“If I’d caught that boy doing that to my daughter, I’d have killed him,” he said. “But your dad’s not like that.” With that our neighbor looked me up and down and walked away.
I was 10 and had no idea what he was talking about. I knew the boy in question. He was in college and used to live down the road from us, and I’d just said I didn’t like him. My step-sister and my neighbor’s granddaughter were talking about him, and I’d said the boy had babysat me a few times, but I didn’t like him. “Why?” my step-sister asked. I wasn’t paying any attention to my neighbor–a heavy set man who liked to note that my father and I no longer went to Mass–when I shrugged and said, “I don’t know. I just don’t.”
My step-sister, N., rolled her eyes because as far as she could tell, I never liked any boy at all.
That’s when my neighbor piped in with, “I know why you don’t like him.”
This was news to me. His granddaughter, L., who would later be caught stealing jewelry from me, said, “Why?”
“Oh, she knows,” he replied.
L. and N. looked at me expectantly. I shrugged. “I just don’t.”
And hence his comment that he’d have killed the boy. L. and N. were unimpressed, and they continued with whatever they’d been giggling about before. But I stood there and searched my brain. What was my neighbor talking about? What did the boy do and why wasn’t my dad mad about it?
And I thought about it and I thought about it and I imagined all sorts of things. Later that summer N. and I were at his house, playing with his cousin. We were running across the yard, screaming in the way 10 and 11 year old girls will do, when he came up behind me and lifted me off my feet.
The neighbor’s words echoed in my head, and I twisted free and tried to slap him. He looked quite startled and confused. “Why’d you do that?” he asked.
Flustered, I fussed with my stringy, tangled hair. “You scared me.”
His cousin put her hands on her hips. “Leave us alone!” she said, laughing.
“You can chase me,” my step-sister said. Of course.
He shook his head and went back into the house. I felt like throwing up and had to go home.
In the fictional world, how does a character know what is real and what is manipulation? Once there is a whisper of a misdeed (hmmm–famous story coming to mind, anyone? Anyone?), your character can see evidence in anything and everything. The nice thing about fiction, of course, is the revelation–oops. It wasn’t like that at all! Although usually by this time the character has strangled all that was good and beautiful. Or in some way self-destructed.
What I find difficult is making the character worthwhile while at the same time making him blind and the reader see.
Years later, I know that boy never did anything to warrant murderous, parental rage, but why does a grown man want to put an ugly idea into a child’s head? His own daughter probably could’ve explained it, but that is another story.