Mudlark No. 56 (2015)

The Whole Man

As a boy in the South he’d play baseball on the street ’til dark, hear his dad call, run home, eat, sleep, go to school next day, and when school let out, back to the streets: Play ball!

Grew tall, got good grades, tried football now, loved the pigskin, the slap of it: pull it to his gut, shoot through arms/legs, be yanked down, get back up, wrap arms ’round his friends, speak low, make a plan, go.

Found a great girl, too. But she grew up where it rained nine months a year, and those who come from such a place go into themselves in a way few do: don’t need us much.

They wed, and he loved his wife with a huge love. She made him laugh, they loved to talk, had four kids, not much cash, but met their bills, and life was good.

She touched him less as years went on. One year he thought he might take a chance, say “Dear, sometimes when I walk by, would you just reach out, a quick hug once in a while—just that.” But could not bring himself to say it.

He had a workspace downstairs, took up work with wood. Bought tools. Built a small deck, put on a new room—framed it in fir, trimmed it in pine. Soon found softwood too soft, built a new deck from wood so hard he went through ten skill-saw blades to cut it, and could not just nail it, had to drill each hole first, use a torque-gun to screw it in.

One day he did bring himself to say to his wife, “How ’bout a hug?” and she did hug him, and it felt great, and he knew she loved him—no doubt—but still, he felt like an old steel post: his job, to hold things up.

The man thought he might try his hand at art. He bought a kiln, brought in blocks of wet clay, formed arms, legs, put them in the kiln to bisque, glazed them, found he could get fine skin tones. But no one part matched the next: each its own, and soon the workshop looked like a place spare limbs were made, and the man came downstairs one day, saw it, threw back the workshop doors, tossed his work into the bed of his truck, drove it straight to the dump.

Sold the kiln, thought he’d try stone. Bought tools to shape it, chip it—white stone streaked with blue & gray, slabs ten feet high, swore to himself he’d use the skills he’d learned in clay to form a whole man.

With the first block of stone, he failed. The feet too small, the calves too long, the arms ape-like, the face full of dumb woe. This is the worst thing I’ve made in my whole life!—and he thought he’d take a sledge & break it up, go back to clay.

No. Can’t go back. I know I have it in me to make a man whose eyes look like mine, whose feet feel the ground from the tips of the toes to the heels, whose legs are good beasts on which the rest of him rides—the chest soft-skinned, and his hands—oh, what his hands can do, thin-skinned, veined with blue, and he’ll live on...

He came upstairs for lunch, sat down to a bowl of soup.

Have you made your whole man yet? his wife asked, and as she spoke she put her hands on the back of his neck.

Gerald Fleming | What Jean-Paul Told Me
Contents | Mudlark No. 56 (2015)