The Handiwork of Man


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With summer quickly receding, I find myself relishing the past few months of late moon-lit nights, campfires, friends and quiet conversations. I have one, maybe two weekends left as leaves are starting to drop, trees turning, My youngest has started school. On a much more personal level, I’m looking to the future, a future that isn’t so bright, but one that I’ve come to understand, I own.

Not all businesses succeed, and I’ve always known that but I’ve never believed that I would fail. I took a chance, I lept and fell short. I took a chance and I failed, it’s that simple.

There’s a new beginning, a new adventure that’s about to start, the genesis will be born of pain and suffering no doubt, but in the long run, it’ll be ok.

When I look around at what’s happening in our world and I think of my particular life’s experiences and journeys, I’m struck by an indelible sadness. Life has not been particularly good to me but neither has life been good for most of our population. By good, I do not meant the financial security that many enjoy, rather the security of what ever we value in our lives. Our loved ones, our friends, our God, our morals and personal ethics, for those, are those things of importance when we take our last breath.

Human pain and suffering, be it sickness or war, seem the prevalent theme with our species, a theme I fail to appreciate much less understand. I find it easy to understand why one would find comfort in their God and the next, deny there is such a deity.

I find none of Gods handiwork in the human theme of things and I blame none except those individuals of yesterday and those alive today.

This is our doing.

There are of course, those who look out across the width and breadth of their lives on a cool but bright, summer day and give thanks for all that is good in their lives. They smile, and wonder what joy will come next. They lead good, energetic and hardworking lives. They will claim they understand that everything can change in a split second, but they do not know how everything can change in a split second. No one can until that hammock
fateful second arrives. Yes, there are many insulated from the horrors of the world, their only knowledge is from sources they choose to pursue. Far too many of us understand the horrors of sickness, war and all the proverbial ills of mankind, but not enough know, not enough know to care.

This is our burden, humanities burden, that essentially, we are a weak species, indifferent to those in need and in pain. We accept that weakness, we give it reason, we give it value, we find merit in being poor, in suffering and then claim our salvation lies in whatever God we justify. We intellectualize that there are those who suffer greatly, that it is Gods will, as long as I am not one of them who suffer so..

But their fates are not in the hands of God, they are in your hands, and that is where you will find salvation.

The Honesty of Death

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The old man lay on his bed. Blindly, his eyes were cast upward as if reading the dimples of the low hanging ceiling tiles. Curtains had earlier been pulled shut in order to inhibit the wanton
penetration of afternoon sun. Next to the bed, to the old mans right, was placed a nightstand which was the foundation for nothing more than an unused blue, plastic pitcher.

At the foot of this bed rested a metal framed dining room chair with padding applied over the seat and across its back. And to the old mans left, there was another bed, this one dressed in a sterile fashion with not a crease to be found. That bed, had given up its occupant some days earlier and now waited for a new arrival. Across from this sterile space, tucked away neatly into a very small closet, sat a wheelchair, folded as if it were an accordion which was never used. Its velcro straps hung down over huge, rear wheels appearing well out-of-place in the order of things.

A dark, small, bare room with a dying old man.

He knew he was dying!

In a brief moment of conscience, he had once heard a nurses retort that “it was just a matter of time” as she walked in on daily rounds, checking pulse and respirations.

Actually, taking note of those who were still alive and those who were not.

“Indeed, a matter of time.” he had thought.

And even if he had not heard, he knew.

But none of this mattered, for as the old man lay dying, perhaps with a dribble of spittle working its way out and down one side of his mouth, or lying in urine stenched sheets that would not be changed until a nurse came by on her rounds, he, himself, was lost in the transit of time. During a twenty-four hour period, there would be at best,only a few minutes of true cognizant thought in which he not only knew, but understood as well, that his life would soon be over. Yet, in the time frame of a single thought, this old man would slip back into his past.

His life had been …

**

The tall skinny kid wearing baggy jeans which were half hidden by an over sized, white tee-shirt, was in the thick of the fight.

