Pushcart 2012: L. Annette Binder, “Nephilim” from One Story #141, 10/15/10

"Water Rights" by Marcia Petty

"Water Rights" by Marcia Petty

God was a blacksmith and her bones were the iron. He was drawing them out with a hammer. God was a spinner working the wheel and she was his silken thread. Seven feet even by the time she was sixteen and she knew all the names they called her. Tripod and eel and swizzle stick. Stork and bones and Merkel, like the triple-jointed Ragdoll who fought against the Flash. Red for the redwoods out in California. Socket like a wrench and Malibu like the car, and she took those names. She held her book bag against her chest and she took them as her own.

I read this in One Story before I started blogging the stories I’d read. I was glad to see it in the Pushcart volume, though surprised: while I enjoyed it and thought it was different and moving and nicely written, I didn’t realize it was Pushcart good. I’m glad to see it is.

Freda is a giant (due to a pituitary tumor; the medical aspects are explained briefly, as if only to assure the reader this is not anything supernatural), and the story recounts her life as it intersects with that of Teddy Fitz, a little boy who moves in down the block. Legends of nephilim are interwoven throughout the story. They were the giants of the Old Testament, the offspring of fallen angels and women. Their bones became the mountains. We can almost imagine they were called whatever the 1000 BCE equivalent of Ragdoll or tripod, maybe Cedars instead of Red. They ate all the food, and the Lord ordered archangels Michael and Rafael to exterminate them so people wouldn’t be hungry. “Hunger is a terrible thing, Freda’s mother had told her more than once….But hunger was their burden, and they should have carried it.” Freda knows burdens, after all.

Teddy is her main contact with humanity now that her mother is gone, it seems. He does chores for her: shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, planting flower bulbs. She sees him through his parents’ arguments and his mother’s departure as he grows up. We see her mobility decrease (cane, walker) and his increase (skateboard, bike, car). When he leaves for college, there is a moment of connection, and then she’s alone.

He returns years later, his wife (three inches taller than him) and child in tow, and Freda is in a wheelchair. In a heartbreaking decision, she won’t open the door when he comes to visit. Her health has deteriorated, and she’s wheelchair-bound.

He wouldn’t have said anything about her jawbone or her bent fingers or how her back was shaped like an S. He would have taken her hand and knelt down to greet her, but she stayed in her spot by the windows. His face was like a mirror, and it was better not to look.

Binder discusses her process in the One Story Q&A. She has a story collection, Rise, coming out in August.

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