Read “Home Invasion,” Kaylie Jones’s story from Long Island Noir
That first winter in Wainscott, my dad and I both read Vincent Bugliosi’s book about the Manson murders, Helter Skelter, which had recently come out. I was so terrified I didn’t sleep for three days, even with all the lights on in the house and the doors and windows bolted shut. My dad brought out his revolver, a beautiful Colt pistol with a blueish tint and a little gold medallion of a rearing horse embossed on the brown handle, which he kept in his bedside table, just in case. He believed every man had a right to defend his home and every home was at risk in one way or another. He drove me out into the Northwest Woods of East Hampton and nailed a white paper with a circular black target to a birch tree. It was sandy land, mostly birches and scrub pines, no one around for miles. The first thing he told me was never, ever point a gun at anyone unless you intended to fire it. He showed me the safety and then taught me how to stand with my legs slightly spread and breathe, keeping my knees a little bent, and how to sight down the barrel with both eyes open. “Anybody ever breaks into your house, shoot ’em. And never let anyone tie you up, no matter what they promise.” He believed home invaders were cowards at heart, and standing up to them was the only chance you had, whether they ended up killing you or not.
He took me out into the woods once a week and let me fire the pistol until I could hit the center of the target at fifteen yards, four out of six times. He also taught me how to load the gun. He promised to eventually teach me to make my own bullets, but we never got around to that.
One evening in late February my dad was sitting at the bar in Bobby Van’s with my stepmother Yukiko—this was long before the dark old tavern decided to turn fancy and move across the street. My dad was moping because he’d recently been told by his heart doctor that he couldn’t drink anymore. Mick Todd, a local guy who filled in sometimes behind the bar, suggested my dad try a little smoke. A little smoke never hurt anybody, Mick said; in fact, in some states pot was starting to be prescribed to cancer patients.
Mick had taken a special liking to my dad, because his dad, like mine, had been in WWII. My dad had fought on Guadalcanal with the 25th Infantry “Tropic Lightning” Division, while Mick’s had been in the Battle of the Bulge with Patton’s Third Army. But Mick’s dad had become “a mean drunk” and Mick would have nothing to do with him. The Todds, it was said, used to own half of Shelter Island. Mick never seemed to be hurting for money. He drove a little light-blue BMW with a surfboard rack on top. He had those perfectly symmetrical, slightly austere WASP features—thin, aquiline nose, strong jaw, fine mouth, blue irises that always swam in a sea of red, and blond hair like straw growing every which way out of his head. His skin was burned to a crisp, even in February, and he wore extremely old and faded preppie button-down shirts with pot-seed burns speckling the cotton. He looked like a WASP kidnapped by Apaches.
My dad told me later that he decided to take Mick up on his offer, and they left Yukiko at the bar (she wanted nothing to do with this nonsense) and went out back into the parking lot without their coats. Mick lit up a joint in the freezing cold and had to show my dad how to suck in the smoke and hold his breath. At first, my dad told me, he didn’t feel anything and went back to his barstool a little disappointed. A while later he realized everyone around him was drunk, having incomprehensible discussions, shouting, repeating themselves and spilling drinks, and all he could do was sip his fresh-squeezed lemonade and contemplate his unbearably profound thoughts. He liked the clarity of his thoughts, though their intensity made him feel alienated from everyone else who was drinking, and it unnerved him. He told me he wanted to shout, Don’t you understand what’s going on here? The world is turning beneath our feet and no one cares!
He got up and went into the men’s room to pee and locked himself in a stall, grateful for the sudden silence. He started to pee and thought he was taking an awful long time but convinced himself that it was only the pot that seemed to be slowing time down. He decided he wanted to order a dessert at the bar. He was thinking about what kind of dessert to order and that really this pee was taking an awful long time, but no, it couldn’t be, it was just the pot, when a man outside the stall muttered, “What the hell is this guy trying to do, get his name in the Guinness Book of World Records?”
My dad knew I smoked a little pot with my high school friends so he started asking me about the different kinds and what was the best way to smoke it. Was a pipe better than a joint? Had I ever heard of a bong? “What do I know?” I told him. “I just smoke whatever anyone hands me.” I was only sixteen and totally self-involved. Did so-and-so really like me and would I be asked to the junior prom and would someone offer me a ride to the basketball game Friday night? But I found it extremely amusing that my dad was becoming a pothead. When he took an interest in a subject, he studied it to the very core, be it the Civil War, about which he’d written three best-selling history books, or the U.S. attack on Iwo Jima, or how to put up shingles on the side of the house.
