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Authors: Joyce Carol Oates

Tags: #Thrillers, #Suspense, #Fiction

Daddy Love

BOOK: Daddy Love
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Daddy Love
Joyce Carol Oates
Grove/Atlantic, Incorporated (2013)
Tags:
Thrillers, Suspense, Fiction

Dinah Whitcomb seemingly has everything. A loving and successful husband, and a smart, precocious young son named Robbie. One day, their worlds are shattered when Dinah is attacked and Robbie is taken in a mall parking lot. Dinah, injured, attempts to follow, but is run over by the kidnapper's van, mangling her body nearly beyond repair. The kidnapper, a part-time Preacher named Chester Cash, calls himself Daddy Love, as he has abducted, tortured, and raped several young boys into being his lover and as well as his 'son'. He confines Robbie in a device called an Wooden Maiden, in essence a small coffin, and renamed him 'Gideon'. Daddy Love slowly brainwashes 'Gideon' into believing that he is Daddy Love's real son, and any time the boy resists or rebels it is met with punishment beyond his wildest nightmares. As Dinah recovers from her wounds, her world and her marriage struggle to exist every day. Though it seems hopeless, she keeps a flicker of hope alive that her son is still alive. As Robbie grows older, he becomes more aware of just how monstrous Daddy Love truly is. Though as a small boy he as terrified of what might happen if he disobeyed Daddy Love, Robbie begins to realize that the longer he stays in the home of this demon, the greater chance he'll end up like Daddy Love's other 'sons' who were never heard from again. Somewhere within this tortured young boy lies a spark of rebellion...and soon he sees just what lengths he must go to in order to have any chance at survival.

 

For Warren Frazier, and for Moses Cardona

Take my hand, she said.

He did. Lifted his small hand to Mommy’s hand. This was maybe five minutes before the abduction.

Did he see their car? she asked him. Did he remember where they’d parked?

It was a kind of game she’d played with him. He was responsible for remembering where they’d parked the car at the mall which was to teach the child to look closely, and to remember.

The car was Daddy’s Nissan. A silvery gray-green that didn’t stand out amid other parked vehicles.

He was an alert child most of the time, except when tired or distracted as he was now.

Remember? Which store we parked in front of? Was it Home Depot or Kresge Paints?

Mommy narrowed the stores to two, for Robbie’s benefit. The mall was too much for his five-year-old brain.

He was staring ahead, straining to see. He took his responsibility for the car seriously.

Mommy began to worry: she’d made too much of the silly game and now her son was becoming anxious.

For he was fretting, Is the car lost, Mommy? How will we get home if the car is lost, Mommy?

Mommy said, with a little laugh, Don’t be impatient, sweetie! I promise, the car is not
lost
.

She would remember: the lot that was often a sea of glittering vehicles was now only about one-third filled. For it was nearing dusk of a weekday. She would remember that the arc lights high overhead on tall poles hadn’t yet come on.

The harsh bright arc lights of Libertyville Mall. Not yet on.

It was in a row of vehicles facing the entrance to Kresge Paints that she’d parked the Nissan. Five or six cars back. The paint store advertised itself with a festive rainbow painted across the stucco facade of the building.

The Libertyville Mall was a welcoming sort of place. As you approached the entrances, a percolating sort of pop-music emerged out of the very air.

Didn’t trust her spatial memory in these massive parking lots and so Dinah never walked away from her car without fixing a landmark in her memory. A visual cue rather than trying to remember the signs: letters and numerals were too easy to forget.

Unless she jotted down the location of the parked car on a scrap of paper, which she had not done.

Searching for the car Robbie was becoming increasingly fretful. Tugging at Mommy’s hand in nervous little twitches. And his little face twitched, like a rabbit’s.

She assured him: I’m sure the car is just over there. Next row. Behind that big SUV. Perpendicular to the paint store.

Robbie was straining to see. Robbie seemed convinced, the car was
lost
.

And how would they get home, if Daddy’s car was
lost
?

Mommy asked Robbie if he knew what
perpendicular
meant but he scarcely listened. Ordinarily new and exotic words were fascinating to Robbie but now he was distracted.

