While sleeping, Jack senses a presence. He opens his eyes to find Wilder standing inches from his face, staring at him. He gets out of bed and follows the child downstairs, as if Wilder is some sort of ancient guide. The child takes him to a window that overlooks the backyard, where an old white-haired man sits perfectly still in a wicker chair. Jack is seized with terror, believing this figure is death incarnate waiting to take him to the land of the deceased. Wilder, having done his duty, walks back to his bedroom in his little padded booties and gets back into bed. Jack follows him yet again, and when the child falls asleep, he feels uncertain about what to do. He goes back downstairs and looks out at death once more. He wanders the house, thinking about how this figure of death is probably “an aphorist of last things” who will speak a “deft and stylish line about [Jack’s] journey out.” Before going outside to confront this figure, Jack goes through the house to check on his sleeping loved ones.
Jack imagines the figure of death as something of an academic, somebody who will wield impressive and cutting wit in an authoritative manner. Jack appears to resent the idea that this grim reaper of sorts will speak a “deft and stylish line” before whisking him away, a resentment rooted in his own desire to have the upper hand—if death is capable of “deft” style, Jack’s identity as an erudite professor will be undermined, ultimately threatening the only form of power or authority he could possibly possess in this situation.
When he finally ventures outside, Jack discovers that the figure sitting in his backyard is not death, but Vernon Dickey, Babette’s wayward father. The two men greet one another and go inside, where they drink coffee until Babette rises, surprised to find her father sitting in her kitchen. Over the next few days, Vernon lurks around the house, making Jack feel guilty for not being more traditionally manly. A man who appreciates pragmatic thinking and working with his hands, Vernon makes Jack feel vaguely inferior.
There is humor in the fact that Jack worried about death making him feel inferior only to find that a much lesser figure could have the same effect on him. Vernon’s presence has a similar effect to the effect that Bee’s presence had on Jack, causing him to examine himself unfavorably through other peoples’ eyes, thus losing control over his self-image.
Denise catches Jack rummaging through her things one night while she’s sleeping. She tells him that she knows he’s looking for the Dylar. Finally, he tells her what the medication is supposed to do. He also says that he is “eager to be fooled,” outlining the fact that it doesn’t really matter if the drug works, as long as he thinks it might. “Isn’t that a little stupid?” she asks. She then tells him that it is all a moot point, because she threw the bottle into the garbage compactor a week ago.
Jack’s willingness to be fooled by Dylar yet again shows the cognitive dissonance at work on him: he wants to control his fear of death, but feels that he must take medication to do so, thereby putting his faith in something that he has no control over.
Simultaneously disappointed and a bit relieved, Jack leaves Denise’s room and goes downstairs to find Vernon sitting at the kitchen table. “Just the man I want to see,” Vernon says, and asks Jack to come sit in his car with him, where he gives him a handgun. He tells him that every man should have a gun, that “it’s only a question of time as to when [he’ll] want to use it.” Jack tries to resist, but Vernon won’t take back the weapon, so he reluctantly keeps it. The next day, Vernon leaves, but not before telling Babette—in a sly, deadpan way—all the reasons not to worry about him, ultimately making a martyr of himself and leaving her weeping and laughing in his wake. Jack watches this and notices all of his wife’s “fears and defenses adrift in the sly history” of Vernon’s voice.
Once more, DeLillo shows how influential personal histories can be in his characters’ lives, illuminating Babette’s vulnerabilities when it comes to her father. The “fears and defenses” that Vernon represents for Babette are, in effect, part and parcel of the “data” Jack refers to as making up a person’s identity.