Excerpts from Patricide: A Memoir

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Forty-five minutes later he was standing in front of the Victorian where the bash would soon begin, splattering kerosene over the hedge that lined its yard. By now he had all of the beer and one of the quarts of bourbon in his gut, and more back at the house, just a block away. He had a knife in his pocket, a head full of fuck, and this much shy of nothing left to lose.

He flicked his lighter. Immediately a flame appeared, and then again, with a great swelling rush, the sidewalk and hedge turned to fire. Until the instant before he hadn't known what to expect. Now he understood that things could never have been different. It was as though he'd been under a spell, cast not by the fire but by the fire that longed to be.

Dusk hadn't fallen, but already packs of costumed kiddies had taken to the streets. As if from hidden pods, a duo manifested across the way, a clutch down the block, a gaggle more on the porch three homes down - bunny rabbits, super heroes, angels, and clowns, the whole prancing, heartwarming bit. But amazingly, not one of these sprites had seemed to notice him or his fire. The terrible dreamlike quality of each moment was more than he could bear. The absence of guilt - the absence of fear - the purity of satisfaction - the sense of inviolate power. It was simultaneously thrilling and horrific, all too much and all too little. Once again he took stock, and once again saw what he'd seen: mommies and daddies and kiddies in costumes, innocence on the rampage, innocence prancing through its own naivete. And then he reached his house, and then the sirens began, two at first, then three and four, all of them rushing toward the spiraling plumes of smoke . . .

After drinking more booze than he'd ever drunk in a spell - he was well into the second quart now - he made his way to the lot across the street from the party, where, ironically, a house had once burned down. A few feet away from the empty pool, a split-rail fence had been swallowed by a copse of honeysuckle, and it was behind this that he decided to wait with his bottle.

The party swelled as he glared through the vines, people gathering from tiny, random groups into larger sets of groups loosely connected, until soon both the house and yard were full. Now and then the crowd spontaneously erupted, but the music played on, U2, Pavement, KC and the Sunshine Band, James Brown, James Brown, goddamned James Brown. Those southern nights were entities in themselves, it seemed, colossal spirits, changed with every sun, and yet somehow always the same. They pressed against you, those nights, squeezed and tore and licked at you even as they beckoned you away in whispers, just out there, into some shadow at the limits of your vision. The land smelled of memory, then, of the vastness of space, and of things primordial. The perfume of honeysuckle and jasmine mingled with the stench of moss and mud - endless entropy, endless life, the fern on its putrid stump. Birdcall and catcall fused with the buzz of cricket and cicada. Moths swirled in beams of flashlight, lamplight, and streetlight, and geckos appeared on ceilings like petrified ghosts. Centipedes and millipedes, spiders of every sort, wherever you looked, they were there.

He sat on his slimy block, lapsing in and out of focus, waiting for the moment she stepped from the dark in the arms of another man, of some pompous twerp, more likely, and he was authorized to make Iago's work look like something out of Dr. Suess. But that didn't happen, even after he'd willed it. His thoughts wandered, his brain hummed, he fell prey to evil dreams. He saw himself dead in a field, clutching pages torn from a Bible, his eyes crawling with maggots and flies. He saw himself head to toe with sores, sprawled on the walk of some crowded avenue, a can before him and a note round his neck that read, simply, PLEASE? He saw himself in a desperate motel, searching for meaning in a stain beneath the window. So be it, he thought, and took another pull. If his wife wouldn't come to him, he would go to her.
He gazed into Burney McCarthy's face, and knew he'd known Burney McCarthy forever. Burney McCarthy had eyes bluer than any eyes he had ever seen, bluer than X's eyes, bluer than the eyes of the man who played Butch Cassidy, and that was super blue. Until today, he had always thought Burney McCarthy had blond hair, like anybody's blond, take your pick. But now he saw he was wrong. Burney McCarthy's hair was a hologram of goodness - as yellow as straw, as orange as egg yolk, as gold as rings, as red as his red felt pen. The way Burney McCarthy's hair hung down over his, Burney McCarthy's, eyes, Burney McCarthy could have been the son of an elf king, Elrond or Celeborn, or even Feanor far in the West.

