There Are Monsters

He met her at the Rockridge public library. Not the place you would expect to meet the woman of your dreams, but life is strange. You never know what could happen. One might think such an occurrence would help to teach Terrence to stay open, receptive, fluid and adaptable, not to get too stubborn or stuck in his ways, a problem he’d struggled with his whole life. Expressing his emotions, one way or another, had never been his strong suit. He was not what you might all “a ladies man.” Trapped in an unfulfilling job, still living on his own, it would be an understatement to claim that he was stuck in a rut. He was the fucking rut, and it seemed that there was no way out, serving only to accentuate his anger, his frustration. The miraculous discovery of Valerie threatened to change all that. There was finally someone to see on Saturday night, something interesting to think about, a new, ever challenging problem to solve. The trick was to snare her before she wised up to who he actually was. He’d never lived a happy day in his life, and he never knew who to blame for that.

She was perfect. Beautiful and tall, red hair, a great figure. She wore fashionable round-rimmed glasses. She’d been working in the library for almost as long as Terrence had been working at Shutterstop, the famed photo sharing app. He’d been with them since the beginning, but had been consistently sidelined along the way so that even in the excitement of belonging to an ambitious startup he’d never enjoyed more than job security, rather than the glamor and notoriety, the women and the public speaking engagements, that came to his colleagues. No, his had been a life of predictability, and he only had his limitations to blame. There was a cruel, anti-social streak to him that showed itself every now and then. People often seemed leery of him. Growing up the bullies seemed to know better than to mess with him, large as he was, even though he’d had few friends. One of his hobbies was learning Jiu-Jitsu, as if he’d been hoping, at some point, to put it to use. He’d never been good at speaking up, partly because he didn’t really know how normal people functioned. Starting with Valerie, he promised himself one night, alone in bed after a beautiful third date, he was finally going to change. He would not allow himself to be discarded. He would take what he wanted. Now was his chance.

But Valerie didn’t come alone. She had an autistic son, Jerry, who divided her affections, though the longer Terrence knew her the more vigorously he wanted them all to himself. Jerry threatened Terrence’s plans for transformation. Jerry, the product of a short, mysterious affair (Valerie didn’t talk about her son’s father much), demanded attention.

Jerry was eight years old, and he disgusted Terrence. He squirmed in his easy chair while Terrence and Valerie were watching a movie on the couch. He drooled lightly on himself. Sometimes Valerie and Terrence were having a conversation and he would force himself onto her lap, as if he didn’t trust Terrence to leave her alone with him. He called her “Mommy.” He had a very limited vocabulary. He knew what he wanted, Valerie’s attention, and he knew how to get it. His most common strategy was taking her hand, when such a move was convenient, or calling out her name from the opposite side of their two-bedroom West Berkeley apartment.

Once, when Terrence and Valerie were in the kitchen/dining room, Terrence asked her how she lived with it:

“I don’t know. I love him. I guess I’ve gotten used to it,” she answered.

“Gotten used to it. I know what that means,” Terrence answered.

“What does it mean?”

“It means you’ve gotten stuck. It means you’re held captive by something that you wish could be different.”

“I’m sorry, Terrence, but you have no idea what you’re talking about. I would do anything for him.”

They had just finished eating. Jerry had gone into the living room after they’d eaten. Terrence and Valerie had been seeing each other for four months. Valerie didn’t know it, but Terrence had begun entertaining fantasies of asking her to move in with him. His house was big enough for her. But not for Jerry. Not for Jerry.

“I’ll help you with the dishes,” Terrence offered, going to stand next to her. “You wash I’ll scrub.”

“It would be easier if you just did them yourself,” she replied, smiling sweetly.

“Oh would it now?”


“Well I guess you made dinner all by yourself.”

“Fair is fair.”

Terrence picked up the sponge and applied dish detergent.

“Fine,” he said. “But don’t think I won’t remember this and hold it against you.”

Valerie sat down at the table.

“You okay in there, sweetie?” she called out.

“Yup,” was the response, a sound whose dumb unintelligibility made Terrence cringe.

He scrubbed hard at a stubborn bit of burnt food clinging to the cast iron pan. Jerry was back on his mind. Even in the living room his stupid presence was oppressive.

“What’s he doing in there?” Terrence asked.

“Sounds like he’s watching TV.”

“Unsupervised?” Terrence joked.

Valerie didn’t respond.

Terrence kept scrubbing.

