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Death of a Giant

 

Death of a Giant

by Eliot Michl

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Death of a Giant

Before he got sick, my go-to bookmark
in time, my father and I sat on the back deck
together. He built it himself from watching a
VHS how-to video when I was ten or eleven. 
Now, 20 years later and there we sat, swaying
on the gorgeous swing from a patio set he’d
purchased from Menard’s, the toy store for 

Grown men living in Northwest Missouri. 
The boards were warped and a few were
split at the place where the long wood
screws, no longer gold, squealed themselves
into the spot that would be their final degree
of rotation. I pressed my big toe into the
railing that surrounded the patio and 

Stretched my other hammertoes, curled as
ever, toward to the vine-covered lattice. 
The entire deck attached to the long log
cabin situated into a hill: so on one side
of the deck you’d descend five steps, while
the other side, 20. He could never get the
rise-and-run just right,  my dad, so the last step, 

No matter which side you chose to descend, 
was a doozy. I flicked off a spider that hopped
down from the elm tree to land on my arm
and pushed us both back on the swing a little
before letting go. “You know how many times
your mother and I went to therapy?” Yes, I
say, knowing that they’d never been to therapy 

In their four-plus decades of marriage. “Yeah
well, you go three times a week?” It wasn’t a
question. I know, dad. “Sometimes it’s just not
right, sweetie. And I know you love him, but
it’s not worth it. Look at you! You’re young,
you should be happy.” Then we sat for a long
moment. “Sweetheart, nothing is worth this.” 

A small twig fell from the elm tree and landed
onto the grayish board of the deck where I was
gazing. I looked up at the diseased tree. Only
one section borne leaves this year. Even from
our height above the ground on the deck, the
tree towered overhead. A behemoth, naked in
the still-long evenings of the end of summer. 

Twigs, branches, and limbs came crashing to
the ground with strong, dry wind gusts or in the
melee of summer thunderstorms. If you sat at
the kitchen table, you could watch the birds
hop from the queue in the elm to the various
feeders my father put out for them. Greasy
suet and seed for the chickadees and cardinals, 

Grape jelly and grapefruits for the orioles. 
He put his large, pillowy hand over mine, 
it was stretched out wide on the
mildew-resistant mesh of the swing. “I
just want you to be happy, girl.” I looked
out across the lawn and into the wood that
surrounded it. I watched a cluster of leaves 

Fling itself in a half-hearted, if not slapdash
sort of float toward the earth. My eyes
rested on something out of place in a sea
of green and the brown of newly fallen
hackberry leaves. Wh… why did you paint that
bench yellow, dad? His latest project was
painting a hefty log bench the brightest of

Yellows. “Your mother wanted yellow. I picked
up a can at Menard’s.” It’s terrible, I said
laughing. Please paint it brown. He was
standing now. I laughed again and he leaned
on his palms into the deck railing, gazing out
at the sunny bench. … The snow is just
beginning to melt now. With great difficulty, 

I drag the heavy, log bench across the soft
lawn, leaving in my wake a trail of disturbed
sod and mud that matches the bench perfectly.
I manage to lift it over the ferns that circle the
elm tree and lean the back up against the dying
giant. I sit down and begin writing. In the
months to come I’d be pestered constantly 

By small sticks and twigs falling where I
wrote. And, as I'd lean into my notebook, 
pen in hand, something bright would catch
my eye: the insides of the screw holes and
cracks in the wood of the log bench, where
father’s oversized paintbrush had failed to
reach, still sang the most vibrant yellow. 

 

 

“Death of a Giant” by Eliot Michl first appeared in Wanda Magazine. © Eliot Michl, 2018. Reprinted with permission.