Nuke Opera 2020: Lot’s Daughter by Ward Moore (1954):
Where To Find It: Like Lot, the first story in the David Jimmon short-story duology, Lot’s Daughter was originally published in the October 1954 edition of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. It was republished in a French science fiction magazine, Fiction, in November 1955. It was anthologized in A Decade of Fantasy and Science Fiction in December 1960 and has been reprinted a few times since then, but not quite as often or widely as Lot has been. I’ll be discussing why I think that is as we go on.
If you’re wanting to read Lot and its sequel, Lot’s Daughter, the two stories are available as an ebook released in 2017 by Open Road Integrated Media – which is the edition I’m using for this review. (Note: I still get a grand total of bugger-all if you go and buy a copy.)
Spoiler Warning: the plot of Lot’s Daughter will be discussed in detail, including the ending.
Content/Trigger Warnings: references to father-daughter incest, not depicted as a positive. Will be non-graphic discussions of sexual abuse and rape throughout.
Resources: The following are links to resources about rape, sexual violence and sexual abuse. If you or someone you know needs help, these might be places to start.
- RAINN –The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the US. They run the National Sexual Assault Hotline, at 800.656.HOPE (4673) or available as an online chat. Additionally, they have resources available in Spanish at org/es as well as information for Americans who are either living abroad or who are part of the DoD community (i.e. the US military, including military spouses/intimate partners, dependents, and contractors and their families)
- Rape Crisis Network Europe – a network of European centers which support survivors of sexual violence. The site provides links to resources in 46 different European countries as well as additional links for resources for survivors in countries outside of Europe, including Australia, Canada, Israel, Japan, New Zealand, the Philippines, South Africa as well as to RAINN in the USA.
- HotPeachPages – abuse information available in over 110 languages and information on abuse help agencies for dozens of countries around the world. Includes resources for Africa, Asia, Australia & New Zealand, Oceania/the Pacific, the Caribbean, Central America, South America, the Middle East, Europe, Canada and the US.
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Lot’s Daughter takes place about six years after the end of Lot. Once again, Mr. Jimmon is our sole POV character, so almost everything we see and hear is filtered through his mindset. We get outside perspectives from the narration and from Jimmon’s interactions with Erika.
Technically, this is also a spoiler, but since the character appears within the first seven paragraphs of the story, it’s not a major one. In addition to Jimmon and Erika, there’s another character in this story: a four-year-old child, referred to throughout the story by Jimmon as “the boy.”
“The boy” is, based on the context of the story, Jimmon and Erika’s child. Erika was fourteen in Lot; by the time of Lot’s Daughter, Erika is about 20 years old – possibly 21, since Jimmon isn’t sure if it’s been six years or seven years since the bombs fell. This means Erika was about sixteen or seventeen at the time the boy was born.
In Lot, Mr. Jimmon is slowly revealed to be a selfish and self-absorbed man who low-key hates his wife and sons and only sees his daughter Erika as worthy of being allowed to survive in a post-nuclear world. By the end of the story, when he abandons his wife and sons at a gas station, running off with Erika, it’s fairly clear that he’s a bit of a bastard but it’s potentially still possible to see him in a sympathetic light – especially if one takes his assumptions about the world at face value.
In Lot’s Daughter, we find out that Jimmon raped his daughter and has a son by her. Which puts some of the thoughts he had about Erika in Lot in a much different, more predatory light. For example, this is how Jimmon thinks of Erika when she first enters the story in Lot:
Erika came in briskly from the kitchen, her brown jodhpurs making her appear at first glance even younger than fourteen. But only at first glance; then the swell of hips and breast denied the childishness the jodhpurs seemed to accent.
As Lot continued, Jimmon repeatedly thinks of Erika as being older and more mature than she is, culminating in a scene near the end of the story where, after Erika disagrees with her mother, Jimmon determines that Erika has put away childish things and entered into an entirely new, aloof and emotionless adult relationship with her Molly.
Throughout Lot, Mr. Jimmon also referred to Erika as his. He sees his sons as belonging to his wife, Molly – the boys are described as having Molly’s stamp on their faces and minds. Only Erika is a true Jimmon and made in his own image.
When Jir and Erika squabble, with Jir saying that he’d spank her if she wasn’t a girl and Erika countering that he means if she wasn’t his sister, saying he’d probably enjoy such childish sex-play with any other girl, Jimmon marvels at the exchange. He wonders where they learn it, speculating that it comes from progressive schools then adds: Do you suppose…
There’s not enough context in Lot to determine exactly how Jimmon finished that sentence, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to think that he’s wondering if his daughter has had sex yet. I also don’t think it’s a stretch to think that he used all of the above incidents as ‘evidence’ to help him justify raping his daughter in the time between the stories. And that it likely didn’t happen just once, because despite what the writers at Plot Convivence Playhouse have said over the years, it’s extremely unlikely someone will get pregnant the first time they have sex.
We’re not shown any of this, thankfully. The fact that Jimmon raped Erika is introduced slowly and in a very low-key, euphemistic fashion. There’s the implication that Jimmon feels guilty about what he did, but since he’s a self-centered coward, he can’t actually bring himself to accept that he might have been at fault. Instead, he does what he does best: ignores the problem, rewrites the story and places himself at the center of the universe.
As the story begins, Mr. Jimmon has the beginnings of a toothache. It isn’t the first one he’s had over the last six years, so he recognizes the signs and knows that in a few days he’ll be in agony and then, after six months or so, the dead tooth will drop out.
Mr. Jimmon, it turns out, doesn’t like to think about what happened six (or was it seven) years before, because if he does that then he might start thinking of it in overly theatrical terms as the End of Civilization or the time since we Fled the Holocaust. Yes, those phrases might be accurate – even if they are all capitalized, but Mr. Jimmon doesn’t like to be theatrical.
Jimmon muses that he should have had all of his teeth removed, along with his appendix. This leads to him imagining Erika standing helplessly by as he writhes in unendurable pain, just like he’d done when…
That thought jackknifes into Jimmon justifying Erika’s pain as having been natural. He distances her pain from his even more by rationalizing that early humans would have seen people in labor and transferred the reality of childbirth into the Biblical proclamation about ‘bring forth your young in pain.’
Jimmon concludes his musings with the observation: No prophet ever got a revelation reading: Thou shalt die miserably of an inflamed bowel. Which is a valid point, though let us not forget that appendicitis isn’t sexually transmitted.
Erika tells Jimmon if he wants to eat, he’d better get up now. Jimmon finds this statement to be matter-of-fact, rather than nagging. If he doesn’t work, he literally won’t eat. Jimmon doesn’t respond as he thinks about how the cliché has become immortally triumphant in the dead world.
Erika asks him if he’s heard her and he responds. He tries shutting out the sounds of her moving around and of the boy saying that he wants something to eat. Jimmon isn’t sleepy or even tired, he doesn’t want to get out of bed. He hasn’t wanted to get out of bed for the last few days, his habitual energy and determination seeming to have slipped away over the last few days. Or maybe for a longer time than that.
Jimmon’s bed is a pile of grass that has been poorly dried – something for which he blames Erika.
Since Jimmon had decided long ago that they couldn’t keep food near the shelter, lest it attract predators, they have to go and find fresh food every day. If they’re lucky and Jimmon kills a large animal, they gorge themselves on the kill, trying to use it all up before predators show up.
It’s at this point that I have to note two things:
- Firstly, this is similar to what some hunter/gatherer groups have done throughout history – in times and places where preserving meat wasn’t easy, it wasn’t unusual for people to have a great, wonking feast when they made a large kill. On the other hand, many hunter-gatherer groups also knew how to preserve perishable foods like meat so that they could hold back a store of it. They also knew ways to keep predators out of their campsites – hell, even modern campers know of ways to protect themselves and their provisions from bears.
- Secondly, y’know what is really helpful for keeping predators at bay? Or for alerting one to the presence of predators? A dog. Oh! And for hunting? Dogs are good for that too. Especially spaniels. Should have brought the dog, Jimmon. Should have brought the dog.
Erika calls for Jimmon a third time – now Jimmon thinks she’s nagging. He tells her he thinks he’s getting another bad tooth as he looks up at the shelter’s roof. Noticing several holes in the roof, Jimmon thinks, for the hundredth or five hundredth time that he ought to do something drastic about putting a real roof on the shelter. Go off and find real boards, maybe from a nearby house.
Figuring he’d have to walk five miles one way, then five miles back with a load of luumber, it might take him twenty total trips – call it 100 miles – to get enough boards for a real roof. But then he thinks, for what? Would it really be worth all that work for a water-tight roof now that everything that could be ruined by rain has been?
Far from being sympathetic about Jimmon’s toothache, Erika says that she hopes he’ll let her just knock the tooth out with a nail instead of moaning about the pain for weeks. Jimmon refuses – silently, of course. He’s afraid of choking on the tooth or getting a broken jaw if the hammer Erika would use to bash the tooth out slips.
There’s nothing in the scene to suggest that what he’s really afraid of is Erika bashing his brains out with the hammer. And I don’t think there’s even any subtext that suggest that, since if Erika was going to kill him, she’d have done it long before now.