“Aren’t you ever afraid that he’s going to hurt himself?”

“I’m always afraid of that.”

“All by himself in the next room. You never know what mischief he might be getting into.”

He finished scrubbing the pan and turned on the hot water. With the water running he could no longer hear the TV Jerry was watching, but he knew that it was Batman: The Animated Series, which he had on DVD. The boy liked animated fare, Valerie had once said. Terrence suspected that he liked the moving images because they hypnotized his mal-formed mind.

After the last of the dishes Terrence wiped his hands on a dishtowel and turned around, toward his girlfriend, was sitting at the kitchen table, her long legs crossed, looking at him.

“You look a little pleased with yourself,” he said.

“Well it’s not every day you find a man who does the dishes on command.”

“I’m only doing this to placate you.”

“Then your instincts are sound.”

Terrence heard a burst of laughter from the living room — Jerry had seen something he enjoyed. Terrence closed his eyes and shuddered. When he opened them he saw how contented she looked. Valerie was so accustomed to Jerry’s antics that none of his little quirks and foibles seemed to bother her. And maybe she was thinking about something else. Maybe, by the way she was looking at her current boyfriend, she had come to love him. Maybe she would do anything to keep him, just the way Terrence felt about her. Of course, even now he knew she didn’t know him very well, and Terrence had often misread people in the past. That part of him that he blamed for his apartness, that thing about himself that didn’t give a damn about anyone else, she hadn’t yet seen it. It was only a matter of time. Sometimes he was afraid he was boring her, and he didn’t know what he could do about that.

“He sure does like his television,” Terrence commented.

“Aren’t you the observant one?”

“Does he ever stop?”

“Stop what?”

“I don’t know, being… so…” Terrence hesitated. A wrong move might set off alarm bells.

“Is something wrong?” Valerie asked.

“No,” he answered, shaking his head. “Nothing at all.”

Valerie coughed and looked towards the living room, as if she wished she had company.

Terrence walked to the kitchen table, pulled out a chair and sat down next to her. He took one of her hands in both of his. He thought about how different things would be without Jerry.

“You seem distracted,” Valerie said.

Terrence shook his head.

“I’m just thinking.”

“What about?”

“How lucky I am to have found you.”

“I feel the same way.”

“At a library no less. What are the odds?”

“You’re the first man who met me that way too, in case you were wondering. To penetrate my rigid professional exterior… You did something right.”

“Thank you. I’m glad.”

Terrence held her hand open. He heard the laugh again from the living room. He lowered his eyes so that he was looking at her soft, extended arm.

“Can I ask a favor of you?” Valerie asked.

“Whatever I can do.”

“I can’t pick Jerry up from school tomorrow. There’s a staff meeting and I can’t get out of it.”

“What’s it about?”

“Nothing all that complicated. We’re just re-organizing a few sections. Will require some mild after-hours chaos for a few weeks.”

“I see.”

“Can you get him for me and bring him home?”

Terrence didn’t like the sound of that. Hunched over his girlfriend’s palm she couldn’t see his face, so he made sure that his voice wouldn’t betray him when he said:

“What time?”

“Would four o’clock work?”

Terrence was silent.

Valerie said, “It can be earlier than that if you have problems with work.”

“I come and go as I please. I can get everything I need done finished by the afternoon.” He wasn’t sure why he was agreeing to this. He didn’t want Jerry to know how much he hated him. Spending time with him might well risk as much.

“Are you sure?” Valerie asked. “I don’t know what else to do.”

“It’s no problem.”

“Good. I’ll get a key for you.”

She rose from the table and left the kitchen. Terrence heard her coo lovingly at her son as she passed him in the living room, and he heard her son warble in response. The fucking albatross. If only something would happen to remove the burden. It didn’t even have to be something dramatic. Just something so that Terrence could have Valerie all to himself.

Valerie came back into the kitchen and put the apartment key down on the table.

“There you go,” she said.

Terrence put it in his pocket.

“Anything else?” he asked.

“Nothing I can think of,” she said.

“Good,” he replied, reached out and wrapped his arm around her waist and drew her towards him. “What else can we think of to talk about tonight?”

And that was when he heard it: A shrill, piercing shout from the living room. Valerie pulled away from Terrence, almost taking him out of his chair, as his first instinct was to grab her tighter rather than let her go.

“JERRY!” Valerie called out.

“What’s happening?” Terrence managed, wishing to appear forceful.

