Jul 11, 2005

Best you can get

I can’t find the picture we took, before we left. Marvin and me and David standing outside in the Texas spring, Marvin with his hand behind his back, maybe to hide the cigarette or maybe to hide his hand.

I’ll see you, he'd say, unless I’m dead.

He’d lost his thumb and two fingers in a tractor accident. He’d tell you that matter of fact, letting all the horror of it stand there bare. His wife had left him because she couldn’t see herself married to a cripple, and something happened where the Southern Baptist church said it’d be too awkward and would he mind leaving.

Marvin was matter of fact about dark things: dieing, betrayal, and human rottenness. For Marvin, the horrific was normal and he treated it as normal and a little sad, but not surprising. He showed up on the doorstep of our black January, when we were friendless and in shock and teetering on despair. He showed up with a catch of fresh fish, empathetic and offering to help and understanding the horror of it all without needing to know anything more. He didn’t want the fish, he said, he didn’t eat fish, didn’t eat nothing that swims or flies.

Marvin was one of the old guys I knew through woodcarving. He didn’t do much woodcarving, actually, sort of starting projects and leaving them around waiting for an inspiration of attention. He liked knives though, and taught my brother and me about blades, the temper of metals and the angles of edges. When we scrounged pawn shops for pocket knives we looked for what he was talking about, and then brought them to his sprawling ranch house cluttered with antiques and half-finished projects, bringing them to Marvin for official approval. He’d thumb the edge, contemplating, and take the edge to the stone bringing the angle out to a feather and then turning to the leather, the strop.

If you see straight razors, he'd say, buy them. Best metal you can get.

He died maybe a year after we left. When I think about it, his being dead doesn’t make any sense.