Scarecrow Gods
bad.
    And after he’d been allowed to touch the walls and after she’d explained to him what a good momma she was, he’d returned to his bed, watched as she’d unscrewed the light bulb, listened as she locked the door in three places and waited for the other door at the end of the short hallway to close him in.
    Noise attracted the monsters , his momma would say. You must be quiet or else they’ll get you. You mustn’t even speak. After all, monsters have very good ears .
    So to pass the time he’d bury his face into his pillow and invent friends to play with. His imagination, not clouded with images of modern culture, was a fertile world from which to create. Sometimes he’d invent children to play with. Sometimes they’d arrive unbidden and fully formed wanting to play. And then sometimes he’d be so busy playing in the great wide fields of his mind that he’d forget to breathe and pass out as the pillow smothered him.
    * * *
    Ooltewah, Tennessee
    Maxom soared through the trees, his scavenger’s body shifting, lifting on the forest vapors, each minute movement of his wings sending him over and around the hardwood. Insects and small animals retreated from his shadow as he cawed his jubilation. A squirrel danced along a treetop and chattered to him as he passed, his avian mind translating the rodent’s concern and confusion. Somehow the animals knew. Whether they felt Maxom’s presence or it was the erratic flying, he didn’t know. All he cared was that he was allowed to fly, because it was only as a bird that he felt truly free.
    Below him the boys played, laughing and leaping over fallen logs far below among the fern stands of the forest floor. The one named Eddie was in the lead, followed by Danny, their legs pistoning, elbows searching for purchase as they raced to their rocks. The afternoon had been splendid. The boys had spent hours at the lake playing games, sliding through the cool liquid as if they were made for it, challenging the fish for prominence beneath the green swells of water.
    When they’d finally become so tired they could no longer stay afloat they’d abandoned their play, and taken to the air, leaping by turn from the tall, rusted lifeguard chair. As they flung their bodies skyward, Maxom couldn’t help but be inspired by their fearlessness, envying their suburban innocence. Each boy spun at the apex of his jump, thrusting his leg out in awkward comical versions of kung fu movie stars. Bruce Lee noises shot from their mouths, cartoon multi-octave parodies of the lamented Asian great.
    Maxom had first seen one of the kung fu movies during his initial stay at the VA Hospital. A well-meaning young doctor had arrived one Saturday with an eight millimeter projector and a popcorn maker. The movie was titled Fists of Fury and showcased Bruce Lee’s true greatness as a master of the martial arts. There were two things Maxom remembered about that movie. One was the promise that Bruce’s character had made to his sister and the other was that the movie had made him cry.
    Almost from the minute the movie started, Maxom and the other truncated men in the ward were reminded of their losses as they witnessed young and old men, women and children cavorting upon the screen with spinning arms and legs in fantastical salutations to the elasticity of the human form. It seemed as if the whole world were multi-limbed acrobats whose entire lives were dedicated to the defiance of gravity.
    And it was with each kick and spinning backfist that Maxom and the others vets in the ward were reminded of their essential lacking, reminded of the impossibility of their lives, and of how they’d never be able to dance upon the wind or on the floor. The movie was halfway over before an ashen-faced young doctor turned it off and slunk away, leaving the sobs and tears of the broken men in the care of orderlies who had better things to do on a Saturday night than wipe noses and empty bedpans.
    Several years later, Maxom

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