When Lem was three years old his father took him into the backyard and dug a hole. He used a length of rope to lower down a block of dirty yellow wax. He filled the hole with wet sand. A little spout of wax poked up. Lem didn’t understand.

His father dug a second hole. He used his hands to lower down a shiny metal disc attached to a long black hose. The hose went to a beige metal tank. He twisted a knob on the tank and then threw a match into the hole. There was a sound Lem had never heard before, a low burst, a sudden suck. It excited him, and made him afraid. Then the hole was full of fire. Lem didn’t understand, and hid behind his father’s leg and stared at the flames.

His father used a long pole to lower a black metal pot into the flames. Then they waited. Lem didn’t understand, and not understanding became cross. His father played with him and he grew calm. He kept looking to the fire, but now with curiosity.

At length his father bade him stand back. He raised the metal pot, now glowing white and yellow, and slid a second pole through a ring on its bottom. He tipped the pot and made it pour its brew of heat and light. It went into the little spout of wax which melted and burned and smoked away. Then he turned the knob on the tank and the fires disappeared. There was smoke and heat and smell, and a great sense of something being done. Lem watched and waited and hoped he’d understand.

His father took him in for dinner. He could barely sit at the table. A bowl of ice cream kept him there, and then another. As night dropped down his father took him back outside, drawing water from a hose and splashing it on the first hole. Smoke poured forth. Then it didn’t. Then his father grasped a bit of dirt and pulled. And a thing came

It was the top half of a woman, naked, hair in curls. Lem didn’t understand what it was. It was a perfect color, solid and shining and strong. Lem didn’t understand what it was made of. His father had dug and twisted and raised and pulled and it had come up out of the ground. Lem didn’t understand what had happened. But he did understand that something had been made. His father had made something, worked and worked and then pulled it up out of the earth.

When it struck him to instruct, his father explained that that the woman was a Mermaid and that she was a Figurehead. He didn’t explain these terms except by context, when he put her on the tip of the boat that they went sailing in. He also explained that she was Bronze and that he had made her by Casting. Bronze was something that looked a certain way, although the Mermaid turned a dull green before they’d even put the boat in the water. Casting was what his father had done, that started with a hole in the ground and ended with whatever he wanted.

Lem understood.


~ by davekov on 23 April 2012.

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