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Cut scene — James’ childhood backstory

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How James the boy came to care deeply for his mother’s friend

The moppy-haired boy watched the smoke rise outside his bedroom window. He breathed in the alluring, burning smell of cooked meat from his mother’s blazing grille below. Leaning out he inhaled deeply, swore he could taste her homemade marinades the meat bathed in –– exotic fruits, tarragon, pepper, lemon, and mustard seed. Breathing in through his shuddering nostrils he was enthralled by an ethereal intoxication of ardors that invaded all his senses. It was his mother’s last garden party of the season. Laying across his bed he aimed an air-powered bee-bee gun out his third-floor window, the party below in full force. He picked his targets carefully, starting fiercely with a few shots into his mother’s goldfish basin which stood where the garden met the terrace. He took aim at the potted plants around the pool ––dallying white daisies, droopy sunflowers, marigolds. He caved in a few.

Through his scope, he searched for something else to hit, when suddenly he picked up the view of splashing waves in the pool. He lowered his rifle. His baby brother had drowned in that pool just a couple of weeks earlier. He was forced to feel the pain all over again, the loss for his whole family. First they were three, then his little brother came along and made it a perfect four; now, suddenly, they were back to three again. It felt as if he and his mother were a family of two when his father started drinking again. The death of their infant son so recent, this party tonight should never have taken place, his father argued. But his mother refused to listen. Life must go on, she said, appearances kept, smiles neatly plastered on happy faces — the rest of the world must not see the hurt and guilt of their true feelings in their expressions tonight. Close ranks she insisted, remain strong. Besides, it was bad manners to parade one’s family tragedies in public. Canceling the party would show they were too weak to cope. She reminded his father how popular they were at the country club for throwing the loudest, booziest cocktail parties in the town to close the summer season. The younger set at the club, over whom they were recognized as the older and wiser leaders, were looking forward to it. James’ father, ever the uncompromising head of the family, threatened he would move out and never return if she did not cancel. His mother, the supreme hostess, would not listen.

The boy gazed down at the wiggle of the pool’s water and cocked his head to his rifle. He fired. It appeared no one on the terrace noticed, not even those swimming. Except Mr. Jameson. He most certainly felt something bounce off his bald head.

As the summer evening turned to darkness, the boy watched reruns of Star Trek on his black and white rabbit-eared TV at the foot of his bed, followed by B movie horror flicks on Creature Feature on Channel 11. Not until the party had raged well past midnight did the music stop. Then the boy heard voices of the departing carried up to his front window––the unwelcome warble of couples babbling. He was just about to fall asleep when suddenly he was shaken by the booming baritone voice of a man brow-beating his wife.

The boy raced to the front window to watch as the couple bickered their way down the slated walkway. James’ parents provided him with more than enough experience to understand that a nasty fight was ensuing. The couple, lit by floodlights hooked to two towering chestnut trees, stopped at the pillared gates. The man grabbed the woman by the top of her coat lapels, slapped her across the face. James jerked back––as if he had been the one hit. The two hopped in their gold Mercedes and drove away. In that moment, James hated that man. He swore when he grew up he’d never treat a woman that way, surely not that woman—the beautifully exquisite Sharon Peters.

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