Two weeks earlier he had been out at his ex-stepfather Roger’s hunting camp on Lake Furet, and he had decided that he would test the waters regarding his relations with his mother-in-law. Roger could have some good advice.
They were taking turns passing the bottle, using an empty bottle to spit in, the crickets inside the OSB walls blaring so loud they hurt the ears, when he said: “Hey, Roger. What’s the weirdest lay you ever done it with?”
It was not until the undue pause that he realized what he had said, wished he could take it back.
“It don’t have to be no person,” said Theophile in an attempt to mitigate the awkwardness, and he vividly, piercingly thought (which was also a sort of prayer): Maybe he just ain’t heard, or he’s playing like he ain’t, please, Jesus.
“Boy, how come you always asking me them weird-assed questions?” said Roger over the clamor. “I don’t know what you think you’re driving at, but I reckon you got some mighty weird-assed answers yourself.”
Theophile thought about this. Apart from his relations with his mother-in-law, what came to mind was a story that his friend John Wayne Domingue had recounted some years back, when they were about fourteen. The day after John Wayne had returned from an alligator hunt on the Luckchuckchito with his father, he had bragged to Theophile that he had singlehandedly trapped, caught, and shot a ten-foot female alligator—a female alligator that he had later done the deed with. He had lost his virginity to nothing less than the beast of the swamp. Naturally the alligator at that point was dead. From the way John Wayne told it, it had seemed like his daddy had encouraged the stunt, like the coupling was a rite of passage, a reason for bonding, and if he were honest with himself, Theophile had been envious of the whole situation.
“I guess,” said Roger—he was wearing the hunting cap that he always wore, which he never took off, though it was rare that he wore it so high up on his head, which was smooth and humped like a hamburger bun, the only opportunities that Theophile had seen him with his bald crown showing being either when he was asleep after a drunk or when he was attending a funeral—“I guess that would have to be a piece of meat I came across this once when I was a young fella. The bus would let me off right there along the highway, and this one day I’d been talking to Carla Simmons the whole ride home. Boy, that girl was something. I knew right then and there there was only one way of getting her off my mind. I felt like a goddamn maniac. I knew I had to do something. I coulda killed somebody. Coulda killed myself with all that hot blood boiling up inside me. And there along that highway, baking under the sun like a goddamn godsend, was a piece of meat. It felt like mashed potatoes, only p-p-p-p-packed together. I couldn’t say if it were a groundhog or somebody’s dog or some kind of marmot or just a big old jackrabbit that got hit there along the highway. But I can tell you one thing: I weren’t thinking about that Carla Simmons no more for another two minutes.”
He forgot the conversation with his ex-stepson almost as soon as it ended, forgot it for the next thirty-three hours. Not until he returned home, the eight-point buck he had shot having been processed and its head dropped off for mounting, did he recall his conversation with Theophile.
They were sitting around the table, himself, his wife, and their twelve-year-old son Anthony, he and his wife eating the steaks he had brought back from the hunt, his wife periodically setting down her fork and knife to feed their son the pureed meat and sides, placing her fingers on both of the boy’s lips to mimic the act of chewing, and though he could tell that something was weighing on her, he had not asked, figuring the nature of her unease would out.
At last she said, “I got a call from Anthony’s teacher.”
He had not finished chewing the piece of meat that was in his mouth, but already he was fixing another.
“He ain’t in trouble?” said Roger.
When he finally met her eyes, he understood that the boy was in trouble, that he was and he was not.
“You gonna tell me or you want me to guess?”
“Mr. Dorrit said …”
And she began to cry. He knew then that it was bad. Whenever she cried it meant that there was a serious problem—not that he had not learned how to let the problems unaffect him. It just meant that the problem was still there buzzing around like a hornet stuck in the house, whether he liked the hornet or not.
She dabbed her eyes with the edge of the paper towel and took up the spoon and continued feeding the child his lunch while she sniffled and wept.
“He said that that McGregor fellow, the janitor … he was under arrest … cause … cause someone … cause another teacher done caught him … caught him diddling a boy in Anthony’s class.”
Roger stopped chewing the venison. Leaving the meat to mellow in the pocket of his jaw, he was subjected to the image of what had just been related to him as it continued to replay before his mind’s eye in various effractions and with this juxtaposition: sometimes the image included his boy; at other moments it included a child much like him.
He knew the general whereabouts of where the McGregor fellow lived, in the Sunny Glen Mobile Home Park between Allan and Rosemont, and he drove there that night, around the trailer park, until he found the one behind the mailbox with mail in it marked McGregor. Clearly no one was at home. The .357 in the glove box was loaded, and Roger could feel the importuning of the gun itself, his bones and blood a conduit for the bold bestial will of the weapon that was telling him, Unload me, Roger, the urgency with which it desired to fire its missiles into the meaty, gooey brain of one man and one man only and that man’s name McGregor.
He knew that there was a season for everything, a season for killing and a season for war, and that now was the season for patience, and he thought of his boy, who could not enunciate the monosyllables “ma” or “pa,” let alone parrot the sound of his own name, and would never, and he considered McGregor’s business and all that he might enact, and he could say to himself in all honesty that he was not entirely upset.