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Almost a year after Grace Switowski died of cancer, Jeremiah had his first night terror starring Jesus Christ. He woke up with every inch of his skin stinging with panic, unable to move. Two weeks before the terror, Jeremiah’s dad took him up to Manistee for their annual fishing trip, leaving his mom and his little brother, Asa, at home. It was his fifteenth birthday.

His dad stopped for coffee and nightcrawlers north of River Junction; sipped coffee and tossed a Hostess fruit pie onto Jeremiah’s lap a few hours before the sun came out.

Jeremiah’s dad, Rocky Jones, had parked at Joslin Cove and told him that he was leaving mom, moving to Dallas for some new job and that Jeremiah would have to be the man of the house now. Jeremiah yelled at his father, cursed him, pleaded. He got out of the truck, went down to the water, realized how pissed off he was, and turned around to go back to his dad’s truck. He was a few inches taller than his dad now and wondered if he could beat the shit out of his father. His dad had knocked him around from time to time and he thought that maybe he could finally take him.

He didn’t think he could. But he knew if he ever saw him again after that day, he’d lunge at him and let fate decide.

He opened the passenger’s side door and plopped down next to the cooler full of nightcrawlers. Even then, Jeremiah had thought about tossing off its Styrofoam lid and throwing the dirt and worms on his father.

“Two-flush kind of day, Cricket. I know. And I know you’re mad. Mad enough to...” His dad never finished the thought. Instead, he had told Jeremiah that at least he wasn’t like his own old man.

Jeremiah’s grandpa used to beat the shit out of him when Rocky was a kid. He had gotten hints of that on other fishing trips, but never the details, just phrases like cantankerous coot or mean old fuck. But then his dad told him something he’d never told him before: that his very first memory in life came from sitting in front of a turned-off television, staring at the black-eyed reflection in the glass because his own dad had punched him in the face. He said it had been on Christmas Day when he was four years old and he remembered seeing the reflection of the wrapping paper in the TV’s glass.

Rocky Jones then opened up the glove box, fetched a couple cellophane-wrapped cassette tapes—a Bowie tape, a Tears for Fears tape—meant to be his birthday present, said happy birthday, and told him if he could figure out things on his own at age four, then so would Jeremiah.

They had never even fished, not a single line cast into the morning calm of the cove. They came home to the house outside Rigdon a couple hours later. His dad sped and passed cars and ran red lights to get home. They didn’t stop to pee, and Jeremiah was afraid to ask to stop.

They came home to the house outside Rigdon a few hours later—before his mom would get home from work, before Asa would step off the bus from school. His dad packed up a Craftsman tool chest and Hefty bag full of clothes and left Jeremiah at home to explain everything to his mom and little brother. There were no good-byes, no hands on his shoulder.

Jeremiah had no idea what it meant, being the man of the house.

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