Recycling The Prodigal Son

Ethelberta heard the truck pull into the driveway as a shower of gravel hitting her metal garage door. She appraised the wood sculpture in front of her. Not quite done to perfection, but close enough. She stood up slowly and put it in the cabinet marked "Nails" on the wall behind her.

She heard the truck door slam and bootheels on the cement blocks of her makeshift sidewalk. He never learned, she thought. When was the last time he had arrived and found her in the house?

Hobbling over to the door, she yelled, "In here, Bart."

"Shit, Ma, don't you ever go in the house no more?"

She wrestled the door open--it had been sticking for about ten years now, and she never got around to fixing it--and saw Bart standing in front of it, grinning. He was bigger than she remembered, but then she seemed to have shrunken so much these past few years. And Bart had evolved into almost a quintessential Californian, complete with tan. Only his speech still betrayed his origins.

"Can I get into the kitchen?" Bart said. "I'm starving. Ya got any peanut butter?"

"Door's open, Bart. Peanut butter's in the cupboard on the right-hand side of the sink, and bread's in the breadbox as always. You'll have to slice it yourself. And the peanut butter's low-salt."

He was already in the house by this time. "Geez, Mom, you should really lock your doors. I mean, anybody could walk in." She didn't respond--she'd tried to remind him how he'd ran to greet complete strangers when he was younger, and they'd been able to see new arrivals from miles off. But he'd been in the city too long.

His voice broke into her thoughts. "Low-salt? Well, where's the salt then? Never mind, it's on the stove." He emerged a few minutes later. His slices of bread were misshapen as usual--he never had learned to slice it--and the peanut butter was applied in a layer inches thick. "So, what you been doin' with yourself, Ma? Still painting?"

She shook her head. "Wood sculpture, actually," she said, walking back into the garage. "I could never get the colours I wanted in town, but wood isn't quite as hard to find."

Bart picked up a wicked-looking chisel. "Geez, Ma, you could hurt yourself with one'a these."

She smiled wanly. "Yes, I know--I did, a couple of months ago. Just a little nick, but Doc Whitley came to look at it anyway. Besides--if someone did come in and tried to attack me, I could defend myself with them."

Bart looked at her, trying to determine if she'd made a joke. She kept a straight face for as long as she could, and then she quirked the corners of her mouth. At that signal, his face visibly relaxed and he guffawed. "That's a good one, Ma."

He looked around the garage for the first time. There were half a dozen makeshift tables and pedestals supporting various wooden sculptures. Some were representational, like the sleeping cat with its tail curled around itself, and others more abstract or freeform. "Weird stuff, Ma," Bart said, picking up a helix with several stylized forms hanging off of it. "Hey, Ma--I was meaning to ask. I need some money. The truck needs some work, you see, and they just raised the rent again where I live."

Ethelberta paid no attention to him, instead quietly opening the "Nails" cabinet and extracting the sculpture she had been working on before he arrived. As he bent over to look more closely at one of her works, she brought the sculpture down on the back of his head. He crumpled, knocking the pedestal over and sliding to the floor. She inspected the base of the sculpture. Some blood, but not enough.

She sighed and got the chisel she'd sharpened just in case. She rolled him over, with some effort, lifted up his head, and propped it over a bucket. She slit his throat, and collecting as much of the blood in the bucket as she could. When she had enough, she dipped the sculpture in the bucket, smearing the blood evenly over it.

She then sat with the blood-stained sculpture of a newborn baby in her arms and waited for it to soften. Maybe this one would turn out better, she thought.

<Paul H. Hargrove gave me the assignment

Four words: evolution, California, parasite, peanut
Type: Makes sense until bizarre twist at end.
Length: 50-100 lines.
Other: must not include sex, computers, aliens, t.b personalities, or Elvis.>

Back to the Four-Word Stories Page...

The Den of Ubiquity/ Aaron V. Humphrey /