I wrote this chapter as a separate short story (originally entitled “Uncle Tommy”) on the date indicated in the title above. I sent it out once. The editor wrote me a scathing letter about encouraging juvenile suicide. I met them at a con a few months later. “Did you read the story to the end?”
“I didn’t have to. You encouraged juvenile suicide. I stopped there.”
Two years later I acquired an agent. She read through my work and singled out “Uncle Tommy” as something to reconsider. “There’s something more here. More story. Take a couple of months and see if you can come up with a novel. She also told me she had a publisher who was interested in “fantasies using a Christian Mythos.”
Two months later I handed her The Inheritors. She read it. She gave it to the head of her agency. He read it. She arranged for a concall for the three of us. We talked for about an hour. He repeated “To come up with a novel in two months is amazing. Two come up with this novel in two months is incredible” several times during the conversation.
Well, it turned out the publisher didn’t want a fantasy using a Christian Mythos so much as she wanted a Christian Fantasy complete with Jesus, the Apostles, the church as Holy Mother, …, which I definitely didn’t write.
The agent was incensed. With me. How come I didn’t write a Christian Fantasy? “Because you told me to write a fantasy using a Christian Mythos.” (which I definitely did write)
Rather than shop the novel around, the agent kept asking for rewrites. I kept asking for guidelines, as in “Don’t tell me to make it bluer, tell me what color of blue you want it to be” which got the response, “No, you figure it out. Bluer!”
I finally asked the agent the relationship ending question, “How many manuscripts have you placed?”
That got the response, “I can’t work with someone who won’t give me what I ask for.”
A few months back I got it out, dusted it off, began reading.
Yes, it needs some work. My style has changed a lot since the 1990s.
Let me know what you think.
Hello, Little One. Oh, such hugs and kisses in the middle of all these tears. Your momma says it was a bad day for you at school.
You want Uncle Ro to tell you a story? Something to make you laugh?
You want me to tell you about Uncle Tommy? I’ve told you about Uncle Tommy so many times, you know it better than I do!
Okay, okay. Come up here on the rocker with me, up on my lap, and rest your head over my heart so you can hear my love for you.
Here we go.
This happened a long time ago, back before you were born, back before I was even your age, when Uncle Tommy and me and your momma still lived with Grandma and Grandpa.
Yes, and Rusty, I won’t forget Rusty. He was everybody’s dog but he was really your Uncle Tommy’s dog.
You remember Grandma’s house? With all the woods out back?
Well, that house was old even when we lived there. The windows and doors, they always creaked. Some people called it spooky, the way the doors creaked and closed when you walked, but we didn’t think so.
The house smelled so rich and so good with Grandma cooking and baking. Thick rye breads and custard tarts and lemon squares and oh! my mouth waters thinking about it. Every day Grandpa told us stories about the people where he worked fixing cars and he’d act out all the people — Fat Mr. Bonomo who always wanted to help people but couldn’t fit under a car unless it was up on a lift and Thin Miss Lukasie who flirted with every customer who came in and Little Jimmy Foster, poor guy had some kind of birth defect. His head was too big for his body and his eyes always seemed half shut. But a nice guy, a sweet guy — and we’d laugh.
Laugh, laugh, laugh! So much laughter in that house!
Your Uncle Tommy told stories, too, but not funny ones like Grandpa told and Tommy’s stories didn’t have lots of people in them. Tommy talked about places and things — the imagination he had! — none of us knew what the heck he was talking about but boy could he keep us going. It was so real what he’d say. You could touch it and taste it and see it and smell it and feel it. Even Rusty sat quiet, listening to your Uncle Tommy, and then he’d howl when Uncle Tommy finished and we’d all laugh because it was like Rusty understood even though we did not.
Your Uncle Tommy, he knew things he had no way to know. Things you’d have to be in college to know and I’m not even sure you’d know it then. Star Wars stuff, crazy stuff.
One time he picked up one of Grandpa’s steel brushes. The handle was a metal coil. Well, Tommy looks at it and turns in around in his hand so he’s holding the brush and the coil is pointing away and he says, “With the right capacitance bridge network we could set up an induction field with this.”
Your mom and Grandma and Grandpa and I just nodded. We had no idea what he meant but he did. Sometimes he’d say these things in front of other people. One time he and I went with Grandpa to his work on a Saturday and Tommy said something like that and Jimmy Foster said, “I think you’ve been watching too many Buck Rogers movies, Tommy.”
