[from THE GLASS HOUSE OF FORGETTING]
Ethan had bought the small handgun after the “event” that he and Sarah vowed to forget. He had never been comfortable around guns or weapons of any kind. When his father had taken him hunting for deer in Canada all those years ago, he pretended to be sick and stayed in the cabin, playing solitaire to keep his mind off what could be happening in the woods. He knew his father and grandfather were disappointed in his sissy behavior. They saw through his chronic illnesses and stopped taking him on their hunting trips. He stayed home with his mother instead. Relieved not to be asked, not to feign sickness. But he still imagined the bullet piercing the doe.
The evening before the first hunting trip he didn’t go on, his father took him out back to reprimand him, he thought, but it was to teach him to load a small gun by himself and shoot. So he could protect his mother. His hand shook when his father handed him the gun, but he steadied it quickly before his father could belittle him. Stay calm, he convinced himself, this is what men do.
When Ethan removed the bullets from the safe and loaded the handgun that Sarah had asked him to purchase, he was surprised at how natural the cool metal felt in his hands. As if he had been doing so for years, but he didn’t know now if he was capable of pulling the trigger.
He left the library and went downstairs to where Sabai was lying on the floor. “Come on, girl,” he called to her. She wasn’t walking very much anymore and barely ate or drank the last two days. He and Sarah had tried to give her food and water by hand. He picked her up as gently as he could and carried her to his truck. The morning light was starting to climb up over the Mediterranean while he drove along the beach, thinking how fuzzy everything felt. Yes, fuzzy, that was the word.
He kept catching himself off guard, off his gait—the past few weeks, maybe a month he wasn’t sure—at odd times of the day (there was no pattern that he could discern). He found himself wandering, as if only half-awake, in parts of the house he usually didn’t frequent. He was looking for something, trying to remember something that he didn’t think he meant to forget or maybe changed his mind too late. He felt like he was watching a film, and the sound wasn’t quite synchronized, the camera slightly out of focus. But he recognized himself—as someone longing to be someone else in a different film, a different place. He knew Sarah wouldn’t understand even if he could articulate this sense of having sea legs on land, feeling laden with guilt, regret. Why had he suggested they go for a swim that day? Why couldn’t he forget?
Lately it seemed too heavy a burden to shepherd lost souls from their suffering, but this odd vocation had become his and Sarah’s destiny, or else it was the destiny they wrote for themselves and now didn’t know what to replace it with. What else would they do? The stack of letters from applicants accrued. And where would they go? Their guests did take pressure away from being just Sarah and him, without their daughter, no longer prone to laughter or delicate surprise.
He was there now. At the exact place. He wondered if Sarah knew.
He could feel a presence hovering over him and knew this was why he came here. Maybe it was just his imagination or wishful thinking. He thought her heard a faint voice, “It’s okay, Daddy. It’s okay.” Did Sarah ever sense their daughter or had she really forgotten her?
He lifted Sabai from the car and set her down on the shore next to a rock where he sat, looking up at the sky filling with morning light. Sabai kept her eyes to the ground, as if she knew, or was too tired to keep the fully open. Ethan was tired, so tired, of walking around feeling like a giant lie, feeling that “charlatan” was stitched through his off-key gestures. The last time he washed the debris from the hundred and forty-four windows, he fantasized about taking the axe from his workroom and smashing them. One by one, he would take each window out while savoring the echoing cacophony of shattering glass. The accumulated piles of shards would be taken out to sea and softened by the pummeling of waves, the abrasiveness of salt, smoothed into sea glass in a hundred days, a year, more? He would pluck the opaque stones from the shore for Mirabel, suspended in a perpetual almost-sixteen. Yes, he would gather the sea glass and add them to the treasure chest he had made to house the smoothed glass stones he had already collected for her.
He had an uncanny feeling that he was being watched. Often he did think that he and Sarah were being watched by the local police. Maybe that was why he saw himself lately outside of himself from someone else’s distant gaze or camera. He had heard a camera shutter click that day at the beach, he thought, near him, behind him.
He removed the gun from beneath his belt and pointed it at his right temple. It felt good to have a way out, to think about where Mirabel was, if she was somewhere. He missed her. He had failed her. “It’s okay, Daddy,” he thought he heard her whispering to him from somewhere near.