UNDERGROUND VOICES: FICTION
Parental Coddling Of A Young Psychopath
Even behind the darkest of shades the guard’s stony gaze pelted down upon Mr. and Mrs. Linkous as they drove back out the gates of the state pen after
“Where did we go wrong?” Mrs. Linkous asked her husband.
He simply shrugged his shoulders, put pedal to metal, and headed for the highway at nearly twice the posted speed limit.
But the facts were there, practically since Edgar’s birth.
Case One: Let the evidence show that when their son was in the third grade, Mr. and Mrs Linkous—at Edgar’s urging—acquired a litter of seven kittens just before closing time of the school’s annual carnival. Why the couple indulged him that day they still sometimes wonder, but they caved to pleas that bordered on tantrum and delirium, and to the homestead they returned with the feline septuplet.
The following evening, with his parents on the back patio passing a lazy evening playing dominoes and drinking G and Ts, Edgar grabbed an empty gunnysack from inside the garage and stuffed it full of kittens. He swung the sack across his shoulders, hearing the poor animals’ cries and shrieks, but unscathed by their scratching claws, protected by the cross-stitched burlap fabric. Edgar ventured out through the driveway and across the county road to the local pond where the water swelled thanks to recent rainstorms. Earlier in the day he had stashed in the high weeds along one of the banks a small rubber raft and a cluster of softball-size stones.
He dumped the contents of the sack—every last kitten—into the raft, and then pushed it out into the deep water. One of the helpless creatures immediately fell overboard to its inevitable drowning, scarcely rippling the surface as it struggled to stay afloat before sinking like a feathery anchor. The raft spun in circles as it made its way slowly away from shore, the confused kittens crying out and pawing the air as they went. Any hope they had of surviving the ordeal was nixed by the boy, who bared a toothy grin and demonic laugh as he shot-put stone after stone at the departing raft. After he came close on his first few tries, Edgar walked out on a fallen log that gave him a dry runway up above the water and connected dead-center with his last toss, flipping the raft and sending every last kitten into the soupy muck, their final bubbles popping alongside the sycamore leaves that glides upon the pond’s surface.
If not for a pair of newlyweds on an evening stroll, alerted to the scene by the thunderous clap of the stones plunging into the water, young Edgar might have come away entirely scot-free. As it turned out, all his parents saw fit to do was withhold his five-dollar allowance for that week.
Case Two: Let the evidence show that when their son was twelve and having his tonsils pulled at the local hospital, Mr. and Mrs. Linkous succumbed to their son’s wishes for a manual-driven eggbeater to keep him occupied during his overnight stay. Why he chose the kitchen implement rather than a portable cassette player, a good book, or a jigsaw puzzle, they never bothered to ask.
But it wasn’t whimsy or capriciousness that led to Edgar’s request. He had a plan. Post surgery, his folks having returned home the evening, the night nurse made her rounds and checked on the boy. How are you doing? she asked. And Edgar Linkous told her okay, but that he wanted to tell her a secret, that he had a surprise for her. A surprise? she smiled, and bent down to lend her ear. Edgar then withdrew the eggbeater from under his pillow and tangled it into the nurse’s long auburn hair, cranking its arm as if he were reeling in the biggest fish ever hooked. The nurse let out a siren shriek that soon brought the nearby orderlies. They wrestled the makeshift weapon from Edgar’s hands. The poor nurse’s hair, however, was wound so tightly into the metal by then that it had to be cut near its roots to extricate the eggbeater. A punk rock hairdo was ultimately the surprise Edgar promised.
It must have been the medication, Mr. and Mrs. Linkous argued when told of the incident the following morning. Nerves then, they said, as they learned that Edgar wasn’t given any medication stronger than Tylenol.
Case Three: Let the evidence show that when their son reached his sixteenth birthday, Mr. and Mrs. Linkous were wise enough not to capitulate to their son’s wishes and present him a new car as he’d requested. No doubt it—and he—would have ended up in a fiery heap in practically no time at all. But among the many lesser gifts he received that day was a family heirloom, a buck knife with a six-inch blade given to Edgar by his father behind closed doors.
This was given to me on my sixteenth birthday by your grandfather, and given to him on his sixteenth birthday by his father before that. Enjoy it, son, but always keep it sheathed. It’s a keepsake, not meant for use, Mr. Linkous said in a voice just above a whisper. And please don’t tell your mother.
Soon after that day the boy’s seemingly harmless crush on the new freckled girl in school had turned into an unhealthy obsession. When the girl started dating the starting shortstop from Hillsdale High, Edgar couldn’t take it. When Edgar was later apprehended not far from the crime scene, the blood on the family hunting knife wasn’t that from a deer or a wild boar. It was a bloody montage culled from the flesh of Mary Jane Stevens and Seth Rosenberg. While Mary Joe “recovered” from that day, completed her studies and graduated the following year, Seth’s memorial service came six days later.
And so it was that the son of Mr. and Mrs. Linkous—tried as an adult—had spent the remainder of his days incarcerated, first at a juvenile detention facility and now at the Big House.
When the couple drove home from the penitentiary that day, there was no more talk of how they raised young Edgar, of the decisions they did or did not make. What’s done is done had long ago become their catch phrase. All they did as they sped along was watch cows graze by the roadside, discuss the looming clouds on the horizon.
Later, once inside their home, Mrs. Linkous told her husband she’d make some tea and then draw him a bath. She suggested he do the Sunday crossword as he soaked. Then, as her husband went to their bedroom, Mrs. Linkous picked a framed photograph from the entryway cabinet. It was one of Edgar as a baby, cuddled in her arms. She looked at the two of them, what they were like twenty-some-odd years before. Innocents. She wondered: what was it that propelled the child from her womb into a life scripted by the Devil himself?
Mrs. Linkous stood tip-toe, finally managing to place the picture on the top shelf of the cabinet. She was halfway back down the hall before she had a second thought, and turned and retraced her steps. Stretching as far as she could, she grasped the picture frame between her thumb and forefinger and spun it around so that the standing leg was all that could be seen and the image of mother and son was nowhere in sight.
Then it was off to the kitchen to brew a pot of tea.
Roland Goity lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. His stories appear or are forthcoming in Fiction International, Scrivener Creative Review, Watchword, The Bryant Literary Review, Talking River Review, Compass Rose, and several Web publications. He is fiction editor of the online journal LITnIMAGE.
© 2008 Underground Voices