DEMISE: A novel of race, culture wars, and falling darkness

Warriors Publishing Group
8 min readSep 3, 2020

By John M. Del Vecchio

It is me. It is not me.

The story structure of DEMISE is three concentric circles, with the inner-most circle being the last thoughts, or suicide contemplations, of John Panuzio. There is a total of four contemplations before the final convergence.

If some of Johnny’s last thoughts from the late 1990s — I smell the rotting carcasses of vacant dead businesses, of bankrupt people withdrawing, hiding. I smell the stench, a more horrid smell than that of economic dislocation, the stench of adjunct distrust, hate, violence. The craving for revenge — seem more appropriate in 2020, so be it.

The seed.

The germ.

The storm continues.

It is me. It is not me. I’m not a part of him. I am no longer in that body. In that mind. Good riddance.

In the darkness before him sky and water meet, mesh. He feels them as one, feels the cold, dark, wet blanket enwrapping…I know what he feels. He feels the wrapping, the swaddling, over him like a monk’s hood, a shroud, completely encapsulating him, offering no protection but the numbing cold.

His fists clench. The wind hitting my face brings snow — the fourth storm of the season. Sparse yet driven. His ears, nose, lips, forehead sting. My eyes tear. Cold. Damn cold. So damn cold!

Look at him — standing, staring at the water, his mind rigid, his body tense, his legs trembling. Wind howls across the lake, drives charcoal clouds like tumbleweed, pushes the stone-gray water into swells, whitecaps. Spindrift and splash coat the shore, freeze, turn the jutting piers into treacherous glass gangplanks. The Point, his Point, becomes one contiguous humped and pocked icy undulation.

The wind gusts, relents, surges, presses the cloth of his trousers against the front of his thighs, spurts between buttons of his long coat, ceases, erupts anew. A shiver spreads outward from the center of his back, encircles him: spreads inward, upward from his thighs, engages his very core.

Frenzied gusts sway him. He leans into the wind. The slapping of the waves intensifies. It is dark. Darkness encapsulates him, presses down upon Lake Wampahwaug, upon the entire region, yet he stands there, rigid, picturing the slap, the spray, the thickening ice. He does not see the darkness, but I see the darkness. I see darkness jolted by lights from behind me, from town. I see lights chopped and shattered on the lake’s surface; I see darkness contaminated by lights from three miles across, from Lakeport, glowing, glowering on the rumpled speeding bottoms of the clouds.

My fists clench, my arms are so taut they ache. Look at this, he says, thinks. God!! It’s not even winter. So damn cold. So damn…the fourth storm…

A thought erupts. It is me. I am trying to break free, to break out of him, out of his disgust, his cynicism, his hatred, his self-hatred loathing remorse…There! A thought. A seed. A kernel of truth. A bridge to salvation, to tomor­row, to…

Vanished! Chopped and shattered like light on water.

Decision time. I am not yet ready to decide. I have come here, again…again, to see it, view it in black and white. He likes to see in black and white as if black and white will make it all clear.

The wind surges. Waves dapple a headlight beam as a car swings from Fourth Street to Lake Shore. He hears the car pass behind but he does not turn. Thoughts lurch across the waves of his mind, rise, fall, fragment. Everyone thought so, he thinks. Not a smart aleck, but intelligent. Capable of complex rationality. Creative. Funny. Committed. Caring. Now…dumber than Gump. Stupid. Dull. I wouldn’t stay with me if I didn’t have to. Why should anyone? Why should I?

Why should I? He knows there is no answer. I know…Look at him. Sick. Sick to his stomach. In pain. Every joint seemingly inflamed. His mind aching. Out of control…

Never in control. Never once in control. Never once. I think. A facade. An illusion. I wanted to do the right thing. Half a century of facades. I am not me but him and he is but a facade, a veneer without substance.

A pain shoots through his arm. If only, he thinks. The pain intensifies. Go down my arm! he thinks. Explode!

Then. No! Not yet!

He stands at the water’s edge, stands upon new snow — not nice snow, not fluffy white snow, but heavy gray crud marred with footprints. The tempera­ture has risen — not enough to melt the ice coating the shore but enough for the drizzle to come as a swirling mist instead of flurries; enough to make the ice beneath the crud slick as hot shit.

Johnny senses an odor in the mist, an aroma that seems to hang in the air, seems to him to have hung in the air all fall, grown stronger with each shortened day — an odor of depression, of gloom, of fear; an ambient odor that seems to have permeated the entire region as if the trickle-out effect of the massive layoffs by ContGenChem have caused the lake itself to stink. Or is it only me? Am I the only one to smell the spreading slick, the closing first of only the small bars and grills near the plant, then speciality stores in the near suburbs, then exurban stores region-wide that depended upon people’s discretionary income? I smell the rotting carcasses of vacant dead businesses, of bankrupt people withdrawing, hiding. I smell the stench, a more horrid smell than that of economic dislocation — the stench of adjunct distrust, hate, violence. The craving for revenge.

