Of the short stories I’ve written, this is my wife, Sara’s favorite. I should caution you before you begin that the language in it is rough. If you’re easily offended by cursing, don’t read it, but this is how it had to be. I wrote it because my part of the Christian family, the Episcopal church is so downright awful at evangelism, at sharing their relationships with Jesus, that I wanted to try to talk about it in a way that’s not so churchy. I’ve learned a ton about evangelism since I wrote this, but strangely, like the early clay figures in the story, it still works for me. I hope that you find it encouraging!
Jarod stuffed his frayed bookbag into his locker, pushing aside months’ worth of crumpled papers to squeeze it in. Today he wouldn’t be taking it home. It just didn’t seem to be worth it any more. He had been working hard to improve his grades, but nobody seemed to notice, or care. Well, maybe he hadn’t been working all that hard, but he had been trying, and still his parents were forever on his case. And Ms. Halverstad, his trig teacher, she seemed to have it in for him. Nothing he did for her was ever right, nothing ever good enough. Just like his Dad. He’d gotten his overall average up from a C+/B- to a B+, but it still wasn’t good enough. Never good enough.
He slammed the bent and scarred door to his locker shut and replaced the combination lock. “I don’t know why I bother,” he thought, “Nothing in there anybody would ever want.” He slouched his way to the doors of his high school and started downtown, but not towards home. “Humanities” they called it. Yeah, right. There wasn’t an ounce of humanity anywhere in there.
Jarod had thought that he’d wander down to the Village, walk around a little till he ran into a friend or something. He had yet to make any real friends at his new school. His parents had moved and had him transferred, because the High School for the Humanities was supposed to be one of the better high schools in lower Manhattan. They hadn’t bothered to ask him about it, and when he’d complained about leaving his friends with only two years of school to go, they’d re-assured him that he could still see his old friends. Humanities, they said, would set him up for a better college.
His mood was so dark though, that he barely noticed which streets he was walking on, and before he knew it, he was well East of most of the village, down in “alphabet city.” He knew the area, at least, as he and his friends had come to this neighborhood to look for trouble from time to time. It was a struggling area of the city, inhabited by some artists and younger folk, but mostly by the poor and the aged. Thompson Square Park had been a virtual campground for the homeless, at least before the current Mayor drove them all underground, out of sight. Still, as Jarod entered from the Northwest corner of the park, he could see benches filled with those who had nowhere else to go. Gone were the boxes and makeshift tents, but the human misery seemed just as tangible.
He smiled to himself as he looked for an open bench on which to sit. “Man, can’t believe I came here, but why not. I’ll probably be living here soon enough.”
It was a fairly hot Summer afternoon, just two weeks before the end of school. Jarod’s bench, he soon figured out, was empty because it was in the sun. The shaded ones were all taken up. “Damn,” he thought to himself as he flopped down on the length of the rickety wooden slats, “can’t even pick a bench right.” He lay on his back, hot and sticky, his eyes closed. From one of them, a close observer might have seen a tear sneak out and run down the side of his face to his ear.
Jarod lay there, enveloped in his own sorrow, feeling the way it resonated with the sorrow of the park, the place, its people. He felt strangely comforted, thinking that there were so many others whose self loathing matched his own. He was startled by a shadow that darkened the red undersides of his eyelids. Someone, he realized, must be standing over him. With his heart suddenly trying to jump out of his chest, he tried to open one eye just wide enough to see if he was right.
As soon as he got one eyelid to move a little, though, both eyes flew open and he sat bolt upright all in a single motion. Standing over him was, it seemed, one of the park’s many vagrants, an ancient man with a rather scraggly beard, worn gray work pants and a stained Grateful Dead tee shirt. His mostly-gray hair was also too long, and looked oily, sticking to his head at the top like a greasy skull cap. He was smiling. Sort of.
“What the fuck do you want?” yelled Jarod, more terrified than angry.
The man’s smile grew wider, he almost seemed to chuckle to himself. “Oh, I don’t want nothin’,” he answered. “‘Cept for to give you something.” Jarod noticed that he had one of his hands behind his back. “I been walking all over the park today, looking for the right person to give this to, and suddenly, I realized it was you. Here.”
