The Book of Forgetting (novel preface)


 The Book of Forgetting      —     2004 (Gabriela)

The once-majestic Glass House that had glistened as a beacon for over three decades—now lay in ruins. A group of Tunisian children threw stones at what was left, breaking more windows. The shattering of glass shot acute pains through me, arrows puncturing flesh. I winced—too many tiny wounds all at once. The children and their large stones seemed to pull me inside out, challenging my upright gait.

There amidst the wreckage: Irena’s cello upright, a bizarre creature looming over the island’s landscape that now, after twenty years, was foreign to me. I was miniscule—lost in the extraordinary topography of overarching sky and the aqua of the Mediterranean Sea.

A local boy, approximately the same age as my son all those years ago, cradled the cello between his knees. His right hand moved the bow across the strings, releasing sound from the instrument’s wooden stomach. A discordant, lugubrious sound, almost human, echoed over the shoreline where several other children, already bored with the mound of broken windows, skipped smaller white stones across the flat sea of low tide. The village girl next to the boy with Irena’s broken cello picked up a jagged white stone to throw at the Glass House until she pulled her dark, stringy hair from her face— and spotted me. She nudged the boy’s shoulder, cautioning him to stop his bowing. Their sudden gazes, their chocolate eyes too-large and afraid, bore into mine. I looked away and discovered their mothers in the distance, who shifted nervously like awkward sea plovers under their ankle-length white veils.

I turned away from the Tunisian children and their mothers, away from the Mediterranean, toward what was left of the Glass House. It was time. My breathing was labored as I lifted myself from the heaviness of the sea air. It was time to ascend the spiral glass staircase, still intact at the center of the house, to the second floor. To the library, to the safe as I had been instructed. Sarah Fletcher’s Book of Forgetting had to be rescued from oblivion.

As one of the Fletchers’ guests who learned to forget, I needed to tell their story, record the events as well as people’s perceptions of the events. It would be a shame if the Glass House and all of its hundred and forty four windows disintegrated into sand without others knowing what happened. What it was like to be there with the Fletchers and the guests that they tried to help—not always successfully, which broke Sarah in the end. She and Ethan would be betrayed, but by that time, we had become estranged. But for all they did for me when I had nothing and no one, I owed it to them to chronicle the critical string of events.

When I retrieved The Book of Forgetting from the safe as Sarah had asked, as I was directed in Ethan’s letter, much of the story was already there. The rest I pieced together from others, as best I could. It was strange to me, yet comforting, that Ethan was directing this scene. I could feel him doing so though I hadn’t seen him in twenty years.

Sarah knew that the stories had to be saved, and I had been entrusted to ensure that the pages in her book did not become eaten and waterlogged by the salt and sea—that they were preserved. So that all that was to be forgotten was not completely lost.

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