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Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Finely Tuned

                  Bernard Hughes was born in 1918, just as his father returned from the war. Even though his father had never been on leave and his son looked nothing like him, Calvin Hughes loved Bernie, even if he was never once proud of him.

                  Calvin had loved precision, which made him the perfect watchmaker, and he bestowed both his supreme disappointment with life and his obsession with absolute accuracy to Bernie. By the time he was ten, Bernard perfectly understood what made clocks tick, and how important each tiny, individual element of the watch contributed to the accuracy of the whole.

                Even though Calvin Hughes had never once spent a dime on anything he didn’t absolutely need, Bernie found the ultimate way to spend the weekly pay he earned from his father’s shop: he would sneak out just before the Stock Exchanges closed so that he could get good seats for a baseball game.

Baseball games, Bernie had discovered, possessed the perfect rhythm. As the player dug his shoes into the batter’s box, he would stroke upwards, the pitcher’s windup, downwards, the umpire’s call, upwards, the catcher’s throw to the pitcher, downwards. This loop, honed to perfection even in the early days, was as predictable as the sun rising and setting. Unless, of course, a batter interrupted due course which from Bernie’s viewpoint, had happened much too often his liking and hence the Phillies languished at the bottom of the standings.

                  Sports terminology fascinated him, especially the word “cut.” A batter took a cut, a powerful swing. Yet, it was all so awkward as compared to the finesse of the pitchers. The curve, the splitter, the knuckler, or the slider required an understanding of the sublime, the intricacies of needlepoint combined with the strength of a blacksmith.

                  On his eighteenth birthday, Bernie learned to hate Philadelphia’s players. They knew neither intricacy, finesse, nor strength. They were dullards, vacuous heads and stuffed uniforms unable to compete with their opponents as if the grass was just a little longer when they played the field or the balls a little softer when they swung their bats. Bernie had faced the wrath of his father for lazing about and not finding a wife, had endured the rain of abuse that his father, who was drowning slowly in his own living nightmares from the Great War, poured down upon him in order to go see the game, and once he had arrived the players were almost drunken on the field, their reflexes and reactions so sluggish that they lost by a landslide without even putting up a fight. When he had returned home that night, all of the doors were barred to him, and they would never again open.

                  After living on the streets for a few weeks, he found employment as a workman, hauling heavy pianos to few remaining families that the Stock Market crash hadn’t effected. It was there that he discovered the fine metal strings inside the monstrous hulls of the upright baby grands he delivered; saw how cleanly they sliced through almost anything when pulled tight. It wasn’t long before he found himself carrying one of the strings with him in his pockets at all times, its length cool and coiled like a snake.

                  The mediocrity of the once god-like Phillies inspired Bernie to train religiously, his honed reflexes and receptive muscles striving to somehow make up for those horrific losses. His fingers would slide along the razor-sharp wire as he waited for the subway, his lips curled in a  half smile as he polished the metal with his sweat, and he would continue his ritual until the metal lethally gleamed. He held the wire like a cat’s cradle, the wire laced delicately through his gloved fingers with no pressure applied as if it were a bird’s egg, brittle and delicate. He practiced first on candles, skinning chunks of wax off of them with little to no effort until he had perfected the art of slicing through them so that they remained upright, balanced perfectly on their severed stalks. A flick, merely a flick of his hands and he could cut leather, a lock of hair, or the bottom edge of a bag of groceries. Women could curse as the content of their purses spilled onto the concrete and children would cry as they saw what no one else did: the spider web-like strands flowing like water through the air. The lock of hair was Bernie’s prize, a tribute to his skill and the invisibility of his wire.

                  Bernie first drew blood on the subway the summer of his twenty first year. When the wire cut through hair it, moved more softly than a breeze or even a feather, and this sensation and the prize of a few strands would have been enough had not his target stopped short. There was no more tension than when the wire went through the hair and then the skin, and when it parted ever so slightly beneath it was completely without pain. The skin almost seemed to part for his intrusion like a willing participant, as if the flesh warmed and opened for him in a way that no lover ever had.

After that first accident, Bernie’s new goal had become clear to him. The wounds he made were only small and clandestine, but the effects were spectacular. Bernie only had to wait a moment and the back of his target’s shirt would begin to turn red at the collar and then in a few more seconds, they knew there was a problem as the wetness spread down their backs. Each instance was the same: The target would reach behind their neck and then pull their fingers across a wound they still couldn’t feel. Panic would strike as the fingers were brought back to their front where they would see their own blood with a look of surreal disbelief.

                  The beauty of these injuries was not instantaneous. The reward took time as each victim searched and felt for the sight of the wound, the cut so thin and perfect that there wasn’t even a ridge to detect. The blood simply ran and forced the bleeder to open the wound further to discover its source in a grotesque search that ended in far more gore than he’d ever inflicted.

                  The only natural progression, of course, was to kill.  

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