Mommy what if … Lost?

Damn she regretted the silly parking-lot game! Maybe it was a good idea sometimes but not now, evidently. Too much excitement in the mall and Robbie hadn’t had a nap and now he was fretting and on the verge of tears and she felt a wave of protective love for him, a powerful wish to shield him, to clutch him close and assure him that he was safe, and she was safe, and the car was only a few yards away, and not
lost
. And they were not
lost.

Except: when she came upon the row of vehicles in which she was sure she’d parked the Nissan, it wasn’t there.

Which meant: she’d parked in the next row. That was all.

It’s right here, Robbie. Next row.

You must hide from your child your own foolish uncertainties.

You must hide from your child your own sudden sharp-as-a-razor self-loathing.

Dinah was thinking more positively—(a good mother is one who insists upon thinking “more positively”)—what a good thing it is, that a child’s fears can be so quickly dispelled. Robbie’s anxiety would begin to fade as soon as they sighted the car and would have been totally forgotten by the time they arrived home and Daddy came home for supper.

And Daddy would ask Robbie what they’d done that day and Robbie would tell him about the mall—the items they’d bought, the stores they’d gone into, the plump white pink-nosed Easter bunnies in an enclosure in the atrium at the center of the mall and how he’d petted them through the bars for it was allowed for visitors to pet the bunnies as long as they did not feed them, or frighten them.

PET ME PLEASE DON’T PINCH ME.

And Robbie would climb onto Daddy’s lap and ask, as he’d asked Mommy, Could they have an Easter bunny? And Daddy would say as Mommy had said, Not this year but maybe next year at Easter.

And to Mommy in an undertone, Jugged hare, maybe. With red wine.

Pulling Robbie through a maze of parked vehicles and certain now that she saw the Nissan, parked exactly where she’d left it, Dinah was prepared to say in relief and triumph: See, honey? Just where we left it.

“Please take my hand, Robbie.”

He did. He lifted his pudgy hand to Mommy’s hand, and she squeezed his fingers. Between Mommy and the five-year-old passed a shivery sort of happiness.

Apophatic
came to her mind. That which is
beyond words.

So much in motherhood she was discovering is
beyond words.

“Do you see our car? Daddy’s car? Remember where we parked?”

The car was Daddy’s 2001 Nissan sedan. Cool green-gray of the hue of weathered stone.

On their outings together, Mommy used such opportunities to instruct Robbie. It was Mommy’s intention that their son would not be a passive child like so many in this electronic-media era but a child actively involved in whatever Mommy was doing that had some reasonable learning-purpose to it.

And Robbie definitely helped Mommy locate stores on the mall-map, for his five-year-old brain was quick to coordinate
colors, and quick to match names and numerals with patches of color, as in a board game.

Robbie had been “responsible” for remembering the location of the car when Mommy parked, since the age of three.

He was a quick bright sweetly docile boy most of the time—given to happy chattering. A nonstop barrage of questions for Mommy and Daddy—
Why? Why? Why?

The flood of speech had begun when he’d been two. In three years, Robbie’s vocabulary and
way with words
had developed considerably.

And it was a task, to get such an active-minded child to sleep through the night. Often waking at 3:30
A.M.
and coming to their bed claiming he was
all slept-out, so it must be morning.

Mommy was asking gently: “Remember? Which store we parked behind? Was it Home Depot or Kresge Paints?”

She’d narrowed the stores down to two, for Robbie’s benefit. The mall was somewhat overwhelming to him and shopping here left him both excited and fatigued.

“Home Depot or—Kresge Paints?”

Robbie stared, strained to see. Robbie was taking his responsibility for the car seriously.

This was a game and yet not entirely a game. Now Dinah began to worry that she’d made too much of it and if Robbie couldn’t locate the car he’d be disappointed in himself, and upset.

The downside of an active-minded child is that he sets high standards for himself, if but unconsciously. And it should not be a five-year-old’s self-judgment that he might
fail
.