Instead, Jimmon blames his bad teeth on the lack of things like bones, gristle or even crusty bread in their diet, before he goes back to musing about wood for the roof. He thinks that it would be doable if he could jump into the station wagon, find what he wanted and load up and bring it back. Except, he can’t do that because the station wagon doesn’t run anymore.
Erika says that if Jimmon would get up early like he used to, he could maybe find a deer or a rabbit, since they feed near dawn. And maybe, if he’d walk a few miles, he might even be able to bring down a cow again.
Jimmon counters that there aren’t any cattle around anymore, because either they’ve drifted away from the area or they couldn’t adapt and therefore died off. Erika counters his counter by saying that she thinks someone probably rounded up the cattle and that’s why they’re gone.
This is an old argument between the two of them and one that Jimmon dismisses because if someone herded cattle, then why haven’t they seen any signs them? Which is a valid point, since cattle aren’t quiet animals. But, Jimmon being Jimmon, he implies that herding cattle would be extremely difficult as well as unlikely – probably because he knows bugger-all about domesticated animals.
But, that’s only if the cattle are close to where Jimmon and Erika’s shelter. I grew up in a rural area with some neighbors who had cattle – on certain clear mornings I could hear the cows mooing if they were in the pasture about a half mile from my house but the rest of the time, I never heard or even saw them. One of the weird things about rural life is that you can, in some places, see for miles but you’re not going to pick up on every detail
So, while Jimmon has a point, he also engages in some bad-faith arguments with Erika, refuting her idea that someone has herded the cattle by referring to this individual as ‘mythical’ and by presuming that in order to herd cattle, this individual would have to have rigged up gadgets and domesticated dogs.
Erika counters that Jimmon has been too busy hiding to notice anything and Jimmon lobs back that a smart man hides until the savages have killed each other off or until he can subdue them.
Erika continues arguing, saying that Jimmon has no way of knowing that the societal breakdown he predicted before they left Malibu ever actually occurred. Jimmon points out that he was right about other things, such as people panicking, the highways being crowded, extortion for gasoline and the destruction, so why should he suddenly be wrong now?
Well, partly because he wasn’t entirely right those other times. In Lot, we don’t see any evidence of panic beyond a minor fender-bender or two; the highways were crowded but not to an unusual extent; there was extortion for gasoline – by one attendant at one station who demanded five dollars a gallon but then almost immediately backed off and had to be persuaded to take Jimmon’s money. As for the destruction – dude, Los Angeles and Pittsburgh got nuked, of course there was destruction!
There were also radio reports throughout the story that said the destruction in the Los Angeles attack wasn’t as bad as originally thought, that utilities were in the process of being turned back on and that people were being advised to stay put and shelter in place. The only evidence we have of any actual panic in Lot comes from Mr. Jimmon’s perceptions of what he saw around him. And Mr. Jimmon wanted to see panic and chaos because then Mr. Jimmon could grant himself the freedom to do whatever he wanted. Which included abandoning his wife and sons and raping his daughter – because the world’s ended, he’s not at fault for what he’s done. He’s simply doing what he must do in order to survive in an ‘every man for himself’/’dog eat dog’/’survival of the fittest’ world.
Except that there is no sign that this world exists anywhere but in Mr. Jimmon’s own mind.
Erika keeps arguing, telling Jimmon that he doesn’t know that his predictions came true. And, she adds, you don’t want to find out.
Jimmon doesn’t counter her argument immediately. Instead, he goes off on a mental tangent, chalking Erika’s insistence on there being not only survivors but civilized survivors who are going about their daily lives as if nothing ever happened, to her being concerned about the boy. He doesn’t recall her being so obstinate about the idea of other survivors before he was born. He considers her faith in others to be against all reason, and thus tries to counter her with logic.
He tells her to visualize the possibilities, that when the cities were destroyed that would have killed, at a conservative estimate, twenty million people. Erika says that’s only a guess, that the radio never gave figures about the number of deaths. Jimmon agrees it’s a guess, but says it’s a logical guess. And that the fact that the radio didn’t say adds to the logic.
He continues ticking off points from there – that the initial bombing would only have been the beginning. Radiation sickness and diseases spread by dirty refugees, polluted water and malnutrition would have killed another thirty million, for a total of fifty million deaths. Or one-third of the population, all dead just from primary effects of the attack.
From there, he goes into secondary effects – crop failures, the inability of industrial farming to survive due to gasoline shortages, lack of manpower and the breakdown of equipment. Farming in the West, where agriculture is dependent on artificial water sources, the end of irrigation would destroy the industry. Not to mention the difficulties in transporting food grown in one area to other areas of the country. These secondary effects would lead to more malnutrition and deaths from starvation, as well as a second wave of epidemics.
City-folk and farmers would murder each other in riots. There’d be gang wars and fighting over women, not to mention floods and other disasters due to the disappearance of government maintenance on infrastructure. Then, after those disasters, there’d be a third wave of epidemics.
All of this, according to Mr. Jimmon, would leave a total population of the US of two to three million people, living in widely scattered, disorganized, roving bands.
Despite her father’s logic, Erika doesn’t back down. “That’s only the way you see it. People don’t turn into savages overnight just to ft a theory-“ Jimmon can’t resist interrupting her and says that no, humans are savages already and when the surface layer of civilization cracks off, it reveals the savagery underneath.
Of course, Jimmon has to believe this is true. If he could bring himself to believe that people can remain civilized and even behave altruistically in a disaster situation, then he wouldn’t be the hero of this story. Or, more correctly, the hero/victim – more on that in a bit.
Erika still won’t back down, refusing to buy into Jimmon’s belief that civilization is a thin veneer easily destroyed by disruptions to the system. She continues pounding at Jimmon’s arguments saying that humans have an instinct for cooperation that is stronger than the savagery that Jimmon expects. Her reasoning for this is that savagery pays off in the moment but means less food and less comfort over the long run. She’s certain that people found a way to deal with the epidemics and to begin farming again even if they had to go back to hoes and horses.
Jimmon finally gets out of bed, throwing back the poorly-tanned, stinking cowhide he uses as a blanket. He dismisses Erika’s ideas as baseless and based on pure, blind faith.
The argument ends with Erika pointing out that they survived – with Jimmon taking the opinion that they had advantages that others didn’t. That leads to the following exchange:
Erika: “Have we? Is that why we live like this?”
Jimmon: “Better to live like this than not at all.”
Jimmon is wearing a pair of shorts that Erika improvised from his last pair of pajamas. He’s not looking forward to the day when they’ll finally wear out and he’ll have to wear ill-cured leather against his bare flesh, which is going to chafe.
Erika still isn’t done with her side of the argument. She says that they don’t have to live like this. That somewhere, maybe not even too far away, people must be living decently. Jimmon again dismisses this as faith and asks if there’s wood on the fire.
Erika drops her argument for now, telling Jimmon that there is wood on the fire as well as hot water.
Jimmon dresses in goatskin pants and jacket that are as crudely fashioned as his shorts are. Possibly moreso, since the hide was harder to work with and is rough and stiff rather than soft and supple as it should have been. His sandals are almost satisfactory though, since their deerskin thongs are flexible and free of decay, despite the fact that the hide he cut them from rotted like all the others.
I’ve kind of noticed a pattern with Mr. Jimmon – if something goes well, he’ll refer to it as ‘theirs’, but if something goes wrong or doesn’t work as well as he thinks it should have, then it’s something Erika did.
His sandals, made from the remains of a flat tire, are snug on his feet, allowing him to run if he needed to. In fact, they work as well as the boots and shoes that have since worn out and been discarded.
Once he’s dressed, Jimmon decides that today is shaving day again. The boy whines that he wants something to eat. Erika tells him that Dad will take care of it in good time.
Jimmon wonders if it would be too late for them to try and figure out a calendar? They could guess at the date – May or June – then keep it up from now on. Erika pauses in what she’s doing and asks what would be the point since as soon as they find other people who haven’t ‘gone native’ they could find out the real date.
Two things: First, I love the fact that Erika refuses to back down from her belief that there are other survivors and that they aren’t living in a ramshackle shed and using ill-cured hides for clothes and blankets. Erika is a true survivor and points to Moore for writing such a strong, independent-minded young woman.
Second, when Erika pauses what she’s doing to answer Jimmon, he wonders about what she finds to keep herself busy with. He muses that women’s work is never done but how do they keep themselves occupied without vacuum cleaners and other labor-saving devices?
Throughout Lot it became clear from context that Mr. Jimmon never really talked to his family in general and with his wife in particular. So, it’s not hard to imagine that he had absolutely no clue what Molly did during the day while he was at work.
I can kind of give Jimmon a pass for not having paid attention to Molly in the time before the war, since he would have been spending at least eight hours a day away from home, possibly more with commuting time. If he noticed any of the work his wife did around the house, it was likely only in those cases where something didn’t get done to his satisfaction.
The fact that he’s spent six years living with Erika in a one-room hovel and somehow managed to not notice what Erika does on a daily basis is next-level self-absorption. Unfortunately, it’s also completely in-character for Mr. Jimmon.
Jimmon gets out his straight razor and prepares to shave, thinking as he does that bringing the straight razor was good foresight on his part since safety blades would have dulled to uselessness by now. He asks Erika what is a “real date” since calendars are conventions agreed upon by civilized communities and what civilized communities exist?
