Strings - Terry Durbin
I found it when I cleaned out the guestroom closet. It still says ANDREW clearly enough though the marker has bled into the cardboard over the years, getting faded and fuzzy, like memories do. I can still see stains on the lid – three of them. Isn’t it strange how something as insubstantial as tears can leave marks that last so long?
A wing chair sits by the window and I sit in it with the box on my lap. Sunlight oozes through the glass, warming my skin. The view is both a snapshot of the common and a canvass on which to paint dreams. I can see the clothes-line, a corner of the garden devoted to carrots, and the fence where wild grapes grow between our place and Hoskin’s clover field. The field is dotted with pixels of violet amid variegated green; beyond are the shadows of the forest. It’s easy to see why Andy liked to sit here for so many hours. The wing chair takes up just a little more space than his wheelchair did.
“Dad?” he’d asked. “Can I get a marionette?” We were on the porch and the breeze played impishly with the pages of the catalogue which lay open on his withered lap.
“Wouldn’t you rather make one? We could work on it together.”
“But I like this one,” he’d said. Surprisingly, the puppet he’d chosen was a smooth, faceless thing like those featureless, jointed dolls artists use to practice sketching the human form. It seemed cold and alien to me.
“Wouldn’t you rather have one that looked like someone, Andy? A knight maybe? A cowboy? A wizard? You love wizards.”
He’d smiled at me then like adults sometimes smile at children we consider slow. “But this one,” he said, tapping the page with a fragile finger, “can be anyone.”
A week later the marionette arrived, cloistered in the same box where it still rests, and for months it was Andy’s constant companion. His thin hands adapted quickly to the controlling cross, and with it he could make that creature dance . . . and run . . . and do the splits . . . and a hundred other things that healthy legs and whole bodies can do. He named it, Andrew.
Andrew was with Andy at the end.
I was mowing the yard for the last time of that year. Andy was on the porch in a rectangle of late sun, tipping and turning the cross to make Andrew hop between the shadows of the balusters and the shafts of sunlight like a pianist’s fingers flickering between black and white keys.
He left without saying goodbye sometime while I was parking the mower in the shed. I found him wilted into his chair; all of his strength had flowed from him, down the strings, and into Andrew who still dangled from Andy’s hand, dancing in the October breeze.
I screamed then. And I wept. And I raged.
I tore Andrew from Andy’s hand and I cursed him. I wrapped the hateful strings which would make his body move, but not my son’s, around his smooth, solid form and I threw him as far as I could. He waved and swam and kicked at me as he flew.
I buried Andy that fall on a wet day, under a sky the color of steel. I think it was raining. All I remember about the winter is that it was dark, and so very cold.
When spring came, before the grape leaves unfurled, I felt the need to walk along the fence until I found Andrew tangled among the vines. With a skill and motivation not my own, I disentangled the marionette, carried it into the house, and placed it in its box.
I still weep. I still rage. I still want to scream. Time changes nothing except frequency. But from time to time I feel a pull, as if from unseen strings, and I turn my face to the sun.
I still smile too.
So I sit here and raise the lid a bit – not completely, I don’t want to see Andrew’s limp, unstrung body – and slide my hand inside . . . to touch the strings.
Terry Durbin lives in Southeast Iowa on a ridge overlooking the Mississippi River floodplain. He studied biology at Western Illinois University and has worked as a sportswriter. He has published two novels; The Legacy of Aaron Geist, and Chase. Currently he is preparing to release a collection of short stories: Reflections in a Dark Mirror. Tdurbin99@msn.com