He took out from behind him a very large clay model of what looked to be a horse. Or maybe Stephen Spielberg’s version of a horse. Jarod wasn’t sure which. He inched back on the bench, putting a few more inches between himself and the stranger.
“Naw, now don’t be all afraid. I ain’t givin’ you no drugs or nuthin, just this thing I made, okay?” The man continued, shaking his head slightly. “I know it don’t look like much now, but it’s the best I can do so far. I always loved horses. I always wanted to ride one. My daddy took me to the track with him a couple times when I was little, and I liked ‘em ever since. Here, it’s for you, I’m sure it is.”
Jarod still didn’t move to accept this strange gift. “Look,” said the man, “I can tell you’re feeling like shit and all, that’s why I’m giving it to you. See, it isn’t the horse, really, that makes it work, it’s the clay, I think, but if you take it, it will help you to feel better, really.” Jarod looked at him like he was insane. “I know it sounds crazy. You should’a seen the way I was when this guy gave it to me! Just take it. Hold it for a second. See if it don’t make you feel better.”
Jarod offered an empty hand, and the stranger placed the misshapen clay horse in it. It weighed a lot, so he used both hands to draw it to his lap. He scooted down to the end of the bench as the stranger sat at the other. “By the way,” said the older man, “My name’s Mickey.” He held out his hand and Jarod leaned over, trying not to damage the sculpture, to shake it. “Just give it a minute. See if I ain’t right.”
Mickey seemed content to sit and wait, saying nothing, so Jarod studied the thing in his hands as he waited to see if this might actually work. He noted the way that the clay had been worked, the smudges and the fingerprints, the places it had been smoothed and the way that Mickey had tried to get the face just right. It hadn’t come out too well, but it was obvious that he’d tried. Jarod caught himself smiling down at the mutant horse in his lap.
“Now, see! See if it don’t work!” Mickey jumped up, all excited. “He told me it would, and it sure as hell did for me! Damn! Ain’t that just the stuff!” He grinned at Jarod as he sat back down. “See, didn’t it make you feel better? Didn’t it?”
Jarod nodded slightly. “Yeah. I guess it did.” He paused. “Weird. I mean, my life is still totally fucked up, but I don’t feel quite so bad about it for now.” He held the horse out to Mickey. “I guess you’ll be wanting this back.”
“Nope. Nope!” Mickey shook his head back and forth like a crazy windshield wiper. “That’s the thing. I’m not supposed to take it back. Just supposed to give it to you. That’s what the guy said. The guy who gave it to me. Said I was to give it away, once I’d made sump’n out of it. Said that would work for me even better than getting it from him. So, I’m giving it to you. I guess I feel a little better than I did before. We’ll see. Maybe this works slower than the other. I don’t know.”
Jarod grew more and more confused as the man spoke. “You mean, some guy gave this horse to you and then said you had to give it away?”
Mickey laughed. “Nah, not like that at all. Hell, when he gave it to me, it was some kinda weird race car. Didn’t look like it could get one time around a track! But he told me I wasn’t supposed to just keep it like that. Just like you aren’t. For it to work, you gotta make sump’n out of it for yourself. Sump’n you like a lot. Then, he said, when you give it to somebody, it works better for you. So, you gotta take my horse there, squoosh it all up and make sump’n new. Some kinda thing that means sump’n to you.
Jarod was noticing that his mood was getting lighter and lighter as he held the clay horse. “So you want me to ruin all your work here?” Mickey laughed and nodded. “But I don’t know how do make anything with it.”
“Neither did I, kiddo!” laughed Mickey. “Neither did I. But there’s books you can get and stuff. Maybe you could even get somebody in your school, (you are in school, arent’ you?) to teach you. That don’t matter. It’s the trying that matters. I mean, sure, you want it to look nice when you give it away and all, don’t want to just give somebody a lump of clay, but you’re not supposed to try to make it perfect. Just try is all. That’s what he said. That’s what I did. I mean, I didn’t want to give away no Star Wars horse!” Jarod laughed as he realized that they had shared the same impression of this strange beast. “But he said, ‘Don’t keep it till you think you got it all perfect, and all, just do your best and give it away. That’s how you make it work for you.’”
