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In His Image And His Likeness


Gerald Budinski

When he was six, Jeremy was told he had a brother who died before he was born.  He hadn't asked any questions about it since.




At low tide the beach was a vast wonderland of glistening sand adorned in places by ebony and amber rocks arrayed like a sculpture garden.  These formations sheltered quiet pools where the littlest children could play or search for crabs and shells. Jeremy had headed for a pool and Neil, like any father encouraged the adventure in slime. To Anne it was a sickening brew of breeding crawlies and toddler piss, nothing she would ever have permitted Bradley.  


"Come on, you wusses - lets hit the surf," she shouted, cringing while she splashed.  Jeremy came running and Neil joined them, so that for a while they had been a family again, holding hands and watching the waves splash-teasing their laughing child.  It must have been like a Renoir scene in which even the seabirds hovered just to cheer their return.  


Then Jeremy, on his own ran back into the deep sand to dig. Anne had predicted about the sandcastles, which Neil had said would prove nothing. He had said he hoped he did.  Yet after watching for a minute, Neil suddenly had to take a walk; darkening a fairy tale into tragedy. 


Now the landscape was a surreal composition of scattered, formless figures plodding a flat and sterile shore toward distant obscurity - one of them Neil.  Let him walk.  Maine had been a good thing for Bradley and it would be for Jeremy as well.   She had fought hard to win this trip and it must play out.


Bradley's castles had been more chateau style, using a bucket to make rounded towers.  Jeremy was forming tall and square shapes, like the Tower of London, which he had seen more than two years ago - and this when he was just five years old!  A marvelous thing to see - yet Neil was far down the beach talking to some old fool with a kite.  She supposed their next argument would be about a kite.


Several strollers stopped to admire her boy's work but Jeremy labored on, digging moats, forming walls as if somehow driven.  Was Neil right?  Bradley would comment joyously on every operation.  Anne took her camera from her bag and framed the boy with castle, sea and sky.  They had a similar picture at home, but a gull was included and her boy was smiling.  All was just reprise of her favorite scenes.  The tragic parts were easy to skip over.  Unless Neil exhumed them, as he was doing now.


When the doctor had pronounced his cruel verdict on Bradley, Anne had wandered off and swallowed every pill she could find on a nurse's cart.  While she lay bound and sedated, Neil was whispering in dark corners with a strange, foreign sounding doctor.  She wouldn't have expected Neil to accept tragedy with mere grieving.  He had his own architectural firm and was known for getting things done.  That was the one good thing about him.


He took her to Europe (like everyone, she thought it was for spiritual and psychiatric healing) and there everyone was kind, bowing and whispering, like they were planning something holy.  "It is precisely for people like you that we envisioned this process," said one of the doctors, which, months later made it seem so right when the good news came. But then they blemished it all by confining them to silence. 


There was a word for it which they never used because it sounded ugly but she still wasn't sure why.  Her religion condemned it but never gave reasons.  Even her legal training didn't seem to cover it.   How could righting such a terrible mistake be wrong?


Yet she had confined herself like a Victorian princess, fighting migraine and nausea, praying for and yet dreading delivery.  And Neil must have felt it too: stalking the house planning a new room, new toys, everything new.


But when they showed her the baby with the same teletubby tuft of hair she screamed, she laughed, she cried,


"It's Bradley!  God has given me back my baby."


Her doctor reacted with the strangest look but Neil whispered something to make him say, "Anne, meet Jeremy. This is your new baby, Jeremy."


All right, Jeremy then.


A huge breaker crashed, obliterating unwanted scenes, then receded to leave a swirling pool nearby.  Anne stood up. 


"Can I help with anything Jeremy? I'll get fresh water to wet the sand."


"No, there's still plenty in the bucket.  I'm doing just fine."


She tried to read her book, but soon found herself watching her child again.  He was forming square towers by carving from the mound he had formed - difficult to do.  Patiently he sculpted the walls with a trowel until he had nearly perfect right angles. She had found him a stick and he knew exactly how to use it for the fine details. 


Now Neil was watching the old man launch his kite - was it a jet plane? - and was jumping around like a little kid.  Being tall and thin, Neil looked silly in his baggy Hawaiian bathing suit.  It was always cool on the Maine beaches but he had insisted on bathing suits for himself and Jeremy, as if the place were new to him. She herself wore a sweatshirt and sensible knee-length shorts. 


A middle-aged couple wandered by and smiled at Jeremy's work. The man stopped and watched Jeremy, then stared at her, far too long. 


"You have a budding Michelangelo there," he said.


Jeremy looked up and said:  "Thank you."  Then after the man was gone.  "Maybe he meant Leonardo.  I think he was the one who did castles."


She laughed in spite of her quickened heart.  Her little genius!  Like Bradley - yet strangely different. 


Last night when they first arrived, they had taken Jeremy for his first lobster.  He went at it like a native and said he liked it.  This morning he seemed to enjoy the trolley museum in Kennebunk too.  But you had to ask - like it was all old hat.


Neil had wanted to drive way up to Portland or Freeport  - things they had never done in the years with Bradley.  She had tried to make Neil understand that this was a sort of milestone trip.   Jeremy's ninth birthday would be in a few weeks.  Bradley had known eight, but never nine.  The new things could come after. 