Along with a dozen other kids of various size and ages, he was covered from head to foot in mud. No big deal here tho’, he had thrown more than his own fair share. Their fun was evidenced plainly by the shrieking sounds of laughter along with fits of giggles bordering on lines of hysteria, punctuated only by a scream to “plaster that kid there or get this one here”.

From behind the skinny one, a mud ball zipped through the air, unseen by its victim. Changing its shape as it moved along a straight line course, losing much of its mud which had been loosely packed, revealing a core of solid rock that struck the skinny boy squarely in the back of his head, knocking him to his knees while also opening an inch long gash that flooded his white tee-shirt in blood.

Silence.

Except for the receding footsteps of the other children, there were only whimpers of a skinny, mud-caked, bloodstained little boy who finally found, if not the strength, then the courage to pick himself up and start out for a home, which he also knew would be empty as his heart.

As he walked, the boy removed his tee-shirt, applying it to his wound with as much pressure such a slender frame could afford.

Again, the boy began to sob, but not from a physical pain but with a pain of being alone to suffer alone. A pain, such as that a child is unable to understand, in turn, causing this pain to intensify even more so.

By the time this skinny boys’ mother arrived home, she found her son, still bloodstained and encased in mud, sitting in front of their television set with a wet towel wrapped around his head.

Only the physical pain still existed, for either by a conscience or subconscience act, he had eliminated all traces of emotional pain.

It simply had been easier to eliminate the emotion then to suffer through it.

**

The young man who held his wife’s’ hand as she lie in the hospitals’ birthing room was considered a man in a biological sense alone. In truth, after twenty-seven years, he still remained a boy. Arings simple boy who had taken on a complex facade of manhood. There was a home, a well-paying job, his wife and soon there would be a child to round out the picture. All, as far as he was really concerned, superficial responsibilities. They were things he needed for acceptance and following that, there was no loyalty to such values or concepts behind such a thing as a home.

Being such as it was, it was often that a house payment, car payment or grocery’s were skipped to fulfill some desire in him. Sometimes it was only a bag of pot, other times it might be a new television or stereo.

It went beyond irresponsibility.

Note also that they were his things, not hers, his wife’s Further note, that when she did receive some “thing”, it was an item he had bought. Now, as this boy sat holding his wifes1 hand, he wond­ered if he might have been ignorant to the fact that his world was about to change. No, he had thought about it and he knew their lives would change with the birth of their first child. “Well”, he thought, “at least it would change hers.” As he looked over towards her face, he knew it was near time and he began to have second thoughts about remaining in the birthing room when a nurse backed into the room carrying a tray of instruments.

The boy watched from his wife’s own vantage point, still holding her hand and wiping her brow when he thought she needed it. In a very abrupt manner, the nurse commented in a tone that sent a nervous glance between husband and wife. She had broken her water and dilated to just under seven centimeters.

Active labor was well under way and so was the doctor.

A crescendo of rising and ebbing screams, voices telling when to push mingled with sounds telling her to breathe in or out pervaded through-out the room. Amidst all this, the boy looked down, himself in pain as his wife now held his hand as if she were some creation of an ancient goddess sent to earth to punish her males by affixing a forged vice to their hands, therefore keeping them out of places they did not belong.

The boy found he was growing uncomfortable and suddenly he needed to turn his head away from the birth. In doing so, he heard the doctor encourage his wife on and with this, a small grin appeared for the instant reminded him of a troop of cheerleaders encouraging their team on to victory.

In the very next second, a virgin cry broke into his thought, revitalizing an atmosphere that had gone stale from the sweat of humans in labor When the boy turned to look upon his new child, he breathed in this air, he noticed their doctor was handing him a set of surgical scissors. Moving up and over, he took the instrument, cutting the boys lifeline to his mother between to yellow, plastic clamps.

Doing so, a deep sense of curiosity arose in him. A curiosity not of what their future might hold, but a curiosity of life in general. And in a small way, for the first time in this boys life, he felt like a man.

