Leg by Stephen Polansky, 1994
The magic trick:
Using a non-direct symbol/metaphor
We know the leg is important. It’s in the title. It’s the key element to the plot. So, of course, it must be the story’s central symbol, right? As Dave’s leg injury grows worse, his relationship with his son improves. Or something like that. The beauty of the story is its messiness. There are no one-to-one connections or symbols. The leg can mean a lot of different things, depending on how you far you want to go in the interpretation game. Perhaps it was Dave’s sudden half of always making the safe decision that changed the dynamic between he and his son. I’m not sure. What is clear: Dave’s son is better in the caring-for role than he is the cared-for role. The leg injury unintentionally allows Randy to grow up.
All of it is up for debate. When an object – or in this case, body part – stands in so obviously for some bigger idea, the story takes on a decidedly old-school feel akin to a morality play. In “Leg,” we never get to that point because the symbolism is never very direct. And that’s quite a trick on Polansky’s part.
Dave was on the kitchen floor when Randy came home from school. He thought about getting to his feet, but he had found a comfortable, if somewhat ludicrous, position and was unwilling, even for Randy, to suffer the pain that would attend trying to stand up. Randy came into the kitchen for a snack. He looked at Dave lying on the floor and stepped over him on his way to the refrigerator.
“Thanks for not stomping me,” Dave said. Randy got out the milk and poured himself a glass.
“What are you doing?” he said.
“It’s cool down here. I’m having a little trouble standing.”
“What is it?” Randy said without looking at him. “Your leg again?”
That was the first mention Randy had made of Dave’s leg, though Dave could see in the way Randy had behaved in the past few days – restrained, even equable – that he had been aware of it.
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