Some Bore Gifts

A.G. Harmon Click to

A. G. Harmon is the author of A House All Stilled (UT Press, 2002), which received The Peter Taylor Prize for the Novel in 2001. His work has appeared in The Antioch Review, TriQuarterly and The Bellingham Review. He has published “Eternal Bonds, True Contracts”: Law and Nature in Shakespeare’s Problem Plays (SUNY Press, 2004). He teaches at Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C.

Juan Julio could describe the misfortune with a soft clarity, so that the impression he left upon the listener was that of a tune hummed from a porch step, during the long liquid hours of the first, floating dark.

That it was a brutal and tragic tale did not diminish the gentleness of its comprehension, such was Juan Julio’s skill. Neither did the fact that it was a steaming, hundred degree day, heavy as the rain clouds that ballooned about the sky above the pasture. As his men labored at a distance, sawing and trimming out tree foliage that threatened the power lines, he told the story again, and the old man at his side – a doctor to whose farm the crew had been sent – stood privy to the pressure of Juan Julio’s romance.

“They sent us after the hurricane, down to a place too far from the city for the cameras to come, too far from the sea for people to know of. Old people lived there – the old, poor ones – the kind who cannot be driven from their homes – even by the promise of more to eat and less to do and a cooler place to do it in. The old poor ones who will not surrender what they have always seen, even if it is the worst of things. They live very close to the world they know, these people, and must be let alone there – even by those who come to offer more. No good can come of that, even if good is meant.”

The drone of the saws lamenting against the green wood drew closer, made it harder for Dr. Priest to hear. So the old man stepped within a few feet of the Mexican, and positioned himself so that his best ear was nearest the tale.

Dr. Priest had lived his whole life in this town, the last half of it on this farm, and had never met a Mexican. But these five were all from there, as was every other man who came to the place now – to haul horses, to fix water mains, to read the meter. They worked from a white service truck, with a cherry-picker to lift one man up to the level of the interlaced elms, hackberries and sumacs that crowded the phone lines. As this man toiled from the bucket with his saw, two others labored on the ground to clear the falling debris and feed it into a wood chipper. Down on the road that faced the doctor’s land, a fifth man drove a tractor with a boom cutter. A platform of blades whirled at the end of an arm reaching from the machine to the bordering trees. Even at a distance, the savage munch and chop of the low-lying limbs made Dr. Priest wince – made his small, rheumy eyes tear.

“So they sent us after the hurricane,” Juan Julio continued, “streaming down the branch-filled roads in our trucks, caught in the trail of the storm’s pull – to this land that was more cage than world, trapped within its own being – as though the whole place had sat upon a cloth, and that cloth upon a table. And then, at some moment, the four corners had been taken up, to let all that lay upon the surface plunge in upon itself – this way and that – over and under and against – until it made no sense anymore. They sent us there with orders to make the world straight – to make even that for which we had no north or south, and of which we knew no history – none with which to make what was into what had been.”

Juan Julio wiped his forehead with the meat of his forearm, so that the flesh glistened in the early afternoon light.

He was as tall as Dr. Priest had been, before age had stooped him. But besides his status and his formal air, there was a marked difference between the foreman and the others. They were little and mustachioed, and they veiled their black eyes beneath dusty, close-fitting caps. But Juan Julio was clean-shaven and hatless, his hair cut short in a military style. He wore crisp khakis and a fresh polo shirt. Only his boots showed the scuff that might be expected. His eyes were bright and direct, and though he had an accent, his English was smooth, schooled; Dr. Priest could not understand the others.

“What you see now” – Juan Julio pointed to the workers – “we did then, there, in that place. Except the earth was no longer set out in the squares that mark men’s claims.”

The chain saw broke through the circumference of a limb, so that a mighty crack sounded as the blade caught its breath. The two men on the ground struggled to untangle the fallen bough from the lower foliage. Then a gloss of new sunlight broke onto the pasture, free to bathe the weeds and fescue.

“It would have been all right,” Juan Julio said, “had we been the same kind of people.  In a strange place, there must be something you can count on. The men beside you must know the things you do.”

“These you see here,” he said, and pointed to the workers, “these with me – they all come from my village in Nuevo León. They have done this work a long time, and each knows his role. With a duty such as ours, with a task such as that, to make the world even and plain, there is no room for questions. The problem is what to do, not how to do it – where to start, not how one starts to begin with.”

Juan Julio frowned, considered what he had said. Then he remade his point.