**

The natural air had been sweetened with the smell of marijuana. A twenty-one inch television flickered in the darkness of the small room, its changing images in turn cast changing shadows. A figure of a man could be made out, lying on a couch as if he were watching.

But he was not.

He lay lost in his own personal, dark fantasies.

Clarity is for those who exist in a clarified world.

Reeling off images, he watched as an outsider as a man who clearly was not identifiable, hung his head over a kitchen sink which was recognized. Watching, he saw the images weight was supported by his arms, one of each placed on opposite sides of the sink. Slowly, the figure raised his head to stare at the blank wallpaper as if here consigned to a destiny he wanted no part of. Taking his right hand off the sinks edge, he moved it down to open a drawer. Reaching in, he immediately found what was needed without even the benefit of a glance.

Picking up the long, silver butcher knife, he studied it as he ran a flat edge over his left fore and middle finger. Hesitantly, his image moved past the opened drawer, the knife in hand, hanging below his waist, just slightly behind his buttocks. Stopping, he peered around the corner of the kitchen, out into a living room where a women sat in a recliner. Knowing that with her backs to him, it would be easy. Abruptly, his field of vision focused on a small child lying asleep on the floor, his hands tucked behind his head with both feet propped up on the bottom ledge of the TV tray.

Just as abruptly, the image faded as the man who lay on his couch sat up, wiping the thick sweat from his face. Knowingly, he had once again transgressed boundaries he himself had set. This transgression bothered him. These fantasies, flourished in their evil which he thought impossible to other normal human beings. He began to question his own normalcy, to fight with his sanity. It had taken a major effort to realize that he had become lost in his fantasy and then return to a sense of reality.

Again, he questioned his own sanity, wondering how much longer he could control his own private demons. With all honesty, he wanted, he needed, he had to. And as he laid back into the comfort of his couch, he knew he would,

no matter the cost.

**

The man sat behind a desk in a swivel chair, smoking a briar pipe while he waited for his clients response.

His client was a tall, slender man who stood looking out his counselors office window. Turning to face his psychologist, he asked just what he meant when he had asked if “I really wanted to save my marriage”.

Leaning back in his chair, he gave his left cheek a scratch through a short-cropped, dark beard. Removing his pipe, he then lean forward and tapped his pipe on a clear corner of his, otherwise, paper laden desk.

“David” cuddling his pipe in his hand as he spoke, “do you want to save your marriage because you love your wife and children or is it because you think your expected to try.”

Jumping up to sit on the ledge of the window behind him, David lit up a filtered cigarette and asked, no, told this doctor of psychology, psychiatry or whatever the hell he was that he was “full of shit”. That he made it sound as if there was a choice involved…”And in the long run, I’ve got two kids to think about, so it’s not a question of what I want or what others expect me to do, it’s a question of whats the best thing to do for everybody involved, regardless of how I feel about it”.

“And how do you feel about it”?

With silence, David got up and walked over to the desk where he simply dropped his lit cigarette into a large glass ashtray, not bothering to snuff out the glowing tip of tobacco. Turning, he walked towards the only exit, stopping just short, he again turned to look at the man who remained seated.

“You know, I sometimes wonder about your fucking intelligence Charles, I mean, I’ve been coming down here and telling you how I feel for the last year and you have to fucking ask.”

With that, David walked out the door, past a Secretary and out into the cold winter afternoon. Instinctively, his slender body braced against the fortitude of the cold. Tossing the cold to the back of his mind, David thought just how much of a joke everything had seemed to become. Navigating patches of ice on his way to his car, he wondered aloud just how crazy it all was and then in a long deep sigh, if one had actually been close enough to hear, “if they only knew.” and again, this time moving his head from one side to another, “if they only knew”.

**

The man paced nervously across a purple carpet of a newly remodeled gate lounge. The smell of the newness was still in the air and the man first became aware of it as he glanced down at his wristwatch, followed by a glance to the large wall clock. Not sure of his own reliability, he quickly walked out of the area over to an attendant clerk to ask if his flight was on time.

