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Original artwork by Katie M. Zeigler


Joelle Byars

My first stepfather had a ZZ Top beard and frequently dressed in yellow t-shirts and denim overalls, like a minion from Despicable Me. He went by Bud—I never learned his real name—and had an affinity for homing pigeons and hunting bears. The only gift he ever gave me was a bear claw on a string for my sweet sixteen. 

When Bud was in his twenties, he was walking barefoot in a stream in Oregon and cut his foot, a wound that eventually became septic and led to the amputation of his right leg right below the knee. He had an old school prosthetic with a cup meant to cradle the bottom part of the leg. After a long, hard day of training his pigeons, he liked to take off his leg, fill it with Jack Daniels, smoke, and whittle. 

My mother divorced him after seven years for a man she met after converting to Hinduism. She never spoke to Bud again, but I always stayed in touch since he never had any children of his own. The last time I saw him, I painted the cup on his leg with an American traditional rose and a planchette, as per his request. He was very subtle about supporting my art. My mother wanted me to go to nursing school and didn’t talk to me for a week when she found out I’d changed my major to painting. 

Bud said, “Raina, do whatever you want, just don’t charge me commission.”

I was the one who made the call to 911 when I found his cold body in the kitchen. I was later told that he died of a large pulmonary embolism and that there was nothing anyone could have done. I used the refund money from my financial aid to have him cremated and put into the cheapest urn I could find. I brought him home in a gun-metal gray canister and put him on my desk, moving my paints out of the way. I braided my hair back and stared at my distorted reflection until it dimmed with the natural light of the window behind him, waiting for his request.

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