He started collecting film canisters of marijuana, asking everyone he knew who smoked to sell or give him a little. A few days after he died, in his attic office I found a Romeo y Julieta cigar box filled with carefully labeled film canisters with stickers written in bold, capital letters. PANAMA RED. THAI STICK. HAWAIIAN PURPLE. SINSEMILLA. COLOMBIAN GOLD. He even had a little pot pipe someone must have given him that smelled of resin and smoke. I appropriated all of it, smoked it by myself, down to the last fleck. I watched the clouds sail by outside the window and contemplated the future, while downstairs Yukiko lay on their bed in a doctor-prescribed twilight state.
Mick liked my dad a great deal, so that spring, when my dad asked him to help grow some weed in our backyard, Mick took the job seriously—well, as seriously as Mick ever took anything. First, he selected the very best seeds he could find, from some Hawaiian Purple he’d scored off a Samoan while on a surfing trip. We lived at the edge of Mr. Wisnowski’s potato field, on the only hillock in Wainscott, the shingled saltbox house protected by an ancient hops hornbeam, maple and horse chestnut trees that in the summertime were like giant shimmering green parasols. There were lilac bushes and a tall privet hedge on two sides, so the spot was well protected and concealed, and the topsoil perfect for growing. On the day of planting, Yukiko, in silent protest, chose to remain in the house. Yukiko had been my dad’s Japanese history specialist on his Iwo Jima book; she took his work very seriously, even now that she was his wife. She thought this pot-growing idea of his was a folly; pot was illegal, after all, and my father was a well-known writer. What if he got arrested?
Mick poked little holes in the turned soil with his index finger, about a foot apart, in even rows. “Water them once in a while,” he told my dad and me as we stood watching, fascinated. “If you think of it. But lightly. A light spray.” He wriggled his fingers in the air over the patch of ground. “And dig a hole, you know, and bury your compost at the edges.” What was compost? I had no clue; I wasn’t a country girl, having just moved out to Wainscott from the city the previous fall. When my dad’s heart had really started acting up, Yukiko decided the quiet country air would be good for him, and they gave up New York City and the literary scene and enrolled me in East Hampton High School, where I was already ahead of everyone except the Advanced Placement and High Honor Roll seniors. This was okay; I didn’t have to work too hard and could spend more time with my dad.
By mid-May the pot plants were four feet high and the stalks beginning to thicken. It turned out all three of us were watering them, and also burying compost, including Mick’s contribution of the refuse from Bobby Van’s restaurant. These were some richly fed pot plants.
One weekend in June a fierce nor’easter was predicted on the news. Intense winds and rain. Mick was delighted for the surfing possibilities but worried about the pot plants, and the day before the storm he brought over a tarp and some iron posts and clamps and stood out there, hammering away until the plants were safe. The next day, in wind and teeming rain, his car rolled up the driveway with the headlights on. He had surfboards tied to the roof. He was coming to check on the plants. A few minutes later he knocked on the kitchen door, his blue T-shirt soaked through and clinging to his torso. He was in an ebullient mood, the tarp had held.
“Hey,” he said to me and my dad with a big white-toothed grin, clearly the product of expensive braces, “you guys want to drive out to Montauk with me and watch me and my buddies surf?”
“Surf, in this?” I asked, aghast.
“Well,” he explained, “the storm’s movin’ out to sea. By the time we get there, should be pretty clear.”
My dad said he wasn’t feeling up to it, and he wasn’t so sure it was a good idea for me to go alone, being that I was only sixteen, but I begged him. He was big on new experiences and this promised to be a once-in-a-lifetime event. He made Mick promise to drive slowly and to bring me back by nightfall.
The first thing I learned on the way out to Montauk was that Mick Todd was twenty-seven, much older than he looked or acted. The second thing I learned was how to snort coke off his leather wallet, the straight lines cut by an American Express credit card and the crisp dollar bill rolled evenly while he was driving one-handed in the teeming rain. The third thing I learned was that he’d recently gotten his license back after a year’s suspension. He’d driven his previous car, a 1967 Mustang, a little too fast around a curve on Sag Harbor Turnpike and ended up in “this old couple’s” living room, crashing right through the wall. They were sitting there watching TV; it was a miracle they didn’t die of a heart attack. The worst part of it, besides getting arrested for drunk driving and losing his license, was that his Mustang was totaled. A real pity, a car like that, it just couldn’t be replaced.
There was very little I could say to any of this except, Wow. He told me the cops hadn’t pulled him over in this new car yet so we should be okay, but I’d better snort up quick, just in case. He’d kind of burned his bridges with the cops, despite the fact that they’d known his family for generations.
I also learned, watching Mick surf off Ditch Plains Beach in Montauk, that he was completely fearless. Boy, could he surf. He glided effortlessly over the crests and into the barrels, and several times I thought he was going to die, drowned or crushed on the ocean floor as the blue-green mountains rolled down over his head. But each time he emerged with a shake of his wet hair and a whoop of adrenaline-fueled happiness.