Valerie disappeared into the living room. The scream lost some of its immediacy and curdled into a less urgent bout of crying, coming in tides divided by heaves of breath.

“Oh my God, Jerry what are you doing?!”

Terrence made his way to the living room.

“Drop it now, Jerry! You know better than that.”

The scene he found was less than the scream had advertised: Jerry, butter knife in hand, had apparently been sticking the utensil into an electrical socket. His brown hair stood on end. Tears were streaming down his face. Valerie was holding him now, avoiding the knife sticking out of the wall, and she looked at Terrence apologetically over her son’s head. That look Terrence saw in her eyes, it made him wonder whether she had left those other men because of Jerry, or if it had been the other way around.

“MAMA, SORRY! HURTS!” Jerry shrieked, cradling one of his hands against his stomach with the other.

“It’s okay, baby. It’s okay.”

“Is he alright?” Terrence asked mutedly.

Valerie didn’t answer. She kept looking over Jerry’s head at him though while she stroked Jerry’s hair.

Terrence returned her gaze, and tried not to look at the little boy. He hoped that his eyes did not reveal the machinations of his mind, as they had of a sudden settled on a dark, but forceful, course of action.

Jerry spent most of the day coloring and drawing. Allison was his tutor for the day, and she helped him when the markers ran out of ink or if  he needed help writing things. He was learning to spell. He wasn’t too bad at it either.

When the final bell rang Allison walked him out of the classroom and down the hall, which was swarming with over-excited children. He and the other special needs kids were escorted outside, where their parents picked them up. Today was different though. Mom wasn’t there.

This wasn’t all that uncommon. She wasn’t on time every day. But it went on longer than normal. Jerry sat on the side of the brick planters that contained the middle school farming projects. He watched the regular children boarding the school bus or getting into their parent’s cars. He knew he was different from them. They shined with a fearlessness that was absent Jerry and his peers. The world was a little less bewildering to them, a little less dangerous. Jerry couldn’t even wait to be picked up by his mom on his own. It was one of the rules. He looked at Allison. She wasn’t looking back at him.

She was impatient. Jerry could see it. She had had a hard day. Two of the kids had gotten into a fight and she’d risked bodily harm breaking them up. She’d had kids crying, kids drooling, kids breaking things. She liked Jerry, and Jerry liked her. He was generally one of the most well behaved among them, but his mind wandered and he sometimes put himself in harm’s way because of this.

Time passed, and the number of kids waiting to be picked up dwindled. Soon it was just Jerry and Allison. The school bus had left. Allison was now staying past her eight hours and was no longer being paid. Jerry’s mother had called ahead to tell her that her boyfriend was going to pick Jerry up, but she had said nothing about his being late.

And, to add insult to injury, she had to go to the bathroom.

She looked at Jerry, sitting on the planter box. He hadn’t tried to gain her attention all afternoon. Something might have happened at home the night before. Something to make him more reserved than usual. Often times he was the one in class with a smile on his face.

Boy did she have to go to the bathroom.

Finally she couldn’t hold it any longer.

She walked up to Jerry, took his hand and knelt down in front of him. She looked him in the eyes and smiled.

“Jerry, I’ll be right back,” she said. “You just stay here until your ride gets here, understand?”

Jerry smiled. Maybe he thought she was pretty.

“Understand? Don’t go anywhere!”

Jerry nodded.

That would have to be good enough.

Allison stood up and trotted back into the school building.

Seeing her do so, Terrence, who had been parked down the street, immediately pulled out of his parking space, drove forward, and pulled to a stop in front of Jerry. He had almost given up on his plan, but that would have meant a life with Jerry, and that was a concept he did not wish to embrace.

He left the car running as he exited the vehicle.

“Jerry!” he said, taking the child’s hand just like Allison had done. “Ready to go?”

Jerry looked up at him, his blue eyes wide and questioning. He didn’t know what had just been said to him, but he knew this man didn’t like him. It was why Jerry was always calling to his mom when this man was in the house, always trying to get her attention, like pulling that stupid stunt with the butter knife the evening before. He didn’t trust this man.

“Come on!” the man said. “It’s time to go.”

Jerry pulled his hand out of the man’s and crossed his arms. He glowered down at the sidewalk.

Terrence felt an instant of panic. He didn’t have much time to get the cursed child into the car. The teacher could come back at any moment: his plan would come off perfectly if he could just get the kid into the car before she did.