Being assured it was, the man then moved on through the long gates, watching nothing in particular. Finding a spot, he watched planes as they landed or left, watching and trying to remember how long it had been since he had seen his oldest son. About seven years he thought, since Davie jrs. graduation. “Christ, it’s hard to believe it’s been that long.” Yet he did believe it and accept it. His oldest child was no longer a kid. Finishing college, David had gone on to get married and established himself in a well-paying career. Still, the man found it hard to believe, “Perhaps”, he thought,”because I really don’t feel any older”.

There was an inherent curiosity on this mans part, as a father he desperately wanted to see how his son had grown, how he carried himself, walked and talked. Further, the father needed to know what, how his son thought. Needed to have some insight into his sons ambitions, his ideologies. All this was as important to the father as they were to the man they belonged to.

Breaking his concentration, he again looked at his Timex. Once more he checked his time against the airports, this time pulling a Marlboro from his flannel shirt, flicking his lighter, his attention was caught by a central loudspeaker that barely rose above the volume soft murmurs which accompanied a dozen or so others, who also waited in the same lounge.

The father swallowed, then proceeded to light his cigarette as he moved over to a large window, allowing for a panoramic view of the runways. Watching as the plane landed, producing short squirts of smoke from its tires as it touched down, the man briefly felt sorrow that he had never flown. Slowing, the plane grew larger as it reached the gate, coming to a full stop near a ramp used for access.

The man, this father, watched as one by one, couple by couple, all the passengers disembarked. A slight smirk crossed his face as he was reminded of Noah’s ark. How it must feel to reach your destination, relieved of their confinement.

With the flood of passengers resolving itself into a trickle, the father had not yet found his son. Turning, he scanned through the crowd which had dispersed throughout the terminal.

“Perhaps” he thought, “I missed him”. It faded quickly as he knew better.

His son had not came.

Sorrow and loneliness seeped down, wrapping themselves around the core of the father. For the first time in a very long time, tears began to swell up, carrying the same weight as a battery of welts inflicted along the breadth and width of his back.

**

Looking into a mirror, he stroked his mustache and then ran his fingers through
his hair. Doing so, he liked the way his gray had grown in to mix with his sandy brown hair. Tilting his head, he went back to stroking his mustache, thinking back to the day when he had first began to grow it. What was he, fifteen, at best sixteen. Oh how he had nurtured it.

He had had it ever since.

Laughing, he picked up his Norelco and while popping up the beard trimmer, he wondered how he could actually do this. It was much the same as cutting ones right arm off. And as he wondered, he shaved.

Placing his razor on the sink, the eyes studied the face in the mirror and immediately decided the wrong thing had been done. Rubbing, pinching the
smooth skin between his thumb and forefinger, he knew without doubt he would never shave it off again. There seemed to be just too much of an identity loss. As if he would be incapable to communicate with the stranger in the mirror.

Besides, he felt he looked stupid.

After tossing a washcloth into the sink, he walked out into his bedroom where a woman lay asleep. Walking over, he sat next to her torso, shaking her shoulders until she exhibited some semblance of sobriety after a long night of whiskey waters. With no great amount of passion, he briefly let her know he was leaving for work.

Walking out of the room, he muttered under his breath, “…And thanks a lot for breakfast, hon”.

**

Exceptionally beautiful days are tended with passion in a land where long winters tear into a populace with little mercy.

“Not a cloud in the sky” the man was thinking. Standing on a well-kept beach, he wore jeans with holes in both knees and a tattered green tee-shirt, the kind with a pocket over its left breast. In his right hand, he held a plastic cup,full if not minus a sip or two.

From behind him, he heard a voice call his name. A voice he recognized even after all these years. Stunned, he continued to look out over the horizon, perhaps in a vain refusal to recognize the voice as real. Finally he turned to face a never forgotten past. As he stared at the small, trim woman, he became aware of his loss for words. Exhaling a breath of air, he found it hindered as he forced his first wife’s name out with it.

“Marie.”