He took off his wet suit and swim trunks standing beside his car and slipped on a pair of battered shorts and a T-shirt without drying off. He got in, cut some more lines on his wallet, and that was the first time he kissed me.
He was too old for me, I realized that. There was no reason at all he should be interested in me. I was a virgin; I knew absolutely nothing. But I did know my dad would blow a gasket if he found out. We kept it pretty chaste, making out a couple of times in his car in the Caldor parking lot or down at Wainscott Beach, when we were supposed to be out running errands. Mick felt alien to me, not like the boys my age I’d kissed and let feel me up. His body pulsed with energy that I wasn’t sure he could, or knew how to, contain. I’d come home from these excursions with my head in a fog and my clothes twisted up. My dad was no fool; I wondered how much he’d figured out.
My dad’s health deteriorated and this became his constant preoccupation, along with wondering if he would be able to get back to his new book. Pretty soon he couldn’t catch his breath to climb the stairs to his office. Yukiko drove him to Huntington, which had the best hospital and the best heart specialist on the Island. The doctor decided to check him in, mostly for tests, and Yukiko stayed with him.
I hung up the phone and turned on all the lights downstairs although it wasn’t dark out yet. I was sitting in the kitchen watching The Bionic Woman on TV when Mick walked in through the back door, without knocking. He must have seen that by dad’s VW Rabbit was gone; he must have known they weren’t home.
“Plants are looking excellent!” he said with his usual enthusiasm.
“My dad’s in Huntington Hospital. They’re running tests.”
“Oh. Whoa.” He put out his hands as if attempting to stop the charge of a big dog.
He stood behind me and placed his warm hands on my shoulders, kneading the muscles there, which were tighter than I’d realized. “Wow, you’re tense! Come on, let me give you a massage.”
Mick opened a bottle of my dad’s French wine, which he could no longer drink, and in one hand carried the bottle and two long-stemmed elegant crystal glasses into my bedroom downstairs, his other hand around my waist, guiding me. It felt sacrilegious, letting him lie on my bed in my room while my dad and Yukiko were at the hospital. It felt wrong but Mick didn’t seem to think so and pretty soon he’d expertly slipped off my shirt and bra. He pulled his own shirt off right over his head. His body was thin, his muscles strong and taut. He pressed my hand against the bulge in his jeans, which felt entirely too big and unfriendly. I wasn’t ready and I was scared. I pulled my hand away. Already I’d let this go too far. I’d let it get out of hand.
“You have to go,” I said uncertainly. “If someone sees your car in the driveway they’ll tell my dad.”
“Suck me off,” he whispered hoarsely.
I said no.
“I don’t care about your dad,” he muttered. He unbuttoned my cutoffs and started to tug them down my legs. I didn’t know what to do. This was my fault. I’d let him into my room, into my bed. I’d let this go too far. People would blame me no matter what.
“Oh, baby,” he said against my neck, his mouth wet and sticky, “you’re so hot.”
I started to struggle, trying to push him off. He was not a tall guy, but his muscles felt like steel. “Oh, yeah, that’s it.”
What was he talking about? The rest happened so fast it was like one of his juggling tricks. The same way he rolled joints while driving, or cut lines on his wallet, or could carry a bottle of wine and two glasses in one hand. One second we’re just lying there rolling around and I’m struggling a little, and the next he’s got a lubricated condom on and he’s pressing his fat penis into me, ripping me in two.
I couldn’t wait till it was over. I couldn’t wait for him to leave.
No one would think rape. My dad would surely have shot him, but my poor dad had problems of his own. I couldn’t impose this upon him now, in his weakened state. What if it killed him? It would kill him.
I finally convinced Mick he had to leave (it wasn’t too hard once he’d finished); I bolted the front and back doors behind him, and all the windows in the house. I called my dad in his hospital room. My voice was shaking and his sounded distant, vague, but perhaps they’d drugged him. I told him I loved him, my voice breaking. He told me to take good care, to lock the doors and leave on some lights. He told me to sleep in their room if I wanted to. “No one is going to try to break in,” he said calmly, “this isn’t L.A. But just in case, if it makes you feel better, you know where the gun is.”
My dad came back from the hospital looking thin and worn. But his spirits were good; he wasn’t giving up hope. By mid-August, the pot plants were seven feet tall, branching out in all directions thanks to Mick’s careful pruning. Their stalks were now as thick as celery. My dad brought out his old Lica and took pictures of me in front of the plants, for posterity’s sake, willing to take, but not to be in, the photographs. Mick stopped by around sunset every day to check on the plants, and his demeanor with me was easy and unconcerned. I made sure to never be alone with him. I could feel my dad watching, considering this new development.
My dad was growing concerned that Mr. Wisnowski the potato farmer might become inspired to call the police. It was time for his pot-growing experiment to come to an end.
