My name is Oliver Lake Delano Hilliard and my father was a lunatic.
Let me clarify. In the parlance of the 1950s, he was merely eccentric, but in modern psychiatric terminology, “eccentric” has more … disturbing … overtones, especially when one gets into extremes of eccentricity.
His was an extreme eccentricity when it manifested, interspersed by long stretches of apparent normality. Oh, he had his little foibles that made no one blink unless they saw the joke of them.
He spent hours in the basement tying flies, but he didn’t flyfish.
He played chess against himself, but would lose his proper turn.
He kept the household books, as the man of the house should, but only every third month. My mother kept them up while he was at work, always making sure we children never reported how much time she spent at his desk writing checks, licking envelopes and stamps, sending one of us to the post office. He never noticed the time that had passed since he last sat down and wrote out bills; my mother always made sure he had enough to do that he wouldn’t find it suspicious we had none at all.
Yet when his extreme eccentricities manifested, we all ran for cover.
It was bewildering to watch, as if his entire personality changed from hearty, laughing goodness to madman. During this time, whole cabinets of china might be destroyed. One of us kids might get beat with a belt for no reason. My mother might have obscenities roared at her.
Those episodes lasted days, weeks, months: Long enough so that whatever had caught his attention so much that it obsessed him—possessed him—ran its course. He would return to normal (see above) overnight, and once again, a bewildered peace would settle over the household because he didn’t seem to remember.
He would ask, in a vague and preoccupied manner, what had happened to the dishes, and my mother would tell him he’d destroyed them. His shock and deep hurt were real, I know now, but my mother was ruthless in detailing his madnesses to him to see what she could unearth.
Which was nothing.
He would lie sobbing on his bed, curled up and weeping as she rattled off his sins, clearly unable to believe that anyone would treat his family so, much less he himself.
Then the Mormon missionaries knocked on our door one day in the middle of one of these recitations and, grabbing any excuse he could to escape my mother, he welcomed them in heartily, the man of the house being a warm and gracious host.
For whatever reason, he took to the church.
Well, it would be more precise to say that he made the church his next obsession; fortunately, it was an obsession that controlled his outbursts such that when he turned the corner into schizophrenia, he closeted himself with his scriptures and read obsessively.
My siblings and I escaped the affliction, all but my youngest brother, James, seven years younger than I.
James’s eccentricity first manifested as a sort of religious zeal not unlike my father’s. I didn’t realize until I came home from my mission that his interest in the church simply wasn’t natural for a kid his age.
The next manifestation was his possession by the works of James Fenimore Cooper—for whom my father had named him.
“Fenimore,” he would insist we—anyone—call him. “Fen, for short.”
But it seemed to abate as he got older until, at nineteen, he was only too happy to hop the Queen Mary bound for Holland, to spend three years serving the Lord by preaching the gospel.
His zeal returned with a vengeance.
I’d seen it before, of course. That kind of zeal only implodes under one of two missiles:
1) Unspeakable injustice.
2) Unbearable temptation.
Fen bore both the minute he laid eyes on my fiancée, a woman I loved, whom I thought loved me.
Forgive me. I misspoke.
The woman I loved never existed. The woman I married had fabricated a very complex lie, a— My sister-in-law Lilly called it a “glamour.” She said it was from King Arthur, where a witch cast a spell on herself to make her look like someone else and fool King Arthur.
Eh, I wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told me straight out before I married her. Old man Dunham was a solid guy, no nonsense, with a history wound up in the Pendergast Machine before he’d told Boss Tom to go fuck himself and walked out. The old man was tough, smart, and knew people.
So he knew his daughter’s tricks, and it’s not that he wanted to pawn her off on me, unsuspecting idiot that I was, all in love with the blue-eyed blonde bombshell of the decade (Miss Missouri, even). He simply wanted to believe she had changed, settled down, grown up.
The woman could act, and it was almost a relief when my number came up and I headed out to ’Nam.
I knew Fen had fallen in love with my wife, but Fen being hyperreligious, would keep his hands to himself for however long I was gone, and suffer in martyred silence, probably writhing in guilt for lusting after another man’s wife.
I came home from Vietnam not really caring that my wife was still as hateful as she’d always been. I was horny and I needed to get laid. Unlike many of my comrades in arms, I hadn’t gone back on my wedding vows when I was away, so I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to hit Trudy up for a good fuck the minute I got home.
Trudy was many things—almost none of them good—but she was magnificent in bed and always more than willing to go a round or two as long as she got off. In light of that, I wasn’t naïve enough to believe Trudy had kept her vows any more than my fellow soldiers had.
I had the moral high ground here, but I didn’t care, and Fen’s teenage-girl longing was just sad.
But it turned out that Fen could go to Vietnam and be sad, when his number came up next. He’d probably get himself killed just to wrap himself up in a pretty package with a bow, and present the Lord with the gift of his martyrdom.
Bye bye, little brother.
