The Tempter Comes

12) The Tall Man



12   The Tall Man


If you know yourself

then your adversary is already defeated



Russell’s bad leg was bothering him more than usual that day and he was laboring under a more exaggerated limp than usual. As he was approaching the consignment shop a man was watching him intently. Russell was not paying attention to him since he was so focused on the discomfort in his leg.

As Russell got near to the shop the man stepped in front of Russell causing him to walk right into the man.

“Oh, I’m sorry. I’m not very coordinated today,” explained Russell.

“Not a problem,” said the man smoothly. “Did you hurt your leg?” But there was not any compassion in this question. It was rather more like ice dripping onto Russell’s face.

“Uh, no not really. I was born with a limp. One leg is a bit shorter than the other. It’s just that I twisted it yesterday putting up a new birdhouse and it hurts more than usual.”

“So you were born that way, huh?”

“Yes, why do you say it like that?”

“So God made you a cripple? How do you feel about that? I bet that makes you mad sometimes.”

“Calling me a cripple seems a bit harsh, especially from someone that I just met two seconds ago.”

“So then it does make you mad at God.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“God must not like you too much to have created you that way. Now look at Gary over there.” The man pointed at a teen across the street with a bunch of athletic, tanned friends. They both looked at the group.

On more than a few occasions Gary and his friends had made fun of Russell. He seemed to be their favorite whipping boy. It was not infrequent for Russell to wonder how much different his life would be if he were tall, good-looking, and athletic. Russell twitched and looked away. He thought it rather unfortunate that Gary had to be there at that time and hoped that Gary would not see him and come over and provoke him.

The man grinned but with more than a touch of sinister. “God obviously likes Gary better than you because He made him tall and strong and good-looking. As a result he has lots of friends and he’ll marry a beautiful woman and have wonderful, healthy children who will grow up and be just as good-looking as their parents. He’ll get a better job because he’ll make a great first impression just walking in the door. Who wouldn’t want someone like that in their company?” He waited to let the words sink in. Russell’s shoulders sank. Then the man continued.

“But what about you? Because God created you with problems you’ll always have a lousy job. You’ll probably never marry and you’ll struggle all of your life. And you know whose fault that is? – God’s. God could have made you just like Gary, but He didn’t. Instead He made you like this. God stole from you many of life’s pleasures. What do you think about that?” The man stared intently down at Russell. He had the grin of a malevolent victor.

Russell was rather shell-shocked by this assault. This was his most sensitive nerve and somehow this stranger found it and was pressing mercilessly on it. He was only coming to get something for his mother. He did not expect this sucker punch. He hesitated. The man leaned in closer.

Russell looked up and was startled as to how close the man’s face was. He stepped back.

“Nothing to say, I guess. Yes, God has been pretty rough on you. It’s too bad He created you so far from ideal.”

“Actually,” responded Russell with unexpected verve, “He created me perfectly.”

“Perfectly?” The man laughed. “Have you looked in a mirror lately? You are as far from perfect as anyone that I’ve ever seen.” He laughed again.

Russell continued. “Yes, perfectly. As someone who has one leg shorter than the other I’ve been perfectly created.”

The man pulled back and looked puzzled.

Russell seized the moment. “What does Gary’s heart look like” Is it vain? Is it self-centered? Does all of his preening satisfy him deep to his bones? When he makes fun of others is that because he is secure and sure of himself or rather is it more likely because he knows that there is something missing and he isn’t clever enough to satisfy that gap so he has to drag others down to himself?”

Now Russell leaned forward. “When he stands before God one day and God asks him, ‘What did you do in My name?’ I don’t think that, ‘I looked my best for others’ is going to impress God much. Do you?”

The man looked startled.

“The way that God created me is the best way for me to serve Him. If I were taller or more athletic then maybe I would miss God because I would be too busy straining to look at myself in the mirror behind Him.

“And besides, it is God who blesses and God who curses, not good looks or strong muscles. As long as I do what is right and respect others—a lesson you could learn—I’ll do just fine. I may not marry the most beautiful woman but I’ll marry the right woman. And if we have children even if they aren’t the most beautiful well at least they’ll know that they are the most loved.”

At this the man stepped back; the counter parry was swift, effective, and most unexpected. Even Russell was startled—although quite satisfied—with his eloquence.

Russell took a step forward. “Say, aren’t you the guy who’s been with—or should I say seducing—your co-worker Terese?” He stepped in a little closer. The man leaned back. “You are. I thought that you looked familiar. We saw you drive off with her the other day. You were hiding behind the Laundromat. What is your name anyway?”

“What?” said the man taken back by how the match had turned.

“Your name. You do have one don’t you?” Russell got perhaps a little too sarcastic what with how well his play had gone.

“My name? Peter. It’s Peter.” And then the man turned a lip and walked off.

Russell, forgetting the painful twist in his leg, limped to the store much less dramatically than before.


The next day Russell and Danielle were sitting in the chocolate shop. He had relayed everything that had happened yesterday between himself and the Tall Man. Russell was quite pleased with himself and by the time he finished the story the confrontation had been longer, more intense, and the victory more triumphant. Danielle beamed at her brother when he finished.

“So you really cut his legs off at the knees, didn’t you?” she remarked.

Russell had the same look of modesty as a boxer who just knocked-out his opponent and won the championship belt. “Well, you know, it isn’t as though I haven’t had experience with tough cases. I’ve been mocked by the best of them. In fact, this one was comparably easy.”

