(Axel Boer) #1

Mother knelt on the floor beside me, pressing my plastered hand the way she
pressed Luke’s, dabbing my forehead, praying.
Luke didn’t go to church that Sunday, or the Sunday after that, or the one
after that. Dad told us to tell people Luke was sick. He said there’d be trouble
if the Government found out about Luke’s leg, that the Feds would take us
kids away. That they would put Luke in a hospital, where his leg would get
infected and he would die.
About three weeks after the fire, Mother announced that the skin around
the edges of the burn had begun to grow back, and that she had hope for even
the worst patches. By then Luke was sitting up, and a week later, when the
first cold spell hit, he could stand for a minute or two on crutches. Before
long, he was thumping around the house, thin as a string bean, swallowing
buckets of food to regain the weight he’d lost. By then, the twine was a
family fable.
“A man ought to have a real belt,” Dad said at breakfast on the day Luke
was well enough to return to the junkyard, handing him a leather strap with a
steel buckle.
“Not Luke,” Richard said. “He prefers twine, you know how fashionable
he is.”
Luke grinned. “Beauty’s everything,” he said.

For eighteen years I never thought of that day, not in any probing way. The
few times my reminiscing carried me back to that torrid afternoon, what I
remembered first was the belt. Luke, I would think. You wild dog. I wonder,
do you still wear twine?
Now, at age twenty-nine, I sit down to write, to reconstruct the incident
from the echoes and shouts of a tired memory. I scratch it out. When I get to
the end, I pause. There’s an inconsistency, a ghost in this story.
I read it. I read it again. And there it is.
Who put out the fire?
A long-dormant voice says, Dad did.
But Luke was alone when I found him. If Dad had been with Luke on the
mountain, he would have brought him to the house, would have treated the
burn. Dad was away on a job somewhere, that’s why Luke had had to get
himself down the mountain. Why his leg had been treated by a ten-year-old.
Why it had ended up in a garbage can.

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