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"Paper Mache Man" by Steve Carr

Steam from the train pulling into the station blew in through the open window filling Malcolm's third floor art studio with a hot, damp cloud.

“Damn,” he muttered, quickly rushing to the window and pushing down the top frame.

He leaned his forehead on the pane of glass of the upper frame and watched the wheels come to a screeching stop at the platform. Moments later the metal stairs were extended out from the doors and throngs of people began to rush out.

He turned away from the window and looked around the studio.

“Let’s take care of your ear,” he said to his dog, Scout, who was sitting on a rug under the large oak work table. Scout stood on his short, stout legs and wagged his stubby tail. Malcolm reached under the table and took the small dog in his arms and placed him on the table next to where Jarvis was stretched out. The dog sat on his rump, loudly panting.

Malcolm put a cup of flour in a bowl and then poured a cup of water and a half tablespoon of salt and stirred the mixture until it was a pasty consistency. He took a strip of newspaper and dipped it in the paste, then pulled it out and wiped off the excess paste, then put the strip on Scout's ear where a previously applied strip had ripped.

Rubbing the dog's back, Malcolm said to it, “There ya go boy, just like new.”

Scout licked Malcolm's hand with its dry, stiff tongue.

Malcolm set him back on the floor and turned to Jarvis. “You've been very patient, Jarvis,” he said. “I'll do your left kneecap then we're done.”

Jarvis raised up on his elbows and looked down the length of his paper-mache body.

Malcolm put several strips of newspaper in the paste mixture, then pulled them out and removed the excess paste, then put the strips on Jarvis' knee.

“You'll have to lay there until it's dried,” Malcolm said.

Jarvis laid back down.

*

Sitting at the counter in the train station diner, Malcolm stabbed at his Salisbury steak with his fork.

Gracie, the waitress standing on the other side of the counter, gazed at him appraisingly. “You're such a nice guy. Why are you always alone?”

“It's not easy making friends,” he said.  He put the money for the food along with a tip for Connie by his plate and pushed his way through the crowd until he made it to the magazine stand.

“What you got for me today, Harry?” Malcolm said to the legless man in a wheelchair behind the counter.

“Hey, Malcolm,” Harry said. “I've got a bundle of old newspapers.” Harry placed the newspapers that were tied together with twine onto the counter.

“What do I owe you, Harry?” Malcolm said.

“Five bucks should do it,” Harry said. “I haven't asked before, but I'm curious. What do you do with all the old newspapers and magazines?”

Malcolm took a five dollar bill out of his wallet. “I make things,” he said.

*

Malcolm carried the armload of newspapers up the three flights of metal stairs and opened the door to his studio and saw Jarvis standing at the window, looking out.

“Jarvis, you should have let me make sure your knee was ready for you to stand on before getting off the table,” Malcolm said as he pushed the door closed with his butt.

Jarvis turned around.

Malcolm dropped the newspapers on the floor. Scout came out from beneath the table and rubbed his body against Malcolm's leg. Looking down at him, Malcolm said, “Your ear looks much better, boy,” and reached down and patted the dog's head.

At the table, Malcolm said, “Come sit down, Jarvis. It's time to give you a face and some skin.”

Jarvis rambled over to the table and sat down.

Malcolm began arranging the paints and brushes on the table next to Jarvis.

Three hours later Jarvis was covered in flesh colored paint. He had a pair of dark green eyes and a full pink set of lips. The painted on hair on the top of his head was dark brown as were his eyebrows and eyelashes. Inside his opened mouth, his teeth were painted pearl white and his tongue and the rest of the interior of his mouth was painted a dark pink.

When finished, Malcolm stood back and said, “Jarvis, you're a very handsome man. Go look at yourself in the mirror.”

Jarvis hopped from the table and stepped over the cardboard boxes filled with clay pottery, baskets of yarn, bags of quilting squares and a stack of old crafts magazines to get to the floor length mirror. He stared at his reflection for several minutes before turning around and pointed at his mouth with his finger.

“I'll teach you how to talk later,” Malcolm said. “Let's get you dressed in the new clothes I bought for you and I'll take you out to see the world.”

*

Walking to the train station, Malcolm pointed out everything he could to Jarvis and said what it was and what it was used for.  By the time they reached the station, Jarvis knew what a fire hydrant, telephone pole, manhole cover, mailbox, car, neon sign, trash can, bus stop and revolving door were.

Entering the station, Jarvis' fascination with people required Malcolm to pull him through the crowd to keep him from stopping and staring. At the diner counter he showed Jarvis how to sit on the stool, then sat down by him.

“I've made a friend,” Malcolm said when Connie came over.

“Good for you,” she said. “You're a real cutie,” Connie said to Jarvis.

Jarvis stared at her, taking in every detail of Connie's appearance. “Water comes from the fire hydrant to put out fires,” he said.

“He's practicing his English,” Malcolm said. 

“Where's he from?” Connie said.

“A bit of everywhere,” Malcolm said. “I wanted him to meet you and see the train station. It's the best place to see how people come and go.”

“I guess it is at that,” Connie said. “What would you like to eat?”

“Nothing today, Connie,” Malcolm said. “That will come later.”

Taking Jarvis by the arm, Malcolm pulled him from the bench and back into the crowd. While exiting through the station doors, Malcolm fell on the ground. His leg was stepped on by a heavyset man whose arms were loaded with suitcases.

*

In the studio, Scout's tail wagged as he jumped up on Malcolm's leg. Malcolm picked the dog up and let it lick his face with his paper-mache tongue then put him down.

“My leg is injured,” he said.

Jarvis sat on the stool in front of the loom. “Trash cans are picked up once a week,” he said.

Malcolm tore some strips of newspaper and prepared a bowl of paste. He raised his pants leg and with his fingertips prodded the tear in his paper-mache skin on his lower leg.

He put the strip of paper on his leg.

© 2017 Steve Carr

 

Steve Carr, who lives in Richmond, Va., began his writing career as a military journalist and has had over a hundred short stories published internationally in print and online magazines, literary journals and anthologies. His plays have been produced in several states. He was a 2017 Pushcart Prize nominee. He is on Facebook  at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100012966314127 and Twitter @carrsteven960.

 

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