Erika says there are enough communities out there, if they’d look for them.
The boy still wants something to eat, but Jimmon ignores him as he proceeds to shave, using only hot water since they have no soap or shaving cream. Jimmon knows that soap isn’t hard to make, of course, having explained the theory to Erika often enough. But, for some reason, even though they have wood ash and access to tallow from the animals Jimmon shoots, they don’t have soap.
This is probably because making soap isn’t quite as simple as Jimmon thinks – in fact, there’s actually a lot of work potentially dangerous work involved beyond just mixing together wood ashes and tallow.
Jimmon shaves, slowly and carefully, using the rear-view mirror from the station wagon. The hot water softened his whiskers enough that he can shave without scraping his skin raw, but it’s still painful. He muses that they ought to make soap – probably not for the first time.
The boy has followed Jimmon outside and is watching Jimmon. As he watches him, the boy calls him Dad – stating a fact, rather than asking a question. Jimmon feels obligated to say something to the boy but since he can’t think of anything to say, he looks away from the boy toward a nearby brook.
The brook is shallow, making dipping water from it difficult. Jimmon has had plans to dam an area upstream where there’s a natural basin ever since he and Erika arrived at this spot.
So, he’s procrastinated about damming the stream for at least six, possibly seven years. I’ll cut him a bit of slack for not doing it immediately, since they’d have been busy getting set up at first. Also, damming a stream would potentially reveal their presence to other people in the area – people who might wish to do them ill. Or who might take exception to a couple trespassers squatting on their land and shooting their cattle. Well, one of their cows.
Finishing his shave and after wiping his razor clean on his sleeve, Jimmon asks Erika if she needs the warm water he used. Erika comes to the entrance of the shelter and Jimmon gets a look at her. He drops his eyes, having been surprised by her appearance.
She’s dressed in one of Molly’s old dresses, which has been tucked into a pair of Levis, which were also Molly’s. Erika is thin, but slender, not overly thin like Molly had been. He thinks that, on a good diet, Erika’s face might fill out, removing the slight hollow in her cheeks. But maybe not. He thinks that she has an intensity about Erika, emphasized in her eyes that, as Jimmon puts it, “indicated a tendency to sparseness.”
He tries to remember how long it’s been – six or seven years? He doesn’t know if Erika is twenty or twenty-one. He thinks that the time has been longer for her than it has for him; which, he feels, is one of the reasons she’s clung so hard to the idea that there are civilized survivors somewhere. Otherwise, well, her life would be hopeless and dreary.
Jimmon, on the other hand, hangs on to daily food-getting and hanging on.
Erika’s response is to ask Jimmon just what she’s supposed to do with the warm water? Wash dishes that he didn’t bring along? Wash the clothes they don’t have any more? Mop the dirt floor? Or, sterilize something?
Jimmon thinks: He had sterilized the knife with which she’d cut the cord.
Jimmon backs down and takes the aluminum kettle and empties it. He thinks about the fact that the kettle, even though it’s heavy cast aluminum, will wear out soon. He’d debated bringing a cast iron kettle, but one drop and that would have shattered, while the aluminum could still be useful even if it developed a hole. He uses this to reassure himself that, despite Erika’s ‘unjust taunts’ about dishes and the dirt floor, he’d foreseen intelligently.
Deciding it’s about seven in the morning, Jimmon thinks about how his watch gave out, while Erika’s lasted about a year longer despite being almost entirely ornamental (it’d belonged to her mother). Erika still wears it as jewelry. Jimmon makes a mental note to tell her not to leave it hanging in plain sight.
His thoughts turn to breakfast and he wonders if he’s wants to eat because he’s actually hungry or if its just out of habit. From there, he wonders if its actually possible to eat a real breakfast or if it’s really just the first meal of the day? “Real breakfast” being of course, a chilled grapefruit with a maraschino cherry in the center, cornflakes and cream with sugar. Bacon. Eggs – hen’s eggs, of course, not gulls’ eggs like Erika sometimes finds.
While the memory of sugar also hit him, it’s thinking of coffee that gives Jimmon a particular pause. Even after six years he can still remember the smell of coffee and the memory makes his mouth water.
Jimmon wonders – actually says the word ‘wonder’ out lout – and Erika asks him what. He looks over to see that she’s still standing in their shelter’s doorway, though it’s not much of a doorway. It’s really more of the ‘place where he didn’t build a wall.’ He decides that before the rainy season comes, he must make an actual doorway, possibly even with a real door.
Of course, there’s no reason he should feel bad about the fact that he hasn’t done it before now – to his mind, he’s been too busy to do it before now. Because he’s accomplished so much over the last six years what with not damming the creek or making a water-tight roof. No, instead of focusing on how small and inadequate the shelter is, he’ll focus on how much he’s accomplished. After all, how many other civilized men with no training or preparation or experience – not to mention, no real taste for the ‘rugged outdoor’ things could have done as well as he has?
Few, he decides, then realizes Erika is still staring at him. She asks him if he’s going to after food or if he’s just going to stand around talking to himself? Which is becoming a habit of his.
Jimmon says he might go after rabbits and Erika looks at him derisively but not entirely unkindly. She says in that case, she’ll go down to the ocean and see what she can find. Jimmon goes into the shelter to get his rifle. The seats from the station wagon are beds for Erika and the boy, with Jimmon’s grass pallet being opposite their beds.
Erika’s surprised he’s taking the gun, since he said he was going after rabbits. Jimmon doesn’t answer at first, allowing himself the indulgent fantasy of taking down a deer with a single shot. Never mind it’s too late in the day, but he might get lucky.
He puts the rifle back up and opts for the shotgun. He takes the time to make sure the gun is clean before he gathers some shells from one of his ammunition caches. He keeps the shotgun and rifle in separate locations and keeps the shells and cartridges in separate caches as well. This is actually pretty smart – he does it because of fear of being robbed, but considering they have a child living with them, this is also a pretty reasonable safety precaution.
Erika and the boy go off toward the ocean to see what food they can gather. Jimmon goes off to hunt and wonders if he’s being obstinate by hunting when they’ve found that the ocean is the only sure way of getting food. The fact that he takes six shells with him, putting one in the shotgun’s breech, and stops to get his old briefcase before he goes hunting serves as an answer.
He’s not sure how or why the briefcase, which he’d stopped using in his before-life because it was old-fashioned, came to be packed along with his carefully chosen provisions. Ironically, though, it’s turned out to be a lot more useful than the government pamphlets (which ended up rain-soaked) or the seeds (which never got planted).
After putting the rest of the shells and a knife into the case, Jimmon goes hunting. As Moore puts it: Man the survivor went forth to hunt dangling a briefcase.
The day is foggy and chilly. Jimmon thinks that if he knew how to make mortar without cement, he’d build a fireplace for the shelter. But, of course, he doesn’t know how to do this so there will never be a fireplace.
He thinks more about the shelter, which is partly made of logs that he and Erika stumbled over when they first arrived at this spot. They have no idea why the logs were there or who cut them. The rest of the logs for the shelter’s three-and-a-half walls are ones that Jimmon chopped down. The shelter’s walls are full of gaps, which they originally filled with moss and mud. However, once these plugs dry up, they fall out so they’ve switched to using grass, adding more as the logs dry and shrink, making the gaps wider.
As he hunts, Jimmon muses on pre-war survival stories and how they agreed with Erika, presuming that people would survive in relative comfort and ease, banding together to form communities and rebuild civilization. He chalks these stories up to limited imaginations and an inability to envision realities.
Because of course he does. Because, I’m pretty sure, if Mr. Jimmon seriously entertained the idea that he might actually be wrong for even a (metaphorical) minute, he’d be utterly destroyed. It would mean that everything he’s done since he left Molly and the boys at that gas station has been for nothing.
Let me make this abundantly clear: I’m not defending Jimmon. He’s a monster. In Lot, he was a domestic tyrant and a rather lazy bully, who would simply ignore anything he didn’t want to deal with. In Lot’s Daughter, these character traits have helped to make things that much harder for Jimmon and Erika to do more than scrape by, which is horrific enough without adding to the situation that Jimmon raped his daughter. And Jimmon, on some level that he can only just barely acknowledge, knows this and can’t bring himself to deal with it.
See, while Jimmon is a rapist who impregnated his own daughter, he does know that what he did was wrong. You can see it in his body language – he can’t look directly at Erika – and you can see it in the way that he can’t quite bring himself to think of how the boy came into the world. He can come close, but he has to think about it in euphemisms or come at the memories from the side. It’s clear from context that he genuinely feels guilty about what he did but he can’t actually openly acknowledge that he feels that guilt. Because only people who are wrong feel guilty.
And David Alonzo Jimmon, Senior cannot be wrong.
After dismissing pre-war survival stories as ridiculous fantasies, Jimmon circles back to think about their arrival at the place that’s become their base. They’re still a distance from Monterey, but are only about a half mile from the highway. They hid the station wagon and used branches to wipe away signs of their tire tracks for the half mile from their campsite to the highway. They listened to the radio daily in those early times, hearing more about what happened. Jimmon remembers the reports as being almost exactly what Mr. Jimmon had predicted months prior to It happening.
