My brother is a superstar. Dad says I could learn a thing or two from him. He says if I stop giving every sad sack I meet a hand-carved spoon, who knows, I might become Assistant Sales Coordinator one day like Dale. (He admits it’s unlikely but at the very least, I should fill out the application to answer phones at Dale’s company.)
Still, I open the door when a stranger knocks.
It’s a hairy guy wearing nothing but a loincloth. I figure he’s a Jehovah’s Witness so I invite him in to help him make his quota. I put down my chisel. “I’m Carl,” I say.
But he doesn’t have any pamphlets. He stomps around my living room and knocks over the walking stick I’m carving. He punches himself in the forehead. “Why does Father overlook the fruits of my labor? Why does He regard only my brother’s offerings?”
I feel for the guy. He’s got a superstar brother too. I bring him a wooden spoon and a cup of tea to go with it but he throws them to the floor.
I mop up the tea. I give him advice: “My shrink says no family is perfect. He says it’s important to practice ‘loving forbearance.’” I explain it’s like when Dad tells me not to come on Father’s Day because he’s getting a steak dinner with Dale and I say ‘sure thing’ and eat a microwave pizza.
The guy blinks, then leaves.
He comes back the next day even more distraught. “Father denigrated my sheaves of wheat! Yet He rejoiced in my brother’s lamb.”
I make soothing noises. I tell him parents have a lot on their minds and sometimes, they forget things. Like last year when I carved a beautiful swan for my dad’s birthday. It had fine-gouged feathers and a neck that rippled like water. But Dad got so distracted by the iPhone Dale gave him that he tossed out the swan with the recycling. “My shrink says—”
“Father paraded my brother’s offering far and wide, though my brother did deceive Him with his sickliest animal. My sheaves he left for the birds.” The guy picks up a vase and throws it at the wall.
“My shrink says, uh…” I stop. I am remembering how long it took me to dig the swan out of the dumpster. When I finally found it under a wad of poopie diapers, its neck had snapped clean off. Without it the body looked like it could have belonged to any old duck.
The guy tries to pick up the TV but it’s too heavy. I help him and together we throw it out the window. My fingers tingle as I watch the plastic cube explode into pieces on the pavement.
“And my brother? Mirthful.” The guy makes a fist and slaps it against his palm. “He must be reckoned with.”
“I’ll come with you,” I offer. I figure he needs the moral support.
The next day we wait in an empty field. I whittle the handle of my walking stick. The guy’s brother is a no-show. After a couple hours my father walks by on his way to play golf with Dale. He purses his lips when he sees me. “For Christ’s sake, Carl, why are you standing in an empty field with this goober? I bet you didn’t fill out that job application like I told you to!” He grabs my ear and yanks it from side to side. My head bobs like a buoy.
The hairy guy smacks my father’s hand away. My father gives me a look. He doesn’t say a word. His expression sinks into me like a hammer to the bottom of a pond.
After my father leaves I jab the guy in the chest. “What the heck? Remember what I told you—what my shrink said?” My fingers tingle.
“You’re a fool,” he says. He laughs.
The next thing I know I’m holding the walking stick like a sword. I whack the guy in the head. I whack him again and again until he shudders and his hair puffs out like feathers. I blink and suddenly he is a starling. He scratches, shrieks, and flies away. Black feathers float to the ground like ash.
The sky darkens. I hear tiny hiccupping sounds and realize they are coming from deep inside my chest.
“Hello?” I say to the empty field. There is no reply.
I press my walking stick into the earth and stumble forward. I take one step, then another. I want my father.
Image Credit: Yves Tanguy, Belomancie I (Belomancy I) (1927)