The then tiny Charles Bennett Porter Jr. crouched at the spine of the door, peering through the crack that allowed a partial view of my tall and muscular father as he meticulously polished the bow of a one-man sailboat with a chamois cloth. My father, Charles senior, designed the boat himself. He manufactured it in wood to moderate interest. But then came fiberglass and, boom, just like that, they were snapped up by the hundreds all over the Gulf Coast. Then the thousands. Then worldwide. At fifty years of age, my father sold his sailboat company to an international sporting goods corporation for twenty five million dollars. The then tiny Bennett was seven years old.
But two decades spent barking orders in warehouses filled with invisible clouds of fiberglass had seeded my father’s lungs with cancer. He coughed blood into the chamois. Charles senior would die quickly. My drunk-driving mother was already dead.
I crouched at the spine of the door, peering at my tall and muscular father. The family dog, a liver Mastiff named Tank, sat at his heel. I was not allowed in the workshop. I was not allowed to play with the tools. Hundreds of gleaming devices tempting me, washing away my mindfulness with the ease of a hypnotist’s watch. I had given in once, taking a simple scraper and pretending it was Excalibur. I sliced the air and pronounced myself king.
Charles senior took the then tiny Bennett by the wrist and snatched the scraper from his hand, breaking an index finger and spraining a thumb.
Charles said, “Worthless. Just like your mother. If only you’d been in the car that day. Then I wouldn’t have to put up with this shit. You timed your birth all wrong. You got here as I was going sour. You never witnessed me as a great man.”
On the drive to the emergency room he said, “I should leave my fortune to the dog. Tank understands obedience. He knows how to behave. It’s all a crap shoot anyway.”
I crouched at the spine of the door, seven years old, missing my mother and blaming my father. My twin sister Eleanor was a shadow. A ghost. She quietly appeared and disappeared from rooms, scribbling in her diary with delicate hands. When she left home for an all girls’ boarding school, it went entirely unnoticed. But then, how could I know if it was any different for me?
I had imagined my life with a gleaming sword and a white horse. An impenetrable suit of armor. Not the boarding schools and demerits and paddles to come. I did not imagine Yale, nor did I imagine being kicked out. I did not imagine finishing school at the University of Alabama, starting a life in real estate, or falling in with dishonest developers and sour deals. I did not imagine Eleanor’s wedding or the shock of her new, self-assured personality that bloomed with love.
I did not imagine my life in a waterfront mansion bought with inherited money. Nor did I imagine two wives, a mistress, five scattered children, glasses of whiskey in shaking hands, and skin surely turning yellow. I did not imagine losing touch with all of my childhood friends. I did not imagine weeklong blackouts, DT’s, or the ridiculous, useless interventions. I did not imagine the shame.
Instead, I thought about how the shape of a certain tool, in this case a handheld power saw, seemed to contain magical qualities. That the shape and size and the terrible beauty of sharpened metal made an inanimate object somehow come to life. I desperately longed to touch each tool. I imagined handling them all, conjuring their secrets and unlocking hidden spells. I imagined a line of socket wrenches beginning to march like toy soldiers. I imagined table saws humming as a line of teak planks floated across the blade, hammers and nails taking flight with hummingbird wings and swirling about the room. The tools would work in concert, assembling a sailboat of perfect proportions. I imagined my life as a master craftsman, no -an artist, whose magical boats would be revered, exponentially beyond my fathers.’
After Charles died, the then tiny Bennett stepped the workshop. He beelined for the handheld powersaw, plugged it in, and promptly cut off the top half of his pinky finger. Little Bennett could not have imagined the boundless trajectory of this omen.
I could not have imagined that I would die without love. I supposed I timed that all wrong as well. My father would have moaned about my lack of grace. Of course, he would have moaned about everything, including my sadly lived life.
Murray Dunlap's work has appeared in about fifty magazines and journals. His stories have been nominated for the Pushcart Prize three times, as well as to Best New American Voices once, and his first book, -an early draft of "Bastard Blue" (then called "Alabama") was a finalist for the Maurice Prize in Fiction. His first collection of short stories, "Bastard Blue," was published on June 7th, 2011 (the three year anniversary of a car wreck that very nearly killed him). The extraordinary individuals Pam Houston, Laura Dave, Michael Knight, and Fred Ashe taught him the art of writing. See http://www.murraydunlap.com for a look at his work.