“Your mother sent me, Jerry. Come with me now or I’m going to tell her how you’ve acted up. You understand me?”

Jerry shook his head, arms still crossed. His lips were pressed together into a thin white line, his chin hunched down to his chest. 

But Terrence had prepared for this eventuality. He had thought it all out. It was only a question of whether the defining event would take place in the car, safe from prying eyes, or here, on the sidewalk, where there also, it seemed, were no witnesses.

The child stood up. He stared into Terrence’s eyes. There was something in them, Terrence saw, a look of defiance, as if he had already predicted the unpredictable. Terrence didn’t care. He was far larger than the child.

Terrence had never had the chance to put his Jiu-Jitsu training into action. Here would be his first real-world chance to do so.

With one fluid motion, he pulled Jerry towards himself and turned him around, wrapped one arm around the child’s neck, braced his hand on his other arm, and applied pressure. It was the sleeper hold, and after only a few seconds of struggle, hard, surprising struggle, Jerry bucking and choking and squirming, Terrence bearing down on him, the small boy went silently limp in the large man’s arms.

Terrence cast a glance both ways down the sidewalk. No one had seen. He looked to the school building. The young woman who had been waiting with Jerry had not yet returned.

Terrence carried the child back to the trunk of his car, picked him up, folded his legs, and dropped him in. He shut the trunk and locked it, circled back to the driver’s side door, got in and drove away.

Not half a minute later Allison returned and there was no Jerry.

“Jerry? Jerry?” she called out a few times.

Panic burst through her, as she wondered whether or not she had made a grievous mistake. She never should have left Jerry alone. Something might have happened.

But, more likely, Valerie’s boyfriend had arrived when she’d turned her back. Whatever can go wrong, will go wrong, she told herself.

She turned around and went back into the building to help put the special needs rooms back together for tomorrow’s classes. She tried to put Jerry’s disappearance out of her mind.

A few minutes later her cell phone rang. It was Valerie. She said that her boyfriend had been there but there had been no Jerry. Therefore, the child was missing. It didn’t take long for Valerie to fall into hysterics at the tutor’s admission that, yes, she had left the child alone. “What on God’s green Earth have you done?” Valerie wanted to know. And Terrence, who, after parking around the corner, had returned to the scene of the crime, found the tutor flummoxed and predictably frantic.

Terrence calibrated his emotions to communicate quiet concern and deliberation. But he was wary of the boy in his car. Terrence hadn’t killed him, such would have taken too long, required too much risk. He wasn’t sure how soon the child would wake up. He would have to find the time, and find it soon, to take care of him for good.

Jerry had an underdeveloped sense of time. More than that he had no way of knowing how long he had been unconscious. He woke in the total dark, with a brutal headache pounding the space between his temples. He let out a small moan, tried to stretch out from the fetal position he woke in, and found that he was in a severely confined space. The material he was lying on was rough, like the carpet at school. He rolled over, though he barely had enough room. He reached his arm out to touch the walls around him, found them unyielding, and wondered where he was. He remembered the big man who had been around his mother a lot recently. He remembered being hurt by him, after he had refused to get to his feet by the man’s request. His mother seemed to like this man, but his mother didn’t know everything, didn’t know that this man gave off a hostile smell. Jerry did not like him, but Jerry was bad at expressing or even interpreting his emotions. Now he was somewhere dark and hard, and he felt helpless and afraid, and before long, made frantic by the claustrophobic space, he started thrashing around, throwing out his arms and legs, turning over, crying out, and ultimately hurting himself, striking his fists against the hard metal walls, banging his knees, and defeating himself so that he curled back into the fetal position he had woken in, and cried himself back to sleep.

Jerry heard a voice. It was a male voice, and even though he rarely remembered much about any person he met, the voice was familiar to him. So was the image of the man he saw standing before him.

Jerry knew that it was his father. Jerry was frightened at seeing him. He was ashamed of who he was, how he wasn’t as good as the normal kids at school, that he required attention even if he wasn’t good at reciprocating it, that he got into trouble and caused problems. He didn’t like himself, but the presence of his father was comforting.

“There are monsters, Jerry,” his father said. “One of them is trying to kill you right now.”

“What’s a monster?” Jerry asked, surprised at his articulation.

“It’s a person who means you harm. There are many of them in this world, and your mother has stumbled across one. I’m not there to protect you, so you must do so for yourself.”