“My grandfather told me. In a battle, the questions are small: from which direction to fight – head-on, or from the flank? – but not questions about how to hold a sword. The men must already know such things; they must be soldiers by that time, not still farmers.”

He stopped, wiped his brow again. Dr. Priest stepped closer.

“But we were not the same men.”

Because those they sent were of all types, all skills, and many were not fit for the task. They were men for different times, for a known world – men who worked with hand tools, who sawed lumber from a mill, who masoned brick fresh from a mold, or managed water that ran within pipes. The work they did only made sense when the place itself did, when houses lined streets, and trees rose from mown grass. They were not men for a place with no line between outside or in – when water lapped at windows and trees lay down like the slain. Even the men from Juan Julio’s crew were unsure of their way, though clearing the land was their native task.

“Even we had to scrape the earth,” said Juan Julio, “to find traces of a drive, a road, a curb – some paved corner that would tell us where to lay the teeth of the saw.”

It was as though they were chipping away at an ice wall, to uncover the bones of a primitive beast, or sweeping the floor of a pit, to reveal the stones of an ancient culture – trying to retrieve a thing or a place that the earth had swallowed up with its slow brown mouth. In such times, when even the master is unsure of his craft, it is madness to employ the novice – and criminal to arm him with means.

“But that is what happened,” said Juan Julio.

In fact, they all suspected the days themselves lay under a spell, as if the confusion of the landscape had broken in upon the fabric of a recollected life, breached the judgment of those who – at any other moment in the regular course of existence – would know better than to mix such unlike things, or to permit so careless an enterprise. Their wits, dazzled by what they saw, made fools of the lot, so that if a mere child had presented himself at the dawn of a day’s labor, he would not only have gone unchallenged, but would have been fitted straight away with a blade broader than his waist, and manned with a canister of gas, a box of matches.

“We were dizzy with fatigue, and our thirst could not be slaked, though we drank constantly. The work we did was poor, careless – even that of the skilled. The best of us gave place to the least, and even a good job started would likely end in frustration – broken tools, lack of oil, lost directions.”

Juan Julio swallowed.

“But mostly we were frightened, milling about in the footprints of a monster, clearing the ruin of her wrath. And no matter what they told us – who could say that she would not turn back, retrace her steps, come for those who erased the marks she’d meant to leave? We slept in fits, fought often. Hate came easily.”

More than once Juan Julio had studied a man’s neck, then gauged the size and strength of his own hands.

“I am ashamed of this now,” he said, looking away. “But it is true, and I tell it to atone for what I desired.”

Dr. Priest closed his eyes, nodded. He had been in war. He had known the same thing that the Mexican spoke of and had done worse than just ponder it. Not only had he done worse, what’s more, he had lived to know of other things, worse yet.

“It was a hazy day,” said Juan Julio, his voice rising to the pitch of the saws.

“None of us mentioned the pale fog that hung in the air, but we noticed and worried why it should be. Was it fire, eating its way toward us, silently – a blaze that would all at once send flames from the tangled brush, at a point too late to run?”

But they could not smell smoke. So was it rain? The mist of some early child of a storm, thrust from the giant’s hollow, now growing into a menace of its own – to undo what little good they had realized?

“But the clouds were high that day, and the wind was docile. So how could it be rain?”

Still, there it hung, as though they had stepped within a curse for which they were ignorant of both the deserving and the unfolding. All day they rubbed their eyes, waved their hands before their faces – but none spoke of what he saw.

Perhaps that was why they misunderstood. They had thought that the meaning of the day would be related to the purpose of the haze; that what fogged their sight would prove their undoing; if not of all, then of some; if not of some, then of only one. Perhaps it was this error that had caused what happened, because they were so intent upon the source – fire, water, evil – that their attentions were divided; the mélange of half-skills and muddled wits, the lack of a voice to speak to, or to bring order from, the chaos that surrounded them. Engrossed, absorbed, they had looked for the mist to mean something, and had been caught unawares, facing the wrong way.

Juan Julio turned to the road, pointed to the tractor that inched slowly along the border. The arm at its side held out the flat mouth of blades, like a head at the end of a neck – like the unhinged jaws of a reptile – to the trapped and waiting trunks. Dr. Priest’s gaze followed the man’s finger; the tops of the trees quaked as the violence tore at them from beneath.

