Friday, April 10, 2009

The Sins of the Fathers (Part 2 of 2)

My next stop was the Salinger house, and part of me wanted to omit that step altogether, on the grounds that this affair was none of my business, and Caledon did not need another busybody. On the other hand, I was the only adult witness to Enoch Salinger’s behavior. A good caning might put some kindness into the boy, or, at the very least, he might learn to fake kindness.

In contrast with the Thraxon residence, the Salinger house had seen better decades: many of the shutters were loose, the entire house needed a good painting, and the little yard was filled with ill-looking plants and healthy-looking weeds, far more of the latter than the former. I introduced myself to Mrs. Salinger, a doughy-faced woman with a perpetual scowl, who came to the door in a tattered housecoat. “Is ye a copper?” she asked, her accent thick.

Shaking my head, I explained that I was a neighbor and why I was there. She interrupted, “Don’t go sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong, lady. If my boy has done wrong, his Pa’ll sort him out. We don’t need you or your kind telling us how to live.” With that, she slammed the door in my face, causing a few flakes of paint to drift to the ground. From somewhere near the back of the house, I thought I could hear Enoch beneath his mother’s raised voice.

I went home, my duty done, but feeling unsatisfied. I had not helped little Sammy Thraxon any, and failed to make headway with Mrs. Salinger. I didn’t know what constituted “my kind,” but we were clearly not set forth on this Earth to be diplomats.

Some days passed, and I thought no more about the incident. Then I had reason to call upon a man who, I believed, had some information that could help me with an article I was writing about a recent spate of burglaries. My source felt uncomfortable outside his usual haunts, which meant a trip to one of the less-reputable parts of Tamrannoch. Taking a cab partway, I departed when the cabbie became reluctant to take his horse further into the neighborhood, and continued my journey on foot. I realized too late that my chosen route took me directly past the Salinger house.

As I approached, I could hear a man’s raised voice, which coalesced into a tirade about a failure to perform a particular chore. Just as the speaker came into view, I could see Enoch Salinger and a man I assumed was Enoch’s father, and Mr. Salinger backhanded the child across the face hard enough to send Enoch staggering across the yard before he fell to the ground. He said nothing, not even a whimper, but rose to his feet and wiped a trickle of blood from his lip. I could see his face and, naturally, he could see mine. Embarrassment turned to hatred as he recognized me. His father turned to see what Enoch was starting at so intently, and I quickened my pace.

The source of Enoch’s bullying behavior seemed clear enough, but I did not know what I should – or could – do about it. In any event, was it too late to change the course of Enoch Salinger’s future? His father was a violent man, and he had already taught his violent ways to his son. I fought the temptation to conclude that nothing could change the cycle of violence, that, whether nature or nurture, it had already been passed to the next generation, and that Enoch would one day grow up to beat his son, too. Even as I had that thought, I knew it was false. I reflected on my own childhood, after my father died, and the indignities my sister and I suffered at the hands of our aunt and uncle. No doubt that affected both of us, changed us in ways both obvious and subtle. Yet we both made the decision not to be like they were. Perhaps the difference was that we had the memory of Father (and, in Kathy’s case, perhaps even some memory of Mother) and knew things could be otherwise.

I finished my interview with the man who was obviously a minor villain, and I needed both a literal and figurative bath, but first paid a call to one of my friends on the Caledon police force, Sergeant Bishop. I had met the solidly-built, attractive woman in the course of a police investigation some time ago, and we had gotten along well. After the obligatory round of flirting, I explained why I had come, and asked if anyone could help the Salinger child before things got out of hand.

The sergeant shook her head. “It’s not that we don’t know about these kinds of cases, Rhianon, but the law allows us nothing to do for the children. If the lad were an orphan, we could see whether the orphanage was being well-run. As it is, he’s got his parents and, well…” I knew the rest of the story. Discipline was the parent’s responsibility, and anything short of killing the child was acceptable. At some level, I understood and even agreed with this principle: was it right for strangers, for lawmakers, for the police to impose their views of child-rearing on the parents who, after all, had to live with their failures?


By the time I arrived at the scene, the ambulance had come and gone, and the police were there, doing the sorts of things for which they had an advantage: securing the area, taking statements, trying to sort things out.
They had taken the gun from Enoch – a double-action pump shotgun that I suspect his father used on occasion to poach a deer from one of the Guvnah’s parks – and sat the child on the front stoop. He looked as though he would cry, but his face remained dry. Unlike Sammy Thraxon’s efforts to fight back tears, Enoch’s motivation seemed clear: men do not cry. Ever. That ironclad rule applied even when your father lay dead on the ground in front of you, your fingers having curled around the triggers of the shotgun, you having just enough strength in your pre-teen fingers to pull back the triggers and let one, and then the other, large-gauge shotgun shell loose.
Mr. Salinger lay staring accusingly at his son, or so it seemed as I looked at the body, the ultimate act of betrayal displayed on the older man’s chest. From inside the house, Mrs. Salinger’s braying voice alternated between shock and anger at the police, but I found that, without much effort, I could shut her voice out of my head. Still the boy said nothing, and I wondered what was going through his mind at the moment: sorrow? fear? Or just anger, passed down from one generation to the next.

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