1. Spit 'N Image
Everyone said Lucas looked like his famous daredevil father. When he was no more than a baby, people were pointing. They exclaimed on his eyes, on his ears and mouth and chin. And when Lucas began--first, reaching then walking-just like that, people spoke of his stride and grip. "He's going to be a handful," they'd say. "Look at those shoulders. Check the chest!" They dubbed Lucas the spit-'n-image! "If that's not the Old Man all over again-call me Oprah Winfrey!"
The Old Man was, of course, Lucas Sr.-the Madman of Motorcycles, the Hysteric of the High Wire, the Lost Lunatic of Wild Lion prides-a man who had done it all and had the medical history to prove so. Under the disfiguration and scar tissue, Lucas Sr. was an anatomical pin-cushion. He'd given Death-Defying a new syntax and grammar--leaping the world's major rivers, lowering himself into active volcanoes. He'd put saddles on Lear Jets and ridden them from Santa Fe to Cancun, driven a mass-transit bus, in February, down the north face of Mt. Rainer. Lucas called Fear, "Nerve on sickleave," and bragged he'd never lost an arm-wrestle with The Impossible. He was a hard act to follow-nevermind follow in the footsteps of.
Still, people within range looked from son to father, father to son. "Spin-'n-image!" they'd say. "Spit-'n-image!"
The father failed to see the resemblance. "Where're the skin-grafts?" he'd say. "Where's the quartz eye?" He called his son Baby Face: "Shove Baby Face up against a chain-link or cyclone for a week or so-then there'll be a resemblance," he joked. Still, he liked the comparisons. He liked imagining scenes, like when perhaps the two of them-Lucas & Lucas, father and son-would, joined at the hip, straddle a burning Kawasaki midair, high over the Grand Canyon of the Snake River. He imagined himself retired and Lucas Jr. breaking the longevity record for hypothermia. Fearless steps aside! Behold the Son of Fearless!
Barely five, Lucas Jr. discovered his father's cedar walk-in closet. It was like the mouth of a monster and smelled like teeth and leaves, pinecones and wood. If the house was silent, Lucas-the-boy would slip in and shut the door. In the dark, the closet seemed like a cave in Ali Baba. On some days, the still air was cold; but on others, it was as hot as Arizona. Closed in, Lucas Jr. could smell the same smell his father had when he carried him under his arm, sometimes, through crowds. It was a smell not unlike the smell of wet-and-dark scavenger birds.
Inside his father's closet, the whole point seemed-for as long as Lucas Jr. dared-to sit in the dark, which was like some kind of hairy and thickening secret, one with muscles and veins and scars, like his father's raw arms. By the time he was six, Lucas Jr. was trying everything on: goggles, gloves, helmets; then the leather coats and jackets, which hung like-but-not-like his mother's dresses--touching the broad hardwood floor and trailing it. Sometimes, he switched the light on to inspect himself in the full mirror. If he stood close, he looked smaller; if he stood away, he looked like a bad dream of himself.
The point was: his father's skin was everywhere. Skin was what his father's clothes hung like--sheets and sheets -so that, finally, what Lucas Jr. was dressing up in, trying on, wasn't his father's clothes at all, it was his father's body. Sometimes Lucas Jr. felt evil, dressing up, as if he had no worthwhile power at all. Sometimes he felt more like an angel or god-all radiance and breath. Sometimes he felt that he could fly; his father's jumpsuits had crow-feathers sewn into them and were studded with black-agate crow eyes. Other times, he felt as if he might fall and fall-there seemed so much hammered and studded weight--sink through fire and water and air....forever
Then-at the age of ten, maybe eleven-he switched closets and discovered that, in his mother's closet, he felt more at home. And her clothes fit better. In his mother's closet-in her very dis-similar wardrobe-rich dark-Lucas Jr. felt far more cherished and possible. He liked the weightlessness of the fabrics. He loved the soft, friendly animal sense of his mother's stoles. He felt himself to be in a space where people opened bags and fed him. He felt-in a single stroke-on display and free. He felt older. He felt closer to being some kind of worthwhile memory, some kind of champion or king, a cartographer of his future. What was happening? Why was that?