Jarod began to feel sorry for this man who was giving away something so precious, something that might be the only decent thing in his life. “Let me ask you something,” he said, “can I get you something, some food, or maybe even a place to crash? I got some friends not too far from here. I bet we could work something out.”
Mickey laughed again. “Thanks, kid. But I don’t need nuthin. I know I look like hell, but that’s just ‘cause I haven’t been taking care of myself. I got a place to stay. Even got food. Got a little rent-controlled place a couple of blocks from here that don’t cost much, and my Army pension and Social Security keep me goin’. But thanks. And, that’s the other thing about this. Now, you gotta make something and give it to somebody else. And you can’t take anything for it, okay? Just give it away for nothing. That’s supposed to be the part that works best for you. I guess maybe I’m starting to feel that. But, well, we’ll see.”
Mickey got up rather suddenly and walked away, Jarod watching dumbly after him. “What a strange man,” he thought. “Guy’s probably got some kind of post-traumatic stress or something. Still, this stupid horse does seem to make me feel a little better.” He stood up and, carrying his new possession, started for home. He wanted to be sure he got it to his room before something happened to it.
When he reached his family’s new apartment in Chelsea, Jarod went directly to his bedroom on the second floor of the brownstone. Slamming the door behind him, he put on a Metallica CD, then put the clay horse on his bedside table and flopped on the bed where he could see it, watch it. He continued to look at the way that Mickey’s fingers and thumbs had shaped the animal, and he could almost feel the love that Mickey had for the horse as he worked on it. Still it was so ugly. And yet, he had to admit that it did make him feel better. It had to be something in the clay.
Jarod didn’t feel much better though, when he got to school the next morning. Having ditched all his books for the night, he was unprepared for the review exams he took during the day, preparing for finals and Regents. He finished the three practice tests convinced that he would fail all three of the real exams the next week. It seemed he hadn’t been able to get even close on more than half of the questions. As the world closed in on him that afternoon he tried to remember the horse, remember the way it had made him feel. He tried to remember Mickey, to see if that would help. Though it may have brightened his bleak mood a little, it didn’t do a lot. He hurried home from his last class to crash on his bed again and stare at the clay horse.
Again, the presence, the feel of the horse helped Jarod to move out of his funky mood. But this time, the effect wasn’t quite as strong, quite as immediate. He had to work to remember what he’d felt just the day before. The better he remembered, the better he felt. Would this get steadily harder, he thought? Would the effect wear off altogether after a while?
Jarod wasn’t sure, but his suspicions were strengthened when he realized on the following day that the horse had had even less effect on him than before. He sat on his bed, staring at the horse, touching it, trying to draw more strength from it. He definitely felt better, but not like he wanted to.
“For it to work, you gotta make sump’n out of it for yourself. Sump’n you like a lot.” Jarod suddenly remembered Mickey’s words. He was supposed to ruin the horse, make a lump of clay out of it, so that he could make something else. He stared at the horse, the result of Mickey’s own efforts, and he couldn’t do it. It might have been a little ugly, well, a lot ugly, but it was Mickey’s gift to him. He couldn’t mess with it. Instead, he turned to his texts, tried to study for exam week. He worked until after supper, then watched the Yankee game with his dad, after showing him how much reviewing he’d already done. At least they had that together. The “pin-stripers” as he Dad liked to call them, trounced the Blue Jays handily.
Jarod fell asleep that night looking at the horse beside his bed. He was sure he’d never mess it up.
Encouraged by his change of mood, Jarod studied harder for his exams than he’d planned to. Maybe his life really had started to turn around. Maybe that horse was his lucky charm. He worked all through the weekend, even missing the Saturday night tradition of going to see “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” with his friends.
But when he sat for the exams, much of his optimism faded away. He didn’t think he’d failed, but he was sure he hadn’t done very well. He hoped he’d scored high enough on the Regents to pass.
