While it was difficult to live with the uneasy sense of what she would do next, there was an always a line of retreat. He could beat a path to Norris Playground, a patch of grass approached by a narrow, dirt lane, behind the suburban houses, as if forgotten somehow in the scheme of the town’s expansion. It was in the middle of the large block, as if out of reach of seemingly close things. In the beginning, it seemed far away. But later, it was as close as his breast. As near as the end of his nose.
But there were other times he could not escape. Like a long, dark tunnel, the realization of her moods, of what created the sense that things were moving along dusky tracks toward an incident, only struck him at bizarre intervals, and then it was too late.
He, Jake, was told that his best friend, Roy, was adopted. She told him not to tell his friends. He did anyway. And when he told her (why Jack did, he did not know) she hit him with a wooden spoon, and dragged him across the floor by his hair, and beat him with her hand on the floor of his bedroom. All the while she screamed and cried: Why did you say that? What can I say to her mother now?
That nothing ever came of it was beside the point. Roy continued to be adopted, and neither his divulgence of that secret nor his possible keeping of that secret had added or subtracted anything from the world. As far as he could see, things were just the same. He was still Jake and his sister was still his sister, and in some bizarre, yet to be determined, examined, or formed way, his family still hurt him and protected him at the same time.
There was nothing special about Jake. He was not a particularly bright boy; his features were not pleasant or unpleasant - he inhabited a region between the gifted and the duds which would fail to generate any fruit of special flavor. No one saw any particular spark in him: he neither expected too much nor worked too hard. He had dry hands, bad breath, a rumpled Lacrosse shirt, small Adidas shorts with white piping, and flat, square glasses perched on the end of a blunt nose. But he had something that very few of the boys and girls, the men and women he knew, know: that things are not really as they seem to be; that beneath the thick scab of the outer world, and below the wound the world that inflicts pain on us, there was something solid, with mass – a critical element, a surge of mass and energy that was all ignored but he felt like the beating of his own heart.
“It’s filthy,” she screamed. “Fucking filthy. And I ain’t gonna be your fucking slave and clean all this shit up.”
Jake sat with his father, mother and sister. The climb up the slope of her resentment was reset. Wrath, he said to himself - that is what it is called wrath. And one day I will have revenge. I will revenge myself. REVENGE. He felt his own anger as his father and sister began to clean the unfinished part of the basement. This area had the washer, drier, heater, his grandmother’s cedar chest, and shelves of toys and games. Somehow these objects had reached a perilous mass in his mother’s overheated mind. Now they were sitting in the basement, rummaging, placing the Fisher Price Airport in the pile of things that would magically appreciate in value at some future date in the attic.
But something was holding up the processes. There were snags. Words were being spoken. They were angry, pleading, gruff, and his father stood there, not doing a thing to stop the progress of things toward the end he knew would occur, or Jake, or his sister, or father, or his mother. Then she was screaming, and hitting, and she hit Jake’s bare knee with something hard, and a welt rose up. His father was horrified, and Jake cried, and called her a kike bitch, and he packed a bag and vowed to leave home.
He rode his bicycle to Norris playground. This was a hot summer day, in a season without much rain. The zoysia grass was a yellow as straw, as brittle as antique glass. And he sat beneath a Norway maple, and watched the waves of heat roll over the black roofs of the bordering houses; keeping on edge, alert. Despite his irrevocable departure, he knew there was unfinished business at home: a basement of scattered old toys, his sister in tears, his mother in bed in her dark room. It was waiting for him regardless of his great need to stay here in Norris Playground, a place where no one cared and no one watched and expectations were as frozen and dry as a glacier. There it was: the sense of the enduring, the thing not perceived but touched, perhaps, with an outstretched hand: it cared not, it had no demands. It simply was; it existed in and around the grass and trees without being the grass and trees.
Jake decided to ride his bike around. He moved in great loops, his house in the sloppy center of the radius he drew, until he was drawn back by the leaden gravity. In the distance he could see his father, looking down the street for him, pacing up and down the sidewalk.
There was force. Someone, even a loved one, could make you do something quite against your will. Jake knew this: he knew it from the marks, bruises, the buried sense within his psyche that he was not really any good. That what his mother said and how she acted, was an accurate reflection of the true state of his soul. They were involved in a struggle that could only end in the victory of one and the defeat of another.
