The Cost

Love a thing, carry a thing, that thing has power. I don't think talismans get much more complicated than that.

Got a couple recently. My parents came down to visit, which they only get to do once or twice a year. Brought magic stuff. Gifts. History.

First was this:

New workbench

New workbench

The top's made from a door my dad salvaged out of my grandmother's neighbor's house. Solid doors, if you do not know, make good workbench tops. The corners are square, the surfaces level and true. So he took that door, filled the voids in it, built a finished edge around it, added a tool tray and a vise, and made a replaceable work surface out of hardboard. Boom, new bench top.

My parents and I spent the weekend building the legs and shelf together. We made a hinged contraption that allows the bench to roll on wheels if you want to move it. We added adjustable feet to level the thing out. And then they went home, leaving this piece of themselves behind.

I love it almost too much to use it. Silly, I know, but I dread marking it up. Worst thing you can do with your tools is revere them.

Then there was this:

Pocket watch

Pocket watch

There was a woman named Molly McGee. Molly wasn't her real name, but everyone called her Molly and her husband Fibber. Molly took care of me during those times when my parents couldn't. She was an octogenarian babysitter, and she kept up.

I have only the faintest memories. Her helping me color. Playing hide-and-seek. In those last days, me begging her to come tuck me in at nap time and her telling me that no, I'm sorry, my legs (knees? feet?) just can't take that staircase.

It's curious how the love grows in inverse proportion to the memories, that she can loom so large in me despite my inability to conjure her face. I remember that goddamn staircase, though. How unfair it was that she couldn't come up to pull the blankets over me and kiss me. That part's Technicolor.

And so she died and so her watch came into my father's care and one day I mentioned wanting a pocket watch and he handed me hers and I just...stopped. And turned the thing over and over. The way you would a dinosaur bone or a moon rock.

He took pains to restore it. He wanted me to rely on it as I once relied on her. And now I have it, this small gold heartbeat in my pocket. And I get to take it out and wind it. And I get to think of her. That's a talisman. It keeps her alive. That's its power.

So it is with the workbench. I look at it and that thing that lives at the center of me shudders. It knows that one day I will no longer have a father. It knows that when that day comes I'll go out to the garage to grab my drill or pullsaw or a box of screws, and I'll see that bench. And I'll have to scrape myself off the floor.

That's the cost, though. Anyone who writes stories in which magic doesn't have a cost is a hack and a liar. Keeping my dad alive after he's dead will demand payment. As does time traveling to 1980 every time I reach into my pocket to see when I can go home. As did Molly's love.

As for the bench, I gotta mark that bastard up. It's not a tombstone. It's not an altar. It is a place for becoming. A place for the future, not the past. The future requires that you make a mess. That's its cost.