It took me a while to get Trudy naked in the daylight, but when I saw her gorgeous body in its full glory, I knew: She’d had a baby. I’d seen enough naked Vietnamese women in various ages and in various stages of pregnancy and post pregnancy to know what I was looking at.
I didn’t bother to confront her. I just went to a divorce lawyer, happy she’d given me a legitimate reason to get rid of her.
But a little over a year after Fen left, she gave me a son, the most precious thing anyone had ever given me.
You know, people look back on what I did that day in April in 1985, and wonder what possessed me to do such a terrible thing to my son, but I’ll tell you what it was—
Knox was a lunatic.
Just like my father.
Just like Fen.
I saw it early, appearing in spurts in the middle of his genius, talking at nine months, reading at twenty months, playing chess like a pro by four, and thoroughly, utterly disoriented in the world. His tantrums were frightening and I had to physically restrain him to keep him from hurting himself.
Trudy refused to deal with him at all.
The only thing that saved him was my little niece, just eighteen months younger than Knox. She could touch him and he would calm instantly. She could babble at him and he would smile. Then there was my nephew Sebastian, three years older than Knox, who didn’t go anywhere without dragging Giselle behind him and would shut Knox up with one well-placed punch in the arm.
There were a few others: Étienne and Victoria, a set of really weird twins, who’d be turning over a complicated word game or math problem in their heads and, with uncanny timing, present it to Knox to solve just as he was starting to ramp up. Morgan refused to put up with the tantrums and would walk away. When Knox noticed, he would plop his little butt down and start to cry in heartbroken frustration that he couldn’t control himself.
None of them was aware of what they did, nor did they care; it was just what they did together, so I made sure Knox spent as much time with this pack of cousins as possible. I couldn’t buy that kind of help without bankrupting a small nation.
Then there was Fen, whom I knew had taken up his affair with my wife immediately upon his return from Vietnam.
There were two reasons I never confronted Fen or kicked his ass: A) I honestly didn’t care so long as Trudy put out for me first; and B) Fen loved my son and treated him well, albeit he spoiled him a little more than I liked.
There was no way in hell I was going to let any son of mine be thrown into an asylum.
I could control Knox’s outbursts, but I couldn’t teach him how to control himself. Somehow, Fen had managed to learn how, so he was now teaching Knox to do it. I tried to observe and duplicate it, but I couldn’t—and I was getting physically weaker and more tired. I had to keep Fen around for Knox the way I had to keep his gaggle of cousins close.
Putting up with my wife having an affair with my brother was a small price to pay to make sure my son got the help he needed from people who loved him.
When I wrote the proviso that spiraled out of control, I had just come home from a routine physical to cure whatever was dragging my ass. Except … it was anything but routine. I had heart disease and diabetes.
I found myself looking for the heavenly light at the end of the tunnel, knowing I needed to figure out how to protect Knox. I assumed that eventually, the affair would blow up in all our faces and Knox would suffer whether I was still alive or not. Trusting Trudy with his welfare after I was gone was out of the question, particularly when I couldn’t be sure Fen would be around. Asking Trudy’s sisters if they’d be willing to take a pre-adolescent lunatic would have been way out of line for various reasons, and I knew my siblings wouldn’t take him.
I also assumed that, as they should do, Giselle and Sebastian, Étienne, Victoria, and Morgan would grow and drift away, build their own lives. They were only cousins, after all, not siblings, and even the closest of siblings diverge.
Without me to control him, Fen to guide him, and the pack to support him, Knox would need something of his own to obsess over, to hang onto, to give him a goal he could concentrate on to keep him off the brink of insanity and out of an asylum as long as possible.
I couldn’t make sure Fen would stick around after Trudy was through with him unless I did it through my company. I didn’t know what Knox wanted to do with his life, but he was brilliant enough to figure out how to run my company.
So I tied Knox to OKH and thus, to Fen. With any luck, I’d still be around when Knox was forty and it would have been a moot point, but that wasn’t likely to happen. The proviso was a failsafe against my death and Knox attaining his majority, no more, no less.
Once my lawyers had made it official company policy, I scheduled a meeting with Fen to lay it all out. I also intended to write a letter to Knox to explain myself.
But, as best-laid plans have a way of doing, things went awry the day my poor niece found Trudy and Fen in bed together. Lilly, Giselle’s mother, called me at work to let me know what had happened and suggest Knox stay with her and Giselle for a while.
That was okay with me, because I knew Fen would stand against Trudy for Knox’s sake.
Or … not.
When I came home from work, I calmly informed Trudy I knew about the affair, had known all along and allowed it, knew she’d knocked my little niece across the room and kicked Knox out. I also informed her that if she wanted any kind of settlement at all when I divorced her, she would A) write a full confession as to what had happened to the first child she’d had and B) be out of the house by the end of the week.
I didn’t know Trudy had Fen wound up so tight he’d murder for her, which trumped my father’s lunacy by a few miles. But as I lay in bed with an insulin syringe quivering in my thigh, Fen hovering over me and Trudy sitting next to me waiting breathlessly for my demise, I realized I had delivered my son into the hands of a madman.
God help him.