Shopping with Mommy Robbie was like a little bird fluttering its wings—so much energy! And so much to look at, and question!
Mommy what’s this? Mommy what’s
this? A display of plump white pink-nosed Easter bunnies in the mall had thrown him into an ecstasy of excitement. He’d tugged at Mommy so hard that her arm was aching. She’d joked to friends, as to Whit, that she was becoming asymmetrical—a slight stoop to her right shoulder, from leaning down to their little boy.

He was a happy child. He was not a fretful, whimpering or whining child. Yet, sometimes when he was frustrated, particularly by a task he’d presumably learned to do, or by some accident having to do with the toilet, Robbie burst into tears of disappointment, hurt, rage. The
woundedness
in a five-year-old’s face! It would require a Rembrandt to render such exquisite subtlety, such pain. At such times Dinah was in awe of the child.

For at such times he seemed to her not
her child,
but
the child.

Robbie was saying in a worried voice that their car wasn’t where it was supposed to be—was it? The car was “lost”—was it?

And Mommy said no, the car was definitely not lost—“Just wait a minute. Maybe we’ll see it in a minute.”

Robbie was asking how they would get home, if the car was “lost”?

“Sweetie, don’t be so impatient. I promise, the car is not
lost.

Recalling how, as a child, she’d been subject to little spells of anxiety about being
lost
.

All children must feel this anxiety in some way.
Lostness
as a condition of which no one can speak clearly for it is a mystery—the
lostness
deep within the soul.

Dinah would remember that the lot, often a sea of glittering vehicles, was only about one-third filled at this time, nearing dusk of a weekday. She would remember that the lights high overhead on tall poles hadn’t yet come on. There’d been a
mistiness
to the air that made her vision seem blurred and her senses less alert than usual. And yes, she was tired.

Tired
was what she’d never admit to her husband, let alone her son.
Tired
was her secret shame, alarm, disappointment in herself for she believed that
tired
was just ordinary weakness.
If you are happy in your life and living a good life you are not ever tired but suffused with the strength of happiness.

She wasn’t a religious person. Yet, in the deepest region of her soul she would say
Yes I believe.

Whit would laugh at her. Whit laughed at such clichés. Whit laughed at weakness not his own.

It was facing the entrance to Kresge Paints she’d parked the car. Five or six rows back. The paint store advertised itself with a rainbow painted across the stucco facade of the building.

Didn’t trust her spatial memory in these big lots and so she never left her car without fixing a landmark in her memory. She preferred a visual cue rather than trying to remember the signs: letters and numerals were too easy to forget unless she wrote them down.

Though she did remember, the car was in Lot C.

Robbie, over-excited by the mall, each window display having drawn his attention, and some of the displays (electronics, toys, sports gear) having stimulated a barrage of questions to put to Mommy, seemed to have forgotten Kresge Paints though, when they’d left the car, Mommy had pointed to the gala rainbow facade. Too much had intervened, evidently. Too much to look at. Robbie was tugging at Mommy’s hand in nervous little twitches. And his little face twitched, like a rabbit’s. She wanted to kiss him, he was looking so perplexed; at the same time so
responsible
.

At such a juncture a cruel parent might have said
It was your responsibility to remember where the car was parked. If you can’t find the car we are lost and have no way of getting back home.
But she was not a cruel parent and she would never have said such a thing.

Though her own mother might have said such a thing to her when she’d been Robbie’s age.

Not seriously of course but as a joke. Dinah’s mother liked such jokes.

Don’t go there! Back up.

“Honey, the car is over there, I think. Behind that SUV. We can’t see it just yet but—it’s perpendicular to the paint-store entrance. OK?”

Robbie was uncertain. Robbie was straining to see.

“The paint store? With all the colors? The car is there.”

Robbie shook his head—his forehead crinkled in worry—the car
was not there.

“Robbie, wait. Stop pulling at me, please! The car
is there.

Dinah had to smile. Though a child is small, a child is
strong
.

But the fact is, an adult must always be aware: a child is
small
.