“God it’s good to see you again, Marie, but what the hell are you doing here?”

“I…just had some time on my hands and decided, well, to come home for a couple of days.” Pausing, Marie then added, “It’s good to see you too David.”

Walking up to Marie, he stood silent and then in a whisper, “It really is good to see you.”

Around them, people were gathering in small groups, others were milling about. Some were seated at a couple of picnic tables. All, it seemed were engaged in some sort of conversation while nursing their beers along. Marie and the man had made their way over to a keg of Pabst, kept cold in an old garbage can full of ice.

Amid this summer tranquility, two old friends walked along a stretch of beach, talking, and then returning to the party to await their turn at the keg. Periodically, their privacy would be interrupted by another, but never for long enough to distract them from their memories.

And they talked of their lives, they laughed over their good times. Remembering, there was the birth of their children, their old Chevy that started on the coldest of winter mornings but had a heater that never seemed to work. There was this old friend, that old friend. They wondered what had ever happened to them.

Somehow, the pain of those days had been set aside.

So the day went on, ending when the man stood alone as Marie gave him a gentle kiss and then climbed into her car. Watching as she backed out the driveway, he felt mixed feelings. Joy, that she had found happiness in her second marriage, more children and above all, close ties to all that was around her. There was also a deep sense of jealousy that lie next to his joy. A jealousy he did not quite fathom. Perhaps her gain was through his loss.

Walking over to find no one around the keg, he flipped the black tap handle letting the beer run freely into his cup. He was still occupied with his earlier years, this time in solitude.

“What had happened,” he wondered. And he knew the futility of the thought. He had asked it before and the answer was always the same.

It was not so much what he had wanted as opposed as to

what had to be, no matter the cost.

**

A woman walked into the motel room dressed in tight fitting jeans and a beige halter top. He lay back on the bed as the woman sat down beside him. Briefly, they talked about money, about what he wanted and for how long. The business done, she rose and slipped her halter top off over her head as he watched.

It had been a full year since the man had bothered to drive the long two hours to the capital city. Before that, he had made the trip frequently. Usually once, maybe twice a month if he had the funds in his savings account. Driving down, he would visit with old friends, drink and then walk the seedier streets of the capital. Walking the streets, he would duck into this strip joint or that one, looking for prostitutes. As a last resort, he would walk into the trampy, dirty little massage parlors that dotted his way.

In essence, it was for the women he made the trip. No, not only for the women, but also for this different, dirtier way of life. There was something in the degradation that a city this size could offer that a smaller town could not. There was also the sense of obscurity, that he could do, say anything and never be out of place.

In gravitating with these people who only came out in the night, there was a semblance of sympathy for the whores, the drunks and all the have-nots. As if they too had been lost from the normalcy of life.

But he was not one of them, he was…, better.

And as the woman straddled him, he wondered if she knew this.

**

The room was small. Too small for too many people. As the people filed in to fill rows of metal folding chairs, their elbows could not help but overflow to invade their neighbors privacy. As a result of this, from the back row it appeared as if everybody were in a constant state of agitation, shifting their weights from one side of the chairs to the other.

A gray-haired man in back was concentrating, not on what the minister was saying, but on two men who sat in the front row. Side by side, their heads bowed in silent respect and sorrow. Behind them, sat a young woman in tears that were hid by a handkerchief held in place by a black gloved hand.

Shifting his thoughts to his daughter, the gray haired man thought how beautiful his youngest child had grown. And married with small children of her own. A thought crossed his mind that her children were roughly the same age that their mother was when he had left. Further, he wondered if the opportunity would arise for an introduction of some sort to his grand-children. An out of place smile presented itself, he had not realized he had so many grand kids.

Abruptly, the minister’s voice broke off and the old man watched as the coffin was sealed.

Marie was really gone.

The thought weighed on his soul much heavier than he had expected.

Now there would be no more letters, no inside information to leak out details of what their children were doing in their lives. Periodically, since the reunion on the beach, she had written, once even, she had called.