When he moved back, briefly, to his father's closet, it seemed that the sleek, sweaty animal-and-raptor smell of the gloves and leather coats and crow feathers had disappeared. The secret of the dark felt less powerful; the dark, less dark; the sense of bears hibernating, stallions copulating, less rank and raw and wintery. What had felt like the larceny of crime-syndicated birds was gone. In his father's closet, when he growled now, the growl only felt silly. When he raised his arms like wings, he felt shy. In his mother's closet, when he threw his soon-to-be-broad-boned shoulders back in a kind of triumph, something electric happened and his eyes welled.
One piece of furniture more than any other whispered to young Lucas. It was a piece of furniture in his parents' bedroom, and what it whispered was, Come close!
Lucas Jr. called the furniture-piece his mother's desk. It had a flat top with bottles and brushes, tubes and jars. It had drawers down both sides and a mirror behind it which was shaped like a birdbath or plastic wading pool. Its legs were like the legs of a thin animal, and between them was a rose-colored upholstered bench. Whenever Lucas Jr. attended to the whispering and came close, his mother's desk, would whisper again. Go ahead, it would say. Sit. Relax. Think about yourself. Try things. His mother's desk gave him permission-which he would take and open tubes of jars-dipping his small hands into creams, feeling fine powder between his thumb and fingers. Sometimes he would shake drops of scent onto his palms and then rub it into his face. He explored rouge and lipstick. There was a-life-all-of-its-own at his mother's desk, he thought.
Mostly he came close and took permission, when his mother was somewhere else, when she was out shopping. Those times he would lean forward into the mirror and try to find his mother in his own face. Was he the spit-'n-image of his mother as well-did people think? It was hard to tell-hard because mostly he saw his mother not in the room where he was but in another room. When he tried to evoke her, she was almost always a room away and through a door frame-standing with a cigarette in one hand, its smoke curling around her, and what she called a "highball glass" in the other.
Lucas Jr. could lose time; time could be like his mother's cigarette smoke. And in one of those lost-times-on an afternoon when he had come close and even wrapped himself in some chiffon and a stole from his mother's closet-he suddenly saw his mother, framed by her bedroom door and standing behind him, in the mirror.
"What are you doing?" she finally asked.
"I don't know," he said. "Sitting at your desk."
"It's not a desk," she said.
"It's not a desk?"
"It's a vanity."
"Vanity," Lucas Jr. repeated.
"And where did you get what-you-have-on?"
"Is this a squirrel?" Lucas Jr. asked, lifting the stole.
4. "What do you Want to Be when you Grow Up?"
In the off-times between Lucas Sr.'s death-defying tours, the family entertained-roadies and wannabes. Men and women in exchangeable jumpsuits and sunglasses began asking Lucas Jr.-when he circulated, offering buffalo wings and guacamole-What do you want to be when you grow up? Did he want to wrestle professionally? Did he want to go onto American Idol? Some of the gathered party-people addressed him as Younger-a name his father liked to bandy-Hey, Younger! Was Younger going to be a daredevil like his father?
At first, the interrogations were paralytic: What did he want to be when he grew up? He had no idea. He hadn't even considered it. But then-folding and refolding the question was the one thing he looked forward to when he climbed the board-wide stairs to bed.
He liked to swim. He'd watched the Olympics. Sometimes he told the party-goers: Michael Phelps. He liked Johnny Depp; he liked Jim Carey. Sometimes he told those-who-asked: I want to act; I want to be in the movies. One time when he said that-when he said, I want to be in the movies--a blond woman at the party, who'd lit a famous match which had famously incinerated his father, said, Honey: be careful. He told people that, when he grew up, he'd like to be on Nova. He said he'd like to deliver the mail. Never though, in all the asking, did he say daredevil.
So, then, you don't want to be like....do what your father does? people asked.
"No; because my father scares people," Lucas Jr. said.
"But-hey, Younger--people like to be scared," guests responded.
"I don't like to be scared," Lucas Jr. said.
"Are you sure?"
"Some people think my father is the devil," Lucas Jr. said.
"But, Sweetie, to be the devil and be paid for it--!" a woman said. The other guests around her laughed.
"Buffalo wing?" Lucas Jr. queried.
5. Parents Day
At J.Carter Middle School, in February of the sixth grade, Lucas Jr.'s class had a Parents' Week. Brain-surgeon-parents came with models of the hippocampus. Realtor-parents came with lease agreements and powerpoints about gated communities. Lawyer-parents came with personal-injury slideshows. Then Lucas Sr. came and dove off the school's roof into sixteen inches of hose-water in a plastic pool.