He'd definitely been wrong about Burney McCarthy. Burney McCarthy had secret powers even Burney McCarthy knew nothing of. The adults Burney McCarthy lived with, Burney McCarthy's nasty stepdad and cigarette-huffing mom, were a couple of fakes, total jell heads that had found Burney McCarthy under a bench and brought home to heat their TV dinners and do their chores and yell at when they got bored. They had no idea what sort of ultra-human being whose company they'd been graced to share. One day Burney McCarthy would step from his room, and Burney McCarthy wouldn't be wearing the same pants as last week with a shirt from his older brother who lived in Livermore and his toes poking out of his smelly, putrid socks. Burney McCarthy would be wielding a sword and gird with a coat of mithril forged by the sons of Telchar of Nogrod, his flaxen locks flowing down the cloak woven for him eons past by the ladies of Galadriel. At the moment Burney McCarthy's fake stepdad and mom understood the depth of their delusion, when the anguish of their blindness plunged like daggers into their hearts, Burney McCarthy would begin to dissolve, particle by tiny particle, returning as had been foretold - though little did they know, puny mortals - to assume his, Burney McCarthy's, rightful place among his people in their time of need. Burney McCarthy's fake stepdad and mom would cry out for mercy as they knelt to wrap their arms about their charge, but it would be too late, in their arms they'd hold nothing but a memory, false, and Burney McCarthy would be gone forever, the last of Burney McCarthy's smile burning in their eyes like an ancient flame. No one knew Burney McCarthy, no one had praised Burney McCarthy's gifts, none had divined Burney McCarthy's golden fate.

And thinking this, he knew at once how amazing the world was, how far past beauty the world truly was if only you opened your eyes. And he knew at once what his father must have known, as well, why his father couldn't live without his precious weed. He too felt fantastic now. He'd seen behind the veil, and what he saw was so much more than good.
Suicidal, apt to crumple on a dime into fits of weeping and ranting, I was put on a plane and shipped out to my father's in Dustbowl Central with the promise that nothing was expected, my father had a house to himself, I could do what I needed to get on my feet. Maybe I'd take a job when I felt ready, though who the hell cared, my father said, really, we'd be together, it would all be fine, though that didn't mean I should expect too much, my father said, what with my father himself out of work. Which wasn't to say it wouldn't be fine - it would definitely all be fine. We would sort it out together, my father said, no way did I have to do what I had said I was going to do, all I needed was to come on out. It would all be fine, my father said - I promise - whatever I needed was fine.

In my father's house of gloom, I stared into space for the days it took to find a piece of my old self. Then I became a freak, running twelve miles a pop and busting calisthenics. And suddenly I was reading again, suddenly I was driving through the country to marvel at life in the fields of rye, all of it so beautiful and extreme. I wrote sentimental letters to my girlfriend Anna. I wrote a crappy story.

Between my depression and my guilt, taking from my father in the face of his own bad luck - mortgage in arrears, sharks at his door - I ate a frozen burrito a day with a piece or two of broccoli. One morning I spied a tub of cream in the fridge, and my mouth began to water. But just as I'd got the tub on the counter and the cream on the spoon, ready to smear onto my burrito, my father appeared at my side.

"Put it back!" he snapped.


"We're saving that for a special occasion."

I gave my father the double take. My father was serious, his face a stupid stone.

"You mean for the gala we're having Saturday night?" My father continued to stare. "It's a dollop of sour cream, dad."

"I don't care what it is," my father said with the stentorian Voice he was so adept at conjuring times like these. "When you're in my house, you'll live by my rules."

"You have got to be kidding."

"Next time, make sure you ask first."

How it happened I couldn't say, but decades vanished, then, and I was reduced to a squirming kid of seven. "But whyyyyy?" I squealed.

"Because I said so," my father said, "that's why."

After that incident, I would have been stunned to see my father barbecue a hot dog, but a few days later he announced our dinner date that night with Suzie, the woman he'd somehow taken as a girlfriend. Compared to my mother, if only by appearances, Suzie was a turd on a satin sheet. She had a mannish face and brittle hair. She wore acid-washed Wranglers and shiny Reeboks with floral blouses and gold necklaces and rings snatched up at Walmart and Sam's and Sears. Add to these her snide arrogance, her snorting guffaws and filthy mouth - "You're gettin so skinny, boy," she said to me one day, "you're gonna fall through yer asshole and choke yerself!" - and you were face to face with the best of the worst, as in the best-lack-all-conviction kind of worst. My father was actually getting naked with this cretin. My father was actually sticking his penis in this cretin while she grunted her filthy imperatives. And the more I saw my father curtsy before Suzie like a dolt in two left shoes, and the more I caught my father jumping at her orders and laughing at her jokes, the harder it was to look him in the eye.

We were greeted at the restaurant by a waitress in polyester slacks and suspenders with jokey buttons. There were plastic flamingos and bogus plants. There were tuck-and-roll banquettes. Roy Orbison-cum-Muzak sealed the mood, and stale air. As the waitress ticked off the day's "specials," my father whispered in my ear.

"Nothing fancy," he said. "Got it?" I looked at my father.

"Chicken or pasta," he hissed.

Suzie devoured a platter of surf and turf, then sucked her teeth and told a joke about dead babies and pitchforks. My father used his maxed-out card to pay the bill.