>They threw him out. And not even a turn of phrase: they physically picked him up—well, Duane’s son did—and threw him out onto the street, thankfully a relatively quiet street, as he landed some way out on the road, still with a lathe in his hand. When the good part of him—which had not entirely realised what had happened—thought about returning the lathe to its rightful place on Duane’s workbench, he had to stop himself and actually shake his head to dislodge the thought.
This was the problem: he was a good person. So what had he done to deserve such treatment? What gave him the dubious honour of being hustled out of his place of work and thrown against gravel? He considered the sky as he lay there, grit underneath his tongue, fingernails still jammed with sawdust in a welcome way, he considered the clouds, twisting pillow shapes begging for solidification. If Duane, if all the rest of them, if no one wanted him, he would strike out on his own, working only for his own edification. They would have to follow.
Duane dealt with the phone calls first, the messages left over from the night before. They, he thought, held the most pressing issues. Customers who, all over the state, were laying eyes for the first time on their very own expensive replica furniture and not particularly liking what they saw. His first call was a nasty one. Senator Campbell. The Senator was a particular collector of Brewster Chairs, and indeed had as fine a collection as Duane had seen. With an obvious eye on preservation and presentation, The Senator had ordered a fine Brewster replica in which to sit on in his study, without the fear of damage that using an original would entail. Duane put his finest young man, Armand, to work.
Armand had began work as an apprentice only a handful of years ago, and had progressed to master craftsman with astounding speed, owing mainly to his expert eye and uncanny ability to mimic the master designs, often with only a cursory glance. When others in the industry had chided Duane over Armand’s premature promotion, he would simply smile and invite them to see the boy at work. The doubters would bring in their own items for Armand: a rare Caquetoire, an ornate Fauteuil, even a spidery original Savonarola imported all the way from Rome: and each time Armand would replicate the chair presented before him so well that the original owners often had trouble telling the two apart.
But Duane could sense his protoge straining. As his fame grew, so did the longer days, the longer nights. The image of Armand striding confidently through the front doors of Duane’s Antique Chair Emporium and Workshoppe had longed faded from Duane’s mind; he never saw Armand arrive for work any more, he was always already there, with some part of a backrest jammed in a vice, his arms cascading wildly around the frame. Duane began finding strange objects, too, pinned to the farthest recesses of the storeroom. Once, when trying to locate some old beeswax lacquer, Duane came across a pair of women’s legs, so real that his breath stopped short. His immediate vision was of an horrific crime, but the limbs had not been amputated, nor were they human–they were too perfect. Brought out to the light, he observed them to be carved expertly out of heavy blackwood, the gnarled grains somehow coaxed into fluidity: calves, tarsals, tendons. When questioned, Armand simply shrugged, returning to his work, gently sanding the sack-back of a Windsor he was restoring.
But now there was this. A series of oh-so-important clients, dragged to Duane’s company by Armand’s brilliance, and how spurned by his impertinence. When Duane had finally seen one of Armand’s new chairs, he was speechless—so shaken, so hammered back into memories, hours spent in that storeroom, savouring Arman’s silent gifts. After uncertain hours of phone calls and impromptu visits, one of Duane’s customers finally had the temerity to dump a chair straight back on the footpath outside his shop. Duane’s son had burst into the office, dragging his father by the arm to see.
There on the ground was Armand’s complete creation. A woman with open arms. Even from her unkind position, back cracked against the concrete, face pressed uncertainly into her stomach, she was beautiful. Duane put his hand on his son’s shoulder. This was the end and the beginning.
Armand eventually stood up, dusted himself off, and turned back to face his former place of work. In his mind, the clouds became real and fell, crashing through ceilings and shadow-dropping unsuspecting heads. The sky would have holes that no one could ever fill.