His Father’s Eyes – Snippet 01

His Father’s Eyes

By David B. Coe

Chapter 1

It burns and burns and burns, a pain he can’t salve, a fire he can’t extinguish. White, yellow, red, orange. Shades of pale blue sometimes, but then white again. Always white. White hot. Pure white. White for wedding gowns and babies’ diapers and clean sheets on a crib. White. Like blank paper. And then it burns. Brown giving way to black, which comes from the yellow and orange and red and pale blue; flame creeping like spilled blood, spreading like a stain.

The land rolls downward from his chair, baked and dry, empty. But also full, if only one knows how to look at it. The rising swirls of red dirt. Red-tailed hawks wheeling on splayed wings. Jack rabbits and coyotes, watchful and tense, death and survival hanging between them.

The sky is too clear — not a cloud, nothing to break the monotony of blue so bright it makes his eyes tear. Except low, to the east, where the blue mingles with brown, like dirty, worn jeans.

That’s how he is. Muddied. Clouded. Enveloped in a haze. He feels the hot wind moving over his skin, and he waits for it to clear the air around him. But it never does; instead, dust stings his eyes, and grit crunches between his teeth like slivers of glass. He wants a cup of water, but his legs feel leaden and the trailer seems so far. So he sits, shielding his eyes with a shaking hand, listening to the flapping of the tarp over his head.

She winks into view before him, wearing a simple dress. One of his favorites. Cornflower blue, as soft as the sky is hard. She flashes that familiar crooked grin, cocking her head to the side, honey brown hair dancing around her face. The boy is there, too. Suddenly. Dropped into the scene as if by sleight of hand. Shorts and an ASU t-shirt, his hair the same color as hers, but wild with curls and the wind, so young, so oblivious to it all: the phasings that await him, the dark sadness that lurks behind his mother’s smile, the betrayal masked in those gorgeous blue eyes. He’s wept for her until the tears run dry, like a desert river in late summer. But he can still cry for the boy; the boy who has become a man so much like his father that it breaks the old man’s heart.

Ghosts. Both of them, though only the one is dead. He shifts his gaze, follows the flight of a plane as it carves across the sky, leaving a stark white scar. He refuses to blink, until his eyes ache with the effort. When at last he checks again, the woman and child are gone.

But if he closes his eyes they’re back, the images seared onto his mind, like blotches of light after he has stared too long at the sun. They were never here, of course. Not on this land. He knows that. The trailer, the tarp, the chair — all are new.

New. The boy would laugh at that. None of it is new. But she never saw any of it.

He opens his eyes again, shakes his head, sits up straighter. One of those days. The haze. The confusion. The hallucinations. He’s had it all before. The secret is not giving in to it, fighting the pull. But when it gets this bad it’s like climbing a mountain of sand; with every step up, he feels himself sliding backwards. Sometimes it’s the visions. Violent, bloody, horrible images, so vivid, so familiar. They might be echoes of old phasings or they could be things he really saw and did. He can’t remember anymore. Other times it’s no more or less than the relic of younger emotions — love, jealousy, rage, grief — as vague as the scent of sage riding the desert wind, as sharp as a razor. And on some days, like today, it’s all of those, and it’s none of them. It defies description or understanding, and he’s left to stumble alone, as though lost within that muddy cloud draped over the Phoenix skyline.

There are pills. He’s supposed to take them if it gets too bad. The boy has left them out on the counter, where he’ll see them. But they don’t help; not enough. They bring clarity of a sort. They wake him up, like a dousing with ice water. It’s not him, though; it’s not anyone he recognizes. He’s spent hours staring at that grizzled, slack face in the mirror, peering into those eyes, pale gray, like his own, but flat and dead and nothing like the eyes he remembers from his youth, or those he sees now in the boy. That’s the drugs. As opposed to the Drug, the one the doctor won’t talk about in front of him.

He laughs at the distinction, startling himself with the sound.

They give him these drugs — their drugs — to fight off the damage he did by refusing to take the other, by clinging to his magic and subjecting himself to the cruel moon. They whisper about it to the boy, not wanting him to hear, fearing that it will awaken the old visions, or send him into a fit of rage, like in old movies. As if their whispers can guard him from the memory, as if he doesn’t curse his magic every goddamned day of his life, as if it isn’t already too late for him.

No, he might be screwed up, but he’s not that screwed up. He’s not completely beyond reality. Even on those days when he can’t put together a coherent thought, when the boy sits beside him, concern etched on his face, which is so like his mother’s that it makes the old man’s chest ache. Even when it seems that he’s too far gone to see or hear or understand anything, he knows who and what he’s become. That might be the worst part. If he was so far gone that he didn’t remember it all — if dementia carried with it the comforting numbness that everyone thinks they see in him — then they could whisper and conceal, and smile their false reassuring smiles, and he wouldn’t care. But he knows. He knows.

That’s the slow death. That’s the torment. That’s the price he pays for ancient sins. Better to have nothing left. But when did the moon ever care what was better for him?

He sees the boy wrestling with the same demons, and he prays for him. Yes, he prays. He hasn’t prayed for anything else in almost fifty years, not since he was a kid. Not even when he was on the job, going into Maryvale or the worst beats of South Mountain or Cactus Park with nothing more than an old service revolver in his hand and his partner watching his back; not even that time when a kid so jacked up on dust that he seemed to be doing everything with his eyes closed put four bullets in him; not even when he found her dead beside her lover, his pain an amalgam of humiliation and heartache and debilitating grief.

Even then he didn’t turn to God. The Great Unbeliever. A cop to the core. A man of reason and evidence and laws. Utterly earthbound.

But for his boy, he prays. Not that it’ll do a damn bit of good.

The moon is a goddess unto herself. She’s as merciless as time, as unforgiving as memory. She laughs at prayers. No, the boy has to fight this battle on his own. The old man can only hope that the kid has more of his mother’s strength than his father’s weakness.

He wonders if the boy will be coming today, until he remembers that he was here yesterday, or maybe the day before. It’s hard to keep track sometimes. The days all blend. Hot, sunny, slow. When things are good, and he keeps busy, he can follow the progression. But not in recent days. Or weeks. It’s hard to keep track of time.

It’s this burning. A new kind of invasion, an assault on his mind that even the phasings couldn’t match. The sorrow and remorse and shame and loss are melted together into some glowing alloy that flows in his veins, scalding him throughout. Everything hurts. The sunlight scorches his eyes. The wind stings his skin. Every breath is agony. Every movement makes him wince.

And he knows that this means something. He is a scrying glass. Shining, smooth — a blank surface on which others might glimpse the future. For years, the powers of the world have ignored him, seeing in him no more than is there: a disgraced former cop, an empty, burned-out old sorcerer. But now, for some reason, they’ve taken notice of him again. With all the crafting he used to do, scrying was the one type of magic he truly hated. There was too little certainty, too little control. But this is different. Others are doing the crafting now. He can’t see them. He doesn’t know who they are, or what they want of him. But they’re all around him. Setting him ablaze, flaying his body with their power, watching him for signs of what is to come.

If he sees her, if he sees the boy, do these others see them, too? Are his visions his own or someone else’s? Why would they care about her? The boy is one thing. He has power of his own now. He matters. But what is she, beyond a memory that warms him and plagues him and leaves him longing for something he no longer believes was real? Why should his torment interest these others?

He has no answers. Questions lay siege to his mind, assailing him from all sides. And he has nothing to offer in response. He sits, watches the sky, frowns at the brown haze, envies the grace of the hawk, waits for the coyote to make his move. The wind blows, an occasional cloud slides past, the sun tracks a slow circle above him, shadows grow longer, gold suffuses the light, the air cools a little.

He can feel their eyes upon him; he senses their impatience. They want portents, but he has nothing to offer. He is glass, or perhaps stone. Fate is reflected off his life. Or so they seem to believe. He doesn’t know if they’re right, or if they imagine in him more than is there. He just sits.

And still it burns and burns and burns.