“I had been working with the tractor, guiding the boom so that it lay against a snarl of trees and undergrowth. The arm would catch at times, buck and bounce, when placed against a mass too thick for it to eat. Two men trailed behind me, pulling away the cuttings and piling them into heaps. I could not see them, but I knew that they were there.”

The work was slow, the man explained; twenty feet an hour, along a roadside they had discovered only the day before.

“The people to whom the road led had been trapped, cut off from provisions, and it was feared they would stay there, starve and rot, rather than leave their homes unattended. So we worked on, all day. There was no rest. Without a word to each other, we began to take odd turns at the labor – shifts unequal in both length and difficulty.”

From time to time, some man or woman, filthy and wide-eyed, would step out from the wooded maze with a can of some sort – for gas or water – and tell of the need that lay behind them, in the direction in which they were headed.

“I am not sure if that was on that day, but it seems as though I worked so long that the shudder and rattle of the machine leached through my skin and into my bones, so that it shot through and burned them – as though I had held fast to an electric wire, as though the wire held me as I held it.”

He stopped, smiled. His eyes broke free of their frozen width.

“That is what they say it is like, Doctor. Is it not?”

The old man nodded; so he had heard; like your skin, meat, vessels, your very heart, were being sifted through a wire screen, pulped and pulsed through a grill. Once, as an intern, he alone had been made to sit with a room full of electrocuted men. The metal scaffold upon which they were working had been pushed into a transformer. There was nothing that could be done but watch them convulse, writhing as the mortal shock tossed them about from within, like an animal trying to free itself from a cocoon.

“At some point, I stopped, climbed down; I do not remember whether I meant for someone to relieve me. I do not recall asking for such a thing. But I remember stepping aside as someone brushed past, climbed into the cab, started the motor, then the cutter.”

He continued to point towards the road; Dr. Priest watched on – as the tractor crawled, as the cutter gnawed.

“Why did I do that?” he asked the old man. “Step away? I cannot answer. I remember walking off, my back to the business behind, as if my home lay on the other side of the trees, and my wife had called me to supper. I remember that I stopped, surprised to see my feet, and wondered how I had come to be there. I put my hand to my head.”

He did so again, brushing his brow as if the doctor had asked to him to repeat the gesture, so as to unfold the symptoms of some malady.

“They tell me I had worked for eight hours, straight. They tell me I had taken no water. Those things I cannot remember, though I recall the size of my tongue. What is true, it is impossible to say now. Because though I did not see it, as I stood there, the new man in the cab lurched the machine forward, so that it bucked on its axle, one wheel catching – spinning in the mud.”

The Mexican turned sideways, threw out his hip to mimic the thing’s massive pitch.

“The boom snapped the pins that held it fast, so that it swung free, turned back on the two men behind. One leapt clear; but not the other.”

Juan Julio said that the thing had destroyed the man in a scale of ways, as though it could not decide on the right manner in which to kill him. His arm, shorn from the shoulder cap, was slung into the cleared space, where it laid there, stretched out properly, formally – while the flesh of his back and side were chewed, as though by a pack of savage dogs. Then there were two great slashes, one from the man’s ear to his chest, stopping at a point half way; the other from his collar to his hip, almost clean through, so that he lay on the ground in a curve, like a spring coiled at an angle upon the grass.

“It was a neat death,” the Mexican explained, the cuts so great that the blood came in gouts rather than showers. He died with his remaining arm curled beneath him, his face held in his hand, and that hand upon the earth.

“As if he were ashamed of the way he had ended. As if his wounds were his sins, and he must hide his eyes from judgment.”

When Juan Julio was finished, he stepped back from the old man. The tale itself might have laid upon the ground, marked with stones – a small cairn of sorrow.

Dr. Priest observed the silence, or such of it as there was.

The men were still laboring in the trees. But even after a few moments had passed, and the workers were further down the way, he could not bring himself to ask the Mexican more. Juan Julio had finished, and to call him back to the story would be an offense. Dr. Priest had always respected the delicacy of endings.

Still, as the sun lumbered through the sky, and as the old man made his way back through the shadowless pasture to the house – the crew having finished for the day – he wondered about the one who had died.

What had they done with his body, way out there in the heat, so far down in the bayou? Even here, hours north of the Coast, they had lost power for a week and had been stranded for days on end. Isolated, what had they done with the remains?

He opened the door to the house, stood in the kitchen and let the frigid air dry his sweat into a carapace. But he did not feel like ending the day just yet. With a glass of iced tea, he went back outside and sat on the gallery swing.

