“Divine Beings” by Michelle Lawrence, page 2

         When Ruth Ann saw that Max had taken up carving, she brought him her own father’s favorite knife. He took to whittling from his favorite chair in front of the TV, a waste basket between his legs where that huge coffee mug used to reside on his way to work. He started by carving crude spoons from balsawood, and as he got better, turned to small animals and people. The mantle above the fireplace was lined with tiny collies and the shapes of box trucks that he said he’d attach wheels to for our nephews’ Christmas gifts. Ruth Ann, however, had planted what she surely considered a bright idea: a crèche. The church down the street had a life-sized carved wooden crèche every Christmastime, and the houses on either end of the street would line their sidewalks with luminaries made from paper bags or empty milk jugs to light the way for Jesus. It was a pretty sight, I’ll admit, but their donkey looming over the wooden baby in the manger looked more like a llama. Its smooth brown neck stretched too high to be a donkey, a point I’d made every time we drove by.
         His family oohe'd and ahhe'd over the carvings of the Three Wise Men he’d done for them. They liked his Jesus carvings best, and Ruth Ann added a small loop of satin ribbon to the neck of one and hung it from her rear view mirror along with a new bumper sticker on the back of her Buick that said, “Don’t drive faster than your angel can fly!”


         “It’s May, Max,” I said after Ruth Ann had left another Sunday brunch at our house in a cloud of Jean Nate body splash. “Why don’t you carve something more seasonal? You’re getting pretty good, and maybe you could sell the carvings at the market downtown.”
         We’d have to turn the air conditioner on soon. My paychecks would cover the basics, but summer in our state is stiflingly humid, and we could only spend so much time at Barnes and Noble, reading the books in the cool comfort of the armchairs before the booksellers started dusting the shelves around us, circling closer and closer, their eyes and mouths hard from annoyance. When we were newlyweds it was romantic to do without, to live on love. A decade later, we had a mortgage and student loans that needed paying off.
         “Speaking of the market,” Max finally answered, “I’m going to plant a garden. My thumb might not be as green as Mom’s, but she said she could give me advice on raising squash. Remember how much she had last year? If I grew it organic, I think there’d be a market at the market.” He chuckled at his own joke.
         “Yeah, funny,” I said, and went back to grading essays on the Salem Witch Trials. “Do you know I got notes from parents over these papers? A bunch of them thought I was promoting witchcraft in the classroom. I wish we’d researched more before I took this position…”
         Max didn’t answer me, because he was back to looking at photos online again. The Buddha pear from last year was back on his monitor, and I heard the printer’s inky arm moving back and forth as it spit out a piece of paper. Max had printed out a diagram of the mold the Buddha pear farmer had used to shape the pears that way. He got up and took it from the tray and held it with both hands, eyes moving over the picture.
         “What are you thinking?” I asked.
         “We don’t have many Buddhists here, do we?”
         “No, I don’t know any, actually; most everyone goes to either your Mom’s church or the community church. Have you seen how huge it’s getting? I heard they added a Starbucks inside.”
         “Isn’t one of your students Jewish?”
         “Yes, but her family doesn’t really practice that I know of.”
         Max was still studying the printed photo, and his fingers moved like they wanted to scratch an itch. He took a pencil out of the mug on my desk and started drawing something on the paper. When I craned my neck to see what he’d drawn, I saw that it looked a little like Jesus.
         “What if I made a Jesus mold for the zucchinis?”
         “A Jesus mold….”
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