“So Jesus has always lived here.”
“Always. Always in the same room. Before he was born, Miguel and I set it up as a nursery, and when he was five we redecorated it for him.”
In the quiet house, an old fashioned clock chimed eleven times. Neil could see the ghost of Miguel Herrera walking about behind his wife’s eyes, but the picture would not come clear. Not yet.
“Miguel must have liked having a son, to go to that much trouble.”
“He loved him,” Mrs. Herrera said, and the ghost became more cloudy still. She meant it. Right or wrong, she believed what she said, so what was the truth? “He couldn’t wait to go to the nursery when he got home. He loved that boy more than anything.”
Neil sat in silent confusion. He remembered her words in Bill Campbell’s office and they were at odds with what she was saying now. She had said, All Jesus remembers of his father is how he punished him. I don’t want Jesus to remember me that way.
Neil quoted those words to her.
“That was later,” she said. “That was after Miguel got sick.”
“Was he an alcoholic?”
“What did your husband die from?”
Neil finally got a glimmer of understanding. He asked, “Was it a brain tumor?”
Mrs. Herrera nodded.
“And did his behavior change after he got sick?”
She nodded again. Then she suddenly grabbed Neil’s arm as if she had betrayed her husband’s memory and whispered hoarsely, “But it wasn’t his fault!”
Neil took her hand in his and said, “No, Mrs. Herrera, I’m sure it wasn’t his fault. A man who has a something growing inside his head will sometimes do strange things. Things that aren’t like the person he really is.”
In Neil’s imagination, the whole pitiful scene was clear. Miguel Herrera, upstanding, honorable, hard working, had established himself in business first, then had married a woman some years younger than himself. He had moved her directly into the home he had provided for her and there she bore him a child. A child he had loved and cherished. It would have been a just reward for labor and self-sacrifice. And then fate, through disease, had torn it all away from him.
It was not enough for Miguel Herrera simply to die. The malignancy inside his head had twisted his mind, and in the frustration at the coming end to all he had planned, he had struck out at the ones he loved most.
Neil’s voice almost failed him as he asked, “How long was your husband — very ill?”
“Nearly two years.”
“How old was Jesus when his father died?”
“So Jesus’s father was — not acting like himself — from the time Jesse was five until he was seven; and then he died.”
She nodded mutely.
“Mrs. Herrera, you have to understand what this means. Those two years are probably the only memories that Jesse has of his father.”
Mrs. Herrera rolled her head up to stare Neil in the face. She whispered, “Don’t you think I know that!”
“You can’t let him go on like this.”
“I’ve told him what his father was really like. He just won’t listen.”
“Have you told your counselor what you just told me?”
“You must. You have to. If you don’t, he can’t help you. You have to let him know about Jesse and his father or there is no use in going to him.” more tomorrow