This week, a fiction…
Nothing announced the statue was valuable. The boy spent half of his saved allowance on it, but at a church fair white elephant booth and through several rounds of “Are you sure?” from his mother. Summoned to assess the purchase, his older brother picked it up, hefted it once or twice, and declared it plaster of Paris. He told the boy, “Don’t buy it. It’s made from a kit. And what do you care about Abe Lincoln?”
But he had money in his pocket and wanted to buy something. The paint on Lincoln’s bust was metallic, like some his brother applied to models but far shinier and copper, the color of new pennies. And he did like Lincoln. He was his favorite president. They’d studied him in school. So he bought it, and, on the way home in the car, unrolled it from its newspaper to look closely. While he was staring into Lincoln’s eyes, his older brother, and now his sister, talked about what a waste of money it was. His mother shushed them.
“You should put it away now,” she said, “It’s fragile.”
He’d never owned anything fragile and never any art. Just toys, and those were largely hand-me-downs, scratched-up matchbox cars and other craft that had long lost their pilots, box games he’d have to harangue anyone to play, and other cast-off, mismatched stuff. He didn’t own much that was just his and had in mind a special spot for Lincoln, on his desk, at the top. There, he could see Lincoln eye-to-eye when he did his homework. From there, Lincoln could survey the room and broadcast his approval.
He ran his thumb over Lincoln’s concentrated brow, took the beard at his chin between his finger and thumb as if he meant to caliper its exact dimensions. Back at the white elephant booth, he’d been afraid to handle it, curbed by his mother’s prohibitions against touching anything, but now it belonged to him. It was his, and he could pick it up whenever he liked.
From the front seat, his mother insisted, “Put it away.”
When they arrived home, he knew not to run to his room—his brother would make fun of him—but he went immediately to install Lincoln in his spot. Then he lay in his bed where he could see Lincoln seeing his room for the first time. Too excited to recline long, he’d get up to take in the bust from other angles. He liked his sharp profile against the window and twisted the base once or twice to get the position right. Once he put his hand to his face the way he’d seen television actors do when they were appraising a beautiful painting. His sister, who’d sneaked inside his doorway, giggled and ran off.
He should have run after her, but ran toward Lincoln instead. He was trying to protect the statue, he thought later, but that was little consolation. He slipped just before he reached the desk and, his hand already outstretched, knocked Lincoln’s bust to the floor. Being hollow, it shattered on the hard wood, flying into hundreds of pieces, few bigger than a coin. Each shard came instantly to a rest, showing its copper or plaster side.
For once, he didn’t think about stopping his tears. He sat on his bed and counted how long he’d had it, counted the money it cost, counted what his mother and brother and sister might say.
His mother must have heard him because she appeared a few minutes later with a broom and a dustpan. She sat down on the bed beside him and put her hand on his back. For a few minutes he felt it jump with his ragged breathing.
“You have to clean it up,” she said finally, “Honey, didn’t I tell you not to play with it?”
In another hour, he was out in the yard, telling the kid next door he’d only bought it to break it and how cool it was watching Lincoln’s head explode. He laughed until he almost believed it, but then something kept burning in his eyes that made him turn away. His older brother stood nearby with a football, staring at him.
He slapped the ball twice against his other hand and gestured with his chin.
“Go long,” he said, and the boy ran as far and fast as he could.