doin' this one step at a time, son; there's no fancy schmancy Tokyo assembly
for this kind of work."
a little tricky," Grandpa Steve said to me, his gruff, quintessential
grandfather voice trailing off with each outward breath, "but once
you file it away, the innards are like bean curd." There before the
pair of us, in Grandpa Steve's toolshed behind the large, tan pole barn,
which sat about a quarter mile from their small, whitewashed rambler,
were two, untouched ivory pig femurs. Grandpa was brimming with excitement
at such a bountiful harvest. I really didn't know where it all was going.
"You take the one that's got that slight kink in it," he directed.
"Once you get the hang of it," he stated with the encouragement
of a mentor of some far nobler craft, "you can work with the good
ones. No sense in you muckin' up one of these perfectly good bones in
the learnin' process."
He began to whittle the articular cartilage off of each of the ends with
a very sharp filet knife, giving me a downward glance that said, "follow
my lead." I was going to tell him what it was that he was sheering
off in thin, rough fragments, but I realized that the biology of it all
was something he probably didn't care one bit about. The cartilage shavings
lay in a neat little pile at each end of his femur. The constriction of
my own curiosity began to buckle, and I ventured forth a question in the
worn-out man's direction.
"What are we doing with these again?" I cooed, rather sheepishly,
inspecting the weathered blade on my own tool. The investigation really
didn't turn up any answers on whether or not the blade was fit to cut
through bone, because I honestly had never cut through bone before. Nonetheless,
I began to skim away some of the cartilage, flake by flake. Before I could
wager even the most minute hope of a straightforward answer to my modest
inquisition, Grandpa Steve's elderly condescension kicked into steam,
as I watched his jaw clench from the corner of my eye.
"Now ya see, there you go gettin' ahead of yourself."
I knew the words that were speeding my way before he could even move his
mouth in such a manner to express them vocally, like an infantryman watching
a cannon being loaded and aimed carefully in his direction. "You
know what I always told your father, David? Everytime he griped to me
about chores or this and that, I told him, Kevin, it's not the destination,
it's the journey. We're doin' this one step at a time, son; there's no
fancy schmancy Tokyo assembly line for this kind of work."
As he reprimanded me, he reached for a hacksaw, which was a little bit
unsettling to say the least. Then, to my relief, he began to saw a thin
slice off of one of the ends of the femur, exposing the soft, ripe marrow
within. These poor porkers must've been fresh kills.
I shouldn't have even responded to his dissertation. I should've paid
my homage to the throne of seventy-two tedious years of life experience,
no matter how asinine, and went on sawing away on my own bone. But just
when I think I can keep a lid on my brain, that squirmy bastard gets out
from under me and does something really dumb, so as to punish me for my
"But what if the destination sucks?" I pondered aloud, simultaneously
kicking myself in the head, which was now positioned snugly up my ass.
It was merely a sarcastic remark, but I knew he wouldn't see it that way.
As he was finishing drilling a shaft down the center of the bone, I watched
his cheeks redden, and memories of those fallout drills that kids had
to do in the fifties flashed into my mind. I thought out hiding under
the workbench to save myself from the impending onslaught of flesh-consuming
radiation. He didn't blow up, though, like I imagined he would. It was
a slow, precise release, like an air raid firing smart missiles into armored
caves miles below the surface.
"David," he sighed, tiring of my attitude unfettered by fear,
"there are certain things in life that even I can't teach you, like
patience, and honor and respect." He paused for an instant, calibrating
his rather limited vocabulary as he drilled one of five neat little finger
holes into the side of the bone. "And especially," he continued,
with both his rant and his work, "the gall to stick to somethin'
even when it don't suit your tastes. Finish your own friggin' flute by
yourself; I got chores to do."
With that, the withered shell of a once tall, commanding man cast forth
his unfinished project into it's shattered remains, excused himself from
the shed without a word, and through the frosted windows I watched him
stomp off in the direction of the stable.
Not knowing what else to do, I continued fashioning my flute. I bore a
wide, deep groove down the center of the bone, just as Grandpa Steve had
done, and with a small bit, I drilled finger holes into it's side, omitting
the hand drill that the old man had been toiling over. When I had finished,
my instrument seemed even more smooth and well-constructed than Grandfather's,
which lay abandoned on the workbench for me to use as a model. The finger
hole placement was far more evenly distributed than on his, the tunnel
down the middle was more centered, and the mouthpiece, which I had spent
the most time on of all the alterations, fit under my lip perfectly. I
wrapped my mouth tightly around the mouthpiece, covered all the finger
holes, and blew hard, shooting a thick chunk of marrow, previously lodged
deep within the flute, far across the workshop, forcing a chuckle or two
out of myself.
I hesitated slightly before trying it out. There is something comforting
about ambiguity, not knowing if you've succeeded or failed awfully. Like
a high diver facing backward on the tallest platform, I sighed, sprung
into action and let physics do the rest. Placing my fingertips over a
few of the holes, I blew, slowly. The wavering tone that the flute emitted
was soothing, in such a delicate way that it warmed my pride but did not
enflame it. As my breath ran out, the tone faded from my ears, but echoed
on in it's cool victory.
I inhaled again, this time with a smile across my face, but before I could
resonate yet another lung's worth of sweet, hollow music, my grandmother
burst into the shed, her face as pale as the bone shards that covered
the pine workbench.
"David!" She shouted, "run to the house and call and ambulance."
Her own tone was edgy, confused like a possum caught out in the daylight,
far from the sanctity of its tree.
"Why?" I replied frantically, clenching my hand tightly around
the flute. What happened?" There I went again, asking questions to
which I didn't need to hear the answer.
"Your grandfather," she stammered, her face growing even more
pale than before, "he was breaking a mare in the stable and was kicked
in the side of the head. Hurry, David; I don't even know if he's breathing."
With another awkward gasp, she was gone, running with awkward difficulty
towards the stable, a wild, fleeing banshee that had lost her siren call.
After that, I set my flute carefully down on the table, clearing away
a spot for it bare of bone fragments and marrow. Then, I dawned on my
jacket and zipped it up cautiously, as the wind outside was chilling,
and I walked slowly towards the house to call the hospital, noting the
color of the reddening maples along the way. Grandpa Steve died that day,
and some have criticized me for my tardiness in phoning the ambulance.
But to them, I always reply with the words of a wise, forgotten man: "It's
not the destination, it's the journey."
© Nathan West 2002
"I'm the fuse that they abuse, someday they'll spark me.
I'll ignite fifty years of history in their face, and end the exploitation
of an innocent race." N.W.
Nathan West is an English Major from the U.S. This is his first piece
fiction in Dreamscapes
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