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A Family Affair by Gary Indiana

The following is excerpted from Depraved Indifference, a fictionalization of the Sante and Kenneth Kimes mother-son murder case. The Kimeses were convicted in 2000 of murdering New York City millionaire Irene Silverman; during their trial, several media outlets speculated that they were lovers. In Indiana’s satirical account, the relationship between Evangeline “Evelyn” Slote and Devin, her son, is unambiguous. These scenes encompass Devin’s childhood and adolescence, spanning family vacations in the tropics and Evangeline’s four-year imprisonment on a slavery conviction. It first appeared on NERVE in 2002.  

Kevin was eight the year they stopped at the island, and already old enough to know his mother needed him and needed his father but would calmly have chopped them into stew meat if the food ran out. The effort of winning her love was a daily struggle, and usually a daily failure.

His mother had Things on Her Mind, all the time, sometimes Devin figured in them, but often these Things involved the tenebrous world of invisible adults, wireless voices, paper transactions of occult obscurity. They involved the frequent use of wigs when she went out,a comedian’s array of voices on the telephone. He was told to explain that the wigs, if anyone happened to see them, covered the defoliant effects of chemotherapy. Her invocations of fantasy cancer planted in his mind the absence of boundaries to her emotional demands.

He thought up phrases for that time in Spanish. He re-created the heavy rains that fell at three every afternoon and stopped abruptly at three-thirty. He had his own spacious bungalow, a cavern really, containing a bed and a table and a wicker chair, an oil lamp for power failures, a cheap metal shower stall and a toilet. Sounds from the veranda filtering through the vegetation deflected his fear of scorpions and the tiny lizards perched along the walls.

Devin slept. He dreamt about a Rottweiler dog hooked up to machines. He opened his eyes. The oil lamp was lit. A kerosene smell hovered near his nose. The shadows of the ceiling fan sliced along the walls. She was there in a nightgown.

“Salt ruins your skin,” his mother said.

“Hi mom.”

“Never let your skin go to hell,” she said. “Bad skin looks worse on a woman, but it doesn’t look good on anybody.”

Devin sat up under the sheet.

“Can we see the witch tomorrow?”

There were two plantations on the island on a flat piece of land high above the hotel. Sisal farms abandoned to their sharecroppers after World War II, when the sisal market collapsed. The smaller plantation had a resident witch, a woman rumored to be 120 years old, who never stirred from her rocking chair. She was known for casting spells in a squawking patois that resembled the shrieking of slaughtered birds.

His mother glided closer to the bed. She pushed up her ruffled sleeves. Her perfume mixed unpleasantly with the lamp fumes. The light caught her face at an angle that hardened her makeup lines. She ran a finger under Devin’s nose. “We need to get you freshened up, sugar beet.”

“I took a shower.”

Evelyn licked her finger.

“I still taste salt,” she clucked. “Come on, I have some coconut soap, it protects.”

She had always bathed him, in bathtubs. Now there was the cold water stall with a round rusted drain in the bottom.

“I’ll have to get in with you,” she said, tugging off his pajama bottoms. She took the soap from her pocket and pulled the nightgown over her head.

She was the only person he had ever seen like that, everything showing. The fleecy triangle down there, and her breasts hanging like patted mounds of pancake batter, nipples like ray guns pointing in opposite directions. She had fed him there a long time ago, and some fuzzy image of that drifted through his head. Now he stood level with her nipples. She steered him into the stall under the cool stuttering spray. She stepped in behind him. Devin kept his back turned. He felt her breasts against his hair, her stomach against his back.

She soaped his curls, which had grown down over his ears since his last haircut. She lathered her hands, slid them up and down his arms and chest, then his shoulders, his back, his buttocks. He felt the soap foam buttering his penis, her fingers pressing lightly, fingertips rolling his testicles.

For a moment he believed she was introducing him to some hygienic nuance, but she continued, and the pressure of her wet skin underwent a little shift, as if her blood warmed the trickle of the shower, and slowly this thing had happened before in his sleep was happening here, stiffening, then really hard, pointing up. Her hand slithered across his shoulder, kneaded a gout of muscle. She pirouetted him around facing her, lubricating his penis with her other hand, squinching it up and down.

Heat spread over his body. His breath quickened, like breathing in hot mustard, and his mouth fastened on her nipple, sucking. He tasted coconut and a bosky taste like smoked meat, a trace of rust from the water sluicing around his mouth. She went on kneading his balls, pumping his organ. Fingers brought his hands to the wrinkled slit at the bottom of the triangle, pressed his fingers into a sinewy place sticky with something like jelly, pulled them slowly out, and pushed them in again. Finally his entire hand sank into her hole, and nervously he tugged it out and pressed it in again without help. She made a noise with her throat, more and more insistently. He felt an intense tingling, a nerve explosion in his balls, that wiped aside his consciousness, and when the feeling left he felt abruptly horrified by the picture he saw of them together. At that instant he felt his mother’s cunt shudder. Some kind of hot goo slathered itself on his fingers.