"Are you ever scared?" a classmate asked Lucas Sr. in the class gathering afterwards.
'Fear....!" Lucas Sr. began. He paused. He calibrated the checked-breathing among the twelve-year-olds. "Fear....is a cripple on downers."
Members of the class turned their heads, checked one another.
"What he means is..." their teacher, Miss Forbes began. But then she couldn't finish her sentence.
"So what did they think?" he asked Lucas Jr. that evening over tacos and chili verde.
"They were amazed," Lucas Jr. said.
"They were amazed!" Lucas Sr. repeated. "As well they should!" And he hoisted his Dos Equis in the direction of Lucas Jr.'s mother and chortled.
6. Advanced Placement
Lucas Jr. grew. You could almost see him; day-to-day, it was like time-lapse photography. By the time he was fifteen, he stood six-seven and weighed almost three-hundred pounds. Now in high school, he took courses in the Automotive Arts and in Calculus; he took Advanced Metal Shop and Chinese. His guidance counselors worried he lacked focus. He played goalie for the school's hockey team and filled the net. Girls were frightened of him. Boys were frightened of him. He was frightened of himself-though he couldn't understand precisely why. "Something bad's going to happen to me," he confided in his mother.
"It's called a growth-spurt," his mother said.
He tried talking to his father in Mandarin.
His father told him, "Save it for The Ming Garden."
Lucas Sr. bought a skate board, a snow board, a Kawasaki. He took the Kawasaki apart and put it back together again.
"It's about time we started training," Lucas Sr. said.
"It's still hockey season," Lucas Jr. responded.
"What's this thing you've got going with hockey?" his father asked.
"I like the pucks flying at my head," Lucas Jr. said. "I like the slap and penalty shots. I like the mask."
"I'll get you a mask and you can wear it when we jump the Rogue River-or when I set you on fire," his father said.
"It's not the same," Lucas Jr. said.
"I'll get you a Chinese mask. You can pretend you're doing Chinese opera when you go off the ramp."
7. Imagine a Net
On his sixteenth birthday, Lucas Sr. brought Lucas Jr. to the roof of their house, where he'd bolted a 4-foot diameter trampoline. Theirs was a peaked roof which created a raked trampoline. Lucas Sr. had covered the roof of the garage-50 feet away-with foam rubber and rags.
"I call this Guided Imagery," the father told his son.
"I don't understand," Lucas Jr. said.
"You imagine a net," Lucas Sr. said.
"I imagine a net?"
"You imagine a net that-if you miss the garage roof-will catch you."
"What do you mean: if I miss the garage roof?"
Lucas Sr. explained about the trampoline and the trajectory.
"I imagine a net."
Lucas Sr. recounted how he would have Lucas Jr. close his eyes, then see the number 10 in his head....then see the number 9....then 8. And so on. After the number 1, he would then image a zero. "Let it get larger," I'll be saying to you. "Then larger. Then when it's larger than you are, you walk through it. When you're all-the-way, when you're through it, then you image a net-strung between the house and the garage. It will come. And when it comes, you'll understand how you can be immortal. And then," Lucas Sr. explained, "You step up and onto the trampoline and begin to generate your momentum. I'll be on the garage. I'll have gone first-shown you how. Then-when I say Go! You go. I'll be there to guide you. Once you do it-once you sit on the air-of-the-world like a hawk or blackbird--you'll be a member for life."
Suddenly, Lucas Jr. became aware of his mother-small and standing below them in the driveway, tucked in and into herself, looking like a corncob. "Please...!" she was barely saying. "Please... Please, Lucas; please, Younger....don't."
"Imagine a net!" Now his father shouted at him.
"I imagine a net," Lucas Jr. meekly and uncertainly repeated.
"Please," he heard the husk-figure of his mother going on below.
"The rest is mystery," Lucas Sr. announced.
And so it was. But was it air or light or silence that the boy, Younger, found himself catapulted through late that afternoon?
8. Early Decisions
Senior year was confusing: he was a junior-yet he was a senior. His counselors advised him: Go for early decisions. So Lucas Jr. applied. He applied to MIT and Julliard. He applied to Scripps and The Art Institute of Chicago. He applied to the University of New Mexico and the University of South Dakota.
