The sky was purple and yellow. Leaves tore like paper under his shoes. He walked with a crosscut saw propped on his shoulder. A light wind threaded a song through the saw’s teeth. The song kept him company while he walked, and his mood was good.
He walked to a small stripmall set back from a four lane highway. A pet store, a dollar store, a drug store, and a liquor store were strung in a row like beads. Headlights wrapped long beams of light around rows of parked cars. Streetlamps dropped yellow circles on the parking lot.
He walked away from the rows of cars to the far end of the parking lot. He squatted and balanced on the balls of his feet, resting his forearms on his thighs. A few passerby noticed the man with the large saw at the end the parking lot. They slowed. Plastic bags filled with chewing gum and Q-tips and six packs hung in heavy bundles from their hands.
He shook his arms loose and bent at the waist until his back was nearly flat. He lifted the saw and started to slide it back and forth in the air. He found a fixed spot in the air across the parking lot, and he dialed in on it. He manipulated the saw as though he were standing over a pair of sawhorses in a woodshop, cutting one by fours into planks to build a deck or a shed. He bounced a bit on his bent knees, finding balance. His t-shirt pulled over his back. It appeared that his saw got caught a few times. He pulled at it and rocked back on his heels before gaining purchase again. It was the most unusual thing, to watch an average looking man saw at the cooling night air.
He was cutting the air into cubes. Neat ones, uniform in size. Each cube was the size of a box meant to hold a small TV or a microwave. It was a perfect pantomime. His shoulders lifted and he twisted at the waist while he worked. The air was crisp and seemed to break easily, like a factory sheet of saltines or Matzo crackers. Scored and ready to be snapped. Each cube was a little different. Same general size, but some popped out easily and for others, he had to work at the seams a little more. He tapped out the cubes with the saw’s point and turned in a quick u-turn to catch them before they hit the ground.
After he finished cutting out each cube, he stacked them in low piles. A line of sweat broke across his forehead. He wiped his forehead with the back of his wrist. He curled in one shoulder and pulled his bicep into his chest, and then dropped his shoulders back and wiggled at the waist. He looked behind him at the low wall of cool air cubes. He bent over and curled his hand around a water bottle that didn’t rest on the ground, and he twisted the air and raised the open bottle and poured a stream of air into his mouth. His lips were pursed and his Adam’s apple shook against the thin skin at his throat.
People looked at one another, worry drawing lines over their faces. In a park on a summer day, they would have dropped warm coins into a hat for him. He was perfect, the perfect mime. But in a parking lot? On a fall evening? A crowd had gathered along the sidewalk in front of the pharmacy and the liquor store. People watched him with wonder and worry. A low hum ran the length of the sidewalk. Mothers pulled at their children, hooking their fingers under the children’s chins and turning the small faces into their legs. Strangers dropped their brows and looked at one another. They creased their foreheads and frowned. Should someone call 911? Should someone try to talk to him? Should they leave him there?
An older gentleman walked away from his wife who stood in a purple windbreaker. The gentleman walked across the parking lot and stopped a few yards from the man. “He has a saw, you know,” one of the crowd members offered across the cool evening. The crowd tittered. The older man flapped his hand at the wrist. “Hey, now. Hey. I’m Jim. I wanted to know. Do you need anything? Is there something I can do for you?” The man kept sawing at a low cube, one resting on the cement of the parking lot. “Listen, friend. Is there someone I can call? You got a wife?” The man squatted and pulled at the air. He stood up and shook on his bent knees. His hands were claws. “How about a friend? Or a brother or sister?” The man looked at Jim and turned his head to the side. He drew his lips into a thin line. His forearms trembled, and cords pulled under the skin at his wrists. He started to bend backwards and teetered. Jim’s eyes widened. He held out his arms and turned his hands palm up. The man eased the cube into Jim’s arms and smiled at him. Jim’s arms curled up like he was a child holding a babydoll. Bafflement pleated the skin between his eyebrows, and embarrassment colored his cheeks.