Jacob at the Doorstep (Late May 2019)
Jacob left the campground east of Santa Fe around noon. He’d been sober a day but had trouble sleeping the night before. He drove nearly non-stop for the next 36 hours, stopping for gas and brief naps. In Oklahoma, the transition from arid to humid triggered irritation in him. Glen Campbell’s “By the Time I get to Phoenix” was stuck in his head. For the rest of the drive, he distracted himself by listening to and singing old, often sentimental songs: Carpenters, Neil Diamond, Burt Bacharach, Carole King. When the CD came to Jim Croce’s “Operator,” Jacob hit the repeat button. The part he knew by heart was:
Operator, O could ya help me place this call?
‘Cause I can’t read the number that you just gave me
There’s something in my eyes
You know it happens every time
I think about a love that I thought would save me
When he exited I-79 for Smoke Valley, it was dark—around midnight. He could feel his anxiety coursing through him as entered the edge of home. He pulled into a Shell station next to Uncle Charlie’s Pizza, an old haunt. As he walked to the beer cooler, he wondered if he’d run into anyone from the past. Not tonight.
Five minutes later, Jacob turned onto Price Mill and then took a quick right into Sanctuary Ridge. He paused at the welcome sign he and his father repaired nearly fifty years earlier. The paint and the posts appeared to be well-maintained.
He parked the truck and leveled Milago in a mature walnut grove. Though he’d had his new phone for several days, he still hadn’t called his father. Of course, if he really wanted to, he could’ve called on a payphone weeks ago—he knew the number. But he never really committed himself to his journey.
After taking Milagro off the hitch, he decided to have a look around the place under cover of darkness before facing his father in the morning. He pulled a can of Coors Light out of the truck cab and began to walk up the steep gravel drive. It was a moonless and cloudy night. Cicadas were making a racket. Turning at the bend by his old house, he looked up to the sprawling habitation on the ridge. All the lights were off. As he looked away to sip his beer, a lamp came on in the kitchen.
When he reached the top of the driveway, he noticed a Jeep with Washington tags parked by the house. He tossed his empty can by the door next to the garage and walked up the brick stairs. When he reached the top, he peered into the foyer window. Dark. Moving to the front door, he heard a sound in the bushes behind him. Suddenly he felt his hair being jerked back and was wrestled to the ground, pinned face down. His wrists were zip-tied, then his ankles. From the darkness, a woman’s voice he recognized but did not expect demanded, “Who the hell are you?”
“It’s Jacob, for Christ’s sake.”
“Jacob?” Rebecca asked, her appearance still veiled by her black hoodie. She turned him over on his back. “You’re an asshole! Why didn’t you call?” Taking off her gloves, she looked into his eyes and slapped his face. “That’s for creeping around your father’s house like some thief!”
He tightened his face. “I’m sorry, dammit.”
She slapped him again. “And that’s for leaving me high and dry!”
“Ow!” he yelped and moved his face to the side where his skull cap had fallen off. “You left me! And what are you doing here? You look like some damn ninja warrior! Cut me loose, please!”
“Do you have good intentions here?” she asked.
“I sure as hell don’t intend to harm you.”
Rebecca pulled out a small flashlight and cut Jacob’s bonds, and sat across him on the brick porch where she had subdued him. They both had jacked-up heart rates. She took off her hoodie, revealing a light gray police department tee shirt. Then she removed the Pittsburg Pirates ball cap that held her hair back, shaking her head and guiding her hair over her shoulders. “It’s good to see you, Jake. I’d almost given up on you.”
“How ya been?” he asked, still panting a bit and rubbing the crown of his head where his tail had been so forcefully pulled. He quickly put his skullcap back on.
“It’s a long story, but good.”
“I got time. Will you come down and see my rig?”
“I really should check on your father first.”
After a few minutes, Rebecca came back out. Jacob was leaning against the now illuminated lamppost at the top of the steps to the driveway. He limped toward her, back into the shadows. His hip had taken a thrashing in Rebecca’s takedown.
“Let me help you,” she said, extending her hand.
He wrapped his arm around her firm bicep, and they walked down to the Airstream.
Jacob took out his phone when they came near, turned on the flashlight app, and pointed it at the calligraphy by the door. “Milagro,” he said. That’s what seeing you is, a miracle. Welcome to my abode. Come on in.”
They stepped in and stood for a few minutes; then, he offered her a beer.
“I’ve got time for one,” she answered.
They sat at the kitchen table across from each other. Rebecca noticed the “fragments” cedar chest was on the bench seat to Jacob but choose to ignore it.
“Did you become a Muslim?” Rebecca asked.
“No. Why do you ask?”
“The hat thing.”
“It’s a skullcap—an embarrassing but long story. I’d need more beer to tell it.”
She asked what he’d been doing all these years. He told her about some of his wanderings as a photographer, some of his writing assignments, but not his current gig in Yosemite Valley. He reached into his cedar chest and pulled out the picture of her from 1985 in Denver, bent by Carrie’s anger.
“Oh my God. That was just before I was pregnant with Sarah.”