Danielle knew what was coming. Anytime Russell talked about how much of a sacrifice he had made and the obstacles he had overcome she knew what he was leading to. But she always bit because she knew how much fun it was. “What tough case did you ever have to deal with?”

Russell mounted his imaginary podium. “Oh you know quite well what I am talking about, young lady. If there ever was a stick in my spokes, a pin in my balloon, you were it when you were a baby.”

“Oh is that so,” she said looking exaggeratedly indignant.

“Absolutely! You put the ‘yell’ in Dan-yell. You could go from sleep to shriek in 1.2 seconds.”

“Oh, come on, I wasn’t that bad.”

“Oh, no? Your nickname was Mouth Vesuvius.”

“So I cried a lot. It was probably because I was mistreated. If you had been nicer to me maybe I would have been more content,” she responded with a smile.

“Nicer, to you,” he said with his voice rising in mock anguish. “If I was any nicer to you I’d be a saint by now. People would have plastic almond-colored statues of me all over their houses. My face would be stamped on cheap medallions and hung around necks.”

“Oh, alright already. Nobody’s lighting candles to you yet so settle down. So tell me again—in case I missed it the first 64 times—how were you so nice to me?”

Russell adjusted himself in his seat. “I was the one who fed you probably most of the time. Dad wouldn’t do it because, after all, that’s not man’s work and Mom was too busy wringing her hands and fretting over everything. And let me tell you, you weren’t an easy feed.”

“And here comes the pick-on-Danielle routine,” she said with her own version of mock anguish.

Pah-lesse. Like I constantly pick on you. You were one tough critter to get food into, let me tell you. Do you know those stands at the carnival where you have a row of clown heads whose mouths are hollow and who have a balloon on top of their heads? And everyone has a water pistol and tries to squirt the water into the mouth of their clown and blow up the balloon?”

Danielle put down her chocolate chip shake and put her hands on her hips. “So you’re saying that I had a clown face?”

“Well, you did have such big ears that you looked like a truck coming at us with both doors open.”

With that Danielle reached across the table and punched his shoulder quite hard.

“Ouch. I did say ‘did’” emphasizing that word, “’have big ears’. Since then they’ve kind of migrated back towards your head and so they are positioned quite nice now.

“But to answer your question, no, I didn’t say that you had a clown face. I wasn’t finished. You remember how those heads constantly turned from side-to-side and the trick was to keep the water from the pistol in the mouth? Well, that rotating head was modeled from you. You could never sit still. I was constantly following your mouth with the bottle and then later on with the spoon. It drove me nuts.”

“Well, there’s that explanation,” Danielle interrupted.

Ignoring her remark Russell continued, “If only we would ever go to a carnival I would empty that stand of stuffed animals.”

“Well then, see, you should be grateful. I developed in you a rare yet extremely useful talent.”

“But that wasn’t the worst of it.”

“OK, so now here it comes,” she said and then raising her voice ever so slightly as though she was talking to everyone in the shop, “Everyone here get ready for the horror you are about to hear. It will astonish you, it will amaze you, it will cause you to cuddle my poor little brother in your arms.” Lowering her voice back to normal, “So what was it, as though I can’t guess?”

“Scream, oh my word! I used to wonder how such a small person could store that much noise inside. I was afraid that if you ever got cut that the release of all of that noise at once would permanently deafen all of us and bring down the house on top of us all.”

“Oh, stop it,” she giggled.

“We always hoped that you would get kidnapped because the criminals would pay us to take you back. And as God knows, we really could have used the money.”

Danielle got serious again. “Yea, we did live rather cheaply, didn’t we?”

“And still do. But then I think that Dad made it seem worse than it was. He wouldn’t let us change your diaper until it was as big as a weather balloon. ‘Those things don’t grow on trees’ he would say. Instead of buying you shoes he wanted to put your feet in sandwich bags held on with rubber bands.”

“Oh come on now. I don’t believe that.”

“Well, OK, maybe that one is a bit of a long tale, but he really was cheap. I think that his favorite line (only because we heard it every day) was ‘Who puts the butter on your bread?’ The problem was that it would have been nice to have something more than butter and bread.

“He also liked to say, ‘This house doesn’t have any low hanging fruit in it. If you want something you’re going to have to work for it. If you want to eat you have to hunt.’”

“Hunt! I was four months old! I don’t think that I was terribly adept at using a spear at that age.”

“You didn’t need a spear. I think that you could have simply screamed your prey into submission.” Russell paused for a moment. “Well, Mom and I made sure that you had enough to eat and clothes to wear. Even though you were a girl…”

“And still am in case you don’t remember!”

Russell continued, “Even though you were a girl, Dad made you wear my hand-me-downs. His comment was that it wasn’t like all of the other four-month olds would mock you and beat you up. I wasn’t too worried though; I was bigger than most four month olds and could smack them down if they gave you any lip.”

“You had better have been bigger than most four month olds, after all, you were—what? —four years old at the time?”

“So see, there you go; Dad was right. You could wear my old clothes and they did fit you.”

“I guess it wasn’t too bad then,” remarked Danielle.

“Except that everyone would say what a cute little brother I had.”

“So,” she said with vigor, “I was a cute baby! Even you are forced to admit it!”

Copyright Bob La Forge 2011        email: