When my daughter sculpted Joe out of silly putty and macaroni elbows, I didn’t expect he would grow into a six-foot, two-hundred-pound golem. Neither did my daughter’s teachers. So now I’m sitting in a chair meant for fifth-graders, and none of us—myself, the school principal, and Joe—really want to be here.
“We caught Joe smoking marijuana in the bathroom again,” says the principal. “It’s becoming a pattern of misbehavior.”
I could ask Joe if this is true, but I know it is. Since he exited his youth phase, which lasted about a week, he’s entered a phase of typically rebellious adolescence. Because of him, my whole house smells like pot.
“Why don’t we let him skip a few grades?” I suggest. “Isn’t smoking weed more common in middle school?”
In his slow, mud-cluttered voice, Joe says that he would rather go to college. That would be swell, I think. Get this fucking monster out of my house.
“For now,” says the principal, “We’re going to suspend Joe for two weeks. After that, we’ll chat again.”
In the car outside of the school, Joe squeezes into the passenger seat. I admit, his size scares me. He’s got a head like a bruised watermelon, shoulders like bowling balls, and a gut like an NFL center. All this tied together with joints of dry pasta.
Don’t get the wrong idea, Joe is a decent guy, as far as inanimate-objects-turned-into-living-beings go. What he lacks in intelligence and good manners he makes up for with loyalty—the first time he got in trouble at school, it was because he punched another student who told my daughter, Lily, ‘Your mom left you because she doesn’t love you.’ I’m glad Joe was there to teach that little turd a lesson. On the other hand, I worry that Lily might not always want a guardian. Isn’t that what ninety percent of parenting books are about? Don’t hover over your children. Don’t smother them. And Joe definitely hovers. Soon, he might start smothering.
We drive through the cottonwood-lined streets of Laramie. Past Stink Lake Park, stinking so bad I can smell it through the car windows. As we pass the high school, Joe turns to stare. Is it just me, or is he growing again? His head is touching the roof of the car.
“I want to make another me,” Joe says.
“Well, Joe, that’s the thing. People are unique. There can never be another you.”
“Don’t be dumb, Dad. You made one golem. You can make another. A female.”
Yikes. First off, the last thing I want to do is build Joe a girlfriend. Second, I didn’t ‘make’ Joe. Lily did, and I doubt she could do it again. See, she had this crinkled old sheet of papyrus covered in Hebrew letters, and after she finished sculpting Joe she stuck this sheet into his putty-head and said, ‘I’ll call him Joe!’ Next morning, Joe was already in the crawling stage of infancy. I asked Lily what on God’s green earth she’d done, and she just shrugged. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Where’s that sheet with the Hebrew?’ Another shrug. ‘Well,’ I said, ‘Where did you get the sheet?’ ‘I found it.’ She sighed like it was the most obvious thing in the world. Fucking kids.
As the high school fades in the rear-view, Joe faces forward, and the top of his head leaves a dark smudge of sediment on the roof. His belly falls across the gearshift, and I have to shove it out of the way. He’s definitely getting larger. “If you don’t make another me,” Joe says, “I might do something bad.”
Fucking kids! Think they can blackmail you with misbehavior, and the worst part is, a lot of times they can. But Joe isn’t my kid, he’s a freak of not-quite-nature, and even though Lily loves him something has to be done. Because Joe isn’t like a normal kid, whose idea of ‘bad’ means giving their parents the silent treatment. Last week on a family hike, I saw Joe tear a twelve-foot aspen out of the ground—he could actually do some damage.
“Fine,” I say. “We’ll go to the hardware store.”
I tell Joe to find whatever he wants to put into the new golem. He slinks down the aisle, stops to pick up a box of nails, probably for the female golem’s hair—I watch from around the corner, and when I’m sure he’s preoccupied, I jog to the front of the store.
“I’m looking for C4,” I tell the cashier. “Explosives.”
I buy the C4 and slip it into my pocket a split second before Joe appears at the check-out. He carries nails, a forty-pound bag of gardening sod, and two cans of yellow paint. “She’ll be quite a looker,” I say.
The cashier stares at Joe while bagging the items. I want to say, What, never seen a golem before? Learn a little about Jewish folklore, you goy fuck. But I don’t say anything, because even I can see the irony in defending Joe when I’m about to blast him to pieces.
I stop the car in the driveway before pulling into the garage. I sigh, the time-for-serious-discussion sigh. I can’t stop thinking about how upset Lily will be after I destroy her golem. For better or worse, she loves him. He’s the only other Jewish kid in town. For my daughter, I’ll try one more time.
“Look, Joe. I have to say something, because if I don’t it’ll be too late.” He won’t look at me. He picks at his knee, where a dust bunny has sunk halfway into his silty skin. “I know you think that another golem will make you feel less alone. That having another creature like you will make you happy. But that’s not true. The connection, the satisfaction, whatever you think is waiting for you once we make another golem—it’s just a sham. Take people, for example. Billions of us on this planet, and not one of us is happy. That’s just life. So, what do you say? Why don’t we forget about making another golem?”
Joe scrubs at his cheeks, and I realize he’s crying. “You’re wrong, Dad. It doesn’t have to be like that.”
“Well, Joe. We’ll see.”
Joe is hunched over the kitchen table. Sod everywhere, nails, paint, and poor Joe—he can’t get his creation to stick together. The C4 is in my right pocket, a Bic lighter in my left. Time is 2:30. Lily will be home in an hour, and I hope to have everything cleaned up by then. I’ll tell her Joe went on vacation. I’m sure she’ll get smart, and say something to the effect of, ‘On vacation like Mom?’ To which I’ll reply, ‘Yup. Just like Mom.’ And I’ll buy her ice cream.
“Argh,” Joe cries, head in his hands. “I can’t do it! I can’t—”
I jam the C4 into the back of his neck. The fuse sticks out like a tampon string. He reaches around, clambering for it, searching for the truth of what I’ve done. I flick the lighter—click, click, spark. Dive under the table, cover my ears.
The boom thunders through my head, vibrates down my spine. Putty spews everywhere. At least his death was quick. When my ears stop ringing, I stand up, go to the laundry room and grab the mop. Back to the kitchen.
The room—besides the sod Joe left on the table—looks clean. “Shee-it,” I say.
Joe grabs me from behind. Lifts me into the air, closes off my windpipe.
“Don’t,” I squeak. “Lily. Lily.” Lily needs her father, is what I’m trying to say. Don’t kill me because I’m all she’s got.
Joe doesn’t let up. My eyes bug. The mop slips from my hands, clatters to the floor. “I’m your kid, too,” he says. “I’m your son. I’m Joe.”
He lets through just enough air for me to croak. “No. You’re nobody’s son. You’re not even Joe.” Immediately, his grip loosens. He looks stunned. His deep-set eyes look like they’re peering into another dimension. “Joe is a name for a person. Or a dog. A living thing. You’re just silly putty and macaroni elbows.” As I speak, he lowers me, my feet touch the floor. Its arms drop to its sides. And just like that, the golem melts into dust.
Sam Feldman is currently pursuing an MFA in Fiction Writing at Columbia University. His fiction has appeared in The Journal of Wild Culture. He grew up in Wyoming.