“You’re even more beautiful now. You’ve grown your hair back.”
“Thanks, Jake. Honestly, I’m not so sure about your hippie look. Sorry if I pulled too hard on that ponytail. Anyway, I better get back up the house and make sure your father’s all right.”
They each stood. He gestured and followed her to the door. She turned the knob and looked back at him to say goodnight. He moved his face close to hers. For a second, she hesitated, then their lips touched. He gently pulled her back inside, and they sat on the edge of the bed and kissed.
Like Jacob, Becca was lonely. She was not alienated from family like he was but lonely in the burdens she bore in her care for others. It kept her past at bay. He was mesmerized by her visual glory—her flowing hair and fit body, the bronze of her skin.
Rebecca pulled away and said, “This is too fast. I like it, but let’s slow down a bit.” She stood up. “Good night, Jake. I’m glad you’re back. We can talk more in the morning before you see your father.”
Jacob took her responsiveness as some sort of approval, a validation that he was lovable. He dreamed of them together again, healing—a restoration of the years the locusts had eaten.
The next morning, before it was light, Jacob was awakened by a knock at his door. He slowly got out of bed. Another knock. “It’s me. Are you awake?”
“Yup. I’m coming.” Shirtless and in boxers, he limped to the door and opened it. Rebecca, her hair pulled back tight and wearing a dark gray business suit, stood looking up at him. Her Jeep was idling in the driveway, the headlights shining onto Jacob’s face.
“Good morning,” Rebecca said in a warm tone. “Do you sleep in that, ‘skullcap’?”
“Good morning. Uh, sometimes.”
“I can’t wait to hear the story. I’m heading to work… over at St. Andrew’s Village. Your dad’s still sleeping. The hospice nurse will be there in a few minutes. Your uncle Homer’s there too. Jake, we’ve got a lot to talk through before we go down this road. If we do go down this road. I’ve had some dark years.”
“OK. I agree. Slow.”
“I’ll be back the day after tomorrow. Listen to your dad, OK? Be patient with him.”
“Yes, for sure.”
As she drove to St Andrew’s, Rebecca reproached herself. She hated that she allowed herself to be needy and fall for romantic salvation. She admitted that it felt good having the power to excite him. But he knows nothing of my pain or who I am now. He just wanted a roll in the hay. She regretted walking away from Jacob that night ten years ago but was also determined not to depend on a man again. She lamented the fact they had not talked at all about Jacob and his father or his cancer. They had not spoken of the last ten years.
As he drank his coffee at the table after the sun came up, Jacob saw through the Airstream window that a large branch had recently fallen near the driveway. Realizing he needed a walking stick, he carefully ambled out and sawed off a somewhat straight twig with his ten-inch Bowie knife—the kind with saw teeth along the rim and a cherry veneer handle.
He sat outside in one of his camp chairs and began to shave off the bark. When he’d almost finished carving a budding blossom into the top of the stick, his phone buzzed. He put it on speaker so he could move around and test the stick’s ability.
“Scarlett,” he said and walked with the stick that he now imagined as a staff. “Aaron’s rod,” as Papaw used to say.
“What’s up, bro? I guess you received my generous loan.”
“Yes, thank you. I’m at the Ridge. Got in last night. Becca’s back in town. Apparently, she’s close to dad these days. She stayed at the house last night. Not like, in his room, but as a caregiver.”
“That bitch wants his money.”
“She’s a good person. She’s never cared about money.”
“Well, now she’s old and alone like the rest of us. You asked me a few weeks ago why I hate Dad. Well, I’ll tell you why. He cut me out of his will because of my ‘extreme’ religious and political opinions and fired me just as I was about to transition to CEO. We had a big blow-up. Sure, he tried to apologize last week—yeah—but that’s just because he feels guilty being on the death’s door, trying to settle his accounts with the Almighty.”
“You guys always clashed. But he valued your business savvy. Unlike me, who he regarded as a sissy.”
“Listen, Jake. You may be walking into a nuthouse. I think Dad may have dementia… Be careful, bro… If you play it cool, put up with some shit, you’ll get your money and get out…”
“You make it sound so crass.”
As Scarlett made her case, Jacob staggered with the stick. He stopped at the end of the driveway near the sign.
“Another thing Jake… and I’m sorry to spring it on you now.” Her voice quivered, which struck Jacob as unusual, for she rarely cried. “There’s has been… a secret… Aunt Delores did not die of a heart attack…”
“She… She was found shot dead in her living room…”
“Homer was a suspect. The cops eventually ruled it a suicide, but Mom and Dad were convinced he killed her. That’s why we moved from California to take care of Ruth. They thought you were too young to know… But you deserve to know before you’re around that damn… actor. I don’t know if he pulled the trigger, but as far as I’m concerned, he put her in her grave.”
Jacob was silent. He grimaced and dropped his phone, then looked up at the bold black letters that proudly announced Sanctuary Ridge. He set his right foot and hurled the staff like a spear into the sign. “Damn him! How could dad lie to me all my life?!”
Go to Episode #12