Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Chapter 11: Breakdown, Part I

Water swirled down the drain. Vernon watched it flow from the kitchen faucet, an endless stream that vanished almost as soon as it hit the sink. That’s me, he thought, staring at the lukewarm flow. A yellow plastic bottle tapped slowly against his thigh. The nipple sat on the counter next to a can of formula. I keep going and going, but I never get anywhere. Water gurgled down the pipes. He had no idea how long he’d been standing here. I should get the bottle ready. Ray’ll wake up any minute. But he remained still. It seemed safest that way. Everything he’d tried lately had led to disaster. He’d moved his family here, and now half of them were gone. He tried rescuing them, but had only succeeded in damaging the house and risking his son. Better not to move. If he didn’t act, there wouldn’t be any consequences. They’d stay safe that way. Tears trickled down his cheeks to join the small torrent.

“No,” Vernon growled. He swiped at his face with his free hand hard enough to make fresh tears start. He wondered if he had given himself a black eye. I can’t fall apart now. I’m all Ray has. Got to keep going and start making smarter decisions. He jammed the bottle underneath the faucet. Once it filled up, he cut the water off and brought the bottle to eye level. He tipped it over and let some dribble out until six ounces remained. If Ray didn’t eat it all, he could put it in the refrigerator for later. Vernon set it on the counter and padded through the living room to the bedroom door.

Raymond lay on his side, eyes closed with a small smile. Tears running once more, Vernon turned away. He caught sight of the bulging wall. The rope was still tied to it. Cool autumn air blew in through the open door and window. It nearly got me, didn’t it? He ran his fingers across the fractured wood in the doorframe. It came so close. A large splinter stabbed his index finger. He jerked it back with a hiss. Vernon looked back at the baby on his bed and stuck the injured digit in his mouth. He tasted blood. He stepped out on the porch and spat. Pink spittle landed on the boards. The copper tang remained.

Vernon’s lips twisted. He lifted his finger. Red dripped from the wound. He shuddered. The motion became a sharp contraction in his gut. Vernon dropped to his knees as his throat constricted. What little he’d been able to eat the evening before came up and sprayed across the porch. The noise woke Raymond, who started crying. Vernon climbed to his feet and wiped his mouth on the hem of his shirt, leaving a yellow-green smear. He staggered inside. By the time he reached the bed, his son had nearly rolled off. Ray lay on the edge, fists waving as he voiced his frustration. The cries cut off as Vernon picked him up and balanced him on his shoulder, making shushing noises and patting his bottom. The diaper squished heavily. Too much longer, and he’d have wet the bed. Something slurped beside his ear. Vernon craned his neck. The baby was sucking on his fist.

“Hungry, buddy? We’ll get you fed just as soon as we get that diaper off you.” He twisted, running his gaze over furniture and floor. “Where is that thing?” he muttered. Hadn’t he just seen it a minute ago? He marched around the room. His head jabbed forward every time he looked in a corner or around the arm of a chair. He couldn’t see it anywhere. He made another, frenzied circuit of the room. Where? He collapsed in his recliner and sobbed in frustration. He couldn’t even get this right. He turned his face to Ray’s side and wept into his onsie. It didn’t take the baby long to join in with a series of siren-like wails.

A feather-light touch brushed the back of his neck. He jerked upright and nearly dropped Ray as he craned his neck over one shoulder then the other, trying to see who was behind him. Something tugged at his son. Vernon tightened his grip and jumped from the chair with a shouted “No! You can’t...I won’t let...”

“Mr. Hamilton, chill. It’s just me.”

Backed into a corner, Vernon stared out at the room until his gaze settled on Kateri. She stood with arms outstretched, palms up. She looked like someone trying to calm a vicious dog. They stared at each other for a moment; Vernon broke eye contact first as something warm spread across his chest. He lifted Ray away and frowned at the wet stain on his shirt and the baby’s onsie. He glanced around for a diaper.

“I’ll take him, Mr. Hamilton. You can go ahead and get ready for work.”

“Work? Oh, yeah.” His brain felt fuzzy. He let Kateri take Raymond. He kept his eyes on the floor, unsure if he still needed to look for anything. Besides, it was too much effort to lift his gaze. The babysitter’s footsteps and cooing noises faded into the kitchen. Vernon shuffled to the recliner and slowly sank into the seat. He rested his chin on one hand and stared out the window, barely conscious of the cooling, soaked shirt sticking to his ribcage. A flock of blackbirds wheeled, landed and took off again in random patterns. His thoughts followed, fragmenting and spiraling in incomprehensible patterns. Vernon nodded. He shook his head. Got to get going. His gaze drifted back to the birds outside. I'll get up in just a minute. His eyelids drooped.

A firm hand gripped his shoulder and shook him back to the moment. “Huh?” Vernon rubbed his eyes. “Whuh?” hearts of iron 2 nocd


Part II of Chapter 11 coming next week!


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At December 31, 2008 7:43 AM , Blogger Bret Jordan said...

I believe I would be calling in sick to work. LOL

It's great to be reading Jennings Grove again, Jeff. Looking forward to seeing where the rest of the story goes.hearts of iron 2 nocd  

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