Mr. DeShaw had just returned from abroad.
His travels were “epic,” as the kids say. What people specifically knew about Mr. DeShaw’s comings and goings, however, only came from his groundskeeper, who liked to gossip about the tickets to exotic locals he’d find in Mr. DeShaw’s trash. It was agreed that Mr. DeShaw earned money from properties somewhere between Miami and Tampa. All other facts about the man, however, were the result of observation alone. Mr. DeShaw was presumed to be in his seventies, since he was wrinkled and wore thick glasses. Mr. DeShaw was a bachelor, as no one had ever heard of him having a spouse. And Mr. DeShaw was a bit standoffish.
“Beautiful morning,” Beatrice Berry, Mr. DeShaw’s neighbor, said to him after she moved in.
“Get stuffed,” Mr. DeShaw replied. It was the same greeting he’d given to Sarah Clements five years before. And it was a greeting that stuck out in an otherwise polite strip of unincorporated Gulf-coast beach.
Both the Berry and Clements children were cautioned to give Mr. DeShaw a wide berth, though over time they realized the man was only bark. When Timothy Berry approached Mr. DeShaws’s front gate to retrieve a baseball: “Get stuffed!” Though a few minutes later the ball did sail over the fence. When twins Laurie and Jessica Clements inquired about Mr. DeShaw buying Girl Scout cookies: “Get stuffed!” But later, they did find a written order on their porch. And when a group of twenty-year olds tried selling Mr. DeShaw essential oils: “GET STUFFED!” There was no follow-up, though that was fine—most of the neighborhood remembered the same young adults hawking diet shakes the year before. And secretly, everyone wished they could be as outwardly cantankerous as Mr. DeShaw in such situations.
Now normally the neighborhood only realized that Mr. DeShaw was back from a trip days, if not weeks, after he returned. Mr. DeShaw hardly ever spent time outdoors, and his fence obscured his driveway. The DeShaw house was in fact the only structure in the small community with such a barrier, and though occasionally someone talked about also enclosing their yard, development made people nervous. Improvements could lead to incorporation, which could mean more neighbors and taxes. Or simply put, people liked things as they were. Which was why, following Mr. DeShaw’s return from what turned out to be his very last tour, his sculpture caused such a stir.
“It’s from The Bahamas!” opined Gerald Berry.
“No, it’s African!” Larry Clements replied.
“Or perhaps St. Lucia,” Gerald Berry guessed again. He was sure the sculpture had a Caribbean origin, though truly he had no clue. But oh, what a sight the sculpture was!
It was of a man, that much was clear. He was sixteen glorious imperial feet tall, made of dark wood buffed to perfect smoothness with a golden varnish on top. In the light of the setting sun the sculpture dazzled, sending rays of light out across the waves from a slender torso clearly visible above Mr. DeShaw’s fence. The art spoke to no cultural style, being abstract to the point of not having a head. Its limbs were far too thin to be classified as realistic, but oh those arms and legs! Outstretched in a double spread eagle that both gripped the Earth and yearned for the heavens, the whole thing was exuberant! The sculpture was joyous! As a testament to hope and cheer the work was everything that art should be and Mr. DeShaw’s neighbors could all understand why he bought and installed it.
The sculpture was almost a tripod. Coming down from its hipless torso, between its long and slender calves, was a bulbous appendage. And from that bulbous appendage there was a protuberance that shot outwards, much in the manner of the sculpture’s arms.
It was indecent, the neighbors said. It was obscene.
And almost all of the protuberance’s extensive—and relative to the rest of the sculpture’s somewhat emaciated abdomen, girthy—length was visible to anyone outside of Mr. DeShaw’s property, rising up from the fence like a whale breaching a slatted ocean.
“It’s a joke,” Beatrice Berry said.
“We have kids,” Sarah Clements replied.
“Is he serious?” Beatrice asked.
“He’s a pervert!” Sarah declared.