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Jules Jr Michael Jules Jr

Kiki DeLancey

Winner of Boston Review's annual Short Story Contest.

His mother had been the last wife, and that was the only reason he was present at all, to witness any of it. The fifth wife, he believed, though there could have been others. His father could have had others, could have corralled another dozen, convinced that many, made space and expended energy for that many, if given the space of years to wed them. Easily he could have established that many homes, beds, family tables, which process was almost an after-thought to him, an act of minimal moment and less energy. The act of energy, the great swell of vigor and momentous sweep of limitless roaring rising libido was the initial glance, the instant, the actual, complete, and only glance, wherein she, that wife, that new locus of exertion, focus of action, unwitting and even unnecessary reason for the action, was caught, dissected, and recast. What followed would be a downhill glide: all the skirmishes, the skittish approaches, the conversations, the actual touching and cajoling, caressing, whispering, and least of all the ceremonies, the conceptions, the establishment of houses and lands and educations and habitations. He knew, they all knew, that the recasting of this energy, the endless restriking, instant dissecting and dissemination to all parts of his father's self of this person's, this woman's persona could not be restricted to only four, only five women.

Being present at the last, and this admittedly through accident of nature and not any lessening of the furious lashing libidinous ego, he had witnessed enough to understand this implicitly. Not carousal, not strange scenes, dimly understood by his child's brain, with his father the chief participant, the creator, engager, crusher and consumer of some, known to him or not, lesser person. The things he'd witnessed that had irreversibly impressed the fact of nature into him were played out in his own child's and youth's spheres of communion: in their backyard, playing football, himself with the ball and running, and knowing it would come, feeling it coming, and then it would come, and the mass of the big flesh would bear him down, and tackled face into the earth he would bear down on his shoulders the weight, the muscled limitless mass of that flesh, his own undeniable precursor, bearing him down, the open space of grassy light between his horizontal frame and the approaching mother earth covered as knowingly, as much predestined as the indelicate swerve of planet and moon upon their course, and borne down finally, meeting earth at last, soft earth crumbling around the bones of his face, grass tearing and joining with his own tearing skin and the great weight conjoining finally, the weight of the earth below and the great, unmovable weight above joined completely and at last. In that weight, that ponderous, imponderable mesh of humanity to sheer unreasoned and undeniable being, he couldn't help feeling that reach, that grasp, and knowing. It was no more limited to four wives or five wives than it was limited to women, or to simple sex. It was felt by him, this son of the last wife, always, universally, in the hand of force. And not the hand of punishment, or of correction, or short temper, or rude meanness. It was the restless extension of that energy, that reaching, grasping, possession of all breath, all light in its quarter, of in particular all humanity within its ken. And he, the son, being there by chance, by inability to yet escape, would receive this, and suffer actually countless times the expression of that fact, in blows of the big hand about his head, his shoulders, his chest, or if he scrambled out of reach delivered by any tool that would lengthen that reach, bat, brick, or plate. He would run, scrambling, sliding, escaping by any means, incognizant of a reason, confused by fear and pain, squeezing through any gap in furniture, any space under some faceless other's arm, through the blur of light and dark that would always flicker ahead of him, scrambling for the far reaches, the retched horizon, beyond which that hand couldn't extend, or, at least, wouldn't extend. He could never make it that far, but would stop, breathless-not breathing hard but without breath, without motivating spirit-fear having again drawn it from his throat, and stopped him against the back wall of the garage, no further, stunned and caught against the heated dark bricks, slid painfully and terribly down their edges into the fecund mass of rotting earth plant matter paper and metal bits strewn shamefully on the black ground.

His own mother he knew had recognized, encountered at least as much as he, the same extending reach, perhaps in ways more enormous and paralyzing than he had himself. For God's sake, he could say to himself, it attracted her in the first place, for crying out loud. It drew her to him. Not entirely stupid herself, not powerless, her own desperately intense person seen visibly in the constant upward springing of her hair, always tighter, always denser, until when he last saw her on her thirty-second birthday it was a virtual threatening spire, menacing, more and more intense, redder coarser and denser, intenser, her eyes burnishing bluer and bluer through her thirty-second birthday until they reached the inevitable intensity of lava, like the burn of silver on video, so that when her face moved or her glance shifted, her eyes followed later, looking here yet still burning back there, a brilliant smear across multiple frames of the image. And the greater grew her own intensity, her own insanity, the less restrained her grasp of this man, his father. He, the son, would come through the kitchen into the coat hall and find husband and wife, she a fire crawling cross his father's flesh, clawing him rather, with methodical savagery tearing his shirt, rending it into strips down each side, front and back, down the sleeves, and gripping his forearm in her two fists smash his watch against the door jamb, and his father standing mesmerized, transfixed for the duration, not flinching at the bruising, his eyes open but almost glazed and his mouth partly open, light sweat on his forehead. He wasn't above hitting women, of course would routinely hit them to gain subservience or pleasure or expression of his position in the realm, but he wouldn't hit her now, would submit dumbly and in seeming amazement to these more frequently occurring and uninspired onslaughts until she would finally cross some line, some hidden line, and he would almost without motion and as afterthought to walking fling her down and out.

Still as slavish as she was herself before this light, she would say, "What would any other woman see in him? You tell me, Jules"-which was not his name, of course, being named obviously junior, Michael junior, but the name she conferred, pronounced to irritate his father, to belittle his father's progeny to his father's face.

What they did see became apparent to him when he was almost grown, nineteen, and working at the humble independence of nineteen. He was sweeping a restaurant floor when they came in. Not his mother, by then incarcerated and her marriage made eternal, but his father and a woman, walking down the bare aisle between tables with her arm around his shoulders, stamping her feet, swinging so at each step her skirt would snap against the bare backs of her legs, to the middle table in a crowded row of tables, his father staring blankly and the woman continually grinning, sidling closer, grinning endlessly with her grinding, wet teeth. She was utterly proud, and utterly happy, and when she recognized him then, hiding behind the broom handle in mortifaction, his illusory satisfaction dissolved, she began calling from across the room. "Come here," she shouted, spitting a little, even whistling, and laughing. "Jules, right? Come here." His father's eyes flickered, his big head resting against the wall, big body motionless and his own flesh the imponderable weight that bore it down; still sprawling, his big meaty legs across both aisles, but his eyes flickering. The woman bit her lip in joy. "Jules," she called, "Jules." Her head fell back as she laughed, her long earrings in her tangled hair and his father, laughing softly and without looking, stroking her round leg. The son stood still in the middle of the floor, shame and guilt overcome by this puzzle, in this woman mystery. Her arm draped over the big shoulder, pushing closer to him at all times, heady with his scent, grinning, blinking, preening, crossing and uncrossing her legs. Her eyes flitted under their lids, face to face, specter to specter: to be, to speak, to stroke his flesh not for the palpability of it but for the power of it, her hand and no other's, and pulling in, on the down stroke, to herself what she could, what energy he gave off, what power her flesh could so capture. And his father, bored, was beyond this game already, long beyond, over as soon as it had become. Pensively slouching through his coffee, his cold pop, constantly glancing, but without direction, at the faces around him, without passion; searching for something ahead, something unknown, but not actively searching, with the brutal reach that was as a caress. And his son watched him, beyond embarrassment, seeing that nineteen years made no difference, thirty years made no difference, one hundred years made no difference, one thousand years made no difference.

Originally published in the December 1996/ January 1997 issue of Boston Review



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