My Father's Son, Part II

October 1, 2009
Once in a while, I was able to efficiently complete my entire labor ritual set forth for me by my father, despite his disconcerting reminders—sent to me from his watchful and execrating eyes, two heralds of Hell— of potential punishment in the cellar. I would then escape to the outdoors, away from this demon, and find transient relief, free from any agonizing or confounding presence. In the field behind the house I used to sit and watch the rabbits emerge from the woods and frolic about. They were the only living creatures I can remember never tortured me. After many days of sitting there, a quiet observer, they became acquainted with my presence. I became another fixture in their serene and playful scene. One day, a young, bold rabbit came hopping up quite close to me, so that I could feel the vibration of its whiskers smelling the mysterious odors that defines to an animal the curiosity of human existence. Although my nerves would have had me shudder a bit, I forced myself to sit consummately still. Presently it crawled into my lap, and when I left to return home (for I knew, from long experience, that my father was always watching me so that I could never escape), the rabbit followed at my heels. Here was a true friend, the only friend I might ever have. My loneliness by then had transcended the human ego’s ordering of an anthropocentric universe. I could not help but accept this precious gift of friendship.

Yet I would not dare let my father discover my new friend’s existence, for reasons readily apparent. I knew that the one place my father never went— either out of carelessness or cruel delight for tempting my encaged soul, was outside at the back of our mansion. Former denizens from an indefinite number of years ago had left a rusted, yet sturdy, sort of contraption, possibly once used to cage birds or to trap larger animals. I spread a tangle of grass over the bottom of it and made the rabbit a home. Whenever I wasn’t laboring or locked in the cellar, I would sneak out to where I had hid the cage, far from the mansion. His food consisted of dead rats I found in the cellar and leftover food from my father’s meals (which were really supposed to be my meals, but I had to give the poor rabbit something to eat). I dearly loved that rabbit, whom I named Charlie: my middle name and the only name I know besides my own (James) and my father’s (Samuel). I would have sacrificed anything not to have to give him up. It didn’t even matter to me when, after coming inside from playing with Charlie, my father would send me down to the cellar for staying outside too long.

The cellar was dark, cold, and damp, with little patches of moss mottling the cement floor, especially in the corners, and the almost inaudible drip of leaking pipes, which I never would have noticed had I not had so much time down there to observe my surroundings, faintly penetrated the black expanse. Usually when I was confined to the cellar I was locked in a wide closet along the far wall, sometimes from high noon on one day to early dawn the next, or possibly two days later: the hours seemed to pass so slowly that it was impossible to tell exactly how many days had passed during my incarceration.

After I had been locked in the closet, I would hear the slow, resounding tramp of my father’s boots make their way across the cellar and up the stairs. The lock of the cellar door would click shut; then the sound of the soft drip would take over, and my eyes would slowly adjust to the utter darkness. There was a crack in the door, and I would peer out sometimes into the fully lit cellar and watch the rats scurry about. Sometimes they would entertain me with a gory war of their sharp, yellow teeth, in the center of the room; however, not every time I was closeted in the cellar was I so lucky to be thus entertained. There were days when I would just have to find a spot not already overtaken by a pool of leaked water—if indeed I were so fortunate—and sit with my knees drawn up to my chest for however many hours the whims of my father would have me condemned for my sin.

It was during these dull hours while I resigned myself to the darkness that I first discovered the box. It was long and black, as far as I could tell, and it tormented my curiosity as to what could possibly have lain sealed within it. Though I had received no suggestion of what lay inside, I was afraid to find out. Something warned me I wouldn’t want to come of that knowledge. Sometimes in the darkness I would grope my way to the dark box, and, feeling for the lid, begin to open it; slowly a cold chill would stream into the atmosphere, and suddenly, I would drop it, draw back in fear, and be unable thenceforth to proceed any further. Yet the real reason for my apprehension, I believe, was some innate fear. I had an inkling that someday I would be forced to open it, yet still I wanted to delay the discovery for as long as possible.

I could never figure out why each time my father always came to retrieve me, so that every time I was locked up I could not help but fear that it would be my last. Possibly it was the need for someone to do the housework. One day when my father finally brought me back upstairs after spending what seemed like days in the cellar, he demanded nothing of me, and merely went back to his sitting-room with his whiskey. Usually upon releasing me, he sent me straight to work, completing the tasks I had fallen behind on while down in the cellar. It was strange, because I knew that he knew that if he did not browbeat me into doing the chores, I would not do them. I would not have been surprised if the real satisfaction he obtained in the endless abuses that climaxed each ordeal was the sight of my personal struggle, to resist him and to resist doing them. I really was not an inherently indolent person; and I believe he knew that, but what he knew even better was that it was the surrender, the surrender to some undefinable evil, that I abhorred more than the cruelty and pain of the work itself.

Rather than ponder his unusual demeanor, however, I took advantage of the opportunity and ran outside to visit Charlie. I had brought him his favorite treat: sugar cubes, which I was only supposed to use for my father’s tea. As I quietly snuck out the door, shutting it so slowly that the old rusty hinges did not even whimper, I could already see Charlie’s cage, and upon that sight always my heart raced. I scampered across the field in a little boy’s joy, ready to call out “Charlie!”, just loud enough so I was sure he could hear, and make a little “tsk, tsk” sound to show him I had a treat. But just then I noticed there was something else erected next to his cage. The door to the cage was hanging wide open. Suddenly fear, a pounding fear, drained through me, as if cascading down through my heart, revealing to me a notion I wildly resisted. I stopped in my tracks, and recoiled in horror. Only two feet in front of me, right in front of the cage, was a post. Nailed to it, straight through the heart, was my beloved Charlie! The murderer had left his mark right at the scene: his cane, stained with blood, obviously used to strike the fatal blow over Charlie’s head. It screamed his name so that it rung in my ears. Tears of ambivalent grief and anger welled in my eyes—for the perpetrator of this cold-hearted, heinous crime was hardly an enigma.





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