It was the time of summer when the light barely surrendered the sky; hours from now, he knew, there would still be hours yet before dark. Night was a scarce thing now, but he scarcely missed it.

In the past, he would never have believed that possible. Once, it was all he had longed for: a cloaked, unbroken chain of rest, with no calls to rouse and summons. It had been such a rare thing. Now, his wife had to badger him from his chair in the late evenings, force him to sleep in the bed. He rose well before dawn; he kept the house lit.

From his vantage in the swing, he could view one of his favorite sights – his small herd of Angus making its way back from a pond in the far pasture. Once raised for profit, now they were a hobby – in truth, even less; now they were part of a vignette, something to adorn the property, to make it quaint, precious. The noise for the past few days had disturbed their routine, driving them across the field to escape it. But with the men gone, the cattle seemed to have settled down again. The line moved lazily back to the upper grasses, to resume their constant, singular task.

He set the swing into a gentle rock, pushing off with his toe.

At some point in the coming days, Dr. Priest would find a time to ask Juan Julio his questions. What was the man like? For example; the one who had died. Did Juan Julio know him? Was he even a man? For the Mexican called all of his workers “men,” when two of them were clearly no more than boys. And most importantly, what had become of the driver? Was he punished? Sued? Did he go mad with grief and guilt?

The sun was reaching the point in the afternoon when it fell level with the roof line, and hence shot a cannon of light beneath the gallery eaves. For the time being, it only blazed across his feet and shins. But soon the glare would drive him from his place.

He lifted the glass and ran it along his forehead, then down the sides of his cheeks. He had begun to sweat again, despite the ceiling fans that hung down from the gallery roof.

There would be a moment he could ask such things, about the man, about Juan Julio; there was still much work to do. The pasture was long, and the other side of the property was ribboned with another set of lines that had to be cut back as well.

Juan Julio and his crew would return.

They had taken a liking to each other from the first, he and the Mexican; at least Dr. Priest had fancied as much. He would admit this was partly due to the fact that he enjoyed any new thing that presented itself in a day. It had been such a long time since he’d had a reason for his rising.

But on the first morning, they had come unexpectedly. His wife had sent him to see who was at the door. Juan Julio stood outside the foyer, formally, as though he’d come for a visit. He’d explained that the county had hired and sent them; that it was time to care for the lines. Five years had passed, by the municipal schedule, since the trees had been cut back. They had to be shorn.

Dr. Priest, then and there, had said that his wife did not care for such things. She valued her trees, no matter how far across the farm that they travelled, no matter whose power was threatened by their height. He’d related how others had butchered the foliage before, turning branches into stubs and knobs, leaving the whole avenue ragged and unsightly. The Mexican listened, respected such a thing, even agreed with it. Then he invited Dr. Priest to watch them, to object if their work was severe.

Dr. Priest had been amazed at such an offer, somehow even honored by it.

The schedule of the men’s task saved him from the confusion his days had become since his practice was closed; a confusion that was worse now, not better, as all had said it would be. Worse with every year, in fact, and it had been many since he quit. It seemed that a door was always closing these days – things of any purpose being wrapped up and handed along. He could not content himself with avocations – sports, books, horses, even his cattle – and pretend that they were a life. This annoyed him greatly. He would not admit it, but he longed for things to break – pipes to freeze in the winter, roof tin to blow from the barn – so that he could call for repairmen to come and then follow the workers as they plied their crafts. So when Juan Julio arrived with his crew, unbidden, it was a great and welcome surprise.

Every morning, the old man showered, had his coffee, dressed for the heat of the coming day. To discourage mosquitoes, he pulled his athletic socks to his knees, where they met the hem of his baggy shorts, so that he looked like a small, knickered boy. He wore T-shirts given to him by grandchildren, ones that needed shrinking to fit – team logos emblazoned on the front – a baseball cap and dark glasses. Then he went out to meet them, down to the end of the road, with keys to open the gate. There was a mist in the air – thick as bees – as though the sun had walked the earth before his rising, left traces of itself in the light, like pollen floating in dew.

What he had said that afternoon, Juan Julio – of the storm, of the man split in two – was only the latest tale he’d related. Over the days that had passed, the Mexican spoke of other catastrophes: a dustbowl at the border, with desperate men hanging beneath the truck on the axles so as to cross; a gang of bandits, skulking like trolls beneath a bridge, to take a cut of their earnings when they passed. But more often, Juan Julio spoke of his endeavors, his skill at commerce. The poles about the fence rows were draped with three lines, and as the men cleared them with patience and care, Dr. Priest heard of the younger man’s endeavors.