"Time to put on your shirt, Jeremy.  You don't want to get a burn."  


He didn't complain or fuss, he just put on the shirt and continued with his sculpting.   He was such a good boy too, always understanding what was best. 


There would never be a better time to ask him - now before Neil came back.  This beach was an opportunity she had never had before. 


"Do you remember this beach, Jeremy?" 


He wouldn't say, "No of course not  - why should I?" and neither would she expect the other extreme, which would have been too weird.  Instead he put on that look of serious concentration that was so adorable and said,


"No, not really.  It's just that I seem to know what this particular beach is for.  It's for wading in the surf until you scream and then laugh because it's crazy for the water to be so cold in summer.  And it's for making sand castles and looking for shells and stuff like that.  I just knew this place would be great for castles."


Not for kites though, she noted.


"So what have you two been up to?" said Neil, finishing an awkward jog.


Anne said nothing but gave Neil a pleading look, shifting her eyes toward the castle. 


"That's a really fantastic castle you've made there, Champ.  You can start at my firm next Monday. Gee, that is if I can meet your price."


Jeremy laughed. "Oh, how about twelve million, uh, a week?"


"Uh, I don't know. How about lobster every day for a week, but the castle stays here."




"Those square towers are a nice touch.  What made you think of that?" said Neil.


"I don't know - I guess 'cuz everybody does round ones."


Neil looked at her as if he had won some great victory.  But it was all right; Jeremy was now going beyond the genius he was born with.


"Do you see that cool kite up there?  I can get you one. We can build it in our room tonight. That would be fun, wouldn't it?"


I won't argue, thought Anne, not in front of Jeremy. She knew how it would go.


"And what will he learn from building a kite then having it smashed or blown away?"


"He'll learn how to plan and carry out a project to completion.  And see something that he built himself actually work," Neil would say.


And she'd have no answer except what led to the usual bitter ending. “He’s not Bradley” But it was Jeremy instead who deflected Neil.  


"I don't know. I've never thought about a kite. Maybe some other time."


"Oh?  But we maybe should try something different.  It'll be lots of fun. Look how great that one flies," said Neil, his voice betraying disappointment.


Jeremy stood up and watched the jet-plane kite soaring perhaps fifty feet in the sky. 


"OK, we can try it," he said with apprehension. "But does it have to be an airplane?"


"The man says they have all sorts of kites at that shop up by the boardwalk. They have kits for birds, butterflies, even a pterodactyl.  We can go get it now."


"A pterodactyl would be cool."


But Anne had something to say.


"It's four o'clock, Neil.  I promised Jeremy an ice cream. He should have it now so he doesn't spoil his dinner."


"Alright - I'll go back and put on some shorts and a shirt and meet you at the deli.  Then we'll walk up to the Crafts Shop after."


"Well - hurry, we're going now," said Anne.


She could have gone back toward the hotel and used the public walkway but instead she took Jeremy further along the beach to see the cottages.  They should think about renting a place next year, maybe even buy one -  beach houses were private and safe. The row of cottages paralleled the sea on to the horizon, some small and plain, a few immense and elegant, others just old and funky.  Most had gated fences keeping the public from passing between them.  Anne remembered that there had been an open pathway to the street but she couldn't seem to find it.


"Here's a path, Mom." 


Jeremy ran and Anne was immobilized with panic, heart pounding, stomach churning.  For Bradley it had been a taxi on a busy Manhattan street.  Here the narrow beach road barely saw a hundred cars a day, and those just crawling along.  Dismissing reason, she stumbled up the wooden stairway and sprinted after her boy.  Jeremy had stopped by the curb to wait.


"Jeremy, how many times have I told you to stay close to me when there's a street?"  She shouted. 


"Sorry.  But there's hardly ever any traffic here."


She took a deep breath and calmed herself


"It doesn't matter. It's just a good rule to follow."


Down the street, far to her right was an old open convertible with three young men in it. The heavy bass throb of the engine validated her.


In the store, Anne was just about to select a flavor, when a very old man emerged from a back room.  The young girl clerk greeted him.  It was incredible: the shop owner must have been in his seventies that last summer ten years ago. He smiled at Jeremy.


"I remember you. You always ask for strawberry. I put out all these flavors but you just want strawberry."


"No we'll try the banana-nut. And Jeremy's never been here before," said Anne.


She led him past the bench outside the store and sat instead by the trolley stop, several yards further on.


"This is OK but I do like strawberry," said Jeremy. 


When their ice cream was gone there was still no sign of Neil.  What would be the point of him walking all the way down here and back again?  Her attention was drawn to the convertible again.  Two girls came out on the porch of one of the cottages then down and into the back seat of the car.  The car jerked forward before the girls were seated in the rear, making them fall in a tangle of screams and cackles.  The car then stalled and rolled to a stop.


 "There's dad," said Jeremy excitedly.  "And that must be the kite he’s holding. Let's go!"  He stood up and took a step.  Where? - Anne looked around in panic, reaching for her boy. Far to the right was Neil, standing in front of the hotel, hefting an enormous box as if he were Moses with the tablets.  The bastard! - she thought; he bought it on his own to avoid a confrontation.