He solicited recommendations, wrote entrance essays, brought financial-aid forms home to his parents.
Lucas Sr. was silent for nearly a month before he asked, "So what's all this college shit?"
"Honey-" his wife-holding a single tentative hand up-cautioned.
"The boy-" Lucas Sr. stopped himself, took a breath, nodded for a beat of five, then continued. "The boy doesn't need college."
"College broadens," Lucas Jr.'s mother tried.
"The boy can create a web-site. The boy can speak Chinese. The boy can paint a boot you'd all-but-try to put on. The boy knows how to make a pipe-bomb. He can inoculate mice. He's written Country & Western songs that have been sung-okay: just one of them, but-in Nashville. What-are-you-talking-about: broadens?"
Lucas Jr. asked for another helping of short-ribs.
"So what's all this college shit?" his father repeated.
"People should have options," Lucas Jr. tried.
"People should have-excuse me-what?" Lucas Sr. pressed him.
"Options," Lucas Jr. said.
"Options." Lucas Sr. rolled the word around his mouth, as if it were a piece of gristle from one of the evening's short ribs.
9. Think About Being Invisible
On the eve of Lucas Jr.'s graduation from high school, his father presented him with an alligator jumpsuit-insisting that, right then and there, he try it on.
Lucas Jr. swam in it. "It's too big," he protested.
"All the better to grow into," Lucas Sr. beamed and, beaming, took Lucas Jr. by the hand. "Something else I want to show you."
Hand-in-hand still, the father drew the son out of their house and down the drive to the family's stand-alone three car garage, where-using a coded remote-he rolled the aluminum door of the middle bay up. Inside, under the white light of the fluorescents, Lucas Jr. could see that his father had repainted his touring bus. On the outside--in blood-red font and ringed by acrylic flames-was printed:
"So what do you think?!" Lucas Sr. asked? From his workbench, he uncorked a bottle of Herradura tequila and took a hit. He passed the bottle to his son. "Fabulous--right?!" he said and then encouraged his son, "Go ahead. Drink."
Lucas Jr. drank-lifting the bottle in a flourish in the same way his father had-and choked.
Lucas Sr. did a drumroll on his son's back to quiet the coughing, and when Lucas Jr. finally had his breath back again, asked a third time, "So-c'mon; tell me-what do you think?"
"I think-" Lucas Jr. began....then stopped, his throat still slaked: raw and dry and burning. And then he said what he thought and felt: namely, that he had mixed feelings about being a daredevil.
"Hey: it isn't an option," his father said. He took the tequila bottle back and slugged from it. "Not an option. You just need to get started. You just need to get under way. Once you're started and under way-you'll see; you can't stop."
"Except I'm not sure I want to start," Lucas Jr. said.
There was a silence-as flat and stark as old aluminum siding. It filled the large garage.
Lucas Sr. began to nod-thrusts of his head that became more and more aggressive, that became like punches. "Son: you either start-and start tomorrow-or you're invisible to me," Lucas Sr. announced. "You either start-or you're a vacant lot. You either start-or you're what's left over after a hurricane." He took the remote and rolled the middle bay door down and then up again. Then down; then up. He started to chug the tequila. "Think about it," he said. "Think about being invisible. Think about being an orphan."
10. At Sea
Lucas Jr. chose Deep Springs College in Nevada and dropped out within a month. He lived in a tent at the edge of Zion Canyon and dreamed about parachutes. Outside his tent, the wind carried a scent somewhere between pinion and tequila. He left and tried a vision quest in the Mojave, where he was found at dawn, sunblind and staggering, by two hiking lesbian epidemiologists named Geneva and Grace and brought to a hospital emergency room in Barstow.
"You're badly dehydrated," the ER resident on duty pronounced.
"Nothing came to me," Lucas Jr. said woefully.
"These two ladies came to you, and they saved your life," the resident corrected.
"Watch your language," the lesbian named Geneva warned.
"Call me Ross," the ER resident invited.
"I can't be my father," Lucas Jr. said.
"It's a trick-isn't it," Ross said. "Trick and an affliction that we all need to learn to manage."
"His eyes were almost black," the lesbian, named Grace, said.
"His tongue was black," the resident named Ross said.
"Imagine a net," Lucas Jr. said, and he started laughing hysterically.
