Nance Knauer

Johnny carved an angel in two days with a chainsaw. The wood was poplar, still green, and as the angel dried, cracks appeared in the folded hands and under the wings down along the back. He stained it by rubbing for hours with aniline dyes, first black, then brown, until the grain of the wood popped and the curve of her neck glowed. When his wife slid the barn door back and the red September sun spread across the bowed head, Johnny cried. His wife left him a week later.

The angel was too big to move without help, so Johnny called his brother, Stu, and together they carried her into the house. Neighbors brought their children from nearby farms to stand and look up into the gentle face. Johnny served them saltines and olives, which people ate without comment. As the weeks passed, he began to find baskets of food on his door each morning. He missed his wife’s lasagna.

Johnny opened the bills, but he never paid them since he couldn’t find the checkbook. The power company eventually cut off the electricity, so he stopped looking at the clock and lost his job at the poultry farm. As the nights grew longer, Johnny cut firewood and kept the woodstove burning. He lit candles and sat in a chair and watched the angel’s shadow jump and shift across the ceiling. Occasionally, friends would stop by and some offered to take him to town, but he never went.

His wife came back in the spring and together they drove up to Duluth and watched the ships zig-zag through the ice pack. They kissed on the way home. He sold the angel to his brother for a dollar and couldn’t watch as Stu drove down the drive, didn’t see the wings hit the side of the truck with each bump. The barn door swayed in the March wind with a squeak as Johnny walked toward it. Before the truck made the turnoff to the main road, the angel split in two. Johnny heard the crack, and his ankles twisted on the ruts in the still frozen ground.