His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 06
This deepened the myste’s scowl. “There are no guardian angels, Ohanko. There are sorcerers and mystes, and they rarely act out of altruism.”
“So you believe that someone wants me alive for a specific reason?”
“I do not know what to believe. I will have to think on this at greater length.” He started to fade from view. “Tread like the fox, Ohanko. Do not screw up anymore.”
I chuckled. “Thanks, ghost.”
I heard another rumble, like the whisper of approaching thunder. A moment later he was gone.
I stood, stretched my back, and crossed to the answering machine, which was a relic from a time when devices like this used tiny little cassette tapes. I had several messages, most of them from prospective clients. One was from Billie Castle, who was, for lack of a better term, my girlfriend.
“Hey, Fearsson, it’s me.” I couldn’t help the dumb grin that spread across my face every time I heard her voice. “I know you’re working, and I know we have plans for Friday, but I was wondering if you had time for lunch tomorrow. Nothing fancy — I was thinking the burrito place on Main, near the mall. Call me in the morning.”
I made a note to call her, and jotted down numbers and names from the other messages. Then I dragged myself back to my room and fell into bed, too tired even to bother pulling down the shades.
I woke with the sun, went for a run and showered, and then called Billie to confirm our plans. After grabbing a bite to eat, I got in the Z-ster and drove out to Wofford, west of the city, where my Dad lives in an old trailer.
I go out to see him most Tuesdays. I bring him groceries and other supplies. Sometimes I cook for him. Sometimes I do no more than sit with him and listen to him ramble on and on about God knows what. Every once in a while — maybe one week in five, if I’m lucky — I catch him on a good day and we sit for hours talking about baseball and stuff in the news and police work; he was a cop, too, until his mind quit on him and he lost his job.
Today was Thursday, but I hadn’t liked the way he looked or sounded a couple of days ago, and I wanted to check in on him again. It was a slow drive out of the city — there weren’t any quick drives left in Phoenix — but by nine o’clock I was on U.S. Sixty, following a lonely stretch of road past sun-baked telephone poles and dry, windswept desert. Reaching the rutted dirt road to my father’s place, I turned and steered the Z-ster past the stunted sage, a plume of pale red dust billowing behind me.
I could tell before I reached him that Dad was no better off today than he had been the last time I saw him. He sat slumped in the lawn chair outside his trailer, beneath the plastic tarp I had set up for him a couple of years before, He had his eyes trained on the horizon, and his old Leica binoculars rested in his lap. He wore dirty jeans and a threadbare white t-shirt; they might have been the same clothes he’d been wearing on Tuesday. His sneakers were untied; he didn’t have on socks.
The same way I could judge Namid’s moods by how roiled his waters were, I could tell what state my father was in by the care with which he dressed. When he didn’t change his clothes or bother with socks or shoelaces, it meant he was out of it, and had been for a while. I hoped he’d been eating. Hell, I hoped he had slept in his bed rather than in that old chair.
I parked and got out, squinting against the glare and the dust.
“Hey, Dad,” I called, raising a hand.
He didn’t respond, or even turn my way. I could see that he was muttering to himself. Every few seconds he seemed to wince, as if he were in pain. He hadn’t shaved since the last time I saw him; his slack cheeks were grizzled, making him appear even more haggard than usual. His white hair, unkempt and probably in a need of a washing, stirred in the desert wind.
I walked to where he sat and kissed his forehead. He stank of sweat and his breath was rank. His gaze found mine for a second or two but then slid away again, back to the horizon and the mountain ranges that fell away in layers until they were lost in the brown haze hanging over the city.
“How are you doing, Dad?”
He didn’t take his eyes off the desert, but he shook his head. “Not so good,” he said, his voice strained, the words clipped.
As interactions with my Dad went, this was better than it could have been; at least he had responded to my question, which meant that he was communicative and aware of my presence. Sometimes I didn’t even get that much from him.
I pulled out a second lawn chair and placed it beside his. Sitting, I leaned forward, peering into his eyes. Like mine, they were a soft, smoky gray, and today they appeared glazed, sunken.
“What’s wrong?” I asked him. “Tell me what you’re feeling.”
“It Tuesday already?”
“No, it’s Thursday. But I was worried about you when I left the other day, so I thought I’d come back.”
He answered with a slow nod, his gaze following the flight of a hawk.
“What’s wrong, Dad?”
“It’s this burning,” he said, whispering the words. “It’s . . . The burning. I can’t make it stop.”
I laid the back of my hand against his forehead, checking for fever. His skin felt cool and dry.
“They’re burning me, like brands, searing my skin, marking me as theirs.” He shook his head. “I don’t know why, but look at me. Look!” He held out his arms, the undersides bared to the sky, his hands trembling. “Look!” he said again. A tear slipped from his eye and wound a crooked course down his lined face. “So many burns!”
Hallucinations like this one were a common element of my father’s psychosis. A doctor would have told me not to be too concerned: this would pass, and this state was as normal for him as any other. Hell, doctors had told me exactly that on other occasions when his behavior bordered on the bizarre and unsettling.
But as relieved as I was by his lack of fever, and the absence of wounds on his arms, I couldn’t help feeling that this particular delusion was taking a greater toll than others I’d seen him endure.
“Who’s doing this to you, Dad? Who’s burning you?”
“I don’t know,” he said, the words thick with tears, his eyes still fixed on the slack, unmarred skin of his forearms. “They think I matter still. Again. They think I matter, but I don’t.” He swiveled toward me. “You do. You matter. You be careful, boy. They’ll come for you before long. But me . . .” He shook his head again. “I don’t know what they want, or why they think I matter. But they’re here, and I want them to go. I don’t like this.”
“You do matter, Dad.”
“No!” he said with sudden ferocity. “This isn’t the time for sentimental shit! I. Don’t. Matter. But they don’t know it! They don’t! They don’t! They’re searing me with their brands and their torches. They’re poking and prodding and hurting and pushing just to see how far they can take me, just to . . . Just because.”
“When was the last time you ate?”
“I . . .” He closed his eyes, still wincing every few seconds. “A long time,” he said. “I’m hungry.”
“Good. What can I fix for you?”
“Dad–” I stopped myself. The doctors would have told me that when my father was like this, getting calories in him was the most important thing. He was sixty-four. He didn’t have to eat his peas and carrots before he had dessert. “Sure,” I said. “I’ll get you some.”
I stood, stepped into the trailer. Usually, with my father in such a state, I’d expect to find his kitchen an utter disaster. But it wasn’t. It was worse: it remained exactly as I had left it Tuesday afternoon. I would have bet every dollar in my pocket that he hadn’t eaten since the lunch we’d shared then.
I packed a bowl with mint chocolate chip — his current favorite — and got him a tall glass of ice water as well. Returning to his side, I gave him the water first.
He took it, glanced up at me, eyed the water again. He took a sip, closed his eyes once more. Then he tipped the glass back and drained it in about six seconds.
“You want me to get you more?”
I handed him the ice cream and went back inside. I was out again in mere moments, and already the bowl was mostly empty. He still flinched again and again; whatever was bothering him hadn’t gone away. But in these few minutes his color had improved and his eyes had grown clearer.
“They don’t like this,” he said, pointing at the bowl with his spoon, a knowing grin lifting the corners of his mouth. “Not even a little.”
“They can’t burn me as easily when I have this in me. And the water. That, too. They like that even less.”
“Who’s burning you, Dad? Can you tell me now?”