Jarod’s mood plummeted as the week wore on. Even the horse didn’t seem to be doing much for him. “Damn you!” he screamed at the clay figure that Thursday afternoon. “Damn!” He lashed out, and caught the horse with the back of his hand, knocking it across the room and against the far wall. It fell heavily to the floor. “Oh, shit!” Jarod yelled as he realized what he’d done. He ran over to see what had happened and found the clay horse, its face flattened by the collision with the wall, it’s legs crumpled from the fall to the floor. He looked down at it for a long time before bending over to pick it up, almost unrecognizable at this point. “I’ll fix it,” he thought. “I’ll get it fixed, somehow.”
He took it to his desk and began to work, trying to put the legs back into place, trying to reshape the face that had obviously taken Mickey so long to complete. Though he worked long into the night, he could never get it back, the original horse. Sometimes, he thought, it looked more like a real horse than the original, but that wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted the old horse, Mickey’s horse.
And he couldn’t get it.
When finally he gave up and collapsed on his bed for the night, Jarod’s eyes were filled with bitter tears, tears of self-hatred. Even the one good thing he’d had in his life he’d screwed up. Even Mickey’s horse.
The next day, Jarod packed his bookbag as though he were headed for school, but in the top of it lay the damaged clay horse. Wrapped gently in yesterday’s Times, he took it with him, walking right past the entrance to the school and down towards Thompson Square Park. He was determined to find Mickey, to see if he could fix the horse, or help him some other way.
The walk from school had seemed to take no time at all when he’d walked in the haze of depression the previous week. This time though, Jarod’s anxiousness to get there made it seem to take forever.
He was afraid to run, afraid he’d further damage the clay horse in his bookbag, so he walked as quickly and smoothly as he could, generating a considerable sweat as he went along. He stopped in a small bodega on 14th to buy a Coke. He bought one, then two more, in case Mickey wanted one when he got there, and stuffed them into his bag. A cop on the corner of third and 14th eyed him suspiciously as he hurried along, as though he might be a truant kid, but Jarod just smiled at him and said, “I know I’m late! Just headed for school!” and tugged at his bag to show it was filled with books. He shot down second to get out of the man’s sight after he’d passed, then East on 12th to head over towards the park.
When he arrived, the park was not as full as it had been the last time he’d visited. Wherever the people stayed now who had no homes, it was out of sight, away from the harassment they’d come to expect from the authorities. Jarod figured it would fill up soon enough. This, at least, might make it easier to find Mickey, if he was here.
If he was here.
Jarod circled the entire park, searching, but seeing no one familiar. He criss-crossed the diagonal walks through the park, still without success. At last, he grabbed one of the still-cool Cokes and sat down on a shady bench to wait. Mickey would probably show up eventually, he hoped.
New arrivals to the park eyed Jarod a little warily as they made their way to accustomed spaces. Once, a man seemed to stare at him for an awfully long time. Jarod wondered if he were in the man’s “place,” but before he could get up to leave it for him, the other man had stomped off in another direction. It was getting toward lunch time, and Jarod was hungry, but he was afraid to leave, afraid he’d miss Mickey. His face fell into his hands in frustration.
“Hey, kid!” Jarod was startled by the familiar voice. “Kid! Whatchoo doin’ back here?” Mickey strode toward him from another corner of the park. “Did it work for ya? Whadja make?” Jarod was suddenly overcome by a strange sense of shame. He’d known exactly what he would say to Mickey, how he’d apologize, how he’d ask him to restore the horse’s special powers, but suddenly, all he wanted to do was cry.
“Damn, kid! Whatsa matter with ya?” Mickey sat down beside him on the bench. His clothes looked cleaner, and he definitely smelled better than the last time they’d met. “Really, kid, what is it?”
Jarod just opened his bookbag and took out the bundle of newspaper and clay, and opened it for Mickey. “I messed it up,” he stuttered.