It was easy to forget this simple fact sometimes. When she and Robbie were together for an uninterrupted period of time—in the car, or at home; watching videos, reading a storybook (“reading” what was Robbie believed he was doing though Mommy knew he’d memorized the words to his favorite stories from having them read to him many times); when he was sitting with her, and they were almost of a height; or Robbie was sitting on her lap, which made him seem taller. Or Robbie was chattering and she was laughing and half-listening and thinking, as the child’s father had observed, that there was something about their son’s personality that made you think he was your size, essentially.

And quick, and smart. Fascinated by words.

“‘Perpendicular.’ D’you know what that means, sweetie?”

Impatiently Robbie shook his head
no
.

“It means, like, an
L
”—Mommy made a shape with her hands, to indicate perpendicularity—“one thing is going this way, and the other is going this way. See?”

Robbie nodded uncertainly. He was looking anxiously about for the car—where was the car?
Why couldn’t he see the car yet?

Firmly Mommy gripped the pudgy little hand and walked forward in the direction of the car she’d parked only an hour before, making her way between parked cars, waiting for a lone vehicle to pass with headlights shining faintly, gripping the anxious child’s hand and just slightly annoyed now, not so much
with Robbie but with herself, for encouraging this silly game as a way of strengthening the child’s memory, or his sense of responsibility, which she was thinking now hadn’t been a good idea maybe; or, if a good idea originally, not so great an idea now. It frightened her, sometimes seeing young mothers lose control and scream at their small children in the mall, or in the vast parking lot; there was something about the anonymity of the mall that seemed to encourage such outbursts; and sometimes the young mother shook her child, and you could only stare in horror, you could not look away from such private, devastating moments; but you must shield your child from seeing, and so you did—you hurried away—no backward glance …

The good thing was, of course Robbie’s anxiety would vanish in another few seconds, when they found the car (which wasn’t exactly where Dinah had thought it was, after all; must be the next row, and not this row) and Robbie would soon know, and a few minutes later Robbie would have totally forgotten his anxiety for in a five-year-old emotions rise and fall like gusts of wind. She would say, in triumph: “See, honey? Right where we left it.”

But she was stammering. Words like bits of concrete or chalk in her mouth. Trying to say
I can’t remember.

I guess—I can’t remember.

We were almost at our car when something hit me—the back of my head—it seemed to fall from the sky like a large bird—like a swan—it was just above me and beating me with its wing—but the wing was sharp like a sword

Then I was gone.

I was gone, and Robbie was taken from me. I felt his fingers wrenched from my hand …

I was gone and could not scream for help but it was like I’d been pushed into the water, and came up again, to the surface, and somehow I was on my feet—I don’t know how I managed to get up but I was on my feet—I guess I was running after them—him?—I was screaming and I was running after the SUV—I think it was—or a van—he’d gotten Robbie from me and into the van—it happened so fast—they said it was a concussion from the first blow—when I was on my feet—now I could scream and I was screaming at them—at him—I was stumbling after the van—we were at the end of a row of parked cars, the lot was emptying out—nobody seemed to see us—I was running after the van screaming and then somehow it happened, I couldn’t see for the blood running into my eyes, the van was turned around—the driver had turned it around—he was going to run me down—I could see his face—I could see his grinning teeth—his whiskers—some kind of a hat, a baseball cap maybe, pulled down low over his forehead, and he was wearing glasses—dark glasses—his eyes were hidden behind those dark reflector glasses like motorcyclists wear—and I guess—I wasn’t going to step aside—I was screaming for Robbie and that was all I was thinking about—the van wasn’t going fast yet and I thought—must have thought—that I could grab the door handle or pound on the windshield with my fist—I could get Robbie back, I thought—and—I guess—he aimed right at me, he ran me down
… She wouldn’t remember being dragged beneath the van fifty feet in the parking lot and the van lurching and skidding to shake her off until finally her body fell 
loose and was flung aside like a sack of laundry and when the first witnesses arrived she was lying seemingly lifeless on the pavement—in utter astonishment having seen a woman struck down by a van and dragged beneath it across the pavement for fifty feet and her body finally released.
And the van left the lot, sped up and left the lot, we’d just come out of Home Depot and were too far away to see who was driving the van or what color it was or the license plate, we ran to the poor woman lying there broken-looking we were sure had to be dead.

BOOK: Daddy Love
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