(for Part I scroll to the previous post)
Finally, Gerald said, holding Jeff’s eyes with his own, “Jeffery, what’s going on? The girls are riled up and you don’t look so good either.”
Jeffery turned and walked back towards the cattle, saying, “Sun’s coming up, Dad,” as if that would explain things.
Gerald followed Jeffery to a side door that looked out over a side pasture the cattle often grazed in.
“I saw somethin’ this morning, Dad. I saw myself die.”
“What?” Gerald stepped around Jeff so he could see his face. He grabbed Jeff by the shoulders and shook him a little. “Good God, Jeff. You’re not right.”
“I’m as right as I could ever be! Dad, it was so clear to me! It’s all figured out!” Jeff was unconsciously clutching at the threadbare button placket of his plaid shirt, which, Gerald now saw, was almost worn thin in the front.
“What’s all figured out? Jeff, please. I don’t understand you.”
Jeff turned and threw out a hand towards the cattle. His eyes were still wide, showing whites threaded with red. They seemed to be protruding slightly, as if under pressure from inside. “All these cows know what I’m talking about! Don’t you, ladies? Yes, you do!”
The projection of Jeff’s strange energy in their direction made the cows uneasy and again, they threw their weight against the sides of the milking stalls.
“Jeff, listen to me. Listen,” he held onto Jeff’s arms, and spoke directly to his face, which was still turned away. “Where is Gunter?”
Jeff stopped and looked at his father and then around at the floor, as if the boy were a contact lens that might have fallen from his eye. “He was here,” Jeff said. “Right here! He was here, kicking the straw up. We were kicking it up together!”
When Jeff became distracted by the thought of kicking the straw, his feet unconsciously lifting with the memory, Gerald held his wrists and spoke again directly to his face. “Jeff, this is important. Where is Gunter now?”
“Here! He was here! Just here! Gunter!” Jeff began shouting. Gerald let him go, and he ran around the barn, shouting his son’s name and eventually leaping in long strides across the concrete like a ballerina.
Gerald shouted, “Jeff, please, just stay here. Stay put. I’m going to get your mother. All right?”
Gerald knew it would not be all right. He had no idea what to do, but he needed Lena’s help to subdue him. He began calling for her from the barn door.
When Lena came out of the chicken house, Gerald couldn’t read the look on her face, but there was something funny about it. “Do you know,” she said, “that not one of these chickens laid eggs?”
“Leave that,” said Gerald irritably. “There’s something wrong with Jeff. You have to help me get him settled. He’s gone nuts.”
In the barn, Jeff was lying unconscious on the concrete. He was clammy. Lena lifted his eyelids and looked at his pupils. “Well,” she said solemnly, “I do think he just passed out, and I don’t think he hit his head, thank goodness. But I believe he’s got a fever.”
After they loaded him into a wheelbarrow, got him to the house, and settled under a blanket on the living room rug, Lena called Daphne, who, as she suspected, was not home, or at least wasn’t answering. Lena put the phone down, angrily. “I bet that hussy is in town somewhere, drinking her whiskey sours and playing video poker. Of all the times not to be home!” Lena hissed.
After checking the barn for a quarter of an hour, Gerald found Gunter crouched in one of the milking stalls, absently petting the leg of one of the younger cows, which had licked the boy’s hair into frothy red-gold swirls. Gunter would not speak. When he looked into Gerald’s eyes, tears fell from his own, effortlessly, as if a valve had been tripped. His face did not contort with anguish. He did not sniff. He cried freely, even as Gerald picked him up and carried him into the farmhouse.
“Maybe,” said Lena, “we better call a doctor.”
“If Jeff starts acting up again,” said Gerald, “they’ll commit him.”
Lena considered this and nodded.
By 9:30, the sun was bright white, piercing in its brilliance. Lena drew the curtains and put cold compresses on Jeff’s forehead when he began to mutter and turn his head against the pillow she’d put underneath it. She turned to Gerald, who was sitting and stroking Gunter’s now stiff, strawberry-blonde hair, and said, “Why don’t you go around Jeff’s house and see if Daphne’s actually home.”
* * * *
When Gerald got to the double-wide, it was clear no one was there. The grass had already begun to grow rapidly and was half an inch away from being rangy. Trash bags lined the side of the house and their contents spilled into the yard. Gerald began to feel a strange sensation come over him, a lightheaded nausea. He unlocked the front door and inside was assaulted by flies, which either buzzed against the windows or made a break for the open door. When he got inside, he saw movement. “Daphne?” he said, waiting for his eyes to adjust. He nose pinched at the smell of something foul, something sweet and cloying.
“No, Mr. Whitley. Daphne’s been gone for awhile now. I’m surprised your son hasn’t told you, but I suppose, under the circumstances, it’s to be expected.”
“Who’s there?” shouted Gerald, still unable to see detail in the dim interior light.
“You’re looking too high, Mr. Whitley. Down here.”
Gerald swatted away flies that buzzed around his eyes and saw, standing a yard from him, a man approximately three and a half feet high, perhaps slightly taller. Had he been standing next to Gerald, he would have come up to Gerald's belt buckle. The little man flicked open a Zippo lighter, a bluish flame jumped upward, and Gerald could suddenly see him very clearly. He was wearing a pair of pristine white slacks, neatly creased and cuffed, and a smart black jacket regularly lined with white pinstripes. Beneath this was a black velveteen vest with silver buttons. A matching watch chain spread across his abdomen. Issuing from the buttonhole in his lapel was a white carnation.
“What the hell is this?” said Gerald, his mouth open. “Why are you in my son’s house?”
“Well, I’m here to collect on a debt.”
“A debt?” Gerald looked at the man, whom he did not take seriously. “What the hell kind of debt?”
The little figure closed his Zippo and slid it audibly back into his pocket where there must also have been change. “Well now, it’s not so hard to believe Daphne was throwing away your son’s money in big handfuls, is it?”
“Debt,” Gerald said absently, looking at a floor he couldn’t see very clearly. “But how do you know Daphne’s gone?”
“Look around you, Mr. Whitley. It seems pretty clear to me a woman couldn’t live in this mess. Even Daphne had standards. Stinks, doesn’t it?”
“And now your son’s cracked up, Gerry. I’d say that’s a problem for everyone.”
more to come....