“Nah,” Mick insisted. “He wouldn’t know what they are anyway.” Then he said the plants needed several more weeks, a month at least, to reach their maximum potency. They had to flower, but not seed. My dad sat there at the kitchen table, shaking his head slowly, trying to decide. He finally agreed to wait a few more weeks.
Over Labor Day weekend I turned seventeen, and we had a little party. My dad had a friend from the city who owned a summer house down the street on Georgica Pond, an art dealer who was an aficionado of marijuana. Richard had a little joint holder made out of silver that he passed around the crowded table after dinner. Yukiko put her hand up and backed away as it went past her.
I got up from my place and went over to my dad at the head of the table and bent down and asked him if I could have a hit. He thought about it and I could tell he was struggling with his decision. It would be hypocritical to say no, on my birthday no less. But what would Richard think? He’d known my mother before she died. Eventually my dad passed the joint in its silver holder to me under the table. I crouched down low and took three hits, the deepest, fastest hits I could, and passed it back to him, still under the table.
Good thing that’s all I smoked, because this was some serious weed this guy Richard had. It was some kind of hydroponically grown special pot that he purchased from some old hippie upstate. I was practically hallucinating. My dad and I sat in the kitchen long after Richard had left and Yukiko had gone off to bed, shaking her head. We slowly dug our way with soup spoons through an entire gallon of vanilla ice cream. We could taste the different flavors, the soothing vanilla beans surging forth out of the sweet, icy cream. If we could just freeze time, right here, I thought, everything would be right with the world.
Two days later I noticed Mr. Wisnowksi’s John Deere tractor idling by our pot plants. I crept over and watched from behind a tree as the old farmer gazed up at the towering plants, hands on his hips. I ran to my dad. That afternoon, he had Mick uproot the plants. This was done under protest, for Mick felt they were being cut down before their time. He took them away in six black garbage bags, stuffed round like balloons. I was overcome with relief. The plants were gone; Mick would no longer have a reason to stop by every day.
The next morning an East Hampton patrol car cruised up the dirt tractor road adjoining our property, and made a show of driving slowly by the area where the plants had been. We’d had a narrow escape.
One morning I kissed my dad goodbye and drove his VW Rabbit to school. He wasn’t feeling well so he let me take the car instead of the school bus. At 2:36 p.m. over the PA system I heard my name, and was ordered to present myself at the principal’s office. My first thought was that they’d found out about Mick’s pot plants and wanted to interrogate me. When I got to the office I was told to drive to the Southampton Hospital emergency room as fast as I could. By the time I got there it was all over, and Yukiko wouldn’t let me see him. She thought it would be better for me to remember him as he’d been that morning, sitting at the kitchen table with his hands around his cup of steaming black coffee, in his checked flannel bathrobe and matching slippers.
Yukiko, who was kind and quiet by nature, took to their bed, started wailing, and didn’t stop. I called our family doctor and he came over and gave her a shot, and then he handed me a prescription to fill the next day. It was for Valium, twenty milligrams. I thought I’d take some myself. We still hadn’t called anyone, still hadn’t accepted what had happened.
Worried for Yukiko, I took the gun out of my dad’s bedside cabinet and hid it between the mattress and the box spring of my own bed downstairs.
Late that night, I heard glass shattering in the kitchen. I’d left lights on in every room. I heard the back door swing open and bang into the wall and then someone crashing into the hanging pots and pans above the butcher-block island. I reached for the Colt, which felt reassuring in my hand. I crept toward the kitchen and stood in the far doorway, feeling like the last barrier between sanity and utter madness.
It was Mick, his blue eyes swimming in a sea of red. He was completely lit, practically falling down as he crashed his way across the kitchen toward me.
“You can’t come in here like this, Mick. My dad’s gone now.”
“I . . . heard about your dad on the police scanner . . .” He banged his hip on the corner of the stove. “Shit. Fuck. I . . . Uh, here . . . let me give you a hug . . .” he uttered, coming forward.
I lifted the pistol, sighted down the barrel as my dad had taught me, and shot him twice in the chest. He gazed at me without the slightest surprise, as if he’d been expecting this all of his life.
KAYLIE JONES has published seven books, including a memoir, Lies My Mother Never Told Me, and her most recent novel, The Anger Meridian. Her novel A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries was adapted as a Merchant Ivory film in 1998. Jones has been teaching for more than twenty-five years, and is a faculty member in the Stony Brook Southampton MFA in Creative Writing & Literature program and in Wilkes University’s MFA in Creative Writing program. She is the author of Speak Now and the editor of Long Island Noir. Her newest endeavor is her publishing imprint with Akashic Books, Kaylie Jones Books.
Posted: Jul 22, 2015
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