And so it came to pass when I was twelve that my father, Raphael, the gypsy king whom I had never seen, was murdered. At the time I had spoken eloquently to my family of the intensity of my feelings, of my sense of loss at not having known this man who had sired me. My Mother had not taken kindly to my eulogizing. She was bitter that a son could mourn the loss of such a man, even then suspecting that when her time came, there might well be little tribute paid to her. She had given her life to suffering the raising of her offspring. My Father had provided nothing, nothing. How dare her first born child now mourn his passing?
And if Rafael was the firefly, flashing incandescent and elusive, my stepfather, Barron Harsh III, was the Darkness that enveloped everything it touched, silent, terrifying, suffocating. It was his sole purpose in life to protect the great wealth bequeathed him by Barron Harsh II, founder of Harsh Hydraulic Hoists and inventor and manufacturer of a single piece of oil well apparatus no larger than a gas cap and without which not a single drop of oil could be pumped anywhere in the world. He was a man obsessed with accumulation and control and before he died of heart disease and perfectionism, he had finally succeeded in impregnating my Mother who had in turn produced for him the only thing he had not yet acquired: a blood heir, my Half Brother, Barron Harsh IV.
On my sixteenth birthday, my Mother, to protect society from my adolescent maraudings, had successfully implored my stepfather to send me away to the same military school already proudly attended by several generations of Harsh ancestral kin, an institution which after only a few weeks spat me forth as if I were some bitter tasting food. I subsequently wandered across the country, serving time for vagrancy in Florida and crewing for several months on a tuna boat in the Pacific Northwest. In the late 1980's, at twenty, I joined the Army on a whim and was sent as an infantryman into the first Gulf War. There I broke my nose on a helicopter hatch door closed too quickly in the haste of battle. For the indignity of this suffering, I received a Purple Heart. My nose, which was never properly set, to this day twists down my face like an exposed, gnarled root.
At twenty-three, after almost killing a man in a fight over a woman with whom I had considered myself in love, I retreated to a monastery in New Mexico to exorcise my demons. I spent several days there in meditation and prayer, eating vegetables and, at the same time every morning, eliminating perfect elliptical turds. I experienced THE EXPERIENCE there. I mingled with Divinity: wrestled with the Devil: clarity smote me. The cruel illusion of my life became apparent; in a trance, Heaven and Hell were revealed. God is eternal, I realized. And the Devil is just a pale conceit of man. Upon reentering society, following this spiritual detour, it was only the Devil, however, who rushed to bid me welcome.
Thereafter, I made a living telling fortunes from a succession of ramshackle rent houses located in small towns throughout south Texas and Louisiana. I had acquired the skill from my Aunt Rosa, my Mother's sister, a fortune teller herself, who had often cared for me when I was a child. It was she in my youth, who had taught me to observe and listen closely to the conversations of others when searching for clues to what the future might hold in store. By the time she had taken me under her wing, Aunt Rosa had become one of the most powerful citizens in Pearly Gates, because she was known to be a cundera, to practice the Black Art, and because, through her fortune telling practice, she had made herself privy to more incriminating gossip and confidential information than anyone else in town.
Perhaps this is the most compelling reason why my stepfather had pursued my Mother, to convince her to become his wife and to bear his child: simply to gain closer proximity to Aunt Rosa. There are some secrets, after all, whose sanctity can only be guaranteed by complicity with outsiders, with those whom one trusts least and towards whom, on a certain primal level, one is nonetheless inexplicably attracted.