Molly, he almost thinks of her as ‘poor Molly’ but stops himself, was (in his memory) incredulous even as they were trying to escape the city. Erika doesn’t remember how accurate Jimmon’s predictions were – probably because, as was said earlier, they weren’t that accurate. He was right about some things but no where near as right as he wants to believe he was.
Jimmon’s thoughts drift to wondering if he was wrong to not have tried to corral some of the cattle who’d been wandering the area when they arrived. He decides that the sheer amount of work he’d have had to do to catch, herd, pen and care for them would have been too difficult. Overwhelming in his words. Instead, the easiest – sorry, most feasible – thing to do was to shoot the ones he could, one at a time. Erika, of course, unjustly sneered at the idea of pioneers shooting cattle – but she ate the meat, so she’s a hypocrite.
Now, the cattle are all gone. Disappeared, in Jimmon’s thoughts. But not into a herd like Erika thinks. Those early post-attack news reports are all the evidence Jimmon needs for that. Reports that showed that gutted, uninhabitable Los Angles was a trap due not just to radiation sickness but also to typhoid, meningitis and other unnamed plagues that swirled among the escaping refugees. Jimmon’s sure one of those would have been cholera.
Those in this second wave of refugees brought their diseases to areas where there were other refugees, first-wavers who were already disorganized and hungry themselves. Attempts to set up dislocation camps ended when national guardsmen were massacred by frenzied victims.
I’ve written in an earlier article about panic and disaster situations. Scholarly research on disasters done over the last seventy years has found that mass panic is exceedingly rare. This is based on research done by sociologists of disaster, who have studied a wide variety of disaster situations from early history up through to the present day.
There are situations that can cause individuals to panic, especially if the following criteria are met:
- The perception that there is a great, immediate threat.
- The belief that the individual is trapped – a feeling that can occur even if the person is in a wide, open space.
- The individual feels helpless.
If an individual or individuals begin to panic, that emotion can spread from them to others in the group, which can then cause an entire group to panic.
All of this is a long, round-about way of saying that I think that a panic did occur at a dislocation camp but I don’t think it happened for the reasons Mr. Jimmon thinks it happened. Basically, I think what likely happened was that one or more individuals at the camp thought that the guardsmen were going to run out of supplies and that panic spread from them into the crowd and the guardsmen got killed trying to maintain order.
I think what Jimmon did was inflate what was likely one or two isolated incidents into a widespread pattern of behavior. When news is reported, it tends to be about unusual events – things that are out of the ordinary or that don’t often occur. There’s a reason we don’t see stories about all the stores where people aren’t going crazy on Black Friday – they’re not interesting.
Jimmon reminisces about other radio reports, including some explicit ones about destruction in Europe and Asia, where Leningrad was hit with eleven classified bombs, Marseilles was destroyed as were Copenhagen and Bristol, Archangel and Warsaw. In the US, Chicago and Detroit were hit the same day; New York’s destruction went on interminably – or at least, that’s what Jimmon deduced from ‘grudging hints’ in the news reports.
From there, Jimmon goes back to cattle. He reckons its been at least a couple of years since he last saw any cattle in the area. He knows that ‘miles away’ there’s a ranch house, stables, corrals, outbuildings – though he’s not sure how many miles away. And beyond that house, there’s thousands of grazing acres.
Jimmon thinks: The heroic fictional man (homo gernsbacchae) would have found the house, rounded up the cattle, started all over. […] And been a fine target for the first passing looters.
When San Francisco was destroyed, there had been a flood of southbound traffic on State Highway I and Jimmon had been sure they would be discovered and overrun, but instead the refugees didn’t stop, just kept going south. Though what they would have done when they reached the outer radius of Los Angeles, Jimmon didn’t know. Maybe turned into the Pacific like lemmings?
Or, y’know, turned inland and headed deeper into the country, possibly to Nevada or Arizona or other points further east? While thermonuclear weapons (H-bombs) were being developed by both the US and the Soviet Union at this point, ICBMs were still a few years off. This would mean that there would be portions of the US that weren’t hit by atomic weapons and which could potentially become areas of refuge or staging areas for relief efforts in other regions.
Of course, a lot of those regions that wouldn’t be hit would likely be predominately rural and therefore contain less infrastructure, but they could still serve as a place to begin to make a stand.
The loss of San Francisco meant they only received broadcasts from one radio station out of Monterey. Broadcasts which lasted for only about a month, but which included reports that complete network service would be restored in ‘no time’; that the civilian population shouldn’t panic or give heed to rumors being spread by the enemy; and lost friends and relatives were being listed and reunions would happen faster if people remained calm and exhibited some fortitude and just wait.
A movement in the grass to Jimmon’s right interrupts his reverie. He doesn’t turn and fire immediately; instead, he raises the shotgun level with his hip and waits to be sure of his shot. He moves carefully, since it could be a large, dangerous animal waiting to make a meal of fresh Jimmon.
He’s startled by a rabbit while he’s in mid-step and so is off-balance. He brings the gun up to his shoulder, even though he knows he doesn’t have the shot. He tries to stop himself, but he stumbles and falls, the gun roaring next to his ear. Additionally, the briefcase falls, scattering its contents.
He lays on the ground for a long moment, not wanting to struggle. He’s bungled another simple task and wasted an irreplaceable shell. He lays there, thinking that no matter how you define civilization, it’s a delicate and interdependent mechanism. If he hadn’t been an insurance broker, but instead had been Admirable Jimmon, the Elizabethan universal man, who was a crack shot, a first-class woodsman, mechanic, improviser, chemist, physicist, and farmer. He wonders if that would have made a difference or if it was true that all men had to sink to a common level before there could be a new raising.
Continuing from this, he wonders if his old idea, that he could preserve a vestige of pre-war, mid-20th century civilization in himself and Erika without a supporting network of goods and services, mines and factories, was simply a delusion. Similar to the idea of primitive men relying on spirits and watchful gods to overcome obstacles. Except that all man had to rely on was other men – and if mankind sank, individual men sank with it. Variations in depth are insignificant.
All collapse was total collapse, Jimmon decides. It was something even Wendell had grasped instinctively when he’d asked if the war meant they could steal cars and things. Hiding out as he and Erika have done isn’t preserving an enclave from the lost world; instead it keeps the present world just a tiny, infinitesimal bit more brutal than it might have been.
Jimmon starts gathering the items that spilled out of the now-broken briefcase, knowing that he’s one step closer to the day when he’ll have no shotgun. He even acknowledges that he’s failing to save himself and Erika – though, note that he doesn’t mention the boy.
He finds four of the five shells that were in the briefcase and begins searching meticulously for the fifth shell – otherwise, he’s that much closer to the day when the shotgun becomes useless.
Jimmon considers that a “half-wit,” one who couldn’t understand an actuarial table, could refill the shell with homemade gunpowder, but of course that half-wit would only do it in order to kill another savage over a piece of meat or a woman. Whereas, Jimmon thinks, the man who took though for tomorrow was unable to safeguard the heritage of yesterday.
Okay, I’m not going to link to any gunpowder recipes – but they are out there, just a Google search away. If you, dear reader, decide to go looking and decide to play home chemist, please, please, please, please be careful.
That said, the ingredients and proportions for making gunpowder are more or less common knowledge. Hell, back in the 1980s, an episode of Transformers (“A Decepticon Raider in King Arthur’s Court”) featured time-displaced Decepticons trying to make gunpowder and taught a generation of children that seagull poop has potassium nitrate in it.
Today, circa 2020, you can find the three components of gunpowder – charcoal, sulfur and salt-peter (potassium nitrate) – easily enough, since all three have non-explosive uses. Some people, including preppers and historical reenactment enthusiasts, make their own gunpowder. Technically, they’re making what’s known as black powder, an older form of gunpowder that is different from modern, smokeless powder. For one thing, it’s not smokeless.
Making black powder isn’t difficult but it is dangerous since you make black powder by grinding the three ingredients together in the correct proportions in a ball mill or a stone rolling mill for hours. During this time, the mixture can explode prematurely – the source I looked at, Gray Matter: Easy DIY Gunpowder (posted August 18, 2011) at the Popular Science website, says that there’s a “good chance” this will happen. The author, Theodore Gray, recommends Not Trying This At Home, unless you have access to the right type of remotely operated mill – something that would not be available to Jimmon or his hypothetical ‘half-wit’.
For the moment, I’m going to ignore the inherent ableism in ‘half-wit’ because I want to focus on the classist side of the insult (trust me, we’ll get a chance to discuss Jimmon’s ableism in a bit). Jimmon was, prior to the day It happened, an insurance broker and likely one who was fairly well paid and therefore well-placed with in middle-class/upper middle-class society. The primary evidence for this shows up in Lot, particularly the fact that he’s running around with 200 one-hundred-dollar bills in his jacket pocket. Plus, he didn’t hesitate to pay the extortionist gas station attendant five bucks a gallon for gas and bought at least twelve gallons.
What Jimmon means when he says ‘half-wit’ and ‘savage’ is someone who isn’t of his same social class. He means someone who is less well-off than he is and someone who has a kind of specialized knowledge that Jimmon doesn’t. Jimmon looks down on this theoretical person because he fears them. He insults them because he feels it isn’t fair that someone who isn’t on his level could best him in something.
