The Card Man by Bernadette Harris - Children's Stories Net

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  The Card Man
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The Card Man is special; he is the only person in the world made entirely of cards.
One day he decides to venture forth from his sheltered home and see the world.
He quickly discovers that the world does not care for people who are different;
and that the self-image built for him by his parents is perhaps not his real self after all.
Through the cruelty he finds that it almost robs him of hope and life, he eventually discovers life's best-kept secret: that self-discovery is often preceded by great pain, and true Beauty lies in self-acceptance.
There was once a young man built of cards, though he was lucky enough not to know it.
His parents had never told him he was made of such flimsy stuff for fear of hurting him; so he grew up feeling strong and invincible, as if he was made of iron, never suspecting the truth.
One day the Card Man grew tired of home.
He packed his bags and went into the dining room where his parents were having breakfast.
"I want to see the world." he announced.
His parents were very worried when they heard this; they tried to convince him the world was an angry, bitter place that would not understand him.
His mother wept, but the Card Man laughed gently at her.
"Bitter? How can that be, when it has such people as you in it?"
His parents sadly watched him walk out of the door, waving glumly as he disappeared around the bend in the road.
They knew they would never see their son again, once the world had its way with him.
The Card Man set off in high spirits, and he saw many wonderful things on his journey.
He learned that the world was big and busy and simply marvellous.
And so were people, in fact he wondered what his parents had been so worried about.
Why, the very first man he met in Paris took one look at him and started laughing.
The Card Man, caught up in the sudden explosion of mirth, began to laugh with him.
That only made the stranger laugh harder; he bent over wheezing, tears streaming from his eyes.
"Goodness!" he gasped once he was finally able to straighten up. "I've never seen the likes of you!"
He walked off giggling.
The Card Man puffed out his chest, proud to have caused someone that much joy.
He was happy to discover that this man was not the first of his kind.
While wandering happily through the city he came across a group of teenagers who stopped him for a picture.
The Card man was more than happy to oblige, but when they walked off, snickering, he realised he was missing three cards from his back.
For a second, he thought he might have dropped them himself.
But when he realised that the missing cards happened to be exactly where one of the teenagers had been standing during the picture, he felt a cold, clammy worm wriggle in his stomach.
It chewed at his insides the rest of the day, and he started to notice things about people he hadn't before.
They looked at him often, and laughed, but that laughter didn't seem right now.
As he was coming out of a coffee shop later that day, some children running by kicked him in the shins, seemingly for no other reason than to do it.
With a cry the Card Man crumbled to the ground.
His bottom half, a glorious sleek array of Jacks and Queens, scattered across the now-deserted street.
He lay on his back blinking up at the sky for several minutes, his once-reliable body hopelessly reduced to tattered bits.
With both body and heart broken, the Card Man prayed to die.
Suddenly a bald man appeared in the blue sky above him.
He had a shrivelled face that looked like a dark walnut left in the sun for too long, and a long grey beard streaked with black.
Without speaking the Bearded Man reached down, flung the Card Man's remaining body over his shoulders, and carried him into a nearby house.
The Card Man felt himself being lowered onto a chair that was set at a comfortable distance from a roaring fire.
He wearily raised his head and looked around at the simple furnishings, a cobbled array of oak and walnut pieces that, despite not matching, were both cosy and welcoming.
"Would you like some tea?" the Bearded Man asked.
His voice was like a murmuring brook: gentle and low.
"Tea?" the Card Man cried, coming to life all at once. "I want my legs! Oh, my mother was right, people are horrible.
I travelled the world to see beauty, and I've seen nothing but ugliness!"
The Bearded Man sat down on a worn-out rocking chair, across from the Card Man, and began to rock himself back and forth.
His chair squeaked with every movement as he stared into the fire, his eyes liquid amber. Then he said softly:
"Beauty, what is that?"
"How should I know? That's why I wanted to travel."
"Did you think you could find beauty in others? In how they see you, whether that be your legs or otherwise?"
"Where else can you look for it, if not in the world?"
"Did you find your legs beautiful?"
"Of course!"
"Because my father made them for me."
"That's all?"
The Card Man stared at him for a moment, and then frowned thoughtfully.
"I guess I thought they were beautiful because they were a part of me."
"And where is 'you' now that they are gone?"
"I don't know."
The Bearded Man bent to stir the fire.
A brief silence filled the room.
"How do I find it then?" the Card Man asked suddenly, "This Beauty?"
"I can't tell you; it's different for everyone."
The Card Man thought about that as he stared into the fire.
The flames crackled and popped, spraying gusts of rosy ash across the hearth.
Then he looked up at the Bearded Man once more.
"I have to go now."
"To find my own legs." said the Card Man.
He flung his upper half down onto the carpet, and used his arms to drag himself over the stranger's threshold.
And that's when the Card Man's real journey began.
He travelled across the country, cobbling together a set of legs from anything he could find: junk-yard metal, soda cans, plastic bottles.
He looked both horrific and comical as he trudged along highways and neighbourhoods, his new limbs clanging and scraping, like a home improvement project gone terribly wrong.
Then one day, he found that he had wandered into a familiar neighbourhood and was standing before a very familiar house.
He hesitated for a moment, suddenly frightened, but once he saw his new legs and how sturdy they had become; how sturdy he had made them, the fear went away.
He squared his shoulders and started down the sidewalk.
His parents were in the kitchen, and they heard the groaning of his legs before he even reached the door.
They hurried out onto the porch.
His mother, still clutching a wet dishcloth, paled at the sight of him.
His father stepped in front of her, holding out his arm to shield her.
But as the Card Man came nearer, his mother suddenly dropped the cloth and gave a small, strangled cry of recognition.
The Card Man held out his arm to them and cried:
"I'm not much, but I'm the very best I could find!"
His parents ran down the steps to embrace him.
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