Tommy looks at Jimmy Foster, shakes his head and walks away.
But Jimmy Foster, he goes, “I don’t understand Tommy. Help me understand” and that’s all your Uncle Tommy needed and he’s going on and on and Little Jimmy Foster, he’s a head and a half taller than Tommy, and he’s nodding and Uh-huhing and Hmming and saying “What about this part? And what about this part?” like he knows what Uncle Tommy’s talking about.
Uncle Tommy, he’s so happy, he’s helping somebody understand.
But come Monday, your Uncle Tommy, he doesn’t want to go to school, he wants to go with Grandpa to work. He’s got more ideas on how to make things work and he wants to share them with Little Jimmy Foster.
But Jimmy’s not there. He didn’t come in to work that day or the next, he didn’t call, and when Mr. Peters who owns the garage calls the house where Jimmy Foster stays they say, “Jimmy who?” They never heard of him.
Oh, your Uncle Tommy he almost died. The first time someone maybe understands him, pays real attention to him, and they’re gone and there’s no way to find them. Oh, how he cried.
“Someday I’ll find him,” Tommy says.
And we all say, “Good, Tommy. You will. We know someday you will.”
Your Uncle Tommy and I were twins and shared a room. Your momma had the room next to ours in that big old house. When Uncle Tommy wasn’t in our room he was out back in the woods with Rusty or reading books and Rusty’d be right on the bed with him. I spent most of my time in the garage playing with Grandpa’s tools. I’d get so involved in what I was doing I wouldn’t hear Grandma calling me for lunch or dinner. I remember more than once the big spring that opened the garage door would snap and whatever I was working on would go flying, it gave me such a fright! That spring used to snap up quick and I always had to get Uncle Tommy to help me close it down because I wasn’t heavy enough.
Grandpa’s garage was a palace of wonders to me, but not like Uncle Tommy. I could fix things but Uncle Tommy, he made things and didn’t have to use tools to do it.
One time he made me a little paddle boat out of a block of wood, playing cards, paperclips, and a rubber band. Can you beat that? So simple and it would go across a pond if you let it. I lost it long ago, though. One day it just disappeared. No idea what happened to it.
Uncle Tommy and your mom and me, we’d all go to the movies together when we were kids. Movies were different than the movies now. For one thing, in our town you had to go to Wade Smith’s Proud Union Movie House to see them, they didn’t come into your home on your phone or computer. We didn’t have computers in our homes when we were kids. Oh, yes, I know, we’re so old!
So there we were, sitting in the movies on a Saturday afternoon watching what they called a “horrorthon,” playing one movie right after another, kind of like bingeing now but you had to go to a movie theater all day to see it. We watched Zaat, The Island of Doctor Moreau, Trog, and The Mutations.
Your mother hated those movies but Grandma said she was older than us and had to watch out for us. Your mom would sit there going “Eeyeww! Eeyeww!” and covering her eyes and we’d be laughing and making fun of the movies, they were so bad.
Now on this day, there’s this guy sitting behind us. He listened to us talk and he laughed at our jokes and he said things to us about what we said.
But mostly he talked with Tommy. At the end of the horrorthon he gives your momma his card and asks if Grandma and Grandpa can call sometime.
Well, Grandma and Grandpa told us never to talk to strangers and your momma and I got real mad at Tommy because he broke the rule, but that was Tommy, always making his own rules so long as nobody got hurt by them.
Anyway, when we got home, your momma kept that man’s card hid.
Two weeks later who shows up at our door? That same man. We think he showed up earlier because Rusty, he puts up a fuss! He’s barking and yelping like the devil himself set the house on fire, then he stops, snap! Just like that.
Anyway, about an hour later Rusty goes to the door and he’s growling and barking and then comes a ring at our door.
Grandma opens the door and there he is. “Hello, Mrs. Ayers.”
“I’d like to talk to you about one of your sons.”
“I’d like to know your name.”
Your momma peeks out of the kitchen and this guy smiles at her, smiles like he knew she wouldn’t show Grandma his card all along.
“My name’s Fernberg. Joel Fernberg.”
“Fernberg? That’s a Jewish name?”
He looks shocked for a second, like he didn’t know he had a Jewish name. “I suppose it is.”
“Has one of my boys done something wrong, Mr. Fernberg?”
“No, no. Not at all.” He gives grandma one of his cards. “I’m with the government. One of your sons, Thomas, we think he’s a very special boy. We’d like to test him with some other children.”
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