The Shoulder

The boy forgot the story after a week passed, but the man didn’t. While he was sleeping, Isaac (the elder) dreamed of scenes with details of the exact color of dust that swept about the corners of the man’s house, and the temperature of the beloved woman’s pale, almost-blue skin on her shoulders. It was not sexual: it was sensual, so he didn’t feel bad when he decided to continue sharing with the boy when he might see him next. He wasn’t some pervert on the streets, after all.

He got the chance, at last, to finish in December on the day the schools were letting out for the winter holiday. Since he’d seen the boy last, he’d been so tempted to write down or sketch the story that he even bought a diary and left it out on his library desk. He hadn’t touched it in the meantime, but at least he could tell the story today.

It rarely snowed, and even more rarely in December. Most often, it took until February for the mercury to drop to the halfway mark on the building thermometers, but it was cold today. The bare trees shook, with their spindly branches whipping out moans at every gush that forced their spines to bend. Shorter shrubs rattled the wooden fence slats.

Isaac didn’t slow down for the boy this time. He had in the past when he wondered if he would be able to catch his attention, but he hadn’t questioned that since the first time. This time, he maintained his set stride. The boy caught up within three minutes, and Isaac saw that he wasn’t wearing a jacket—not because he didn’t have one, but because he was right at that age when young boys find any way possible to shed restrictions, be it rules or garments.

“Heya, old man. You try out for Santa Claus yet? I hear they’re hiring at the mall,” the boy said, grinning.

“I’m too thin, and too Jewish.”

“You’re Jewish? I thought you were some kinda Amish or Mennonite with that beard.”

“Let’s see, you thought I was a holy man, and then an Amish man. Now that you find out that I’m a Jew, you seem disappointed.”

“Nah. I just don’t know what to say.”

“That’s all right. I guess I’ve taken it for granted that the people who take the time to see me know.”

“Well, sorry.”

“That’s no matter. Whatever happened to your transportation dilemma? Did you recover the bike?”

“No. I gave up and started taking the bus when it got cold and mom wouldn’t drive me anymore.”

“So what’s different today?”

The boy shrugged, hesitating.

“I had detention and missed the bus.”

“So you thought you might brave the cold and avoid telling your mother, right?”

“It was stupid anyway. The teacher said I was being ‘disruptive’ when I was just—”

“I don’t want to know.”

Before the old man could change his mind and ask about the cause of the detention, the boy asked Isaac if he were still dreaming while he walked all over town. He replied that he had been, and that he had the rest of the story but he still didn’t know what it meant.

“Well, what happens?”

“We left off when the woman’s shoulder appeared on the paper, right?”

“Right. The dude was tripping out and saw his girlfriend’s shoulder come to life from some drawings on his floor.”

“OK. Well, the next day, he invites the neighbors to view the proof that his bride has come at last and he throws a party for the return of his beloved. The whole town gathers at his house to observe the phenomenon. ‘There it is!’ they say, and slap the man on the back. ‘Way to go.’

For the next several weeks, or however long it was, pieces of paper fill up with various pieces of the girl. I’ve seen them on my walks: her belly that is slightly rounded just an inch under her navel, her ankle, her right hand. Every time one more part of her arrives in the morning risen from a sheet of paper, the man fawns over each part. Upon the arrival of a new body part, he throws another party; but after several parties, he becomes frustrated that maybe she is not really going to come in full. The town crowds at his parties dwindle and many of them start to gossip that the man has lost his mind because these pieces of his love always sink back into their respective pages after an hour or so. They are merely sketches of an inconsolable, lovelorn lunatic.”

“Sounds like it,” the boy interrupted.

“It does, doesn’t it? Well, after a bit, no one comes to see him anymore, and he sits in his house alone. Within a short time, his beloved stops showing up in the mornings. For months, he wakes up expecting to find a nose or finger joint outlined in blue on one of the sheets, yet he finds nothing. When he is sure she is truly dead, he gathers the papers with the various pieces of her body drawn on them and places in the corner, approximating where each part might actually be, had they remained three-dimensional.

After planning a trigonometry lesson one evening, he hears a knock on the door. Before he can answer the door, he sees the locked knob turn.

She stands there, as pale and delicate as the parts that had risen from the papers. Neither speaks, and he rises to greet her.”

Isaac stopped.

“And then?”

“That’s it. There is no ‘then.’”

“What do you mean? It’s your story. Of course there is. Make one.”

“I can’t. I told you. I’m not a writer.”

“It’s a story. You’re in charge! You’re telling it, for God’s sake.”

For the first time in their sporadic acquaintance, Isaac treated the boy as an equal in his impatient reply.

“You think it’s that easy, do you? What do they teach you at that school?”

The boy was shocked to find the old man so wounded and easily agitated.

“Easy old man. I just wanted to know what was next—wanted to get the point or the punch line. I liked your story. Really, I did. I think it’s good and that you should write it down once you figure out the ending.”

The man did not answer, and the pair arrived at their parting point after four full minutes of silence, at which the puzzled boy turned to the man and apologized again for being rude.

“It’s all right. I need to think about it some more.”

“Yeah, maybe,” the boy said. “Maybe you’ll figure it out by the time I see you again.”

Isaac said that perhaps he would, but that he wasn’t expecting anything. Things like this came to him. He didn’t “figure” them.

“Whatever you say, old man. You’re a bit crazy, you know that? See you ’round. Have a good Christmas, or Chanukah or whatever if I don’t see you for a while.”

The boy turned to leave and the man did something he never did. Instead of crossing the street to continue his usual course, he turned around and walked in the opposite direction from where he and the boy had just walked.

Then, he spit.