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Dead Man’s Hand

ISSUE:  Autumn 1999

A couple of months before the weekend in question, I met the
 man who lived downstairs. As I helped him move his
 refrigerator he told me he was a fiber-artist,
which meant he made complex maps of his soul from weeds and
 paper, rope and wire, and he hung them up on the wall. We
 became friends,
I guess I could say, in the sad, passing way of neighbors. A few
 days later, he knocked on my door to ask a favor, and he
 handed me a pair of chore gloves.
He’d rented a truck to bring a loveseat he’d made into the city—it
 was a loveseat made entirely from barbed-wire; its whole great
 back an arching
Valentine of a heart, armrests clearly not a place to rest anything
 at all. Moving it up the stairs of the stoop was a special thing, a
 moment you knew the passersby
would pass on again. A barbed-wire chair, they’d say that evening,
 and two men wrestling it into a door. A new piece of art was on
 his wall: he’d found hundreds
of brightly colored syringes under the Williamsburg Bridge and
 cluttered them into a kind of net. The work didn’t have a title.
 He played Scriabin
on a record player and smoked a joint. The loveseat filled his tiny
 apartment. Where will you sit?, I wanted to ask. He would
 suffer, I guessed, for his art.
A week or two later he came through with a couple of tickets to
 the opening of the Whitney Biennial, where he worked as a
 guard, and I never
could have afforded such a thing. That year all the art was about
 oppression, and I walked around in a tie while he guarded
 somebody from something, something
from somebody. All I could think about was his wage. He was
 forty years old. On a weekend later that summer, some mean
 heroin made the rounds
through Manhattan—fourteen people killed in four days. On
 Monday my boss told me about his own neighbor, a schoolteacher,
 found curled up, dead,
beneath a baby-grand piano. When I got home from hearing that
 story, they were rolling my own neighbor out of the building.
 His left hand fell from under a tarpaulin.
Five years later I won seven dollars (now I’m trying to weave my
 own fibrous confusions into something) on a hand of aces and
 eights, and somebody said
Dead Man’s Hand. Now that I remember him doesn’t it mean that
 I loved him?


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OverKill's picture
OverKill · 2 years ago

No, it means that you are cursed to die.


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