Mickey laughed, surprising Jarod. “Well, of course ya did! You were supposed to, remember! What were you doin’? Trying to keep it all nice and pretty so it would keep working for ya?” He laughed again. “I should’a figured. I did the same thing for a couple days. But not for this long! I guess I should be flattered! I’m glad you liked the horse kid, but remember, that wasn’t the point.” Jarod looked at him blankly. “It was probably easier for me to mess up that car the guy gave me, it was so damned ugly! Maybe I shouldn’t’ve tried so hard!” Mickey couldn’t seem to stop chuckling.
“Would you quit laughing at me!” Jarod yelled. I came to ask if you could fix it, not make me feel even worse!” Mickey tried, not very successfully, to stifle another laugh.
“Okay, kid, okay. It’s just, well, I laugh a lot these days. More than I ever remember. Nothing seems so damned important any more, so heavy. Here, let me see the horse.” Mickey held out both hands, and Jarod noticed that they were still marked with bits of the same strange clay.
He put the horse in Mickey’s hands, and before he could stop him, Mickey had reduced it to an unrecognizable lump. “What the fuck did you do that for!” he screamed, grabbing it back. “Goddamn!” Holding the wad of clay in his lap, Jarod just cried.
Mickey spoke slowly and softly to him. “I’m sorry, kid, I did what I think was best for ya. Look, the horse wasn’t gonna work for all that long anyway. You probably saw that before you messed it up, didn’t you?” Jarod didn’t nod, but didn’t shake his head, either. “You can’t rely on my horse to work for you, you gotta make something of it for yourself. Remember what I said? And then give it away. Don’t wait till it’s perfect, just give it away. Remember all that shit I said?” Mickey grinned at him. Jarod was still heart broken.
“Okay, okay, look. What kinda things do you like? Let’s make something, right here. It might not come out too good, but who cares. You can work on it at home tonight and come back to give it away tomorrow. So, what do you like?”
Jarod rubbed his hands over his face to dry it and stopped to think. What could he make? What did he like. He could barely remember anything that made him happy.
“The Yankees,” he said at last. “I like the Yankees.”
“Cool, kid, okay, so make a Yankee!”
“Which one?” asked Jarod.
“Doesn’t matter, which one do you like?”
“Cone. I like David Cone.”
“Okay, so make him” answered Mickey. “Just start mooshing the clay around, like making a man.”
Jarod looked at the lump of clay in his hands. There was no longer any reason not to. The horse was long gone. He pressed on it with his thumbs, elongating it until it looked more like a hoagy role than anything else. Mickey kept encouraging him, asking him to think about what a Yankee looked like. Gradually Jarod shaped it into something with two legs and two arms. He rolled up a part of it for the head and stuck it on one end.
As he worked, he didn’t notice the cloud that had been hanging over his head lifting. But Mickey did. He just kept encouraging the kid to keep working at it, marveling at the way that it improved his outlook.
When Jarod had the basic form of a man finished, he looked up at Mickey, as if to say, “Now what?” Mickey just grinned.
“So, kid, how ya feelin’?”
Jarod stopped for a moment to take a little inventory. “Better,” he said. “Definitely better.”
“Good, now you got some work to do,” continued Mickey. “You go home tonight and work on that. You got any exams or anything left?” Jarod shook his head. “Okay, so you work on that, and tomorrow, Saturday, you meet me back here. You’re gonna give it away, okay? So do your best, but be here tomorrow, or I’ll kick your ass!”
“I know you, I think. You’re gonna be embarrassed if it’s not good enough, or maybe not want to get it laughed at. Or maybe even you’ll think that making it made you feel so good you don’t want to let go of it. Well, don’t even think about it. You get your ass back here tomorrow, and let me show you how this really works.”
Jarod had tried unsuccessfully to break into Mickey’s happy little tirade. Mickey would have none of it. “Get out of here, and you better be back tomorrow!” He turned and, to avoid argument, walked rapidly away, laughing to himself.
Jarod looked down at this man-shaped lump in his lap and decided he’d do as he was told. Wrapping it in the newspapers he’d used for the horse, he stuffed it back into his bag and walked home. He was starved, but he didn’t much care.