A new gust staggers him. He steps back, catches his balance, leans into the wind. He had raised the collar of his long coat as he’d begun his walk but he had not cinched the top button. His fingers tremble, fumble in the attempt. He abandons the task, looks into the wind, thinks he should be able to see from where the wind comes, realizes he cannot see it until it, the wind, is only in his eyes. He hunches, forces his hands to his armpits, squeezes his arms to his chest, turns, glances down, back, thinks he should be able to see to where the wind goes, but behind him the road is dark and the mist conceals his home and the town.

Again he turns toward the lake, the onslaught. Trembling no longer encircles him but now vibrates his entire being. To see, he thinks. To see from where it all comes, came. How did I, he, we get here? To see to where it all goes. Every reaction is preceded by an action; every effect has a cause; every ramification has its pre­cursor. Aaron knew. A baby! Just a baby! But he knew. He wrote. He…Vio­lence does not erupt without instigation: depression is not spontaneous self-destruction. Still, his. Johnny’s, thoughts crescendo. Does that justify rash­ness? Does that…

A new pain erupts. New fear. New hope. New dread. The pain never comes, never came, when I exercised. It’s heartburn. Nothing more. From all the food…catered food for the…Or from Agita! Agitation! But soon…

Why Julia? Why Rocco? Nicky? Mitch? Jason? I tried to be a good husband; son; brother; friend; father. Jason…geez! With this weather you’ll never get the game…The game. The games. Gaming. That bastard Tripps. And Nightingale! And LeRoy.

Thoughts ebb, are sucked from him by the wind, are carried, scattered to the far corners. One must plan, must project, must make believe he knows where it all goes. All things past are manifest in the present. All growth be­gins with a seed. All things past…Richard. 1955. Maybe ’56. At Nonno’s. Richard at Nonnos on Christmas day. Of course!

Johnny opens his arms, pats his pockets to ensure he has his keys, his wal­let. He thinks of his appointment calendar with the next weeks’ schedules ar­ranged around the last game, the postponed game because of the storms, the damn storms; around shopping and Christmas and New Year’s; his calendar with his goals for the coming year clearly defined — oh, what a good boy am I — and the steps to reach those goals clearly delineated. Certainly that could be used as evidence.

Then he thinks, worries. Yes. I am worried — perhaps that will not be enough.

The wind surges, ebbs. His teeth chatter, his thoughts run on. Solve it by… A letter to Mitch. That’s what I’ll send. Not a letter, a re­port. A proposal. For Mitch, left there, on his, on Johnny’s desk. Talk about our optimism, about our need to do it together. Yes. Yes.

He is on The Point, his feet at the edge of the waves. Again he thinks about his father. Then about his grandfather, and his godfather and godmother, and his cousins, and again about his father now with his sons. His father had been born in Nonno’s house, in the house of Il Padrone in the old sense, in the house on Williams Street between Arctic and Jerome Avenues in Lakeport only a long block from Holy Rosary. He’d been born in 1912 on the Festa di San Rocco and was thusly named for the patron saint of Castelfranco en Miscano, in Benevento province…He could have named Todd for his father! Except Julia woudn’t…”Rocky! That sounds like a thug.” But at least, perhaps, Jason. Jason could have been Jason Rocco instead of Jason Randolph, Julia’s father’s name. Todd could have been Todd Giovanni…He could have insisted. He could have…Not in America! Not in a thoroughly modern American family…a thoroughly modern American dysfunc­tional family. Wives are more interested in their careers than in their husbands and children…husbands with their own career problems paying sparse attention to their wives and children…children raised by the community which raises them with a different set of values, a com­mercial set of values, than would a family in the old sense. To the community a child is a consumer, a future producer, a product of and for community pro­duction, a carbon-based unit, a commodity to be educated, to be developed for use by Tripps and Meloblatt and the corporate padrones in the new sense.

More thoughts cascade in, swirl, swish, blow out barely leaving a trace, mak­ing no sense, no connections, no beginning, no end…fragments, shards, like broken ice, shattering, scattering, falling into, through, the veneer of thick crud, soundless, lost, an illusion…

Perhaps, he thinks, one cannot see precursors until they are in your eye, then can only surmise them to have been such, as if they could have been or should have been — that’s the worst, the should have been — seen…

Dumber than Gump. Look at me, him. His arms are tight, his fists clenched. The wind hitting my face brings snow — the fourth storm of the season — sparse, driven. My ears, nose, lips, forehead sting. My eyes tear. Cold. Damn cold. So damn cold! And the wind. Freezing. Forc­ing itself into me. An outside force inside of me. Growing inside of me. Look at the ice. The piers coated with ice. Slick as shit. And the rocks. I could slip so easily. It is no longer me. I am no longer in that body. That mind. I am detached. I am…

All excerpts, along with Aaron’s thesis, can be viewed at www.peakingat70.com

About the Author: John M. Del Vecchio is the author of four books, including two bestsellers with approximately 1.4 million copies sold, as well as hundreds of articles. He graduated from Lafayette College in 1969, was drafted and sent to Vietnam in 1970, where he served as a combat correspondent in the 101st Airborne Division (Airmobile). In 1971, he was awarded a Bronze Star Medal for heroism in ground combat.

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