He spent two days in the small hospital's ICU wing. You were very badly burned, he was told. He said: his father knew how to be burned-worse than badly, burned and live. It's a special knowledge, he was told.
When he was released, he thought of going back to school. Did his parents know he was no longer there? It seemed not, because, each month, more money had appeared in his checking account. Maybe, he thought, it was possible; maybe he could imagine a net; maybe he could be his father-or the reflection of his father. Or the shadow. Or the aftertaste.
He bought a Kawasaki and rode it east on I-15 into Las Vegas. He'd seen the documentary about his father: leaping the fountains at Caesar's Palace, diving off Paris's Eiffel Tower, swimming naked in the Shark Reef at Mandalay Bay, riding a burning hang-glider from the roof of Steve Wynn's Encore.
He tried to reconstruct the smell of leather from his father's closet. He tried to imagine his father's scarves, hanging like sloughed skin. He'd seen a gila monster during his vision quest in the Mojave. He'd seen a diamondback. Both had slithered away. Neither had offered him their poison.
He took a room at the Mirage and swam in their pool, where he fell asleep in his chaise and dreamed, again and again, of ocean. He was at sea in his dream. And then somewhere else-somewhere not-sea-and then at sea again. And then at sea. And then at sea. When he woke up, a beautiful black woman in a net bathing suit, floating nearby on a polyurethane sea-monster, was staring at him.
"You've been somewhere-haven't you?" she asked.
11. The Oldest Profession
Lucas Jr. and the woman in the net bathing suit had dinner at Bouchon-across the strip at The Venetian. The black woman in the net bathing suit had changed and wore a summer dress that was more straps than material. She cut her lobster ravioli into smaller and smaller pieces.
"What does that mean," she asked, "-what you keep saying: that you feel helplessly at sea?"
"I keep dreaming of parachutes and ocean. I can't imagine a net," Lucas Jr. said.
"Are there fishermen?" the woman changed out of the net bathing suit asked. "Are there para-gliders? Are there pelicans?"
"There are abandoned scuba tanks-and there's no gravity," Lucas Jr. said.
"Sounds sort of like my condo," the black woman changed out of the net bathing suit said.
Suddenly, on the large flat-screen at the bar, somebody was leaping the lake at The Bellagio in a stretch limo. "That could be my father," Lucas Jr. said. The entire roof of the stretch limo was on fire.
"So is that who you're with? Are you with your father here? Are you together--traveling?"
"You could say that," Lucas Jr. said.
"I just did" the woman changed out of the net bathing suit laughed. "Sins of the fathers!" she said and laughed again. "Now you're talking my language." Her laughter made the beads dance at her neck.
"What language is that?" Lucas Jr. asked.
"Aramaic," the black woman changed out of the net bathing suit said.
"Can you say, this is good ravioli?" Lucas Jr. asked in Mandarin.
The woman answered in a language with lots of glotts and gutturals.
"Aramaic?" Lucas Jr. asked.
"Or close," the black woman said. "Or close enough. The oldest language-for the oldest profession."
"So: what is it that you do?" Lucas Jr. asked.
"I'm a guide," the black woman changed out of the net bathing suit said. "I take people where they want to go. To the Promised Land. I help them lose themselves."
12. Losing As an Art
During the year when it was in Lucas Sr.'s head that he and his son would be the darlings of Prague and Budapest, he pressed Lucas Jr. to get both a passport and a visa. Waking from losing himself with the netless black woman, Lucas Jr. felt that he, at last, had a strategy. He would travel from distant place to distant place losing himself. And when there was finally no self-no Lucas and, especially, no Jr.-he would return to his native soil, if, in fact, he, at that point, had a native soil. And he would walk serenely in through the front door of his house, where his mother would look like he imagined Ophelia in Hamlet. And cry. But his father wouldn't even speak his name. His father would stare through him as if through an imagined net. And he would be free. Free forever and ever, he would no longer feel the burden of being The Daredevil's Son. Instead, he would open a restaurant specializing in exotic dim sum.
He had over seven thousand dollars in his checking account. It was possible.
