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This is a story with no head or tail.
This is a story of a boy with calloused hands and a sandpaper heart. He has autumn hair and a rusty red bicycle and a dirty cabin window where he spends his nights. He hates chewing gum and tomatoes but loves whittling tiny figurines of the forest creatures who know more about him than his own father does.
This is a story of a boy who makes a life for himself after being running away from the only home he knew. He now works at 7-11 five days a week, weekends at McDonalds, and every night in the moonlight carving fairytales out of wood and smoothing his mistakes with the coarse texture of his heart.
This is a story of a boy who sells his first sculpture to a little girl with tomato colored hair and an awful mess of pink bubblegum in her mouth, but smiles when she squeals with joy at the oak wood chipmunk and realizes that the best feeling in the world is proving them all wrong. He then converts his creaky cabin house to a sculpture store and hangs an ‘Open’ sign in the freshly windexed window. He lines the thin shelves with bluejays and barnyard owls, coyote pups and Bambis, all modeled after his best friends.
“Business is going well, guys,” he tells them as they sit in the clearing, enjoying the twilight. “Today, a kid came in, only this high, and fell in love with a life-size of you, Fox,” he says, gesturing at the orange sherbet canine with soft brown eyes. “He must have been half your size, and he told me he was going to teach you -- or, your sculpture, rather, all sorts of tricks.” The animals just look at him, like they always do, and he smiles because words don’t mean all that much anyway.
This is a story of a girl who visits his cabin every week at two o’clock on the dot. She has thick rimmed glasses and tangled in locks that dance with the wind, a too broad smile that reaches her eyes, and hands that are forever splotched with paint. She turns her head from side to side, scrutinizing every sculpture, and each nose scrunch kills him a little inside. Like always, she asks the boy if he has anything new, anything perfect. When she hears the boy mumble modestly, “Nah, nothing perfect,” she thanks the him, turns around, and strides away without a second glance.
This is a story of a boy who begins to take requests from his customers, and finds himself taking detailed notes with an over-chewed, inch long pencil, on a puppet he is to carve for a stout kindergartner with a too loud voice. “What kind of puppet would you like?” He asks her.
“She has to be the perfect summer girl,” she replies. He wonders briefly how much she could possibly know about perfection, and decides that even that much is more than he knows about summer girls. That night, he flips the sign to ‘Closed’ and brushes away the cobwebs to have a seat in the pools of starlight. He pulls out his ancient pocket knife, forcing the rusty hinge open, and silently carves his mind into mahogany, scraping the wood away as he searches for perfection in the dark. He slices out long, thin limbs, with delicate fingers and toes. He curves the knife down the sides of her head, defining swells of slow waves that float down to the small of her back. He cuts away at her face until she is left with a flat nose, small lips, and two deep-set eyes.
He paints her skin with washroom color and the waves on her head with soft black. An air of familiarity washes over him as he sets dark frames on the ridge of her nose. He holds her against the window and stares at his dark-eyed dreamer, letting the glow of the night sky bathe her eternal smile, until his eyelids are suddenly responsible for the weight of the world, but give way soon after. He was never the responsible type, anyway.
This is a story of a puppet girl who dreams of dancing on skyscrapers and hugging the clouds and thinks that sitting beneath a tree sounds more poetic than it actually is. Instead, she sits on the ‘Special Orders’ shelf and awaits her future owner with growing impatience. She whines to him about how hard it is to wait. He snaps at her, mumbling something about patience, so, she sits quietly and watches the world go by, because puppets do what they’re told.
This is a story of a girl who arrives at the store eleven minutes late and is obviously flustered by her unprecedented tardiness. She makes her usual rounds around the store and makes her way to the boy to ask for anything new, and just as he begins to regurgitate his well-rehearsed answer, “Yes, actually, I just ma--,” she cuts him off.
This is a story of a puppet girl who finds herself in the rainbow acrylic hands of a girl much too old to be playing with dolls. The girl turns her over and over, inspecting her from every angle. She bends her joints and smells her hair and looks at her through her glasses, and it’s almost like looking in a mirror. However, moments later, she finds herself back on the shelf as the boy runs after the girl for a few steps, before remembering that she’s not there for him, anyway.
This is a story of a stout kindergartner with a too loud voice who comes back to pick up her perfect summer girl, and leaves empty handed with a pout plastered to her face after telling the boy the puppet girl is hard and frigid, like a winter girl. Her glasses are too big and her smile is too wide and her hair is too knotted.
