Page 54 - WTP VOl. IX #1
P. 54

The God of Trout (continued from preceding page)
 masking her disappointment. She fussed over tasks that didn’t need to be done. She put out a board game and set out bowls of chips and cookies. She suggested walks and drives around the lake. She offered food. At night, she insisted they roast hot dogs over a fire, which they did for an agonizing hour. “It’s been a wonderful trip so far. Hasn’t it boys?” she said.
That night, Jack lay awake in the tent. Beside him, Marcia snored softly. Shaid had chosen to sleep in the backseat of the car—whether from his childhood fear of sleeping out of doors or his more recent distaste for getting dirty, Jack didn’t know. The sounds of the forest were eerily familiar, as if it hadn’t been a life- time ago that Jack last camped here.
He stared at the dark. He regretted everything. Leaving work, coming on vacation with his fam-
ily, trying to make friends with a son he no longer knew. A sour feeling filled his gut, and he tried
to throw the thought away, to refuse it, as he had before, too many times. It was as if the mountain
air had blown all the falseness out of him. He could not deny it: he disliked his own son. He’d had this feeling toward him for so long that he couldn’t remember the source of it and had no idea when it started. Oddly, it seemed as if no time had passed at all since those first couple years, when he’d loved Shaid so absolutely, with such clarity and sureness. It seemed impossible that such a love could have curdled the way it had. He struggled to remember what had made his feelings turn, but the memory
of that early love overwhelmed him with grief.
He disliked Shaid, and he also disliked how Marcia had changed after Shaid was born. She had always been a high-strung woman, too eager to please, but with Shaid, that eagerness had taken a strange, un- pleasant turn. When Shaid was an infant, she never put him down, never took her eyes off him. Later, she stubbornly refused to discipline him, refused to see the selfishness and insolence that grew from a small kernel when he was a toddler until it seemed
to be all there was of him. She had baked Shaid enough brownies to make him the school fat boy, until Jack got their family doctor to talk to her. She agonized endless hours at birthdays and Christmas over which brand of skates or running shoes would please him the most. She searched stores to find the exact CD or game he had asked for. She cleaned his room and corrected his homework. She stood up for him against teachers, counselors, playmates. His own father.
Shaid always wanted things. Toys, musical instru- ments, computers. Marcia said it was natural for
a kid to want everything he saw or heard about, everything his friends had, but his wanting seemed like more than that to Jack. He seemed to want things simply to make his mother get them, to make her jump, to see how far he could push her. He lied, too. If the truth didn’t get him what he wanted, he would say whatever it took. He always had a lie to cover for anything he did wrong: He knew his mother would believe him. Marcia never got angry, and when Jack did, she turned on him, made him out to be the villain, accused him of not even trusting his own son.
He’d hoped Marcia would straighten out as Shaid got older, but she only got more desperate to please him, and Shaid grew more demanding. In fifth grade, he decided he wanted a pet fox. A friend’s father who worked for the forestry service gave a talk about fox- es at school, and that got Shaid started. He wouldn’t stop pleading. Jack was dead set against it. Foxes were wild animals, he said. They didn’t make good pets, and it was cruel to keep them in cages. He said it was a ridiculous idea. What the hell would they do with the thing? But Shaid kept on. Marcia got furious with Jack about it. “Can’t you tell how important this is to him? He has this hurt sound whenever he talks about it.” Jack thought he had the sound of a child who knew he would eventually win.
And he did. Jack arrived home one day after work and found Shaid with a beautiful immature red fox Marcia had purchased from a place outside of town that raised them for fur. They’d put a cage in Shaid’s room—hardly big enough for the animal then, let alone when it matured. Shaid didn’t seem happy. He seemed triumphant.
The inevitable happened. Shaid doted over the ani- mal for a few days, then moved on to other interests. He stopped feeding it, left it without water in a filthy cage, even after Marcia reminded him, scolding in her teasing way. Jack found the animal suffering in its cramped pen, and exploded. “What did I tell you? I said you’d lose interest in that thing.” That night,

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