Thursday, September 28, 2006

Cut Your Hair: Part I, chapter 6 from The Edge of the World (a novel in progress)

Leonard had gotten a new job shortly before I was born—he was now the manager of a sporting goods store at the local shopping center. Although it was a harder job with longer hours than he’d had at the liquor store, the pay was much better, allowing Lily to stay home and take care of me.

But with Lemuel now living with us they had a baby sitter in the evening. Lemuel didn’t mind staying home, he said, having grown rather fond of me, his nephew. So nearly everyday after dinner, Lily and Leonard would go down to the river, something they hadn’t done since I was born. Making love there on the river bank again, they felt as if they’d stepped back in time. And though they never for a moment forgot that back in the apartment was their son—who, despite his seemingly oblivious nature still required a certain amount of attention—they sensed that they had somehow regained the freedom they’d had before I was born.

They had set up Lemuel in the living room—it was now his room. After being with us for two months—and having found a job at the dog track—he announced that he wanted to stay in Fort Myers for at least another year. He offered to get his own apartment, but Lily and Leonard told him that if he didn’t feel the need to be on his own he should just stay with us.

So he stayed. To Lily and Leonard it seemed the ideal situation because Lemuel, in addition to taking care of me, also acquired things for the apartment. He bought a color TV that was about three times the size of the old black and white one, a new stereo system with huge speakers, a dresser drawer for Lily and Leonard, and a sofa bed for the living room so he’d have a more comfortable place to sleep.

Things went well for the first five months, but as Lily grew more and more comfortable with our increasingly cramped apartment, Leonard grew less so. Lemuel often fell asleep in front of the television, snoring loudly or mumbling in his dreams while Leonard tried to watch a show. Lily began spending hour upon hour reading novels in bed, and when she wasn’t doing that she was at the kitchen table, going through the newspaper from front to back. The act of reading seemed to take her into that distant world—she paid no attention to Leonard when she was reading. And he imagined that even if, on some occasion, he were to go so far as to push his entire fist and forearm up her ass, she probably would have just continued licking her index finger and turning the pages.

I, on the other hand, did nothing but pay attention to him, and took to following him around the apartment whether he was going to the kitchen to get a drink of water or to the bathroom to take a piss. All the while I’d stare at him, fixing my eyes on his as in his mind he cursed me, his retarded little devil child—which was how he’d begun to think of me. And though I was his son, whom he loved, what he felt towards me—more than anything else—was a resentment that turned his blood into bile as his arms and legs stiffened.

And now, whenever Lily and he went to the river—which at this point they did only about every two weeks—he’d lose his sense of the moment. He’d think about their honeymoon, those five weeks when they fucked under the sky in different places all over the country. He’d think about The Brady Bunch and the stories they made up as he licked her hairy cunt in bed with the TV on.

He missed those nights when The Brady Bunch was on. But what he missed most were those places around the country. Like a senile old man doting upon his youth, he found himself saying their names aloud as he went to work in the morning: “Denver,” “Niagara Falls,” “Galveston.” He’d imagine that he was sitting on the moonwalk in New Orleans, riding through the barren landscape of the Bonneville Salt Flats, playing slot machines in Las Vegas. He could see each place clearly, and what accompanied every image that came to mind was the peaceful feeling that he was alone.

And one Saturday, when he’d slept late, he awoke to find that Lily had already gone out. He sat in the living room talking to Lemuel—who was telling him about an incident that had happened at the dog track the previous day—when Lily walked in. To his dismay, Leonard saw that she’d cut her hair, leaving just short blonde locks which barely covered her ears.

“That looks terrible,” he barked suddenly.

“Well I like it,” she snapped back. “And it was too much work taking care of it when it was long.”

“Oh, it looks all right,” Lemuel said, acting as if he were trying to stop what might be the onset of an argument.

But there was no argument. Leonard didn’t say another word, and neither did Lily, who simply went into the bedroom, picked up a book, and started reading.

A week after Lily cut her hair Leonard quit his job. He told Lily that he had to get away—it didn’t surprise her at all—and that Lemuel would be taking care of her and me while he was gone.

Although Lily understood what was troubling Leonard, Leonard did not. All Leonard knew was that he had a feeling, a pain. A suspicion that the world was against him and had defeated the universe he’d created. A suspicion that told him he had to run.

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