“’Jocasta’ is such a pretentious name,” said her friend, Belle. “It’s as though your mother were looking for Oedipus.”
“At least it’s not French. No one can ever spell French names. And only educated people will think Jocasta is anything but Italian.”
“You could call yourself “Jo.”
“Sounds like a man’s name.”
Belle reflected on this, her mouth full of the croissants they were washing down with coffee at the kitchen table. Pretty good for store-bought. She was a woman who enjoyed the moment.
Jocasta had thought about these issues for a long time. “Well, my mother WAS looking for a king or some other well-heeled bigshot because she never had any money nor enough status and she was convinced that the key to comfort and the purpose of marriage was economic. She used to say, “It’s as easy to fall in love with a rich man as a poor man.” Jocasta herself had expected her father to be a success, but. . . well . . .
Belle laughed. “How many rich men do you even know?” Jocasta had to laugh at that, too, but her laugh had a bitter edge.
“My mother married a soldier. They never make any money unless they’re college-educated or somehow become noncommissioned officers without being killed. But it was romantic, wartime. She was looking for someone like Sean Bean and all the roles he played. Her husband was a fantasy. A ‘legend’ like his TV series with that name. But then he just vanished, like turning off the program.”
Belle persisted. “But then what about your own husband? The violence and the other women? It makes for a good movie plot, but what about real life? I just wouldn’t stand for it, myself.”
Tactfully, Jocasta didn’t share her opinion of Belle’s husband. At least her husband was definitely a man.
The Twerp was listening from the next room, pretending to read, sprawled on the dining room daybed that was his bedroom. If the house had had a basement, like other people’s houses, he would have moved down there, but this house had no foundation nor even a second bedroom. No escape. Not even a garage.
His constant reading was a search for heroes and clues, especially the ones about faithfulness and power. He was trying to figure out how normal families worked, but what was a normal family like anyway? It seemed to take money and all money come from the primary male. That’s the way the whole culture was arranged. Even animals. Why did his family never have enough money?
His father’s sex thing bothered him more than the drinking, though that seemed to be the source of the violence — booze and frustration. He felt the other women were an insult to his mother but he also hated her pretensions and airs which were meant to be upper class but only came off as a mockery of some Masterpiece Theatre show. He tended to blame her. In youthful photos she was beautiful and soft, but now she had gained weight and coarsened without being clever or funny. She had “captured” only one man, his father, in hopes his high energy and masculinity would pay off.
By now she was so emotionally entwined with him, so physically imprinted and enchanted by his aura — the same one that worked so well with other women — that even when it got so bad that she had to leave for a while, she couldn’t help but come back. And he, likewise, was never happy and sometimes went into a rage strong enough to propel him off on one of his exploratory searches for some remnant of yesterday when a man could be a man, responsible only for himself. But then, strangely, he always came back home.
The Twerp, so long as he was young and hapless, tried to fix things between them but that was a mistake. If he tried to intervene in violent moments the two of them would ally against him, occasionally putting him in the hospital. Each one blamed him for the other parent’s faults and tried to pit him against the other. Once or twice he tried to pull in outside help, but they didn’t want to get involved, leaving him only with a conviction of betrayal and cynicism. He thought then that this was the reason for the family’s secrecy. Not until he was adult did he understand that it was characteristic of generations of alcoholism and violence, probably going back to the Irish Famine. He had thought his family was the only one like that, fatally flawed.
He couldn’t avoid being a pawn in their games. His mother tried to make him into a little husband, but at least she didn’t pull him into her bed. She wasn’t after sex, but rather economic potency and a man with the willingness to provide. She portrayed herself as helpless, a victim who could not make it without a man’s loyalty. She was looking forward to the day when her son could get a proper job and bring his checks home to put under the sugar bowl. She also wanted control of him emotionally, so that he was NOT his father’s ally, would grow to hate and fear his father. Shouldn’t hard have been hard.
His father physically captured the Twerp, literally throwing him into the pickup with or without warning, and hauling him off to some distant camp for fishermen and hunters, a place no women knew about. He didn’t bother to accommodate the kid, but if other men were around — esp. native men — they would take care of him. Save him some food, offer him a warmer jacket, even darn his socks. They didn’t worry about seeming female.
As he grew older, he learned to avoid the whinging, posturing, grasping girls who figured out he was making money already. He looked for guys like himself. He was no longer a twerp. The job he had found was in a casino, supposedly permitted because the land had been designated a part of the rez not far away. He was only underage for a couple of years.
Now the boy saw the world in terms of an enormous gamble, sometimes governed by chance and larger forces, but also possible to control by skill and inner discipline. He developed a taste for glamour and luxury, something like his mother’s, but not very refined. Gaudy.
As he grew, he graduated from small errand-type jobs to responsible management because he had a knack for judging when men were turning dangerous and knew strategies for deflecting them. In the small towns around there, most people seeking excitement would come into the casino now and then. Once in a while his mother’s friend Belle would show up with one or two other women — overdressed, hysterical with laughter, generally just playing the slots and drinking a little too much. She saw him but didn’t tell his mother.
The owner/manager of the casino liked to sit down for a good meal at the end of the day. It was smarter to talk to this kid than some woman who would twist things. Anyway, this was a good kid and soaked up the advice he gave him. They didn’t drink, because the night deposit had to be prepared, but there was a lot of philosophy. Mainly, the manager said, “You’ve gotta act on your own behalf. If things aren’t good, change ’em!”
Then one day his father showed up, looking like Sean Bean in one of his snakeskin “legend” roles, and escorting a pretty young girl who caught sight of the Twerp now called Eddie. To her eye, he was a younger version of his father. When his father left momentarily, telling the girl he had to make a phone call, she made her move on Eddie. He still wasn’t very interested in sex, esp. with women, and was beginning to wonder what that meant, so she had to work hard. Somehow her braless breast fell out of her silk shirt. Then a little later, the ankle-strap on her high-heeled sandal had to be adjusted, and when she bent over her short skirt revealed all.
Just then Eddie’s dad came back from what had not been a phone call but a quick hit. He flipped out and headed for Eddie but the casino bouncer stepped in and put him in a choke hold. The bouncer wasn’t very skillful. Eddie’s father died. The management fired the man — who was only big and unafraid — lots of replacements around there. Then the management paid off Eddie — salary due, plus enough money to travel a long way. To them the girl never existed and never would.
“Take me with you, Ed,” begged his mother. “You’re my son. Protect me.” He was packing his dad’s old pickup with the camper on the back. By now he had read a lot of books. He understood what was going on.
“No,” he said. He never returned.