“The big man is a monster?”

“Yes he is.”

In the dream Jerry recalled being choked unconscious.

“Only monsters do that,” he said to his father.

“That’s exactly right. And he’s planning on doing worse.”

“So what do I do about it?”

“Become a monster yourself, Jerry. It’s the only way to fight them.”

Jerry woke abruptly to the sound of an engine revving and was soon aware of the sensation of movement, even though he himself was perfectly still.

Something was different. Suddenly he felt that he knew things: He knew that he was in the trunk of a car, he knew he had been kidnapped, and he knew that his father, a man he couldn’t remember, (so how did he know it was him?) had told him how to protect himself.

She wasn’t crying. That would come later. Once the police left, telling her the best thing to do was remain calm and stay at the apartment in case the child found his way there, Valerie sat on the couch next to Terrence, and let him console her, which he did in silence, stroking her hair with one hand, the other hand on her knee, as she leaned on him. She was so composed. She didn’t seem to expend unnecessary energy, she didn’t wear herself out, and she didn’t seem to blame Terrence, even though his part to play in the official story (that he showed up at the school only to find that neither Jerry nor his tutor were there) did place him perilously close to the scene of the crime. The cops hadn’t asked him any questions. Terrence wasn’t overly worried about them. He was more worried about how Jerry’s disappearance, and his murder, would affect Valerie. She would be traumatized. She might never be the same. She might even blame Terrence, or associate him with Jerry’s demise. That was a risk he hadn’t quite realized he was taking. Anyway, she was letting him touch her now, wasn’t she?

“I just can’t imagine what happened to him,” Valerie said, speaking into Terrence’s chest.

“I know,” Terrence said, still stroking her hair.

“It doesn’t make sense.”

“I’m sure he’ll turn up.”

“Did someone take him? Why would anyone do that?”

“I can’t imagine.”

“He couldn’t have wandered off. Someone would have seen him. The police would have found him.”

“It doesn’t make sense.”

Valerie sat up. She looked into Terrence’s face. He remained calm. She wouldn’t think it was him. He must banish the thought from his consciousness. But she looked at him quite intensely, not blinking, her big blue eyes flaring with emotion.

“How could that girl have just left him?” she wanted to know.

“I don’t know.”

“And then something happened, as if it had been planned.”

Terrence didn’t reply. He stared levelly into his girlfriend’s eyes. The two of them would just have to get through it, he told himself. He would be there for her.

He smiled and patted her knee. “I’m sure it’ll be okay,” he said.

She let out a breath that sounded like frustration, and pulled away from him. Terrence found himself confused. As far as she knew he’d done nothing wrong.

“Are you okay?” he asked her.

“I’m a fucking wreck,” she said, raising her hands and clapping them to her cheeks. “I can’t think about anything else.”

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“What do you have to be sorry about?”

“I mean, I was there. I didn’t see him. I might have done something wrong.”

“You had no way to know.”

Was it suspicion, or just the beginning of her grieving process? Maybe she was trying to apportion blame, and maybe in her mind he already carried some of it. But there was no way she suspected the truth.

Maybe she would give him an opening to express his concern.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated.

Valerie looked into his eyes, and didn’t respond. Terrence swallowed, and forced himself to return her gaze. Her eyes were so wide, so tense. Why was she looking at him that way?

Terrence promised himself, when she finally turned away from him, got up and went into her bedroom and closed the door, that he would give nothing away. Nothing at all.

He left her apartment at about 10:00 that night. She didn’t see him leave. He slunk out, hoping to avoid an argument. She might have wanted him to stay the night, and, he had to admit, it would have been the gentlemanly thing to do. But it wasn’t uncommon for him to leave her at night to go home. He avoided the worst of the morning traffic that way. He couldn’t trouble himself with what she might think. He had to finish what he’d started.

He took his keys out of his pocket as he walked down the stairs. When he reached his car he was thankful that there was no sound coming from the trunk. 

He got into the car and keyed the ignition, pulled out of his parking space and drove down the dark, silent Berkeley street. He followed the directions as his phone spoke them, but he mostly knew the way already. It was one of the places he used to go to get away from the stresses of his job, the rigors of city life. The park would be empty this time of night. There would be no witnesses. It was where he would leave Jerry’s body.

