There’s a painting by José Bedia, “Ayudandonos” (I tried to find an image but couldn’t). Not long after seeing it, I wrote this. It didn’t take long to write or edit it. Sometimes one gets lucky that way.


One morning, a very large man wakes up with a pain in his back. He tries to stand up and finds that he can’t—a house is balanced on his back and shoulders. He has no choice but to remain bent, torso parallel to the river he finds himself standing in. His feet sink into the silt but only until the water is up to his knees. Recognizable things flow past him every so often, a shingle or two here, a couple of shutters, but the very large man can’t pick them up. He waits.

Soon, an average sized man rows by in a well-proportioned boat. He calls to the man with the house on his back. “You’re in obvious agony, friend. Why do you hold up that house?”

“If I don’t,” the very large man asks, “who will?”

“Fair enough!” calls the boatman, paddling for the moment against the current, “But hardly a problem. Look at you—a nice solid foundation, a sense of purpose. All I have is direction. Why, just this morning I discovered that I’d been rowing upstream for God knows how long. Obviously, I turned around immediately, and though the going is much easier, I must admit that now I don’t know where I’m likely to end up.”

“But I’m stuck here,” the other complains arching his back and jostling several knick-knacks. A hammer and knife clatter to the floor. Each man considers his lot.

Finally, the boatman suggests a trade. “I will hold up the house,” he says. “You may take my boat.”

The very large man hesitates. “I’m not sure. Something doesn’t seem right.”

“Nonsense!” the boatman laughs, and steps out. The boat drifts off. Before it’s lost from view, the very large man, upsetting several dining room chairs, shifts the house onto the shoulders of the boatman. “I have to admit, my back already feels better.” The very large man straightens up. As he makes for the boat, he glances over his shoulder and stops. The boatman is crushed beneath the house as it settles into the riverbed. The boat drifts out of sight.

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