“I bought my first truck with five year’s earnings,” Juan Julio had said. “My second, I bought with the earnings of three. I brought up more men from my village, along with my brother, who watches the second crew, just as I do these.”

It turned out that he nearly had money for a third, what with the extra funds the government had paid him for working after the storm. He spoke of all these things with a charming pride.

Whenever they broke for lunch, the men sat at the fence line, wrapped in the shade they were soon to destroy, and opened their iceboxes. Dr. Priest would leave them, return to the house for a time. There, as he picked at the meal his wife had cooked too much of, he would explain the progress being made. But whenever he heard the still heat broken by the saw’s wail, he would reseat his cap upon his plastered hair and set out for the pasture again. Sometimes he brought them lemonade or iced tea; sometimes he brought them the rest of a cake his wife had made.

“If my men get drunk,” Juan Julio had told him, “they stay home. They make their choice. They don’t eat if they don’t work. If they chose to drink instead of eat – all right – they do as they wish. But they don’t work, beg though they may. They are responsible for themselves. They owe me nothing, but then I pay them nothing.”

The men were careful around Juan Julio, and he watched them like a schoolmaster. He said he collected them for mass on Sundays, and took them to the hospital if they absolutely had to go. But he himself kept a case full of medicines and antiseptics for their minor illnesses. This he had Dr. Priest review, to see if his store was adequate for the purpose.

It seemed that Juan Julio would speak to his men only when it was time to move the truck, or when it was time to take a break. Dr. Priest had even asked the Mexican why they needed such a scarcity of instruction.

It was because he had trained them so well. And he knew so well how to train them because this was how he had started.

“For years I cut, I cleared, I drove the machine. But with a difference,” he had said, between him and the others. “I saw more than my hands.”

The cattle were all back in the field now, bloated with water, heads declined for the grass. He heard his wife stirring in the house, a business that never ended; he was envious, and sometimes aggravated, that her life had never transformed, never changed. He got in her way, now that he had no way of his own, but her path was the same as it had ever been.

He leaned out from his seat to see the browned foliage of a dead evergreen at the corner of the house. That afternoon, before the men had left, he had asked Juan Julio to cut it down. It had been a Christmas tree thirty years ago. And there was a picture of it in a drawer or book somewhere, decorated with lights and balls, and a message along the white border: “tree at corner of house.” A live spruce of some sort, it was a better choice for Christmas than it was for the yard, as it had grown twice as tall as the roof, and its jealous breadth crowded the way around. But a drought the summer before had killed it; heaps of brown needles littered the ground, and desiccated branches were prey to the wind. Dr. Priest offered Juan Julio fifty dollars on the side if he would remove it.

He leaned back in the swing, drank the last of his tea.

Tomorrow, the Mexican would take the tree down, for two twenties and a ten—a week’s wages, when Dr. Priest was in his training. But a man like Juan Julio could make a great deal from so little. A man like that knew how to get along.

He rattled the ice against the glass.

It used to be that way for Priest himself. He cleared; he cut; he cleaned.

But now, when stillness is all that is asked of him, he recollects nothing but motion, as though in all the years before he had been hooked to a line, one that had rushed him through a torrent of borderless, numberless days. Back then, he had been all hands, all eyes, all feet. Now, he moved through their recollections like a man through a museum. They limn out from shadow, and his fingers itch at their sight.

There was the child he had seen on a table, as though sleeping, except that the flesh of his trunk was peeled back, his organs, shy and small, still as a stopped clock. And a rodeo rider, calm as pond water, sitting on a gurney, though a bull had hooked a horn into his mouth, then out through the orbit of his eye. There was his son, a young boy, curled and sleeping in the wheel wells as Priest drove through the night to make calls – in the days when you went to houses; in the days when they came to yours. With his wife sleeping next to him, he had handed syringes through the window to a man needing tetanus shots; he had stepped on a nail in a junkyard, and had knocked on the window to rouse him. There were people full of water, so bloated he’d been forced to use a bucket to bail it all clear; there were children fed through a feed mill augur; a girl, ravaged by a hog; a man’s face, split open by an oak plank shot backwards from a saw mill wood planer – his frantic eyes staring out on either side of a cracked skull, demolished nose, cleft palate – Priest had run a wire through his cheeks to stabilize his face. Stab wounds on Saturday nights, lungs near to collapse, tubes pushed through to inflate them. The poor had born gifts – turnips, collards, pole beans; they had known his father, they had known his grandfather; he took the sacks and gave them to the orderlies, then marked the bills paid. And phone calls he would make – after tests had been run – good news to bring – that it was nothing; that it was all right; that there was time after all, years and years of a life left.