He flew first to Helsinki, where he shaved his head and played the acoustic guitar in a waterfront bar. He lost himself in the music, and when the dawn came, his shoes were nowhere in sight. On the following day, he went by rail to Copenhagen, where his room at a hotel called the Wilhelmina had a balcony. He was on the seventh floor where, after dark, he could see the lights and sails of moored yachts. If he jumped and held onto the four corners of one of his bedsheets, would the white linen carry him out and into the harbor?
He threw a wine bottle into the wall mirror in his bath hoping to make himself as fissured and cracked, as starkly black and silvery/slivery white as Hans Holbein's Dance of Death-images he had discovered on display, once, in a public library.
If he had had a beard, he would have shaved it. If he'd had pounds to spare, he'd have gone on a hunger strike. But what was it, exactly, that a hunger strike struck? Struck at? And wouldn't it mean that he would have to have a hunger to strike from? A base? A passion? A base passion?
Instead he gorged himself at a local restaurant on a specialty casserole of cod and potatoes and artichokes baked in white wine. When he returned to the Wilhelmina, he couldn't remember the number of his room and knocked on all the second-floor doors until someone didn't answer. And then he tried his key.
He rented an Opel and drove to Lublin in Poland where he visited the Majdanek extermination camp. He drove to Krakow where he walked through the Jewish cemetery-a burial ground where the stone markers had been used to pave streets and then, following the war, returned. In the small acreage and under the immense weight of his yarmulke, he felt as immaterial as the industrial revolution. He was among the souls of a people who had lost everything and, there and ashamed, understood, finally, that losing, like the work of Hans Holbein, was an art.
13. There are Other Holbeins, You Know!
He had Hans Holbein on his brain. Everywhere he went in Krakow, he saw skeletons: riding trams, selling flowers, eating alone in restaurants. Skeletons. He went to a club called the Cynamon Cafe, where he drank too much then staggered down some crooked streets to another club called The Prozak where, at the bar, he rambled on to a stranger. He rambled in English; he rambled in Mandarin. He rambled about pirates and burn units and invisibility. But mostly he rambled about The Dance of Death-Hans Holbein, Hans Holbein, Hans Holbein.
Finally, when the stranger had had as much as he could take, he turned face-on-face to Lucas Jr. and shouted, "There are other Holbeins, you know! Do you know that?!"
He told Lucas about Hans Holbein, The Younger.
Lucas wheeled from the Prozak and onto the street, where he wove lanes, crossed parks, went in and out of wrong hotels-finally finding his own. The next day, he took a tram to the Wyspianski Museum which had several of Hans Holbein The Younger's work on loan and where, for nearly an hour, he stood before a portrait entitled Lady with a Squirrel.
For all that the painting confused him, it amazed him. The woman looked to be in the world with almost unearthly assurance. How could that be? She looked to be all woman. She looked to be a man. She looked healthy and unskeletal and like food-her head wrapped in a quilted something that looked like phylo dough. She looked to be seated, and on her lap was a chestnut colored squirrel eating a nut. Just over her shoulder, on a branch and almost whispering in her ear, was an oily-black bird-starling or crow, bird which appeared to have scales rather than feathers.
On a bronze plaque beneath the painting, it said, Hans Holbein The Younger and gave a date.
Hans Holbein The Younger.
How could a father be so different from a son?
How could a son be so different from a father?
14. The Homecoming
He flew home unannounced. When he descended the escalator to baggage claim, there were professionally-dressed greeters with name-signs meeting arrivals. There was a family with a welcome banner and a dozen black-and-silver helium balloons. No visible placard, though, said: Welcome Home Lucas Jr. Or even: Welcome Younger.
He took a cab to his house; the cab-driver was Syrian and unnervingly polite. He kept saying, My pleasure and my pleasure and yes, sir; my pleasure. He offered tea in a small paper cup: Please, he said. Did your business go well? He asked the now-20-year-old Lucas, but Lucas wasn't sure how he should answer. Had his business gone well? What was the answer? Did it go as well as it could be expected? the perfectly-hair-combed Syrian driver asked.
"Thank you. Yes. I think so," Lucas Jr. said.
When they arrived at his house, Lucas Jr. saw a large ReMax sign on the front lawn. The sign was red and blue: For Sale printed on the inflated logo-image of a hot-air balloon. He paid the Syrian driver and thanked him.
"My pleasure," the Syrian driver said. He bowed.