He was tense, a little bit afraid, but the prospect of keeping Valerie, free from the presence of her son, lay before him. His escapade would be worth it, and he would make it worth it to Valerie too. She would come to rely on him, to love him. Jerry’s death would begin a new era in her life, and she would find it liberating. Terrence just had to get away with the act, and she would never know the wiser.

There wasn’t much traffic on the drive. Most of the Bay Area was bedding down about this time. He took Highway 13 up into the hills and exited at Joaquin Miller Road.

The park would be closed, and Terrence’s parked car would draw the attention of anyone who happened upon him, but he was sure this risk was negligible. He only needed a few minutes. Maybe he should have finished the child off at the elementary school. But he hadn’t planned for that, and it might have taken longer than he knew. He’d never done anything past sparring, after all.

He found the entrance to the park that he was looking for, a cleared space off the street with a small, empty parking lot bordering silence, bushes, and groves of stately redwoods. He parked his car. There was still no sound coming from the trunk. Terrence wondered a moment as he exited his vehicle if he had killed the child already. He had expected to hear something on his way up here.

He reached the trunk of his car, took a deep breath, stuck the keys in the lock and turned. He opened the trunk.

There was Jerry, eyes closed, curled up in a fetal position. The lights in the trunk had turned on at his opening it. Jerry’s dark brown hair was tousled, his sweatshirt, too big for him, obscured the movement of his chest, so Terrence couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not.

Terrence felt the hatred again, at this useless, helpless child. He was a curse. He should be expunged.

Terrence reached down into the trunk and picked up the kid by reaching his hands beneath Jerry’s armpits and lifting him up. It should have been an easy feat. Terrence was certainly strong enough. But something happened as he lifted the child to his shoulders. Jerry came alive.

A small lightning bolt, Jerry did what his father had told him to do. 

Brought loosely to Terrence’s shoulders, Jerry went straight for the jugular. He wrapped his arms around Terrence’s neck and pulled himself in with all the strength he could muster. He caught the man’s Adam’s apple between his teeth, and he bit hard.

“What…!” Terrence started to yell, but the noise cut off, and he found himself quickly in a panic at the terrible pain.

He flailed about at the rear of his car and tried to pry Jerry loose, but he could find no purchase. Jerry went on biting, harder and harder, clinging to Terrence’s body with every ounce of effort he could summon inside himself. Jerry didn’t like this man. He didn’t like the way he looked, the way he made Jerry feel, the selfish sense of exclusion and disdain about him. The big man had started this fight but he had planned it poorly. He should have killed Jerry when he’d had the chance. Jerry heard a crackling sound as his teeth pierced the man’s windpipe.

Terrence spun about, fell backwards against his car and his ass landed in the trunk. Jerry felt a tearing, slow release. Blood was in his mouth, and he started to violently jerk his head back and forth as he’d seen dogs do to squirrels. Eventually he came free with a bit of warm, wet flesh in his mouth.


A noise came from Terrence’s mouth as, utterly shocked to find that it was he who was dying, he crumpled down into the trunk, with Jerry still clinging to him. Terrence wouldn’t rise again. A few minutes later — Jerry let go and stepped back into the small parking lot, wiping the blood off of his mouth — Terrence was dead. Jerry watched him die with satisfaction. His heart was beating fast. He had never felt like this before. In complete control of himself, cognizant of the situation in which he had prevailed. Just like his father told him, he had become a monster. Now there was one less evil man in the world, and Jerry was alone, in the cold, in the dark, as he watched the consciousness of his nemesis slip away.

An East Bay Parks Department employee found Jerry and the car in the morning, and he called the police. Jerry told him his name, which the employee recognized from the Amber Alert that had gone out the afternoon before. Jerry was taken to the police station where he waited for his mother, who showed up as soon as she could. She hugged him to her while the police told her what had happened. At first she didn’t believe it, and then, remembering how Terrence had sometimes looked at the boy, had to admit that she had been willfully deceiving herself, that there had indeed been something deeply malformed about him — she should have seen it, and should have protected her son from it. She would blame herself for this episode for the rest of her life.

Jerry was partially aware of his mother’s feelings, but he kept his observations to himself. He loved her for how much he knew she loved him. It would do no good to make things worse. In a short period of time the memory of his father, the visitation in the dream, dissipated, and Jerry went back to being the quiet, periodically difficult young person he had always been. Valerie continued working at the library, newly distrustful of her own romantic instincts. At least he and his mother had each other. As she tried to forgive herself for her mistake that would have to do.

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