When he got home, Jarod grabbed a bag of Oreos and went to his room to work. He no longer worried about the test scores. They were what they were. No changing them now. Giving his attention to the model of David Cone, Jarod went and found some pictures of him in the paper, pictures of him pitching, and goofing off in the dugout. He decided to make this one an action figure.
Stretching one leg one way, and one another, Jarod began to try to imitate the form of Cone’s body in his delivery to the plate. One leg thrust forward, knee bent as his weight moved to the plate, the other straight back, pushing off the rubber on the mound. He was afraid that the legs would break off, he was twisting the clay so much, but it held together amazingly well. Then, straightening the figure’s back, he positioned the right arm right in the middle of the motion to the plate, just as he saw in the pictures. The head was pointed directly at the catcher, the left arm tucked in a little.
After supper, Jarod returned to his work and spent much of the night, well past two in the morning, trying to fashion the uniform, the shoes, the glove, the face and hat. When all was said and done, the only things that made it clear who it was supposed to be were the pin-stripes he’d scratched into the figure, and the number 36 on his back.
It wouldn’t even stand up.
Exhausted, Jarod collapsed into bed. Mickey was right. He was embarrassed. He’d never give this away to anybody. Even so, he did like the way he felt as he looked at the results of his effort.
When Jarod awoke that Saturday, his parents were already out of the house. His other had a meeting with some museum board, and his dad still had to work. It was noon by the time he’d showered and eaten, and wrapped his handiwork for the trip to the park. He might not plan to give it away, but he was not going to miss seeing Mickey and showing him what he’d accomplished. Maybe, after a few weeks, he could try giving it away.
Mickey was visible, talking to another man on a bench when Jarod arrived. He wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw another horse pass between them. Before he could get there to find out, Mickey straightened and turned around, seeing Jarod. “Hey, kid! ‘Bout time!” he chuckled.
Meeting him half-way across the park, Mickey held out his hands. “Let’s see it!” he said. Jarod slowly offered his first version of David Cone, pitching. “Damn, kid! Not too bad! I mean, he looks a little lumpy, but you kinda got the motion in it. Pretty damn good!”
“Okay. So let’s us go find somebody you want to give it to. Look around for somebody feels as bad as you did when I saw you, ya know?”
“Ah, but Mickey,” Jarod started, “This isn’t good yet. I mean, it doesn’t even stand up!”
“Did I tell you that didn’t matter? Did I? I knew you were gonna be a pain with this!” Mickey laughed again. “Listen to me. IT DOESN’T MATTER how good it is. What matters, I think is that you made it, and you’re giving it. Remember how bad that horse was I gave you? Well, did it work or not?”
“Yeah, some, for a while,” acknowledged Jarod. “But,”
Mickey cut him off. “But nothin’. It worked. Now, I tell you, this will work. Maybe one day you’ll do better, but just because you can’t get it perfect, you’re gonna let some other guy feel bad? Just ‘cause you don’t have it perfect?”
Jarod stopped dead. “That’s right,” continued Mickey. “There’s some slob out there feeling just like you did the other day. And he needs this. And it will work for him. Now, you gonna keep it to yourself? Besides, like I told ya, it’ll work better for you if you give it away. Remember, I told ya that, too.” He laughed again. “Damn, kid, you don’t listen.”
“Okay,” consented Jarod, “I’ll give it to somebody. Even if it is awful.”
“Good, now walk around the park with me, till we find somebody might need it. You’ll know when you see them.”
They strolled around the park, checking out whoever was there. Nobody seemed right. “I can’t tell,” Jarod said to Mickey. “There isn’t anybody here who needs it.”
“Yeah there is,” Mickey answered. “There always is.” The walked a little further. “You just gotta be patient.”
Finally, Jarod’s attention was caught by a group of kids, playing in one corner of the park. Most of them had skateboards, and were doing grinds and jumps along a portion of smooth curbing. One kid, though, was seated on a bench, near them, alone.
“He’s the one,” said Jarod, pointing.
“Well, go do it, then!” said Mickey, giving him a gentle shove.