After the cab pulled away, Lucas Jr. stood on the sidewalk with his bags and studied the house he'd grown up in. He smelled smoke. And then, checking the air, he could see what-he'd-smelled rising from somewhere in the back yard. He could see what was probably ash falling through the sunlight.
He hiked to the back-down a drive on the west side and through a cedar gate. Once arrived, Lucas Jr. could see the broad back of his father fronting a smoldering, sometimes-flaming pyre. He was holding a broken chair, and before the younger Lucas could indicate his arrival, the senior daredevil threw the broken chair he held onto the heap-stirring up sparks and ashes.
In another pile, waiting to be thrown on, were many items of clothing and more furniture. The younger Lucas thought he recognized some of the items to be his mother's. Among the furniture appeared to be scraps of what he'd once called his mother's desk. Vanity....vanity! he heard the ghost of his mother's voice softly saying. Vanity....vanity!
The younger Lucas set his bags down. Their contact noise with the ground jarred and turned his father, whose eyes were the eyes of a combat-soldier in a flashback. Everything he wore was denim, but all the denim was shredded. He looked to have been in a barroom brawl with a bear.
"Hey," the younger Lucas said.
The older Lucas spat and snorted. His eyes looked smoke-damaged; his hair looked like a grebe in an oil-spill. He seemed a figure in George Romero movie. Everything about him was attempting to compensate for a lack of balance, for confusion. He looked through his son as though through a bank of air.
"So: what are you doing? I don't get it. What's happening?" the younger Lucas said.
His father turned back to face the fire. He bent to a pile of clothing and lifted a navy-blue wool skirt from it. He threw the skirt into the smoke.
"Where's Mom?" the younger Lucas asked to the back of his father.
"Gone," his father said. He threw the word up and over his shoulder-- like a bone-scrap for a dog.
"What do you mean?" the son asked, and, when his father refused to answer, refused to settle, asked again: "What do you mean?"
"Left-gone," the father said-his words, again, sounding discarded. "Left-gone," he said again.
"Where?" the younger Lucas asked.
"Who the fuck knows?" his father said.
"Did you have a fight?" the younger Lucas asked.
"I don't fight with women," his father said then bent and threw a Cuisinart onto the heap, where it ignited in oily flames.
"Did she say anything?" Lucas Jr. asked.
"Yeah: she said: I need my life," Lucas Sr. said. The father still had his back to the son.
"I've been away, in Copenhagen and Krakow," the younger Lucas said.
"Fuck you," the father said. "Fuck you and the turncoat you rode in on."
"I don't want to ride motorcycles over gorges," Lucas Jr. said.
"Tell me about it," his father said.
"I don't want to lower myself into volcanoes."
"Suck my dick," his father said.
"I don't want to be tied up in anchor chains and dropped into the harbor."
"That's because you're a faggot," his father said. And, with that, he bent and threw two cashmere sweaters and a night-table onto the flames. He crouched, removed his own boots, threw them in as well.
"Do you have any idea why you're doing what you're doing?" Lucas Jr. asked.
"Yeah. I do. Absolutely. I'm doing what I'm doing because I'm doing what I'm doing," Lucas Sr. said. "Because it's what a man does."
"It confuses me," Lucas Jr. said.
"Really? Well: you think you're confused-try me. Try burning up everything belonging to the one woman who was willing to live with you. Try talking to your son-who doesn't even exist. Try not being able any more to imagine a net. Then you'll be in the ball park. Then you'll know what confusion is. Welcome home."
The younger Lucas bent, engaged the grips on his bags, lifted them. "I hoped, maybe you would wish me good luck," he said. "Because I have no idea what's going to happen next. None at all. And I thought, maybe, you would wish me well."
"Well, I don't wish you well," his father said. "But here's a thought. Maybe it will compensate. Maybe my reward for getting my picture in the paper so many times. You have no idea what happens next? Try this. Slip your arms through these sleeves and check the fit. What happens next... is the thing that happens just before the thing that happens just after it. And: hey; that's okay. Don't thank me. All we are is, you know, father and son. It's a small thing. Still: what happens next is the thing that happens just before the thing that happens just after it. You can pass that on to your boy--some time--if you have one."
"Thanks, Daddy," Lucas Jr. said. "Thanks. I appreciate it." With that his bags were in the air, and he turned and carried them back up the driveway. Above him, flying squirrels-with silhouettes like bats-leapt from branch to branch.
Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.
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