She called Jake. She wanted him to Windex the table, the chairs, the mirrors. He said no. He said no again. Then they fought in the kitchen. She would scream and pull his hair. He pushed and punched her. From the very bottom of his heart he wanted to kill her; this was not emotional hyperbole on his part... to see her dead on the kitchen floor. She stood in the way of every human happiness; her very existence was an affront to the existence of the good. They still struggled with the can of Windex.
“Give it to me, you kike bitch,” he hissed.
“You bastard, when you have a wife your gonna beat her,” and she clamped her mouth down on his arm. But this did not stop him. He pushed her against the refrigerator, and she let out a great wail - halfway between a cry and scream.
He rushed out of the house to the garage and grabbed a shovel. The beat the can of Windex until the seam split, and a geyser of ammonia shot up into the air. And before it fell to the earth, he was already on his bike, long gone.
He sat in the field as the dusky sun set over the trees. Gradually, the streetlights went on, and their hum was hypnotic, soothing, as if a choir were singing a distorted, wordless tune. As the field grew dark, the lights in the windows popped on one by one, like lanterns lit by some hidden switch, some inscrutable mechanism which ruled the world of light and dark.
Jake crouched down in between two hedges, wishing that he could disappear into the soft soil of this tiny field. What kind of field was this? Inconsequential, a mere postage size of land on the grand scheme of the world, yet hovering above it, within it, around it, though it, was a great dynamism. This is IT. Jake mumbled. This…this… This is the place where all things originate and return. It is both the spoke of the wheel and the axis of the top. Spinning out the pulse of light and dark, good and evil, right and wrong; but Jake could not stay. He had to go back to the kitchen with its interminable struggles. Back to the living room and the dull, heavy chair, the soft, plush couch, waiting to trap you, to tie the noose around your neck and crush your windpipe.
His father was in the driveway near the stoop, sitting on an upright lounge chair, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. Jake walked up to him.
“If you put your hands on her again, you’re gonna have to find someplace else to live,” his father droned.
“Bullshit,” Jake spat. “You chocked her last month. You ran after Karry saying you needed to hit someone to ‘get this out of my system.’ Did you beat her? Your own daughter? You always say you’re gonna leave but you don’t have the balls. At least I fight her. At least I have the power to fight her.”
His father’s face grew taut, but did not fundamentally change its expression. He took a puff of his cigarette before beginning again, as if Jake had said nothing.
“You hit her again, find another place to live.”
“I will hit her again,” Jake was emphatic. “I won’t follow her fucking rules.”
His father began to say something, but Jake was already walking away.
They beat each other with mild severity. She used her natural advantages. If he grasped her to push her away, she would latch into this arm, and bite. She would pull his hair, swipe his glasses away. But the days of her physical hegemony were well over. Jake just pushed her, pulled her, dragged her, she screamed and cried, was angry and hurt. Their mutual hatred was always reconciled by Jake’s willingness to retreat. He was small and powerless. Now he had power in his body, and he used it to try and kill her.
There was a lull in the fight. By then she tried to pick up the phone and call the battered woman’s shelter. Jake just ripped the cord out of the wall.
“You think you are a battered woman? You bitch? You're the batterer. You're the abuser.” He made a move to hit her, but instead went out the door and to the garage. He was going to take the car and drive down to the beach. She moved was soundlessly behind him.
“You ain’t taking dat car. Dat is our car. It ain’t yurs…” as she said this, she tried to wrestle the keys from Jake’s hand. He let her have them, and in the process, she lost her balance. He pushed her into the garage and brought the door down and locked it. There was no side entrance or automatic door. She hated enclosed spaces. As he walked away she was strangely quiet. She should be fussing more, that bitch, Jake thought.
As he walked away, tears moved down his cheeks. Their wild emotions had become so mannered, that he could no longer even trust her pain.
Maybe he was a monster. Perhaps he had no hope at all. Out in the field, in the damp chill of the autumn night, he thoughts turned to the glum termination of things. The awful, perhaps inevitable point in depression when no light is seen before the coming of dawn; when the sky is just endlessly dark; when there is no hope of transformation. There was the sinking down into the soil; the transformation of his body to the dirt and detritus of the soil.
And as he walked forward into the night, the field open wide - the expanse was as far as he could see. Around the edges, were fringes of mist that arranged and rearranged in different shapes and forms. And from those images, Jake emerged not as Jake, but as a creature of a finer material. But at the same time, he was very much Jake, very centered in his Jake-ness.
And then a great wind blew, and there was nothing at all but the field and its swaying, rustling grass.
And then a great wind blew, and there was nothing at all but the field and its swaying, rustling grass.