The Jealous Kind (Holland Family Saga #2) - James Lee Burke



THERE WAS A time in my life when I woke every morning with fear and anxiety and did not know why. For me, fear was a given I factored into the events of the day, like a pebble that never leaves your shoe. In retrospect, an adult might call that a form of courage. If so, it wasn’t much fun.

My tale begins on a Saturday at the close of spring term of my junior year in 1952, when my father let me use his car to join my high school buds on Galveston Beach, fifty miles south of Houston. Actually, the car was not his; it was lent to him by his company for business use, with the understanding that only he would drive it. That he would lend it to me was an act of enormous trust. My friends and I had a fine day playing touch football on the sand, and as they built a bonfire toward evening, I decided to swim out to the third sandbar south of the island, the last place your feet could still touch bottom. It was not only deep and cold, it was also hammerhead country. I had never done this by myself, and even when I once swam to the third sandbar with a group, most of us had been drunk.

I waded through the breakers, then inhaled deeply and dove into the first swell and kept stroking through the waves, crossing the first sandbar and then the second, never resting, turning my face sideways to breathe, until I saw the last sandbar, waves undulating across its crest, gulls dipping into the froth.

I stood erect, my back tingling with sunburn. The only sounds were the gulls and the water slapping against my loins. I could see a freighter towing a scow, then they both disappeared beyond the horizon. I dove headlong into a wave and saw the sandy bottom drop away into darkness. The water was suddenly frigid, the waves sliding over me as heavy as concrete. The hotels and palm trees and the amusement pier on the beach had become miniaturized. A triangular-shaped fin sliced through the swell and disappeared beneath a wave, a solitary string of bubbles curling behind it.

Then I felt my heart seize, and not because of a shark. I was surrounded by jellyfish, big ones with bluish-pink air sacs and gossamer tentacles that could wrap around your neck or thighs like swarms of wet yellow jackets.

My experience with the jellyfish seemed to characterize my life. No matter how sun-spangled the day might seem, I always felt a sense of danger. It wasn’t imaginary, either. The guttural roar of Hollywood mufflers on a souped-up Ford coupe, a careless glance at the guys in ducktail haircuts and suede stomps and pegged pants called drapes, and in seconds you could be pounded into pulp. Ever watch a television portrayal of the fifties? What a laugh.

A psychiatrist would probably say my fears were an externalization of my problems at home. Maybe he would be right, although I have always wondered how many psychiatrists have gone up against five or six guys who carried chains and switchblades and barber razors, and didn’t care if they lived or died, and ate their pain like ice cream. Or maybe I saw the world through a glass darkly and the real problem was me. The point is, I was always scared. Just like swimming through the jellyfish. Contact with just one of them was like touching an electric cable. My fear was so great I was urinating inside my swim trunks, the warmth draining along my thighs. Even after I had escaped the jellyfish and rejoined my high school chums by a bonfire, sparks twisting into a turquoise sky, a bottle of cold Jax in my hand, I could not rid myself of the abiding sense of terror that rested like hot coals in the pit of my stomach.

I never discussed my home life with my friends. My mother consulted fortune-tellers, listened in on the party line, and was always giving me enemas when I was a child. She locked doors and pulled down window shades and inveighed against alcohol and the effect it had on my father. Theatricality and depression and genuine sorrow seemed her constant companions. Sometimes I would see the cautionary look in the eyes of our neighbors when my parents were mentioned in a conversation, as though they needed to protect me from learning about my own home. In moments like these