Someone who can manage to make black powder but can’t read an actuarial table isn’t a half-wit. They’re not necessarily a paragon of human virtue or overflowing with the milk of human kindness, but they’re not the inferior of an insurance broker. Especially not one who kidnapped and raped his daughter.
Jimmon keeps looking for the missing shell, debating whether or not to write off the loss of the fired shell, the missing shell and the jackrabbit and just accept the losses. He thinks about the boxes and boxes of shells on shelves in hundreds of towns and villages – except, no, they’re not there, having been looted (its implied).
Instead, because he planned ahead and showed forethought, Jimmon didn’t take his share of those boxes and boxes of shells. He’d been too quick and too smart to survive.
He stares down at the grass and thinks back to when he and the rest of the family had first set out from Malibu, back when he had the vitality he’s lost over time. And how his vitality had gained new force once he’d “sloughed off” Molly and the boys. This vitality had reached its peak when they’d found their hiding place.
Trigger Warning: It’s at this point that Jimmon comes close to actually admitting to having raped Erika (he comes even closer later on). Being Jimmon, he of course couches his remembrances in euphemistic terms. He talks about the almost mystic propriety of the relationship with Erika and how it changed him from man the commuter and taxpayer to man the lair finder, dweller maker and provider.
He tries to figure out how long his energy lasted and decides that it was less than a year at the most and that it was definitely long gone before Erika found herself with child.
Because, of course, Jimmon had nothing whatsoever to do with Erika’s pregnancy. Maybe there was a star in the East and they missed the Three Wise Men’s approach because they’re just so well hidden?
Jimmon believes his energy began to fade when the radio station in Monterey went off the air, because now there was not even a faint hope that something in the world would be spared. Instead, this was a sign that he was truly on his own (note: no mention of Erika). He wonders what happened to some other nearby cities and towns – Salinas and Carmel and Fort Ord. They hadn’t been bombed but had been close enough to see the flash.
Jimmon thinks about how, at the time, he’d had the feeling that the broadcasts out of Monterey were hollow in some fashion, as if they were being put on by a single man, driven mad and pretending that Monterey still existed with people walking the streets, shopping in the stores, riding its buses, etcetera, etcetera. Maybe the local news was true, maybe it was fiction. Maybe all the news was fake – where would the announcer have gotten it from? And then, one day, the radio station just winked off – no announcement, no sign off, no national anthem. Just nothing that day and the next and the next and the next.
He wonders if the power failed or if the engineer gave up his deception (if it was a deception) or died of illness. Erika had wanted him to try to drive north and find out, but Jimmon refused. Erika was, in his words, childishly obstinate, refusing (like her mother) to see facts or listen to Jimmon’s deductions about the potential dangers. She just repeated that they should get in the car and go and see for themselves.
Even pointing out that they no longer had a spare tire didn’t dissuade Erika; instead, she gave this as a reason for going – they could find a way to fix the tire in Monterey. Her unrealistic attitude appalled him.
He realized just how strongly she believed in the idea of a makeshift, residual civilization was until he discovered she was turning on the car radio four or five times a day. When he told Erika that she was running down the battery, she told him that they could restart the motor and run it again.
Jimmon tried to make her see the whole picture – that the car only had about two gallons of gas in the tank, which was irreplaceable and vital in an emergency. Besides, he no longer had any money to buy gas with since he’d given the $20,000 he’d had on him to Molly. But, even if he had money, there was no gas to be had.
Finally, he felt a kind of wry triumph when the battery finally failed and the radio couldn’t even pick up static anymore. Erika kept trying to counter Jimmons arguments against trying to restart the car. She persists in trying to find a way to get it running again, re-inflating the tires with a hand-pump and then trying to push-start the car. Jimmon helps, even though he knows its futile. When this doesn’t work, Erika insists on trying a new method: jacking the car up and spinning a rear wheel while the car was in gear.
The car stays in this position for months. Jimmon gave up on the idea as soon as he realized it wouldn’t work but Erika stayed at it much longer. At first, she spent hours daily at it, then, over time she went from trying three times a day to daily to weekly. If he recalls correctly, her pregnancy was “well advanced” before Erika gave up entirely.
This makes me wonder how much of Erika’s persistence was in an attempt to keep her father occupied, to protect herself from him. To try and find a way to make him help her escape from him, only giving up when she was too far along in her pregnancy to maintain the effort.
In Lot, Jimmon remembers that Molly had had a difficult pregnancy with Jir, to the point that he feared she might die. It’s not a stretch to imagine that Erika might have similar problems – compounded by her being a young mother living in high-stress conditions, likely suffering from low-key malnutrition.
Jimmon muses that there is No salvation by mechanical means. In his mind, salvation only comes from dogged reliance on his own will – again, no mention of Erika, no mention of the boy. Jimmon seems to see himself as the only person worth thinking about when it comes to survival. There are those who might be inclined to think that it’s the stress of the end of the world that’s driven Jimmon to this point; I’m inclined to think that disaster situations like this amplify underlying tendencies. Jimmon was a bully before the bombs dropped and while I don’t think he abused Erika before they came to their campground, I think the inclination was there and when the war allowed him the opportunity, he took it.
Jimmon sees his search for the shell as symbolizing his determination to resist being reduced to the primitive level for as long as he possibly can. This likely helps him to ignore the fact that he lives in an unfinished, ill-made log shed, sleeps on a pile of poorly-dried grass with a rotting hide as a blanket and wears improperly cured hides for clothing. Not to mention that he raped and impregnated his daughter and shares this life with them.
Jimmon asks himself what had he expected? Some romantic fantasy where he’d built a cabin, dammed the stream, planted a vegetable garden and domesticated cattle, all the while masterfully defending against marauders and eventually joining forces with other survivors? These would, of course, be limited to couples and young children. No single males allowed under any circumstances. These survivors would be under his leadership, since he would be the only one who could be acknowledged as such due to his mastering of various obstacles. The final triumph of his stewardship would be the day when his group would at last emerge from hiding and establish themselves openly in an abandoned village or town.
It’s a romantic notion, of course, which is why Jimmon dismisses it.
Jimmon’s fingers land on a shell, filling him with elation and relief – until he realizes that the shell he found was the remains of the one he’d fired. He sits down and reflects, telling himself that this isn’t a tragedy nor cause for despair. He’s lost two shells but he still has others; while he’s not sure the exact amount, he believes he has enough for another year, if he’s careful. He’d been foolish, going out after game so late, but he’d done it to show someone – himself or Erika – that he really is the Admirable Jimmon.
Unfortunately, he thinks, pride goeth before an empty belly.
He gives up the hunt, wondering about the difference between x shells and x-1 shells, persuading himself that he can put it down to experience as he gathers his briefcase and shotgun and returns to the shelter.
As he returns, he pauses at the stream, thinking again about how easy it would be to build a dam and deciding that he won’t put it off any longer. He’ll begin the project at dawn tomorrow, after getting out of bed without being admonished to do so. And once the dam’s finished, he’ll build a proper cabin. He decides that starting tomorrow, they’ll sink no further; even if their progress will be small, it will be upwards toward recivilization.
He hears the sounds of Erika and the boy among the usual sounds of insects, birds and frogs along with ocean surf in the distance and the brook nearby. Jimmon decides he won’t say anything about his determination, so that he can match her fantasy of survivors with the reality of their own survival.
Of course, by not telling her about his plans, he also doesn’t have to face reprisals from her when he doesn’t actually do anything. Because chances are this isn’t the first time in the last six or seven years that Mr. Jimmon has drawn this particular line in the sand.
Back at camp, Erika is boiling water, having placed the kettle in the fire which Jimmon has told her often enough not to do, since it will blacken the kettle and potentially damage it. He doesn’t chide her again. Instead, Erika asks him if he got anything and he notices that there’s something not quite right about her tone. Instead of being sharp or irritated or contemptuous, there’s an entirely different kind of undertone that he can’t figure out.
He tells her that he didn’t get anything, because the briefcase broke. He tells her to sew it tighter next time. Erika says she will, when she gets to it and tells him that she brought home some abalone for him. She’s even kicked it for him, which is a pleasant surprise.
He does think that she needs to leave the undersized abalone alone, otherwise they won’t be able to gather them at all. Instead, someone would have to go way out and dive for them. Jimmon knows he couldn’t manage it. Deeper down, the abalone would be bigger, but would also be stronger and better able to hold onto the rocks. One false move and the abalone could catch the fingers of the diver and drown them.
Content/Trigger Warning: discussion of incest and outdated psychological theories.
Jimmon’s thoughts shift from abalone fishing to the food Erika has prepared for him. He shifts from thinking “Dutiful daughter; I have nourished my father” wondering if it refers to Lenore or Electra, before thinking of how small Erika’s breast are. He wonders if that might have had anything to do with the boy’s poor start in life but doesn’t think so, since Molly had never been able to nurse for long. Though Molly, unlike Erika, had access to pediatricians and supplemental feedings and formulas.
I’m not sure who the “Lenore” is that Jimmon is referring to – Wikipedia showed only two literary references to the name, a 1773 poem/ballad by Gottfried August Burger and an 1843 poem by Edgar Allan Poe that was originally titled “A Paean.” Neither poem seems to have anything to do with dutiful daughters, so I’m going to ignore them for the moment to focus on the reference I do get.