He stared at his tea glass, trying to remember why he had become confused.

Soon it will be time for supper, a thought that made him sigh. He will tell his wife he is not hungry, then they will argue over this fact, as they do every night. In the end, he will have a bowl of cereal before he goes to bed. His appetite is that of a child.

When he is done with his meal, he will walk down to close the gate, then return to sit here, to watch for the lightening bugs. She will read by the television, talk on the phone, plans visits from their children, grandchildren. Holidays seem increasingly desperate now – too many people eager to be too nice, to stare too long. They watch him closely, gauge how much he eats, try too hard to amuse him, and wonder at his rest – is it enough, is it too much? He knows what they think; he has thought such things himself, from bedsides.

The line of the sun was nearly level with his face. He took a detached interest in its progress, as its heat climbed up his legs, his hips, his chest, like anesthesia as the table is tipped.

“You won’t remember this,” he would say to the man who lay there. “I’ll call your name when it’s over.”

He shuts his eyes.

The story of the hurricane had troubled Juan Julio. Priest sees that now. The man had wanted to tell it, and had probably told it often, if others would listen. And it was not so much that he wanted to be comforted as to understand why he had been confused, why he had climbed down and let some other take his place.

For at that moment, the Mexican had lost his peace, like a coin dropped from his pocket, and now he wanted to make it good. He wanted for there to be chances, possibilities, likelihoods—that would crowd it out or give it purpose–prospects and options; he wanted assurance that there would be field upon field to work through; and even if he had not done this, he could yet do that—even if not all was accomplished today, then there was still the day to come. Most of all—if indeed he had failed, there would yet be successes.

For now he is caught in the storm, Juan Julio, and for now he cannot see his way clear. It worries him—which is why his clothes are so clean, his hair brushed so well. Yes, he was always earnest, but he is more so now; he is meticulous to a fault, now. The Mexican will let nothing spill, will leave not a scrap of trash. His men must follow every rule, and his rigor with time is that of a saint. He is prepared, alert. In his mind, he is forever telling himself where he is, what he is doing, what he is yet to do – so that he will not be caught out again; so that he will not be found dreaming.

But he had time to atone; he should know that. The more and longer he lived, the more he could tell the tale, again and again, until his labors drove it from his mind. That was what Dr. Priest wanted to say; that peace he could bring the man, and would when he returned: that he had time. There were years yet, barring some other fate – years in which he could work. Years for someone to expect him, and for his sheer toil to make over, reclaim, build back. He could set this bone for a bone that could not be set, cut out this mass for the one too large to cut, apply this pressure (heel of hand on back of hand, and heel of hand on wound) for that which could not be dammed. Raise the near dead, for the dead that could not be raised.

For he has seen its face, what every man fears. He was the one they clutched after realizing, at last, that love alone could not save them – not their wives or husbands or children, but him – only him – when blood and history and friendship held no power against a rampant disease, a failing heart, time. And he would rise at such a thing, his muscles taut and tight; he would rise at what they believed of him – and talk to them like an angel with a sword in his mouth.

Now, the days are full of skies that will not rain, that beg a purpose they are not given. And he will not be let to answer, not be let to offer or speak, test or try. Like a horse in a barn that sees a field through his door, he stamps at his place. Though he has legs still, and a heart, and lungs and blood, he will not be let to run over it, not even to stumble and fall.

Now he rises at night, ready, prepared, if only they will let him; he looks for a task, for a thing to make right, for succor to bring. If they would let him. He hunts the corners of the house, the places of recess, as if they hold a discovery, a mute cry, fraught eyes.

He could be ready; he would need little. He had restored a man’s wind with a pen knife; he had tied off a vein with some twine.

They must be let through, he had decided. The lines must be let through – to carry answers, voices, questions put. Though they damaged and distorted the living – broke between the green, pulsing world with their naked purpose – their way must be cleared, given place. They ran between things, and they must be prepared, to stand and wait for their time. They must be ready, as he was, always – even now – to say to those who called, who held up the bright, red water of their need: be still – bring me the light; hold it here; this is the way.