And then it began to corrode: that first taste of tobacco, or the first pull from the bottle. Or something else, like loss, maybe, or betrayal.
Efrim thought about those things. He was not a deep thinker. He was pragmatic. He worked with wood, cutting and molding it for bookcases and benches, banisters and balusters. There was artistry in his movements, but if you told him so, he’d show you his shredded hands, the sawdust in his pant cuffs and between his boot laces. He’d hand you the stained sketches he kept in his shirt pocket. It wasn’t artistry, he’d say, just work. No magic or wonder here. If you were good enough, he’d say, no one noticed. If you fucked up, everyone noticed. He didn’t fuck up. At this, he had become good enough.
What else could he do, living in the belly of the whale? He worked and hid in the dark. The trick was not to reveal. He was no artist.
He lost a lot of weight over the years, became sickly and undernourished from too much Jose Cuervo, not enough carrots or something. That’s what Elani told him. Eat more carrots. Don’t smoke so much, cut back the booze, eat more carrots. Like they were talismanic. You could smoke and you could drink, but if you ate carrots, you might make it. The weight came back when he started working, working hard. He snagged burgers, greasy gorditas, vending machine sandwiches. Carbed up and stopped drinking. He wasn’t fat, not like before, but he had his belly back, and more height to balance it. He kept his three-year chip in his wallet behind a Taco Bell gift card. He became the man no one knew, unless you were looking for someone to refurbish your basement or fix your porch after a storm.
That was all he wanted.