; the nights are longer, and people sleep longer each day. I lay the skritch lovingly into its case, and clicked the lid securely shut.

Panu politely thanked me, and quietly closed the door. That was the end of my skritching tonight. Now what? I really wasn’t interested in reading anything. So I decided to write you this little note.

Sincerely yours,
John Anderson