Now Fidelio is brushing his beard upward and out, so that it stands like a stiff black sunburst under his face. There is something of the Medusa's husband in this, something of Satan's anti-halo, but if I were to tell him this, he would want to wear it that way all the time. I hold my tongue.

He has a mirror in one hand now, and he tilts it toward himself at an infinity of angles, pausing now and then to frown or squint as though it were a crystal ball. His other hand holds a sharp gouge, with which he occasionally takes a flake or strip from a scrap of cypress screwed to a stump beside him. I've seen all this before - I call it the Leonardo play - but I can't help keeping an eye on him as I run the sprayer over my piece. He is internalizing his beard.

The cypress scrap will end up as a seaweed glade, or an Elvis wheel, or as the visage of a kangaroo, but it will surely bear the dark, silly spirit of that beard. We'll sell it for maybe seventy-five or a hundred bucks. It will only be a study for a larger piece.

I am cleaning up now, running some thinner through the spray gun, and Fidelio is relaxing with his mallet and chisel. The edges of his beard still stand at attention, but the middle part has been crushed back to its usual matted droop by a can of cheap beer. He is telling me all about pozzolana and the resins of Antonio Stradivari, while casually striking away large chunks of cypress. It's nearly dark now, and I head back up the hill toward the house. I need to start the fires so we can eat dinner and roast in the sauna tonight. My departure has no effect on his work or his discourse.


As we rinse and rack the last of the dishes, the girls start working on Fidelio. It's not that they really want his company in the sauna, but he hasn't bathed in a few days, and they want to get him in there so they can pour buckets of steaming water over him. He demurs, praising the keening of their siren song and the tilt of their breasts. Inside our cedar box, we can hear the ping of his chisel, and once, a peal of laughter rolling up from the shed. I hope he hasn't cut himself.


The girls labored over their sticks and strings late into last night, and I am the only one up with the sun. As I start down the hill, I detect by his basso profundo snore that Fidelio has slept in the shed again. My chainsaw won't bother him. I'll have to pick him up and lean him against a post to rouse him enough to take his pill.

His chunk of cypress is still screwed to the log, but it is complete, finished with a couple of coats of polyurethane. It is the Hand of God, His fingers ever so slightly suggesting a bed of snakes. From it rises a tired angel, its arms lifted to receive its burden. The tips of its wings are like fretted sunbursts, but they impart a sadness that I had never quite noticed in Fidelio's beard. I think this one will bring a couple of hundred easy.

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