He made it out of sticks and clay, mud and rocks, and a couple milliliters of spit. By the time he was finished, he realized that he had never been more proud.
At last, he had a son.
They had told him, on a cold December Tuesday, that he was infertile. Stunned, he had asked them to explain. What did they mean by that?
It meant that he was ending. That one day the twist of his genes would die with him, leaving him invalid and cold. A long procession of doctors, clutching their stethoscopes and tutting, examined this claim. They found it irrefutable, to a man.
Its eyes were kiln-baked and its mouth was a ragged line, drawn by thick fingers in its flesh. His son had the vague resemblance of a man, but only in the outline of its shape. Its hands were paws, thick with unformed meat, and its legs were stumps; crude projections on which to balance the frame.
Its head hung open, peeled back at the scalp, exposing the hollow spot inside its skull.
His dug in his pockets for the words to bring it to life.
He wasn't one of those New Age types, but the book had been in his family for generations. Its pages were old and peeling, and its letters were in a faded language that he had never learned to read.
Remember your history, his father had once told him, in between strikes of the belt. Remember your history so that it may define you.
His history was written in indelible ink on the skin of his heart, but it ran only as far back as the day he was born. He had not lived his father's life, nor his grandfather's, nor the men before them. He could not think their thoughts or speak their languages or read their handwriting the way they read it in their heads. He could not understand the words written in their book—not yet—but he refused to let this stop him.
Remember your history so that it may define you.
He scratched this in hasty pencil on the notepad, then tore away the page and placed it in his son's head. He closed it cleanly, using his fingers to smooth away the crease in the clay, and waited for it to move.
The scholars were amazed when he showed them the book.
"This language is thousands of years old," they said.
"This must be a fake," they said.
"Give it to us," they said. "It can't be worth anything to you."
When he refused, they all let out little sighs and went back to muttering over their books. It couldn't have been what it looked like, of course. Treasures like that didn't just walk in the door. The man who had come to them was obviously delusional.
Delusional or not, he cobbled together bits of the book's language from every visit, and soon he was reading deep into the night.
His son was silent for a very long time before it spoke.
"Who am I?" It asked.
"I made you," he said. "I will tell you."
Word spread about the project he was working on, and soon his friends began to come by to ask about its progress. At first he would come out to say a few words to them, but as time went on, he realized that each little conversation delayed him further from reaching his goal. He began to shut himself up in his workshop, taking along little more than a small meal, a jug of water, and the book. He began to ignore the knocking at his door, until at last it went away.
"You are to be my replacement," he told the body of clay. "Everything I have done, you will do better. Everything I have thought, you will think more clearly. Everything I have dreamed for myself, you will live for me."
"Because I will not do it for myself."
He only doubted himself once during the process of making, and he clamped down on it as quickly as he could. It happened while he was placing the eyes. For an instant, he wondered how it would see him. Whether his son would like him.
It wouldn't have a choice, he decided. It was his.
"I am not anybody's property," the clay thing said, its words rumbling out like slow erosion. The vertical slash of a mouth that he had given it permitted it only one expression, and so he couldn't tell whether it was angry or sad.
"You are my son," he insisted. "If I don't decide who you're going to be, who will?"
"How can you even think that? You don't know anything I haven't put in your head."
"This is true." Prying open its head, his son extracted the piece of notebook paper and laid it carefully on the bench. With broad strokes of its hand, it rubbed at the letters until the graphite lines blurred together. Then, taking its father's pencil, it wrote underneath them. Remember your history, but never let it define you. "You made me so that I would think more clearly than you. I do. That was your biggest mistake."
It turned around then, the whole lumbering bulk of it, and it walked off into the night, tree-trunk legs leaving wide impressions in the ground as it went.
Its father just sat there, hunching over his workbench, and began to cry.
The next one would be better, he swore to himself. The next one would obey.