Patron Saint of Lost Causes

by Rich Larson

He finds the bones in a sunbeam, laid like scalpels. Honeycombed insides, greasy gray between his thumb and forefinger. He thinks of the calender and its blotted red appointments and knows that the next one is too far away. He calls into work.

He drives with one hand and eats unsalted peanuts with the other. His son spreads limbs on the dash, a spider in black trackies, and watches road disappear in the Sello-taped mirror, even when the van’s tires crunch onto gravel and saline air swoops through the cracked windows. The father greets his sister-in-law at a red scab door and tells his son to find his uncle in the loft. The seabent house is inundated with canvases, blank. He goes to the kitchen for Nescafe in peeling mugs. He asks about the clamp. She tells him it works, it works better than she ever imagined.

The son throbs his ears with orchestras and sees gnashing waves out the window. His feet creak upstairs. His uncle, extinguished, sits at an easel. His hair is white stubble. Balloons from the hospital sag behind him. He stares and stares at canvas.

“Don’t you paint anymore?”

“Fuck you,” says his uncle, but softly.

“Fuck you, old man.”

Steam curlicues from his cup while he listens.

“Meek as a lamb,” she says. “Fixed everything. The children, you know, they used to be so scared of him.”

The father nods, he knows. He knew his brother.

“Fuck you,” the son says again, and he takes a slathered brush, algae green, and paints a bird. His hand jerks above his uncle’s hand, hot veins over cold. The bird is very ugly.

The uncle nods. “You know why he’s visiting,” he tells the son. “Let’s walk.”

“Eats everything I cook,” she says to a chipped manicure. “It’s a shame about his painting, but we manage. We have enough.”

Her brother-in-law flats his hands on the table and tells her, slowly, about the water scorpions buried alive by the pool. Wingless wasps. Pet canaries. He tells her about anger and ever since.

Outside through a well-oiled door, the dusk is dropping. The uncle moves relentless and carefully thinks nothing, thinks a waterfall of algebra. His nephew follows up through wind-whipped trees and over shale, higher, higher still.

“You could do it for me, you see,” says the uncle.

Even that aches his head.

“But can they take it out again?” he asks his sister-in-law. “If he got better.” The kitchen smells like cilantro and scorched pans.

“They don’t get better,” she says. “That’s why you put it in.” The uncle jigs on the edge, arms flapping. “Come on,” he says, and his nephew sees that his eyes are black without pupils, the very same as his. Below, nightskinned waves smash against slimy rock. His nephew sees it like a bird’s neck wrung, a snapped piano string, a mother living underground. He plants both palms in his uncle’s hollow chest.


Rich Larson is a 20-year-old student living in Edmonton, Alberta. He’s no longer trying to be clever.
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