A Vignette

(Standard Year 2235)

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The noise was unbearable. He ached for the sweet quiet lullabies, the strong protection, the brave defense that would never again be his.

His mother had died sometime in the night.

His father was putting on a grand show of grief, but he knew the bastard felt more relief than sorrow. It was his indiscretions that had broken his wife’s heart and had drained her of her will to live. No one else knew that. The official coroner’s report simply said she’d died of coronary distress.

But Noel Christopher DelMonde knew better. He’d felt her sorrow, building up through the years, each betrayal another knife in her heart. No empathy could live with that kind of deception, though she had tried for all the years of her marriage. And it was, he also knew, mostly for his sake. There were couples who stayed together ‘for the sake of the children,’ but in his mother’s case, it was a literal truth. She had known only her love and protection had kept her demon-child alive. If not for her, his father would have put him in some institution years ago.

It was Louisa DelMonde who had taught the wild child to control his rages; she who had given him the only surcease from the constant din that always surrounded him and never made any sense. She had patiently taught him to read and write when the school system in Louisiana had thrown up its hands in dismay. She had sent him to her brother’s boat, allowing him to find the peculiar quiet that could be had when surrounded only by the simple minds of the shrimp his uncle trapped for a living.

And now, it was all gone.

He watched his father making arrangements for the funeral, hatred growing in his mind as the bastard’s thoughts kept drifting to the woman he’d been dallying with while his wife lay dying alone in her marital bed. Del had been out of the house, out with his older cousins, getting drunk on whisky stolen from the still one of their fathers had set up in the backwater. He’d felt the heart attack when it had begun, and had raced home, too late to do his mother any good. He’d stayed with her, holding her, howling his grief to the universe until his throat was raw and he had to get to the bathroom to vomit up all he’d drunk. His father had come in just before dawn. His first – and only – words to his son had been,

“What you do t’her, boy?”

Del had attacked him, screaming obscenities, but his twelve-year old body was no match for the strength of an adult. He’d been put down hard, but he’d managed to spit out all the accusations that had burned in his brain, years of accumulated truth that had seared his mother’s soul. He ranted until his father’s dark eyes and darker thoughts had stared him into silence. He’d crouched in the corner of the bedroom as his father called the police and the mortuary.

Then came the show, the pretense. Most of the sympathy of the people that soon swarmed the house was for poor Dominic; the only thoughts spared for his child were along the lines of “what you gonna do wit’ th’ boy?” There was praise for his mother, of course, but it was always tempered with the idea that caring for her ‘demon child’ must have finally taken its toll.

At last, it was too much for Del to bear. He simply walked out of the house. No one tried to stop him, but he could feel their eyes following him, catch the bits of thoughts from their minds. They overlapped and ebbed and flowed, the cacophony gaining strength within him. He walked all the way through Jean Lafitte Park to the Bardeaux Bayou. The sun was setting, the gators starting to rouse from the day’s heat, and though he was terrified of the reptiles, he didn’t care. He crouched at the edge of the dark water, his rage and grief thundering in his heart. He wanted it to end. Without his belle mere there was nothing to live for; not the machinery he could fix, not the music he could coax from his battered old guitar, not the poetry that sometimes flowed from his mind like cleansing water. There was only the noise and the pressure and the anguish that felt like it would rip his heart from his chest.

Wait fo’ me, Mere, he thought suddenly. We walk th’ road to Judgment together, non?

He searched until he found a piece of rock that hadn’t been dulled by the slow erosion of the water, and drove it into his wrist.

**** *** ****

“Shee-it, gimme your shirt! I gotta stop th’ bleedin’!”

The sound of a water thrashing, a heavy ‘thud’.

“Get away from here, gator!”

“Come on, pick him up, we gotta get him to a doctor.”

“Damn crazy waste o’ skin…”

“He your kin, boy, you do what I say!”

“Oncle Dom be jus’ as happy if’n we let him…”

“Say that again, Cole, an’ I beat your ass bloody when we get us home!”

“Sorry, Pere."

The voices faded.

**** *** ****

Del woke up in a clean hospital room. His forearm was bandaged, the throbbing dulled by the painkiller he could sense coursing in his blood. His uncle and cousin were outside his room; he could hear their thoughts, sense what they were feeling. There was disease and misery all around him, and it nearly made him vomit.

He must’ve made some choking sound, because his uncle was coming through the door, a frown on his weather-worn features.

“You gave us a fright, boy,” his mother’s brother said.

“Wasn’t meant to,” Del muttered.

The man leaned close to him. “We keep that our li’l secret, son,” he said. “No one need to suspect you done this to yourself.”

“I only do it again,” the twelve-year-old said with adult gravity.

“Now I can’t be lettin’ you do that, Noel.”

Del winced. “I not want nobody ever callin’ me that again,” he rasped.

His uncle nodded. “I understand, son.” He paused. “But you gotta find a way t’ deal wit’ this.”

“I did,” Del returned grimly.

“Some other way.” There was another, longer pause. “I know you can’t stay wit’ you Pere no more. How ‘bout you come stay wit’ me an’ your aunt an’ Cole for a spell?”

Dimly Del recalled that he’d woken up briefly in his uncle’s old land truck on the way to the hospital, and that he’d cried out all the fury at his father’s infidelities.

And that his uncle and cousin had been oddly silent – except for their thoughts, which had known about it all along.

“You wanna take in a demon, Oncle?” Del asked bitterly.

“I take in a fine shrimper an’ a tinkerer,” his uncle replied. “You pay fo’ your room an’ board that way, non?”

Del shrugged. “Why not? I ain’t goin’ back t’ that bastard’s house.” He took a ragged breath. “Never.”

His uncle nodded. “Cole!” he called. “Get your cousin’s clothes. We done here.”

Minutes later, Del’s older cousin appeared with a pile of freshly laundered clothing.

“Here ya go, Shorty,” Cole grinned. “’Leas’ they – an’ you – not smell like swamp no more.”

Del rose from the hospital bed and pulled on his tattered jeans, then shucked off the backless gown and pulled the ripped t-shirt over his head.

Merci, Oncle,” he grunted.

“Cole, th’ boy be stayin’ wit’ us fo’ a while,” the older man said. “I ‘spect you t’ look out for’ him, you hear?”

“Aw, Pere, he crazier than…”

“An’ none o’ that, boy!”

Cole grumbled, but said nothing more intelligible. Still, Del heard his dismayed thoughts clearly. He gave his cousin a wide grin.

An’ to you too, he thought at him, and grinned wider at his cousin’s startled expression.

The End

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