Electra, in Greek mythology, was the daughter of King Agamemnon and Queen Clytemnestra. According to legend, Agamemnon sacrificed his daughter Iphigenia to stop the goddess Artemis from interfering with the winds so that he can sail to Troy and join the Trojan War. Clytemnestra takes exception to this and, upon Agamemnon’s return from the war with the Trojan princess Cassandra, murders them. Their daughter Electra plotted revenge against her mother for the murder of her father.
In 1913, Carl Jung coined the term Electra complex to refer to a girl’s psychosexual competition for possession of her father. It’s analogous to the Oedipus complex and, like the Oedipus complex, is no longer widely accepted in modern psychology, in large part because Freud’s ideas are rooted in bad-faith arguments that rely on outdated gender role stereotypes.
But, at the time Lot and Lot’s Daughter were written, the idea of teenage girls yearning for their father’s approval was very deeply ingrained in the popular mind. In fact, according to Rachel Devlin, as reported in an article entitled “What Ever Happened To Daddy’s Girl,” the idea that a teenage girl would seek out her father’s approval of her erotic appeal and that approval would help her make a healthy transition from little girl to young woman.
Yikes. This is an attitude that’s toxic enough in a non-disaster situation – in another timeline, where It didn’t happen, one can imagine Mr. Jimmon becoming oddly sulky when young Erika goes out with the boys.
After he eats, Jimmon says that he’s going to go fishing right away. To his surprise, Erika asks him why and he replies that it’s his duty to provide, though he tries to make a joke out of it.
Erika puts a finger in the kettle to test the water and repeats the word ‘duty’ as she pulls the kettle from the fire. She kneels, letting her hair fall forward into the water as Mr. Jimmon and the boy watch as she washes her hair.
Mr. Jimmon wonders how she can get her hair clean without soap and why she’s bothering. He decides its for the same reason he shaves – to preserve the amenities – though he finds it an odd thing to do in the middle of the day.
Once she’s done, Erika stands up and rubs her hair between her palms and asks again about duty. Jimmon says it’s because of responsibility. Biological and social responsibility.
Erika pulls a handful of wet hair away from her face and looks directly at Jimmon and asks him about Mom. And Wendell? And Jir?
Jimmon’s first thought is of impulse – specifically, “[t]he impulse at the exact moment of opportunity at the end of a day when inhibitions are relaxed.” He acknowledges, in the safety of his own mind, that he couldn’t have forced Molly and the boys out of the car or driven off with Erika if he’d had to actually say something or confront his wife and sons face to face. He couldn’t have done it if he’d had to look at Molly and the boys, if he’d seen them realizing that they were being abandoned and betrayed instead of knowing that he’d be gone before the penny dropped.
He wonders why she’s bringing this up now, especially since if she doesn’t already know his reasoning then there’s no way he can explain it to her. He certainly couldn’t recreate the emotions he was feeling on that day, even if he wanted to.
But what surprises Jimmon the most is the fact that Erika referred to Molly as “Mom” not “Mother” – which, apparently, is how Erika had referred to her since “the electric moment of awareness in the station wagon.” Jimmon supposes that this sudden reversion to the more childish “Mom” is a sign of something, perhaps guilt? An emotion that had been so pervasive in the books Molly used to read as to become nearly meaningless.
Because of course, if anyone should feel guilty about what happened, it should be Erika, not Jimmon. Never Jimmon.
He justifies himself to her, saying, “Survival would have been impossible. I also owed a duty to you and to myself” This makes him feel like the man he was eight years ago, long before the day of It, back when he was still D. A. Jimmon, Malibu homeowner with an office on Spring Street. He tries to further justify himself, adding that he gave Molly all of “our” money, twenty thousand dollars.
Erika goes back to rubbing the water out of her hair, reminding Jimmon that he gave her twenty thousand dollars of what he thought was going to be useless. Jimmon says that he still thinks it was useless. In fact, he knows it was but that isn’t the point. The point was that Molly couldn’t see that there was a possibility Jimmon might be right, so since she was convinced the money had and would always have value that makes it okay.
Erika is still working on her hair, beginning to braid it now. She agrees that the others would have been quite impossible but that that isn’t the point either. If Jimmon hadn’t been ruthless – which Jimmon corrects to unsentimental and Erika goes with this, saying that if he had to be unsentimental in order to survive.
In order for us to survive, Jimmon says, pleased that she understands him so well.
Erika starts braiding the other side of her hair and Jimmon waits for her to continue speaking. She doesn’t, but finishes braiding her hair and winds the braids around her head, tying it in place with a bit of blue cotton rag.
Jimmon starts to speak to her, wanting to know why she’s brought up the past like this, but Erika interrupts and tells Jimmon to take the boy along with him when he goes fishing. Jimmon is confused, since she’s never asked him to do this before. Taking the boy along means he’ll have to carry him for part of the way, which’ll be a nuisance, but he does have to begin teaching him so he agrees.
The boy doesn’t want to go fishing again, but Erika tells him that they weren’t fishing before, just looking for shellfish and stranded crabs. Dad, she says, will take him actual fishing. The boy still doesn’t want to go.
Jimmon thinks that the boy is small for four – if he is four. He doesn’t really have any standards for comparison, since his memories of Jir and Wendell and of other children seen on the street are all faded. The boy, he thinks, is probably exactly average. Even his health is good, considering their diet.
Jimmon thinks that any thoughts he has that the boy is “sickly” are purely a revulsion on his part or stem from a wish that the boy was sturdier, brighter than most. He thinks that sickly leans more toward 19th-century folktales, not toward historical knowledge. He thinks of the Ptolemies and the Incas – both groups where members of the royal family practiced sibling marriage. Because I can find more resources on the Ptolemies, I’ll focus on them.
The Ptolemaic dynasty were the last dynasty of Ancient Egypt, which they ruled from 305 to 30 BCE. Like other earlier Egyptian dynasties, they practiced interbreeding, including sibling marriage. This was due to a variety of reasons, including the classist idea that royal blood should never be diluted with that of outsiders. You can read more about the practice at Keeping it in the (Ptolemaic) Family: When Incest is Best, by Stephanie Dray at Historyundressed.com.
Of course, Jimmon with his focus on superior men would associate raping Erika with nobility, because that way he can think of himself as a superior man, not some nasty lower-class brute.
Erika hugs and kisses the boy, telling him that she wants him to go with Dad. Jimmon, not unkindly, tells the boy to come on, if he’s coming. Erika tells Mr. Jimmon – oddly enough – that the boy needs eggs. Really, he needs milk but she acknowledges that there is no milk. And he needs greens – she tells Mr. Jimmon that the dandelions are pretty much gone but that there are other plants. She advises him that you can tell if they’re good to eat by chewing on them when they’re raw. And she advises him that the boy needs warm covers at night.
Jimmon tells Erika that she hasn’t done badly with the boy – in fact, he thinks she’s done very well with him. Jimmon’s thoughts focus on the lack of the briefcase, he’s not going to be able to use it to carry his fishing tackle, so he’ll have to leave some of it behind. He offers to carry the boy piggy-back.
The boy’s arms around his neck seem frail and he feels light. Jimmon wonders if he’d been able to gentle a cow, that would have made all the difference. Maybe even now – it finally occurs to him to wonder what Erika meant, then thinks maybe once he’s finished the dam, the cattle might not have strayed too far or become too wary of people.
Erika wishes to Mr. Jimmon luck, though he notices she still has the same strange undertone to her voice. Her last words are to remind him not to let the boy get cold.
Jimmon jogs downhill, noticing that, despite his efforts and his warnings, a path has been worn from the shelter to the highway. He’ll have to conceal it again as best he could, using pine needles and debris and speak to Erika again about the dangers of exposing themselves. If only he could regain communication with her.
The boy, for no discernable reason, says “Don’t want to” again and Mr. Jimmon essentially ignores the boy, focusing instead on a strange smell that is familiar but not one he’s smelled recently. Jimmon tells the boy that he doesn’t have to fish, he can just watch as Jimmon catches enough fish for all of them.
The boy doesn’t want to watch. Jimmon thinks he’s annoying and isn’t surprised Erika wanted to fob him off for the afternoon. He tries to adjust the boy so that his arms aren’t so tight around Mr. Jimmon’s neck but with no real use. So, at least in that respect, the boy is a fairly typical small child.
Jimmon gets a sense that something is wrong before he and the boy step out of the cover of the trees. He thinks the strange smell, that is both unfamiliar and familiar might be stronger here. He shushes the boy who starts to protest but Jimmon shushes him again.
He waits, trying to see if he can spot the ‘foreign presence’ before he moves forward into the open. He tries to decide if it’s just his imagination or a hunch? Should he go back for the rifle?
The boy starts to speak and Jimmon hushes him again and studies the area. The trees, redwoods, don’t show a sign of anything being wrong, nor does the brush. Jimmon pushes through, avoiding the path Erika had made. He mutters to himself that no one has been there, which rouses the boy.
Jimmon shushes him again, looking out on the road, which has changed in the six years since he and Erika arrived at this spot. He feels a sense of dread; the road isn’t the clean strip of highway that it used to be, having been blown over with leaves and sand, creating a dune that’s buried the concrete.
