He told me about his war wounds. I recounted my masturbation injuries. We bonded.
Then came winter.
“See here, Klugstein,” he said. “There’s no need to raise the thermostat above 45. If the pipes won’t freeze, then neither will you.”
Inspired, I replied, “Righty-O!” and reached for the Echinacea.
The New Year brought the worst ice storm on record. The roads were impassable. The supermarkets closed. He ate my cat.
“Sorry about little Priscilla, Klugstein,” he said when I objected, “but this is no time for sentimentality. There’s work to be done.” Undaunted by gale-force winds and temperatures below the freezing point of blood, he climbed onto the roof to remove a fallen tree. I boiled water for herbal tea. He returned shortly with his face encased in ice and poured the kettle over his head.
“Good show, Klugstein! Keep the home fires burning!” he exclaimed while disemboweling my puppy. He grinned sheepishly. “All apologies, old chap, but I’m a bit short of rope, and catgut simply will not do for this job.” He went out again with two hammers in one hand, a saw and a drill in the other, and Bowser’s intestines between his teeth. I boiled more water.
He came back an hour later with an armload of chopped wood, which he put in the fireplace. “Home is where the hearth is,” he chortled, and in one motion struck a match against his mustache and flicked it into the kindling, which ignited immediately. “Who needs natural gas?” he said. “The tree is gone, the roof is patched, and I save a trip to the lumber yard.” He went to the garage to do something complicated to his car.
The next day, while I tried to open a stapler, he used the remains of the fallen tree to build a deck, a dining room table set, and a life-sized replica of Tensing Norgay. He stepped back to admire his handiwork. “Sherpas are a stout-hearted and industrious people,” he said. “A model minority, if ever there were one. Our immigrants would do well to emulate them. Are you Jewish, Klugstein?”
I threw out the stapler and entertained myself with the puppets he had made for me from Priscilla and Bowser.
I knew little of his politics. He loathed all welfare handouts, including Halloween candy, and would toss fake chocolate bars made of scrap wood into Trick-or-Treaters’ bags. Around each splintery Hershey’s simulacrum he wrapped a brief lecture on self-reliance and dental health.
On Mischief Night our mailbox was firebombed.
The next year he placed a trap of his own design in the mailbox, and we awoke to the screams of a nine-year old boy whose arm had been caught and permanently mangled by the device. The parents sued, but expert testimony, that shifted blame to their child-rearing practices, made certain their defeat. In a counter suit he recovered all legal costs plus an undisclosed sum. The Judge sent the boy to a foster home in a remote part of the state.
He was an excellent housekeeper, but not given to socializing, so I was rather surprised when I returned home one evening to discover much of the furniture occupied by cadavers, including two in my bed. “Have you taken up grave robbing?” I joked.
“No indeed, by the time they’re buried they’re no good to anyone.” He explained that he and several like-minded individuals in the medical and funereal professions would seize the deceased at opportune moments and donate them to Third World medical schools and to a few amusement parks in the less developed regions of Canada . “Waste not, want not, ay? Pardon my use of your boudoir, Klugstein, but if we leave them on the floor, they’ll likely be stepped on, and we can’t have that, can we? By-the-by, have you dusted in there recently?”
I tried to emulate him but lacked the will. Though he almost never criticized me, my self-esteem plummeted as I repeatedly failed to live up to his standards. Finally, after seeking solace in a solitary all-night Punch and Judy show that I put on with Bowser and Priscilla, I decided to quit my job and move in with my parents.
I dreaded telling him this, but when I did, all he said was, “Well, at least it’s not the public dole,” and returned to the task at hand, the smelting of three rusting vans from the next-door neighbor’s yard.
My last contact with him was a congratulatory email he sent to me when “The Bowser & Priscilla Show” went into national syndication on PBS, where it replaced “Barney.” I knew we would not cross paths again, for the tracks of our lives were not parallel, but skew.
He returned every cent of my security deposit, with interest.
Eric Thurschwell now lives in Wynnewood, PA, but he once shared a house in Langhorne with a handy person. No animals were harmed in the production of this story.