Jarod walked over to the boy, a year or two younger than he, he thought.
The boy looked up.
“Hi,” said Jarod, and introduced himself. The kid didn’t respond, just stared at him, he thought he might even have been angry. “Look, I know you don’t know me, and this is kind of weird and all, but, well, here.” He held out the model of David Cone.
“I know it’s not too good or anything. It’s supposed to be Cone. But anyway, that’s not the point. The point is, it’s supposed to make you feel better.” The kid looked at him as though he had two heads. “I know, I know. It was the same with me. But if you take it, it will make you feel better. Just take it for a minute, and see.” He held it out again. This time the kid took it, began looking at it. Jarod waited silently, the way Mickey had done with him, waiting to see what would happen. He wanted to point out the 36 on the jersey, or say something, but he just waited.
The kid turned it over and over in his hands, looking at the way the legs were formed, the way the clay had been pushed and smoothed by Jarod’s fingers. When he looked up, he seemed to be smiling a little.
“Well I’ll be damned,” Jarod thought silently as he sat down on the bench beside him. “Did it work?”
“Yeah, I guess it did, a little. Thanks. But it really does look funny!” The kid and Jarod laughed at the strange looking baseball figure.
“Yeah, I know,” he said back.
“So, what’re you giving me this for, anyway? You want it back?”
Jarod shook his head. “No, I’m giving it to you, cause that’s what I’m supposed to do with it. This guy gave it to me,” he looked around for Mickey but didn’t see him, “and told me it would make me feel better and it did, and the told me to make something new out of it and give it away, and it would make me feel even better, so I did. Now that’s what you’re supposed to do, to.”
Jarod went on to explain how it all worked, and what he’d learned from Mickey, and from his reluctance to remold the clay. They both laughed when he compared the first horse he’d received to one of the four-legged walkers from the second Star Wars movie.
When at last he’d finished explaining, he just got up and left, just as Mickey had done, before the kid could try to give him anything in return. He had to admit, as he walked across the park, looking for Mickey, the he felt immeasurably better. Mickey, though, was nowhere to be found, so he started home, stopping only for another Coke on the way home. As he opened the door, he was faintly sad that he had given away the figure, as he had nothing else to give away now. Perhaps he could buy some modeling clay himself, he thought as he went up the stairs to his room. But no, he realized. No modeling clay he’d ever seen worked as well as the stuff Mickey had given him. “Oh, well,” he thought as he plopped onto the bed, his radio blasting away to some old Guns-n-Roses, “it worked. I do feel better. Hope it lasts.”
Jarod rolled over to check the time on his alarm, and was amazed to see, sitting there, the clay horse he’d first received. “What the?” he jumped up, gladdened but confused. He grabbed the horse, pulling it to him. It was exact. Down to the last mistake, it was the very horse he’d started with almost two weeks ago. He thought back to Mickey, remembered that perhaps he’d been giving away something when he’d seen him at the park.
So that was where the clay came from, he guessed. It is some kind of magical stuff. Like it never runs out or something, as long as you keep making stuff out of it. Jarod gleefully pounded the new horse into a lump, and started on a different version of his favorite baseball player.
It was the end of the worst day of his life. Ricky sat on the steps leading down from the entrance to his new school. It was too big, he didn’t know anybody, nobody talked to him, nobody even seemed to know he was alive. The next four years at Humanities were going to be hell, pure hell.
As he sat there, wondering what he could do, one of the upperclassmen sat beside him on the steps. “Hi, I’m Jarod,” he said.
“I’m Ricky. Hi. You’re the first person who has said anything to me all day.”
“I know. It sucks here, doesn’t it? My folks made me transfer here last year, when I was a junior. I wanted to kill them. At least, downtown, I knew some people.”
“Yeah. We just moved to the city. Dad has a new job. This is so fucked up!”
“Yeah, it is. Listen. Ricky. Let me do something for you. I got this thing I made,” Jarod fished in his bookbag. “Why don’t you take it.”
He took out of his bag an amazingly lifelike figure of David Cone, stretching to the plate, and held it out to Ricky.
“I think this might help.”