That was all before. Now all contact would be lost. Yet he hoped to establish some contact, even if only a smile. Some source of acknowledgment from his children.
Later, the man sat at a card table sipping a Styrofoam cup of coffee, afraid to set it down on the white table cloth for fear of stains. From across the room, he watched his oldest son walk in his direction. As
the young man approached, apprehension took hold. The father rose and on a nervous impulse, extended his hand. The notion of a handshake was not reciprocated. The son pulled out a chair to the old mans opposite side, and sat. Slowly, the old man followed.

In a whispered voice and tone, the mans oldest son leaned forward and asked his father to leave.

Leaning forward himself, and he too in a whisper, asked, “I can do that David, but first, is that how you all feel or have you taken it on your own initiative to ask me to leave.” Clearly, the son was not enjoying this confrontation. “Dad….Dammit, I can’t call you that, I’m sorry, it doesn’t feel right” and in exasperation he added “Christ” and then shook his head.

The old father looked his son in his eyes and saw a void to wide to be bridged.

“My names David” he spoke softly. Rising from his chair, he stood across from his son who remained seated. “You know I waited for hours after your plane got in” and in a bare whisp­er, he added, “I couldn’t bring myself to go home alone but I understand you had your reasons. Your mother…, well, she pretty much explained everything to me.” Turning, he walked out the room, and as he did so he could have sworn he heard a sigh of relief from everyone in the room, including himself.

Where he had hoped to build, no, plant the beginnings of a bridge across the years, he had not done so.

**

An old man in wire rimmed glasses had just finished vigorously shoveling his front walk free of snow. He would not have bothered with doing so if it had not been for a postal regulation requiring a clear passage to all mailboxes

Looking over his handiwork, he then forcefully threw his snow shovel into the midst of a snow bank he had created. Watching the blade drive deep, he stared at it in silence as he thought of how it reminded him of a fantasy which he had many years before. Quickly, his demons were locked away.

Yes, this old man still had his demons, an evil part of his existence which he had fought with for the better part of his life. Now, they were kept in the abyss of his mind. And on the rare occasion when they broke free to the surface, they were quickly, easily overcome and driven back to the depths they inhabited.

Somehow, with Marie’s death some years back, the desire to delve deep into the evil he possessed, simply faded. His darkest fantasies had remained just that. He really felt he had won. Still watching his shovel, he noticed its wooden shaft slightly vibrating, pointing straight towards the heavens. A sly grin crossed his face as he thought about the last time he had, not an erection, but the opportunity to use it. Walking back up three steps to his front door, he felt a twinge of pain run up along his left arm. Not paying any attention to it, he reached out, opened his door and walked into his living room. Removing his heavy parka, he unbuttoned the front of a red flannel shirt to reveal a thermal undershirt. Fumbling with fingers that had never really grown used to carrying the burden of cold, he removed his glasses which were frosted over and wiped them clean, using a tail end of his flannel shirt. With his glasses off, he watched himself in a mirror, hung on the opposite wall. Stroking his thin silver hair back into place, he thought how ironic his mustache had remained full. Silver, but still full. He smiled about the time he had shaved it off.

Suddenly he felt tired, unable to catch a full supply of air. He realized he had to work to force his lungs to inflate. From behind, he became conscious of the mailman dropping his mail through the front slot of hmailis screen door.

Opening the door, still working at forcing his lungs to work, he bent over and picked up his mail. Sorting through the envelopes of assorted sizes, he rested his attention on one in particular. In the upper left hand corner there was an address with a simple heading which read “family”.

As he opened the letter, the pain in his arm came again.

This time not allowing him to pull the letter free, the pain arrived in a series of explosions deep in his chest. It was all the tired old man could do, to let go of the envelope and clutch at his heart. Collapsing, he fell against his screen door. Opening it with his weight, he then tumbled over the steps and onto his walkway. He lay there, in a semi conscious state. His heart fluttering and his vision fixed upon the envelope that had also fallen with him.

His letter had came to rest just out of his reach.

Rob Paxtons Website