The dune is no longer the same as its been for the last year or so – there’s a tire track, from a jeep. A jeep with tires new enough that the treads were able to leave clearly distinguishable marks. It’s a sign that there is organization in the wider world – yes, the person driving the jeep might be a maurauder and a pillager, but compared to Mr. Jimmon, it’s clear who has four wheels and represents civilization.
The boy asks why Mr. Jimmon, “Dad,” doesn’t go on and Mr. Jimmon doesn’t answer but does move warily forward. He compares himself to a Neanderthal sniffing the spoor of a Cro-Magnon or Friday spying Crusoe’s footprint in the sand. He wonders about the occupants of the jeep – man or woman? Three or four men? Are they seeking their fellows out of good will or are they fleeing from them? He wonders about their personal histories, where had they been six years ago and what had they been doing for the last six years?
Jimmon wonders: Were they reconcilers or destroyers?
Jimmon continues examining the tire tracks, confirming to himself that yes, it is there and it came from the north, heading south. Unless, for some reason, the driver was from the UK or New Zealand, of course.
He asks the boy if the marks were there when he and Erika came home. The boy doesn’t seem to understand the question and Jimmon repeats it. The boy says that he wants to go home now.
Jimmon wonders if Erika warned the boy to reveal nothing but if she had, would the boy have understood her? He can’t see the boy’s face so he can’t tell from his expression if he’s trying to deceive him – but then, even if he had seen the boy, he’s not sure he could have learned anything or not.
Jimmon looks for signs of Erika’s footprints but the ground isn’t soft enough for them to show up – plus, she’s clever enough to have avoided walking on the sand. Because why would he expect she might hide something? I mean, it’s not like she has any reasons not to trust him, right?
He thinks of her ill-concealed excitement and the uncharacteristic request that he take the boy along with him and wonders why she would hide this from him. Shouldn’t she have wanted to gloat? Or, if she maybe had second thoughts about these new peoples’ motives, to have wanted to warn him?
He continues wondering about the tracks, perhaps they’d been made after Erika returned to the shelter? He dismisses this as extremely unlikely and highly coincidental timing. He also doesn’t think the tracks were made before Erika went down to the ocean that morning since it would be highly unlikely that someone would risk driving an unfamiliar highway at night – particularly a highway that hasn’t seen a road crew in years. He decides, logically, that the jeep passed while Erika was searching for shellfish.
Wondering if the jeep’s occupants had seen her, but not seeing evidence that the jeep stopped and started back up again, Jimmon decides that they’re still concealed and should remain so, unless the jeep returns.
He and the boy continue on, after Jimmon suppresses an urge to turn back and confront Erika. If she’d lied, confronting her would only harden her reaction. And if she didn’t know about the jeep passing through, then he’d gain nothing by telling her about it. Not yet, anyway.
Setting the boy down, Jimmon thinks of Jir – David Alonzo Jimmon, Junior – who’d be twenty-three now. No thoughts of his son being a Neanderthal or a guilty rapist who’d be killed by a stronger thug or thugs.
Jimmon arranges the boy in a spot where he can safely watch and be watched. Baiting his hook, Jimmon casts his line out into the ocean, glancing back to see the boy playing with a fiddler crab in a tidepool.
As he fishes, Jimmon thinks about the relationship between how civilized man is and how preoccupied he is with getting food. In Jimmon’s mind, the relationship is inversely proportionate but also unavoidably direct and always intimate.
He considers that the jeep riders likely have to spend time gathering food as well, but they are likely sportsmen who can bring food down as they drive along or are lords of survival with access to stores of canned goods and able to gorge themselves on tomatoes and evaporated milk.
Mr. Jimmon hooks a bass and manages to land it, gut and clean it. He asks the boy if he thinks he could do the same and the boy says he doesn’t want to. Mr. Jimmon catches another fish before he loses his bait. He tries for a third fish, so he’ll have one for each of them. The boy says he doesn’t want to fish, he wants to go home.
Jimmon thinks about fixing up the shelter again and presumes that jeep drivers can occupy luxury hotels, those that aren’t radioactive or haven’t already been occupied by other jeep drivers. Of course, those luxury hotels will have spiderwebs and yellowed sheets – perhaps this is the post-atomic attack version of sour grapes?
Jimmon isn’t sure which is the way to civilizations – via fixing up his shelter or being a jeep driver, unless of course Erika is right and the jeep drivers are looking for recruits for utopia.
He tells the boy he’s going to try for one more fish. He’s trying for bottom fish now, since the tide’s coming in. Though, as he says aloud, he’s damned sick of fish of any kind. He seems to get something on the line, meaning he has to be careful about bringing it in. He can’t afford to lose the fish or to lose more fishing line. Unfortunately, the line breaks and as a result, he loses his leader, hook and sinker.
Gathering his knife, flint-and-steel, float and the fish and some mussels, he heads back to the shelter, carrying the boy piggyback. As they walk back, Jimmon thinks of ways he can make do once he loses all of his sinkers – by using nuts from the station wagon, he should have enough to last the rest of his life. If he can manage to get them off the car. But, by then, his lines would have rotted away – while he’d thought of the future, he hadn’t thought far enough ahead.
In fairness to Mr. Jimmon, there’s no way he could have packed enough supplies to be able to avoid losses, even if he’d been less of a control-freak and had brought both the station wagon and family’s second car. Even if he’d equipped both cars with trailers, there would have been a limit to what could have been brought along. Supplies get used up, get lost or destroyed through misadventure or wear out – and that doesn’t get into the problem that it’s just not possible to think of every single potentially useful thing that you should be bringing along.
Like canned goods with ridiculous shelf-lives (see footnote #15), this is something that comes up over and over again in post-apocalyptic stories and especially in Nuke Operas, so expect that this will come up again.
Jimmon, being Jimmon, has to try and pin the blame on someone and since he’ll never blame himself and oddly enough doesn’t choose to blame Erika, he shifts it to supernatural entities. Almost. He feels one could almost believe that there’s some kind of malicious design, though he seems giving into that belief as the final irresponsibility. He paraphrases the 23rd Psalm, thusly: The Lord is my shepherd because I have the brains of a sheep.
On the way back to the shelter, he pauses near the highway, looking again for signs of the jeep but sees nothing. He might have caught the scent of gasoline but isn’t sure if its his imagination or not. There are no other signs that the jeep has passed through again.
He steps across the tracks and looks southward, wondering if the jeep was savior or destroyer. Mysteries, he thinks, are danger while knowledge – as the cliché has it – is power. He decides that the jeep tracks don’t prove anything; they don’t establish that he or Erika are right or wrong. Still, he knows that regardless of whether the jeep drivers are saviors or destroyers, they mean nothing good for him, since “they represented a line of development in which he had no place.”
Oddly enough, this lifts his depression – he decides that Cro-Magnon man didn’t father modern man after all – instead, there was survival and blind alleys of evolution, so there’s no reason to believe that the jeep drivers represent superiority or that Jimmon represents inferiority. Or, as Jimmon puts it, fitness and unfitness to survive.
He resolves that “tomorrow” he’ll work on the dam, then once that’s done, he’ll fix up the shelter and make it into an actual cabin – and, and the boy is four so soon, he can be taught to read and there are things he can still teach Erika!
He acknowledges that he’s been supine – an interesting word choice by Moore, since in addition to meaning someone is lying down, usually face upwards, it can also mean “failing to act […] as a result of moral weakness or indolence.” He decides that he needed the shock of finding the jeep tracks to revitalize him, to get him back into learning to do things.
He avoids the path again on the way back, making plans to – once the dam is finished – use those small clear patches to grow food. His seeds are long gone, having been ruined, but he might be able to find domesticated plants that have gone wild and use them.
Jimmon thinks that he knew the looters and ravishers would come, that was the reason he’d had the station wagon stocked and ready, so that when the day came, he’d be able to escape and avoid them. He wonders though, if he hadn’t in some dim and distant way also foretold the coming of the jeep and the way of life it represents. After all, he hadn’t built an underground concrete shelter nor had he tried to escape to a remote Pacific island. Instead, he decides, revising his personal history like mad, he chose a sensible course, one that is befitting a survivor and, in his mind, the prototype of survivors.
Trigger Warning: this is the closest Jimmon gets to admitting to raping Erika — and yet, he still couches everything in euphemistic terms to protect his own ego and sense of self.
As if that level of arrogance isn’t enough, Jimmon continues to speculate, wondering if it might be possible for the mutual reserve and distrust between himself and Erika to dissolve with time. To his mind:
That they were man and woman was far less important than that they were father and daughter.
No, no it isn’t. Because they weren’t “man and woman” – they were father and daughter. Specifically, a father who kidnapped and raped his daughter. About the most generous thing I can say about Mr. Jimmon is that I don’t think this was his plan all along, but when the opportunity arose, he gave in to his worst impulses and took the chance. I think he started out with the best of intentions – but, well, we know what the road to hell is paved with, right? Mr. Jimmon, we’ve seen over the course of these two stories, has a supreme knack for justifying anything he wants to do by turning it into a “logical” impulse.
We’ll come back to this in a moment – we’re almost at the end of the story and we need to discuss that first.
Back at the shelter, Erika’s not outside and the fire is out. Mr. Jimmon calls to her, hoping she’s already fixed his briefcase. The boy echoes him but Erika doesn’t answer.
