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All the elvies went evil. The children growed up.

Nygaard, half in cups, cursed at the stingy clay pool, salty in his knuckle cuts, as he reaching, stooped again, ladling up kneedeep wet thick globs of gold and gray-streaky gloop into buckets, yoked, broke-back harrumping up fat cowpen slopes to the shack smoking from its tinman chimney, ta-hoot.

The evil elvies come ransacking his chickens agains.

Nygaard clumped through chicken pens, outskirt of the shacky, kickings at feather, bits of body chicken flat now in the muddy and eyesocket stale, flat lightless, fingerholes. He’d make a horn, he thought, a sling-horn, powder-horn, hunting-horn, a capricopia, that’d be what the children’d call it, ringing their rosies on the cowpen slopes, calling out to him in their frillies and buttoned knicker pants, hand-holding, capripopia, papricopia, riprocaprico, ho, old man!, make us a magic wand, a gumdrop castle, a goat with a coat of cotton candy, yes?

But them children's gone, gone, grownup gone, Nygaard, ye foolscap, ye pint o’ skip-hoppy hope away from falling down drunk.

Be careful with the load, old man. And sets it down, carefully-like, on the bench, beside the goat-mold growing its curls lollipop-bright in the slantingly sun. He’d make an ipopricaprica horn to gather into it whiskery feather flat remnant chicken bits, scull them to the wood-edge, there to dropsy and backsy up slow and slow and sleuth-like to the cowpens so that them elvies might not hear him in time, might not, no, and might not thereways slip, roughshod, pointy-eared out before him to cut off his escape, might only know he’d been good to them, offering up his chickens such as what remained.

The gloop benchside oozed, hissing spittling up water to top inches above, staining white the old oakie slats, the twined bucket sides on yoke tethers, sunning in the slant light there goatside. Nygaard cupped some, slapped it on the bench, bent, wheedled his palm heel into the massy, glump stench, slowly, slowly to feel sting in cut knuckles, to feel bend the streaks gray, gold, iron-rusting amber, so that they spelt shapes, rising by fingerpress, toepress, to the shapey of a child.

Child buckle-bright, blonde glinting in the strawberry of hair, freckles, five on the nose, from the flecked clay, fired in the back oven overnight while out there on the hillside slurping, laughing in the moonlight and barefoot in the wet cowshit fields dancing the cackle elvies sucked marrow from chickenbone, drew diagrams of Nygaard’s shack in the mud: here, there, someday we go in, elvies, and take back more than mere chickens, eh? Nygaard sleepy sitting up uppity on straightbacked ovenbeside quaker chairs, rockings, rockings with the wind tempo, the howly snicker snorting in his dreams: ashes, ashes, we all fall up, they singy, songy, straddle him, tickling, so far away in their suitcoats and wedding dresses now, their English gardens gray and genteel, their Acuras, their account books.

What a goat!, said the voice of the oven that morning come, knocking from the inside, scratchingly pitted, but bright, tickly, fleshed, and nary a crack in the finely streaked gold and gray porcelains, the knee-length knickers, the buckle-bright blue-eyed peering at the pots, the fish nets, the tweelzes and trowels and tramcards and card-tricks in the drawers of Nygaard’s tin-shack.

I shall make you a friendly, said Nygaard as the boy nibbled at the goathair, trickles of cottoncandy pink dribbly drunk sweet like the very air on his chin. And I shall call you Piet, my boy.

Nygaard plumped out the second bucket, spat, molded thin willow calves, glitter jelly shoes, a smockdress, a curlkiss of black wintermane hair, with bows bluebell bright to match Piet’s eyes, fingertips replete with fingerpaint already, and a smile of course, a smile.

Nygaard fired her. Fired her right good, quick, that night rockings on his highbacked quaker as he sang to Piet the verses of silly-goose, Serendip, that fable country out beyond the wood where married-up and mortgaged, letting some treefort moulder in back acres as they sheave paper, shave armpits, pave driveways, serve BigMacs those once-upon-a-times lingering for the sound, scent, of the voice beside that fire, thinking back through their ooze like it was once, oh, sing it:

Coodle-ooomph, ringlet, I’ve got a gold shinny
Someone summon the singer of dingies --
Nygaard, the baker, the browner of clay
Nygaard, the maker, the frowner, the goatherd
Dingle and ringlet and skinny-goat, who?

Then finished he’d laughy, they’d both laughy, Piet and he, and laughying sleep, sleep at last, while circling and cawing their circle-songs, the elvies approach, smelling the fire, the girlfire setting the clays, oversetting, that sweet baking clay splintering on it’s sides, too hot, until it dusts down and shardsharp all the boy, the Piet finds, in a silent unlaughingness of the morning when the door opens, the fire-door, the kiln, is a ring of posies formed like a crown.

I’ve gots to go old man, I’ve gots to, for the wood-edge calls, the Serendip Country out there beyond, I’ve gots the urge to test my BigMac skills, to serve, maybe soldier, maybe find me out-there where the wind swirled our kiln ashes the traces of THIS.

This what? Nygaard mumbled, watching already the Piet porcelain crack.

This bouquet, this flowery-frilly, this thingamadoo, this crown, this girl you had made me gone.

Be it as you like, I’ll make another, said Nygaard.

But, though he brought gloop, stoop-shoulded up the cowpens path, mashing through the daffodils like always, that night with the knapsack on his back saying goodbye the Piet went and the elvies, scratching at the door, were let in, let to kiln, the molds, the goat too, let to glee and knife up the urns, let to tickle Nygaard out until laughing, laughing, he relented and told them where it was in the sum of things they had gone wrong and been banished from his heart.




invisible friend


benjamin buchholz