Son of Destruction - By Kit Reed


Dan Carteret

Burt was never his real dad. The truth is stamped in Dan’s face. He was built on a different template. By the time he was tall enough to look into a mirror, he knew. He grew up knowing, but when his mother finally let go of her secret she broke it gently, like bad news.

Like, she thought he didn’t know?

Even you could see it, going by at a dead run. With that bullet head and the used-car salesman’s smile, Burt Mixon is nothing like him. Where Dan is tall and easy with you, Burt is mean-spirited and short. He tried to be nice to Dan, but they didn’t like each other very much.

He ran that house like boot camp: spit, polish, morning runs and excruciating clap pushups, the quintessential ex-Marine. The ex part rankled. Something went wrong on Parris Island back in the day, but that was before he married Lucy, and she’ll never tell. After he was separated from the service, Burt set himself up in New London, but he made a bad civilian. After a lifetime of pushing boots, training hick kids to shape up and snap to, he was moving used cars off the lot in a military town, and it rankled. Danny was his last recruit.

‘Did you do that?’ The sequence was pre-set. Burt used to stand over him, waiting for him to cry. When he was really little, it used to work. ‘Well, did you?’

Whatever. That shrug. Dan is tougher now.

‘Goddammit, I’m trying to make a man out of you!’

‘I don’t care!’

He shook off the beatings but not the guilty, conflicted look on his mother’s face. She loved him, probably too much, but Burt was her only husband, and in charge. ‘Don’t.’ He felt the edge of her hand between his shoulder blades – the gentle pressure that told him, It’s all right, love. I’m here. ‘He’s your father.’

Burt was nothing to him.

His mother only ever hit him once, on a strange, sad day before he was old enough to read, and it was so awful that they both cried. He found certain things in her jewel box before she swooped down on him and snatched everything away. Underneath all her beads and bracelets, he found a snapshot of five guys in a Jeep on some beach, laughing so hard that he thought they were laughing at him, and at the very bottom there was an envelope – was that his name? There was a newspaper inside. It was awful: pictures of somebody or some thing laid out in a ruined chair like a burnt-out log in a fireplace. One bedroom slipper with a foot in it, and a naked ankle bone, like it just broke off. Lucy ripped it away from him and smacked him hard. She disappeared it but he remembers. He still can’t make sense of the conflation: four laughing guys and the charred figure in the scorched chair.

Kids like Dan, even kids who grow up happy, travel on the myth: these can’t be my real parents. I’m only stuck here until they come for me. It kept him going through the loneliness and hard times with Burt, and the snapshot fueled the myth. Until he comes for me.

He was fifteen before she told him the truth.

In fact, it wasn’t the main business of the meeting. It came out accidentally. Even though it was late afternoon in late winter in New London, she pulled him out on the back porch and shut the door, Lucy Mixon with her sweet face tight, setting her jaw in that brave little tough-mom way. She was all hung up on it: bent on telling him, not knowing how to say it.

He wasn’t about to start. They stood there shivering.

Finally she said in a tight voice, ‘Honey, you know we both love you very much but I have some kind of hard news.’

He did not act surprised or upset when she explained that it wasn’t going to happen right away, but she and Burt were splitting up. It was over, she had to do it. When he didn’t respond she said, ‘You’re the only person I’ve told.’

He looked past her, watching it get dark.

‘Danny? Dan?’

She wanted him to react, she wanted him to say, ‘It’s OK,’ she wanted him to for God’s sake say something but he just stood there, waiting her out.

After a long time she said, ‘I’m sorry.’

An icicle dropped.

There was only the sound of her waiting.

She said what mothers do in this situation, ‘Don’t