Setting the boy down, Mr. Jimmon puts the fish and mussels down by the fireplace and puts his rod beside the stream. He takes the time to wash the salt water off of his line and loops it over the bushes to dry. Once he has finished these tasks, he goes into the shelter to look for Erika.
He takes some dry moss inside as tinder for a fire, thinking about how careless it was for her to let it go out, since starting a fire with flint and steel isn’t easy or quick. Jimmon manages to get a spark from his flint and steel on the fourth try and manages to get a fire going again. He sets the mussels cooking in the kettle and puts the fish near the fire to cook.
He looks about the shelter, noticing that Erika’s watch is gone and that his briefcase still isn’t mended.
The boy comes in and says he’s hungry and asks where Erika is. Mr. Jimmon tells him in a minute, in a minute as the boy repeats that he’s hungry. Mr. Jimmon searches the shelter – the rifle and shotgun are still there as is the second fishing rod and the two bows. He hesitates but keeps looking, finding that the revolver and the three caches of its cartridges are gone.
He realizes that Erika is gone, that the emotion under her voice had been pity and elation. Gently, he speaks to the boy, referring to him by name for the first time in the story.
“Come on, Eric. There’s a fish for you and one for me; by the time they’re gone the mussels will be done.”
After this, we learn that this is the first time, by his own recollection, that Mr. Jimmon has referred to the boy, his son, by his name. He remembers Erika’s admonition that the boy needs eggs and greens and warm covers at night.
The boy says he wants Erika and wants to know where she is. Mr. Jimmon says that Erika has gone away for a while, that she’s looking for something and they will have to make do without her. He tells the boy to eat his fish and that tomorrow they’ll go look for gulls’ eggs and maybe berries.
As he’s looking at his own fish, with distaste, Mr. Jimmon’s tooth begins to ache badly.
Thoughts and Analysis:
Trigger Warning: Discussions of rape, incest and abuse to follow.
The opinions expressed below are informed, partly, by the following sources:
I’ve read some reviews of Lot’s Daughter that interpret the ending as Erika abandoning her father and son in the same way Mr. Jimmon abandoned Molly and the boys at the end of Lot. With, in some cases, the implication that she was tired of taking care of them. While I don’t agree with this interpretation, I can see how people arrive at it. I’ll come back to this in a moment, I want to address something else first.
I’ve also seen some descriptions of the story that seem to imply that Erika consented to having sex with her father. I disagree strongly, if not violently, with this interpretation, due to the fact that Erika was never in any position to willingly consent to sex. Firstly, because an underage teenager can’t give informed consent to have sex with an adult. I don’t care how old or mature the teenager in question seems. Secondly, because of the power imbalance inherent in Mr. Jimmon being her father.
Add to this the fact that Erika and Mr. Jimmon were alone and Erika was entirely dependent on Mr. Jimmon for food, shelter and protection (again, she was fourteen when he kidnapped her) and the power imbalance between them only increases. Mr. Jimmon was older, was armed (shotgun, rifle, revolver and two bows, remember?) and was likely the only one of them who could drive. It doesn’t seem likely that Erika knew how to drive at fourteen and I doubt Mr. Jimmon bothered to teach her since he wouldn’t want to attract attention or waste the gas in the tank.
There’s the argument that Erika couldn’t have been too badly treated since she didn’t fight back against Mr. Jimmon or try to leave prior to the end of the story. I’d counter that with the following points:
- Not fighting back does not constitute consent. People don’t fight back against rapists for a variety of reasons: they’re afraid of being hurt or killed, they’ve been beaten into submission, they’re unconscious, or they’re giving in because it’s easier than listening to their rapist whine.
- Where could Erika have gone? As near as I can tell from the context of both stories, Mr. Jimmon picked their destination and there’s no sign that anyone else in the family ever saw the place. If that’s the case, then Erika wouldn’t necessarily have been able to orient herself enough to be able to escape. Add to that, war’s just broken out and she’s scared. Mr. Jimmon is her father and, I’m sure, has spent the better part of the drive convincing her with his oh-so-impeccable logic that he’d done the right thing by leaving Molly and the boys behind.
- We only see things from Mr. Jimmon’s point of view, except for some brief moments where a slightly omniscient narrator peeps in to give us hints that Mr. Jimmon is an unreliable narrator. It’s more subtle in Lot, where Mr. Jimmon comes across for most of the story as heroic savior of his family that he thinks he is. In Lot’s Daughter, it becomes harder for Mr. Jimmon to lie to himself, so the reader gets to see more clearly how untrustworthy he is as both a narrator and as a person, albeit a fictional one.
Going back to the idea that Erika got sick of Mr. Jimmon and Eric and therefore abandoned them out of some selfish motivation, I don’t see it. I think the reason she leaves at the end of the story is because, for the first time in years, there’s a sign of hope. Those tire tracks have given her the proof she needs that there are other survivors out there, that society hasn’t completely collapsed and she’s going out to find them. Of course, she took the revolver and the cartridges with her because she’s not stupid. Mr. Jimmon isn’t wrong in thinking that there are people out there who’ll try to harm them – he’s only wrong in assuming that everybody is out to get them. Since we don’t see the occupants of the jeep, it’s entirely possible that they were women. Or a mixed gender group. Or guys who aren’t marauding rapists.
The other reason I dislike this interpretation is that it makes Mr. Jimmon the victim of this story and I don’t think that was the point Ward Moore was trying to get across. I think his intention with these two stories was to examine an idea that he brought up early on in Lot: the idea that a crisis brings out a person’s underlying qualities – and that the Mr. Jimmons of the world might not like what gets brought to the surface.
Note: We’ll be coming back to Mr. Jimmon’s character and comparing him to some of the other survivalist heroes we’ll be meeting in other articles.
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 Terminology Note: “Cattle” is a non-gender specific word that refers to bovines in a group. It can be a single sex group of all bulls (males) or cows (females) or a mix of both. “Cow” is a single female bovine; “Bull” is a single male bovine”
 Case in point, he’s completely missed the mark if he thinks that domesticated animals couldn’t adapt to no longer being cared for by humans. Domesticated animals can and will go feral. In fact, feral chickens can be found in several places around the world, including a colony that lives under the Vineland Avenue off-ramp of the Hollywood Freeway (aka US Route 101). Herds of feral pigs, horses, cattle and goats are common in certain areas of the United States.
 Of course, the smart man also might have also found a way to make a water-tight roof before everything that could be ruined by water was rained on. Not to mention that herding cattle doesn’t require a lot of sophisticated gadgets – though they can make the work more convenient. Also, if there were cattle in this area, then there were people who raised cattle in the area – and who would know how to round up stray animals. Chances are good that someone on a nearby farm is missing the cow that Jimmon shot.
 What we just call ‘razor blades’ these days.
 In traditional soap making, wood ashes were soaked in water to produce lye, a powerfully caustic substance that can cause severe burns on skin or blindness if it gets in your eyes.
 Which is specifically the rendered fat from beef or mutton. You can, I have found thanks to Google, make soap out of a wide variety of plant and animal fats, including fat from deer and ducks.
 It’s probably a very good thing that they didn’t figure out how to make soap because aluminum reacts with lye (sodium hydroxide) to create a flammable gas. Granted, they have a cast aluminum kettle rather than a pot, but Jimmon would likely have gotten a set.
 The current COVID-19 pandemic is likely to end up being the source for dozens, if not hundreds, of papers about how groups respond to imminent threats.
 Homo gernsbacchae is a reference to Hugo Gernsback, (August 16, 1884-August 19, 1967), publisher of the first science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories and the namesake of the Hugo Award, one of the top literary awards in science fiction.
 20,000 dollars in 1953 would be roughly equivalent to $193,000 in April 2020 money.
 Five dollars times twelve gallons equals 60 dollars (1953). Which would be about $580 as of April 2020. Just as a frame of reference, my monthly rent as of April 2020 is about $465 dollars. Jimmons dropped my monthly rent plus, oh, my car/renters insurance payment for a month and a meal at a fast food place without blinking. Hell, without even haggling very hard. That’s the actions of someone who is used to having money around.
 He’s not wrong for this; campfires can potentially melt aluminum cookware, especially if its placed directly on the coals or directly in the flames.
 While the idea that the abalone could clamp down and pin a diver’s hand to the stone might be an urban legend, fishing for abalone by diving is potentially very dangerous. Abalone are often found near beds of kelp, which can entangle divers. After kelp, the biggest risk comes from exhaustion brought on by the cold and churning water. Some divers have suffered heart attacks. Shark attacks are also a possibility, though fear of an attack is greater than the likelihood of an actual attack. According to one abalone diver with over 50 years of experience, those most likely to die are divers who are inexperienced, ill-equipped and ill-informed about the ocean.
 Spring Street might refer to part of Los Angeles’s downtown which was known, once upon a time, as the “Wall Street of the West” – further adding to my theory that Jimmon was quite well off.
 Canned goods with ridiculously long shelf-lives are a common trope in Nuke Opera stories; Mr. Jimmon’s assumption that there would still be good canned food after six years isn’t entirely outside the realm of possibility but it’s getting close.
 I’m deliberately leaving genders out of this because, honestly, the genders don’t matter. An adult who has sex with a teenager is committing rape, regardless of what box they tick on demographic forms.
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