Me and Mr. Jones

OUR TALE BEGINS SOME YEARS ago at my then-girlfriend’s folks’ house, specifically at their “hutch” — a giant, glass-shelved cabinet filled with such sentimental knickknacks and keepsakes as a commemorative Shirley Temple mug, souvenir spoons, porcelain bells, and the “good china.”

One item in particular caught my eye; a four-and-a-half-inch angular statuette, injection-molded of some heavy material superficially resembling carved wood: a pedestal-mounted figure in black boots and cabbie cap, brown trousers, blue coat, red shirt. And its face — dear God, its face.

Fig. 1

To say it crossed a naked skull with Boris Karloff’s most famous character is to understate the thing’s horror. Its deep-set eyes bored into mine like a steel trap, if you’ll pardon the mixed metaphor. Was it a defect of the casting? A fumble-fingered attempt at artistic depiction? Some diseased soul’s three-dimensional shriek? The more I examined it, the less I could tear my gaze away from its hooked nose, jutting chin, cadaverous cheeks, and inverted rictus. I weighed the figurine in my hand, turning it this way and that. Nothing gave any clue as to its origin, so I replaced it on the shelf just as my girlfriend’s pleasant and generous-hearted mother materialized at my elbow.

“What do you think?” she asked. “I see you can’t take your eyes off of it.”

“It’s certainly …” I began, and tried again. “I’ve never seen its like.”

“I’m so glad you like it! Why don’t you take it home?” she offered with a pleased and generous smile. “It’ll be my gift to you.”

How could I tell her why I was so engrossed? Without risk of offense? “That’s very kind,” I managed to stammer. “But I don’t want to trouble you.”

“Not at all! Let me find something to wrap it in.” Before I could muster another word, off she went.

And that is why, atop a living-room bookshelf crammed with works astronomic, gastronomic, and spiritual, stands the statuette that I affectionately call “Cadaveratin’ Jones.”

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