It began like that and went on like that, not exactly the same way again, not in bathrooms and showers, and never predictably never at his instigation, even though there were moments later on when the thought of it aroused him. Long periods elapsed when he came to believe they had finished his lick of education. Gradually he understood that the island and its heavy veils of silence and darkness marked the shift, the segue, when Devin became, in unremarked and barely discernible stages, the man of the family, a juvenile reincarnation of his still-living father.

For the most part, Devin felt part of the team. The Slote team. A special team with special rules, secrecy foremost. He knew she stole things, his father also, he knew their last name wasn’t Evans or Parillo or the other ones they registered under in hotels, he knew there had never been a laptop computer stolen from the garage, but unlike his passive choleric stepbrother, Devin was a great decoy on shoplifting excursions and always remembered he was Devin Evins, Devin Parillo, Devin Whatever, he could describe every symbol on the keyboard of that mythical computer for the insurance man. Until Evelyn got sent up, Devin’s object in life was to keep her happy with him, if he could not avoid her fanatical attentions. If this included what she pet-named their bedtime jiggy-jiggy, Devin took it on as best he could, but he certainly wasn’t going to advertise it. He knew it was something he could never talk about, it had some nuclear trigger built into it that would blow their lives into lethal neutrons the second he opened his mouth.

He entertained a hope that he was only slightly mutilated. Maybe the damaged tissues of his soul would grow back without scarring. She had foisted an ersatz puberty on his childhood, and now that puberty had actually arrived, his only lubricious thoughts were of her, of pounding her absurd flesh until she screamed, making her do filthy things, making that dumb bitch grovel for her boy’s man-size woody. Every vision of this stripe curdled into loathing as it broke the surface of his thoughts. He wanted to slice her out of his brain with a serrated knife and throw the bloody gob in her face.

The sound of her voice made him physically ill. It never stopped. Drastic changes happened overnight, without warning. She transferred his high school and only told him as she handed him his lunch bag at breakfast. The friends he’d made were embargoed one by one, first from the house, then from his life, then she pulled him out of school, hired a tutor, and forced them to move, claiming her notoriety in Vegas made normal life impossible. For a while they rented a ranch house in Henderson and somehow Evelyn and his father connived to scam it out from under the owners, using a forged stipulation in the lease. This led to a new whirlwind of suits and countersuits, and even a fraud investigation by the Nevada Attorney General, since the name Slote had become synonymous within the state’s legal system with a particularly flagrant type of chicanery.

Devin ran away, several times. He slept on sofas offered by other kids’ parents. He craved the ordinary stupid life of any family besides his. He tried to be the perfect adopted son of strangers. These families liked him. He smiled a lot and made himself useful, cleaning out garages and moving lawns. During his four year reprieve from Evangeline, he had learned what a normal teenager of that cultural moment was like. Although he couldn’t actually become one, he did a highly credible impersonation. It was still half his wish to blend in, but it could never be more than half. The other half of him was her. He knew if he stayed anywhere too long, she would track him down and make his new friends targets of bad things they couldn’t possibly imagine or cope with.

Their fights escalated for a year before they actually hit each other.

It was over in five minutes: Devin slapped her, she punched him, he punched back, next they clawed and pounded each other on the floor, trying to smash the thing they hated in each other with elbows and fists. Devin thought, I am going to stop your goddamn clock once and for all. He felt her teeth sink into his shoulder, yanked her hair to pull her mouth off him. Her wig slid off in his hand. He stared at the fake black curls between his fingers and then at her real silver hair, a greasy mat of thinning sausages that had gone gray and silver in prison.

He rolled off his mother. Her wig had defeated him. She scuttled away on strangely twisted limbs, as if changing into a crab or lobster. She angled into a corner and crouched with her arms folded across her breasts. She rocked back and forth. Her breathing belonged to some animal in a cave. Mascara smudged around her eyes gave her the look of a mauled raccoon. She stared at a broiler oven inches from her face. After arranging herself in an abject heap she began to cry. Devin got to his feet, feeling gutted and sewn up with some parts missing, reeled through the house to his bedroom.

The house went still and dark and heavy. There was a blind spot in Devin’s memory of the next day, he recalled sitting with her in the back yard and spilling everything that made him crazy, and she must have had the words to draw him back. A neighbor was running logs through a wood chipper. The machine splintered their conversation into weird non sequiturs, his memory was that the wood chipper brought them together more decisively than anything they said. In the days and weeks that followed an inexplicable peace settled in, as if the air were suffused with lithium.

Excerpted from Depraved Indifference, published by HarperCollins.