Misled (Late May 2019)
The call from Scarlett filled Jacob with considerably more dread than he already had. So, he avoided walking through the door of his father’s house a while longer by walking out to the old path of Sanctuary Ridge that once enchanted him as a boy.
Memories were triggered about those years after his family moved back to Smoke Valley and how much he missed San Mateo. Oh, how it ached! There he was on that piece of land he romanticized as a boy—before he’d seen the majestic West. He missed his urban school and the rec center—tennis and swimming —the innocence of being twelve. He missed the old downtown theaters with balconies and secret smoking and kissing girls.
To cope with being a new kid in 8th grade, Jacob had resorted to pleasing certain influential people, which was really wearing a mask. Actually, he hid from everyone. No one knew him then, and no one knew him now.
He passed the little house he once shared with Becca but chose not to linger, quickly heading up a small hill to the valley trail to the old “shed,” where he stood a minute. He could smell the gas and oil even before he opened the door that slid on a rail to the right. There was the old red Ford farm tractor, looking not much older. A black snake about six feet long slithered into the shadows.
About a hundred yards further out, he passed the trap shooting area and paused, thinking of the times he fired the shotgun at clay targets, imagining Jedidiah Jerski’s face, a bully at school. He left the trail for the top of the ridge. When he came into an open field, his bare legs were scratched by briars. Thistle and thorns. He walked a few more steps and startled a pheasant, which flew off in a hurry. In reality, the pheasant startled him more than he startled it. The copper, red and blue were beautiful, but he could not acknowledge it. He began to sweat and complain to himself about the bugs.
Jacob came down from the hill and approached his father’s house. The heavy carved door that had been locked last night was swung open. He turned the knob of the screened storm door. “Hello?” he said, but no one seemed to be around, so he down the hall, past the gun cabinet with its glass door. No longer holding firearms, it now showcased some sort of collection of sacred vessels: a bronze goblet and silver candlesticks. His father had sold his guns to Greg Germaine just before his mother died.
Continuing down the hall, which echoed due to the black tiled floor, he came to the door of his mother’s studio office. David had maintained the room without change since 1977—only having the room periodically dusted. Jacob reached for the door handle them decided not to look in. He wasn’t ready to look at those creepy, blotchy paintings by an obscure French painter. A disturbing subject matter obsessed that artist and, to some degree, his mother: prostitutes, clowns, and the dying Christ.
Jacob turned back and walked down the hall to the expansive living room. Three walls had vertical wood panels painted a flat spruce green. Two were adorned with Van Gough and Monet paintings, the other wall with bookshelves with a ladder. Most of the volumes were history and forestry books. An old stereo console cabinet with a vertical stack of classical and jazz records stood below the paintings. The exterior wall consisted of five floor-to-ceiling windows with a view of the rolling hills and Donto’s lake. This elegant room was the one his mother preferred. After she died, the space became more of a museum.
Jacob walked out the door next to the wall of windows and onto a brick patio, then into a greenhouse about the size of a motorhome. His father had personally kept the glass garden well-cultivated. He’d brought redwood seedlings and a staghorn fern back from California in 1973. The fern was still living. His father would say, “Like orchids, a staghorn doesn’t need soil to grow—they get their nutrition primarily from air and water. But humans are not epiphytic, though we try to be.”
Jacob checked the kitchen for coffee. The pot was still warm, so he poured a cup. As he held the mug to his lips, he was startled by a loud voice.
“Well, it’s Jacob! Welcome home, son. Let’s kill the fattened calf and celebrate.”
Jacob almost dropped his coffee. He had not come home to repent like the prodigal. But he did have one thing in common with that restless son: he sought an inheritance to fund his project in the far country.
Recovering, Jacob turned and looked at the man in mechanics coveralls with a long white mane and a beard like John Brown, the abolitionist. Reading glasses sat down in the middle of his nose, from which the hairs nearly joined the group flowing over his upper lip. The last time he saw Homer was forty-two years ago. Back then, he looked more like Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. Now, he sized up Homer as a possible killer, his mangled and fury ears more chilling than he remembered.
Homer went to hug him, and Jacob extended his hand without smiling. “What brings you here, Uncle Homer?”
“I live here now. For about a year now… I missed you, boy. You’ve wandered a while. I hear ten years.”
“You should talk. Where were you when Ruth was here crying?”
“I deserve that, I know.”
Homer ushered Jacob down the hall, past the door to the attic and the gun cabinet turned altar. When they reached the end of the corridor, Homer pointed left toward his father’s bedroom and whispered, “Your father has not been himself. The treatments are a bitch.” Homer then turned right into a room with a reel-to-reel tape deck on a desk and approached a microphone next to a podium with notes. “Can you close the door for me?”
As Jacob closed Homer’s door and turned around, the hospice nurse came out of his father’s room. “You must be Jacob; I’m Janet.”
He nodded and grew more nervous as he peered into the bedroom behind her.
“Go ahead in. You two can be alone now. You should know he had a hard night.”
Jacob entered the large master bedroom, which felt like an intrusion into the inner sanctum of his father’s private world—a man he’d never seen in weakness. He hoped so badly his father would ask him to come back later—after a nap or something.
David was sitting up in a king bed against a stack of pillows. He appeared to be in agony. He had lost weight over the last two weeks, and his face had a few days of white stubble around his thick mustache. He looked up at Jacob and spoke in a low, strained tone. “Son, you came. I was worried I’d never see you. I wasn’t sure if you hated me. But you need money, don’t you?”
Standing back a few feet from the bed, Jacob said, “I don’t hate you. And I’m sorry I took so long.”
“‘Long’ since I called you three weeks ago or ‘long’ since you left in 2010?”
Jacob didn’t touch that one. Then, a few seconds later, his father vomited into a bucket. He hovered over it a few seconds, then put the bucket down and wiped his face with a white towel.
“I can come back when you feel better, Dad.”
“No, have a seat.”
Jacob sat in a ladderback chair at the foot of the bed. He heard a shout from the direction of Homer’s room. “I have shed innocent blood!” But the voice was different than Homer’s.
David did not react, but Jacob was distressed. “Dad, didn’t you hear that?”
“Yes, but I’ve learned to tune it out. Homer’s working on his lines. He has a little theater company.”
“Oh, yea. The actor.”
“Jacob, I’ll get straight to it. Times a wastin.’ I have an offer for you, a damn good one, I might say—an inheritance. A blessing, if you will. I want to give this house, which you know was designed by my father—a spacious and unique house of many rooms.” Pointing out the window, his father continued, “And these hills—this sanctuary on a ridge. In addition, I want to give you the even greater gift of managing and caring for this place—with a generous salary for the rest of your life, too. There’s only one condition, which is this: you make peace with me.”
Jacob was quiet.
“Try not to look so excited, son.”
“I am… I just don’t quite get it. We are at peace. We had some tension in the past, but I have no grudges.”
His father sat up and took a deep breath. Then he leaned forward, stared into Jacob’s eyes without blinking, and moved his right hand in a chopping fashion. “We are NOT at peace! Oh no. You drove a dagger into me. But I can forget it all if you’ll make peace.”
“Of course, Dad.”
“No more bullshit, son, no more bullshit.” At that point, David lost steam and coughed for an uncomfortable length of time, then closed his eyes.
Jacob stood watching and wincing but did not approach his father’s side. “Are you ok? Should I get the nurse?”
“I’m just exhausted.” His voice trailed off as he mumbled incoherently and fell asleep.
Note: This brings us to the end of “Season 1.” I’ll continue to write the novel, but the content of my posts will change, starting with the next one, which will be “The Story behind the Sanctuary Ridge Story.”