How to Hew a Family by Constance Malloy
Walnut Man stands a solid five inches high, when not bent at the waist. Then, he loses a good inch, just like my grandfather, the person who made him. His face resembles my grandfather’s before he died: wrinkled, brown skinned (Gramps was part Cherokee), and contemplative. His head, bald and bumpy. Empathic like my grandfather, Walnut Man knows what my life has been since his creator’s death. He knows what my father wrought. How with his vain, manicured hands, my father shredded and burned the fabric of my birth family.
As a young girl, I watched my grandfather precision split walnuts: the glint of his pocketknife dulled with age, not unlike the blue of his eyes. The ca-raack signaling a clean separation made us both giddy. After scraping the brainlike meat from its shell, Gramps divided it, offering me half. While crunching and digging bits from his teeth with his tongue, he glued the halves together, blowing them dry with his nutty, smokey breath. He poked two round holes into the nut for eyes, smoothed out the bottom portion of the seam where the halves met, creating a nose, and etched a straight line for a mouth. His final touch, penciled eyebrows.
After gluing the head to a walnut torso, he whittled dowels for arms and legs, which he jointed and attached. Then, he delicately cut notches into flat pieces of wood representing fingers and toes. Once fully assembled and dried, my grandmother deftly handstitched a green shirt and pants onto his body
I sat with my grandfather in unending conversation while his patient hands cleaned walnuts and whittled wood, assembling a walnut spouse and children: a family for Walnut Man. He tasked me with burning the heads of matchsticks, which he used to build a village of matchstick shops and homes. Gramps’ nimble fingers intricately wired one of the houses and with the push of a silver button (its decisive click causing me to clap in anticipation), the interior was animated in light.
Peering in the windows, I marveled at the Walnut Family sitting around their kitchen table. I imagined their life to be perfect. How could it not be? They had been hewn by the rough-skinned hands of love, discernment, and commitment.
Sitting at my kitchen table with my husband and daughter, my family, I feel the now familiar ca-rack of my heart cavity opening. There is love here. My daughter’s uplifted eyes and unpinched voice signal that this life, sculpted with the inherited tools of my grandfather, is safe.
Wrapping my weathered hands around a mug, I’m certain Gramps watches over me. Perhaps, he espies me through the eyes of Walnut Man: my sentinel on the windowsill.
the actual Walnut Man, image supplied by Constance Malloy
Constance Malloy's flash has been anthologized by Bending Genres, nominated for Best Microfiction and was shortlisted for Fractured Lit's, Micro competition. Most recently published in New Flash Fiction Review, The Daily Drunk, she is upcoming at Rejection Letters and talking about strawberries all of the time. Follow her at constancemalloy.com, @ConstanceMall13.