This is a story of a boy whose sandpaper heart begins to tear, because even sandpaper gets worn down eventually. He stares at that puppet all night long and asks why no one sees perfection like he does. His eyes flick to the nicks on his fingers that were once symbolic of the beautiful art he manifests from nothing, and watch as they suddenly transform into the universal marks of failure. His eyes flare as he throws her across the floor, shouting at her, asking her why she isn’t beautiful; why she can’t be perfect.
She crashes into the corner of the cabin and lays tangled in a bed of cobwebs. He finds himself barefoot in the clearing, shivering rhythmically to the sound of the crickets. Owl swoops down from his perch and he scoops Rabbit into his arms. Fox crawls over and Woodpecker lands on his shoulder. He buries his face in snowy white fur and breaths in the summer air. His mind floods; he’s consumed by tsunamis of doubt.
This is a story of a boy who wakes up with dewy bunny feet in his face and a tiny heart beating with his. The sun is still crawling up the dusty sky; he has a few more hours to relax. Rabbit yawns and buries his warm body deeper into his arms. Why can’t she be this pure? He ponders, gazing down at the tiny white paws, feeling the life within Rabbit as his heart pulses twice as fast as his own.
This is a story of a girl who shows up with a canvas and paintbrush at the stroke of dawn, because timeliness isn’t everything and spontaneity is an art, and finds the boy huddled in the field snoring softly. She crawls quietly beside him and watches the sun crawl up the bare August sky as she paints her hopes and dreams. She giggles when he awakes with a start, and pretends not to notice his confused expression. She focuses her eyes on her painting, while he makes his way to the cabin to open up.
This is a story of a boy who stands behind the counter in his cabin utterly baffled at what she could have possibly been doing painting next to him as he slept. His thoughts are left incomplete, however, because she soon interrupts them as she bursts through the door.
“Do you like my painting?” She asks, in hushed tones, because human words and morning bird songs mix about as well as oil and water. She holds up the canvas, which he can now make out, depicts the animals and himself, unconscious and innocent.
“What are you doing here? It’s not nearly two o’clock,” he says, ignoring the question. “What happened to that pocket watch of yours? The one you carry with you everywhere?”
“Spontaneity is key,” she mumbles, picking her way behind the counter and to the ‘Special Orders’ shelf. “Tell me about her,” she says, holding the puppet girl.
“If you’re hear to tell me she isn’t ‘perfect,’ don’t bother. I’ve heard it all before.”
“Well, she’s not. She’s so cold and limp. She looks a little heartless, to be honest with you. Just take a second and look at the painting I made for you. Everything in it is a still image, and yet you can feel the movement just by looking at it. You can feel the rise and fall of each of your chests, and the direction of the wind by the way the leaves blow, and the sun almost peeks up out of the sunrise. She’s almost there. Her chest right now is an empty chamber of sawdust. Just give her a heart.”
“A heart. Give a puppet a heart?”
“Here,” she says, handing him her antique, golden pocket watch. “I don’t have any need this anymore, but what better heart than one that ticks?”
“Guys! Guys, I’ve got it!” He cries, shaking the animals awake. Owl stares at him, and the rest look up at him groggily, pleading for sleep through their heavy eyelids. He jumps off the ground, dropping Rabbit with a light thud. “Oh, sorry, bud,” he says quickly, without looking down as he scrambles back to the apartment. He stumbles through the door and quickly makes his way to his puppet girl. “I know exactly what you need,” he says.
This is a story of a girl whose chest is drilled open and heart ticks with the consistency of a time bomb. She now has a pocket watch heart and she suddenly takes on a life of her own. She’s the perfect autumn girl with swirls of hair falling down just past her shoulders and glasses that frame her face perfectly.
This is a story of a boy who admits his love for a girl who came by the his cabin every week to look at the sculptures and maybe exchange a precious word or two their creator. When she asks him for a new, perfect sculpture, he handed proudly hands her his shining autumn girl. The girl’s face finally breaks into a big grin, a new expression he’s sure she’s never worn in front of him before. The girl finally makes her first purchase in the boy’s old cabin and writes her number next on the receipt. He smiles the kind of smile that reaches his eyes as she waltzes out the door, the bag swaying with her bouncing gait.
This is the story of the boy who learned that perfection, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder, but even then heartless bodies will always be empty chambers of sawdust. This is the story of the girl who takes up the painting portion of the boy’s business. This is the story of one stout kindergartner who bought a Barbie instead.