My great great aunt Mary, stern unmarried schoolteacher from the hard-coal country of eastern Pennsylvania where all my mother’s people hail from, gave each of us boys when we were small a figurine carved from anthracite. Mine was a book, closed up like a sandwich and unmarred by any words, either on the cover or the spine. One of the others was a three-inch mug; I forget the third. Our parents put them away in the china closet, saying they were fragile and we could have them when we grew up. They therefore took on all the characteristics of a bequest.
Despite these precautions, at some point the book of coal got dropped, I forget by whom, and one of the corners sheared off — a clean break. Dad glued it back together with epoxy. I keep it now in a little shrine I made from an antique cabinet television. It keeps company with a bowl of plastic fruit, an empty syringe, the skeleton of a mouse, and a pitcher full of spent bullet casings. I might like it better for being cracked, and for fitting so perfectly in the palm of my hand. I rap on it now and then for good luck. It was wood once.