The first begotten son was Jason, who lost his arm in a car accident. He was Isaac’s prized product, and an armless son was no good for anyone, if Isaac were to speak his mind openly. The feeding rituals were a headache, and the many times Jason fell off the toilet before mastering his single arm balance was laughable and cringe-inducing. A ventriloquist would have to be hired, Isaac thought, and hire a ventriloquist he would.
Two weeks later, the ventriloquist came in. He carried a briefcase, wore a hat dated with dust, and a brown vest over a long-sleeved white shirt that had been buttoned haphazardly, showcasing a few out of place buttons. Suffice to say, he looked unreliable as an expert on anything except his chosen profession.
“You Isaac?” The ventriloquist asked. Isaac gave him a long determining stare before nodding his head yes and inviting him in.
“You look like a damn mannequin.” Isaac told him.
“Bowling ball accident.” The ventriloquist said reassuringly. “So where’s the puppet at?”
“I don’t got a puppet. I got a kid who looks like a damn puppet.” Isaac led him to Jason, who sat in a pile of old newspapers on the ground in the living room, watching Detroit Public Television. The look on Jason’s face was enough to sadden the most sugar-coated of mindsets.
“The Clash are on daddy.” He pointed to the television with his one arm.
“You gotta turn the telly off, Jason. There’s a professional here, he’s gonna help your arm out for ya.”
“Aw, but next they’re showing the Mark Twain documentary.” Jason said in a whine.
“That’s all well and good, but you gotta turn it off. We’ll catch it later.” Jason turned it off, already unhappy to see who was interrupting his shows. The ventriloquist stepped forward.
“I’m not sure exactly what I’m doing here, but I’ll start off with my name: Bruce Harding, professional ventriloquist.” Bruce stuck his right hand out before noticing Jason only had a right hand, and then quickly exchanged hands as he plastered a fake smile across his face and swallowed hard through his teeth. “Please to meet you…Jason? Is that right?” Jason shook but didn’t smile. Bruce crouched down to get at eye level with Jason’s still seated body. “I guess I’m supposed to help you out with, uh, with your…uh…” He gestured towards his arm. “Right.” He looked toward Isaac, who stood judgmentally the entire time. Bruce leaned into him, speaking in a low whisper. “What exactly did you call me for? I don’t know nothing about handicaps, all I know is puppetry.”
“Then you can help.” Isaac said sternly. “Just keep focus. It’s not much difference.”
“I’m still getting my hourly, right?” Bruce asked.
“I’ll pay you; just help the poor boy already.” Bruce smiled, turned to the boy and clapped his hands together.
“Right. Let’s get this going.” Bruce opened his briefcase, and pulled out a ventriloquist dummy, setting it on his knee as he took a seat. Jason was mildly interested, thinking mostly about the shows he was missing. “Let me introduce you to Mr. Jangles. Danglin’ Jim Jangles is his full name, but call him Jangles if you like.” He made Jangles wave by grabbing his arm. Jason just stared. “Alright…” Bruce choked a swallow, grabbing his collar nervously. “Not exactly ecstatic.” Jangles said from Bruce’s throat.
“Can you move his arms?” Isaac asked.
“No, that’s not how ventriloquism works.” Bruce said, looking at Isaac pleadingly.
“I thought that’s what you do.” Isaac said.
“It’s not, Isaac. I don’t know what to tell you.” Bruce said.
“Then what good are you?” Isaac asked, tightening his face as he spoke, intimidating Bruce. “What good are you to my son?” Bruce, disbelieving of Isaac’s ignorance, sat speechless. Jason sat impatiently; he bounced his folded knees up and down, head resting on his hand, eyes focused elsewhere, tapping his face with his index finger.
“What do you expect me to do here?” Bruce asked, beaten by confusion. Isaac walked towards him, studying the puppet, touching it with his fingers, lifting an eyebrow in thought.
“Did you make him?” Isaac asked.
“Yeah, but what does that have to do with anything?” Bruce said.
“Hmm…” He touched the dummy’s face, looking over at Jason’s impatient rocking. “Stop that!” He yelled at Jason, who stopped instantly. “And take your eyes off the telly!” Jason looked at Isaac, who looked back to Bruce. “Made of wood, is he?”
“Yeah, mostly. Some cotton and polyester. The face and mouth and shoes are wood, yes.” Bruce said.
“And the buttons?” Isaac asked.
“Those too.” Bruce said.
“Hmm…think you could make an arm for my boy here?” Isaac looked at the dummy as he asked, before shifting his eyes directly into Bruce’s.
“I don’t know, that seems like it would be—would take awhile, don’t you think?” Bruce said, dodging the assignment.
“Not if you wanna get paid it won’t.” Isaac said, injecting a feeling of command. Bruce looked at Jason, sensing Jason’s lack of care for his handicap, and looked back at Isaac, whose stare never left. “Well…?”
“A whole arm?” Bruce asked.
“Yep. Whole damn thing. Functional and all.” Isaac said while slowly nodding his head.
“I guess so.” Bruce said, reluctantly holding back his reluctance. He adjusted his seating, he and Jangles slanting to get a good look into the patched up socket of Jason’s left arm.
“Good.” Isaac said. “I want it done by the weekend.”
The second begotten son was Curtis, who had poor eating habits from the day he was born. Isaac’s plan for Curtis was to throw him in the basement, lock the door, and leave him there for a few days at a time, feeding him scraps of leftovers he and Jason would eat.
Jason’s new wooden arm was functioning quite well, but he still had some control kinks to work out. Occasionally he would crush things unintentionally, like many plastic cups that Isaac foolishly placed on the dining room table before finally switching to sturdier dishware.
“Is brother Curtis in the pantry again?” Jason asked during dinner.
“He’s in the basement. Never in the pantry, that’s monstrous. Don’t worry about him, eat your food.” Isaac said, impaling the freshly cooked steak on his plate, dipping it in barbecue sauce, and chewing loudly.
“Can brother Curtis watch television with me when we’re done?” Jason asked, toying with his coleslaw.
“No!” Isaac said. “Not till he learns to eat.” He munched on his steak some more. Jason began crying; he pushed his plate of food away and folded his flesh arm over his wooden one. “What the hell you crying for?”
“Why doesn’t Curtis ever eat with us?” Jason asked through teary eyes. “I don’t like it.”
“He’ll eat. When you’re through he’ll eat what you didn’t. Stop your crying.” Isaac chewed aggressively with his mouth open. Jason lifted his plate of half-eaten food, got up from his chair, and headed towards the basement. Isaac got up, still chewing and carrying his fork, and blocked Jason’s walking, poking his fork in Jason’s face while chunks of spit-riddled steak flew out of his mouth. “What you think you’re doing carrying your food away, you haven’t eaten it, he don’t deserve, you stop right now, and you sit back down, and you eat your food you ingrate I paid for your damn arm and it works doesn’t it? Just sit back and down and quit your talking and chew your food or so help me god I’ll eat it so Curtis can’t get it, right this instant, shut up and sit down right now right now!” Isaac forced his fork against Jason’s wooden arm, forcing it downward and slanting Jason’s plate of food obliquely so that the steak and mashed potatoes fell straight to the floor. Jason cried harder. “Now look what you did! Clean it up with your tongue or else I’ll eat it! I don’t wanna eat it, I don’t wanna get fat, but your damn brother Curtis sure don’t deserve a full plate a food he won’t eat it if you gave it to him clean it up right now right this instant!” Jason dislodged the fork from his wooden arm as Isaac stood over him, watching him pick the food up, splashing tears onto the food, and putting it back on the plate. “I said lick it up!” Jason ran away with the plate of food. Isaac watched him walk away and went back to his food, eating begrudgingly.
Jason unlocked the basement door and walked down the stairs. “Curtis?” He asked aloud, trying to gauge Curtis’s location. He walked into the darkened basement, carrying the tray of tarnished food. “I got a plate of food for you, if you want it.” He roamed the shadows, carrying the plate with one hand while searching for a light switch with the other.
“Over here Jason.” Curtis said in the darkness. Jason felt his way over to him, finally touching the ribcage on his malnourished body. “What’s on the plate?”
“Steak, some potatoes. It fell on the floor, I’m sorry, it was dad’s fault.” Jason said with sincerity.
“Hand it over.” Curtis said demandingly. Jason handed him the plate of food, listening as Curtis ate.
“I’m trying to get dad to let you eat with us again. I don’t know what he’s doing, he’s…what have you been doing down here? Finding anything to eat?” Jason asked, trying to help his brother out as best he could. Curtis spat the food out.
“Yuck! This is gross!” Curtis threw the plate on the ground, the smack of the sound made Jason jump.
“Sorry, I just figured you would like it, you got to be starving down here.” Jason said.
“I’m not starving. Not anymore.” Curtis said, his voice disconnected from the Curtis that Jason remembered. “Finding plenty of food.”
“Like what?” Jason said, swallowing.
“Whatever I can find. Just finished off a rat. Ate a few boards.” Curtis said, sounding content with his diet.
“Boards? What do you mean?” Jason asked, growing slightly worried.
“Wooden boards. That ventriloquist left them when he made your arm. They were quite tasty.” Curtis said. He felt around for Jason, caressing his wooden arm. “But I’m still hungry.”
Isaac, cleaning off his empty plate in the sink, overheard Jason screaming in the basement. “Damn kids don’t appreciate anything…” He poured the fat from the pan he used to cook the steak into a cup and placed it in the freezer.