"Jeremy, stay here," said Anne sharply.


Neil walked a few steps closer and was holding up the oblong box so Jeremy could see the picture of the hideous pterodactyl kite within. Maybe it would be OK, she thought.  Bradley had become interested in dinosaurs at this age. 


"Wow, that looks neat. Dad wants us to meet him by the hotel.  Can we go now?" said Jeremy.


Anne turned to check on the car and saw the old store manager suddenly appear outside, scratching his head and looking around.  Then the old man seemed to see Anne and brighten.  Her heart began to quicken. 


"Alright, we might as well go," she said, and stood up reaching for Jeremy's hand, but he was gone - already near the street.


Just then the convertible roared and screeched forward, swerving as the rear tires struggled to grip the road. 


"BRADLEY!" Anne screamed when she saw the car hurtling toward her child.


Had she blacked out?  Neil was there, hugging Jeremy and cursing at the long vanished car.  Maybe it really hadn't been that close but Anne began to shake and couldn't stop.  Neil left Jeremy and held Anne in his arms, stroking her head and shoulders as if merely dampening the undulations could heal her - as he had tried to do once before. 


Anne turned to look at her boy.  His eyes were as wide as saucers, his face white. She broke away from Neil, still trembling.


"You remember, don't you, Bradley.  Neil, he remembers!"


Jeremy nodded once then shook his head in denial. Denial of what?


"Stop it Anne!  You called him Bradley before and it could have gotten him killed. He's Jeremy - damn it!"


The old shopkeeper was approaching from his store and there were several people on their porches, others coming down and toward them.  She didn't try to gain control of a voice approaching keening. It was the only way to make them understand.  What she found herself saying was,


"No, we have to confess that he is Bradley!  Otherwise they'll take him."


People were beginning to look at her very strangely.  They needed to know.


"That's right everyone. This is our son Bradley who was brought back to us like Lazarus.  Was that such a terrible thing?"  




Anne scurried back and forth across the tiny room tidying things.  There wasn't much besides the bed, an end table, two chairs and a small desk by the window.  At least now they let her have a decent dress to put on.


Bradley was coming to visit.  All right, Jeremy then.   They would never let her out of here if she didn't see it their way.  But she was getting better.  It had taken a very long time, but who could get well with unsettling things delivered nearly every month, it seemed. Divorce papers, settlements, and child custody.   Custody - what an ugly word!


It was her lawyer who advised her to play along. She wanted to use the cloning thing against Neil but the lawyer put an end to that notion with a simple question. Would anyone confirm what she had claimed?


Of course not.  But Neil's cruel timing for the divorce was enough to get a very good settlement. Settlement, a prize from the lawyer's game, but another ugly word.


He came into her room looking more handsome than ever in his school blazer and tie.  He was ten now and tall for his age.  They hugged and she gave him the good chair to sit in, taking the desk chair for herself.


"Your father brought you?"


"Yes, he's waiting downstairs."


She laughed, "He can come up later if he wants. I won't attack him."


Jeremy laughed too.  "He thinks you must still be pretty mad at him.  He said he'll come up and visit on his own sometime."


"That's an Allenby blazer isn't it?  I'm glad you're still there."


"Yeah, but next year Dad wants me to go to public middle school.  The one in Heatherton is real good, so why not?"


"You think you'll like that?"


He laughed. "Yeah, I think so - sports, girls and all that."


There, she thought, I'm doing real well.  She was learning to accept things she couldn't change - like in St. Francis's prayer.  And recently she had come to an important realization.  When Bradley died she had lost a beloved child, but Neil had lost a plan.  Now he had a new plan all to himself and this Jeremy was the result.


Mother and son talked for a long time about ordinary things like his school, friends, Grandmas and Grandpas and trivial things.  He talked more about his plans for the future. It didn't matter anymore; she had her own plan as well.


"I'll see you in a couple of weeks," he said rising.


"I won't be here. They're letting me leave next week.  I'll be getting my own apartment in the city and my old law firm is going to help me work myself back. I'll be doing research part time.  But first I'm going away for a while, for a nice long rest."


"That'll be good for you.  Let me know wherever you are and I'll try to keep in touch."


She wrapped both arms around him, then rubbed her hands up and down his back as if she could merge his form with her own.  "God - you look so good I could just hug you to death!" she said.


"C'mon mom - I'm too old for that now."


She laughed. "Oh, you're not so old. You're timeless."


She took him by the hand to see him to the door, then noticed the ragged, bloody bandage on his middle finger.


"What happened there?" She raised his hand to show him.


"Oh, just a little old scrape from helping Dad in his workshop."


"Well, you take that dirty old thing off right now and stop at the nurses' station down the hall. They'll fix you up with a clean one."


Anne waited a few minutes after Jeremy had gone, then went to the bathroom and looked through the wastebasket.  The clinic still had everything they needed from the last time, but Jeremy might have new things to offer. And who knew what was possible after that?  She was barely in her forties and they were doing incredible things these days.

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