The Shine Journal

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Forgive Me


Aaron McFarland


Erik thought he knew his father. He thought he would turn back to what he
used to be. And in a way, he was right.

He'd been taking care of his little sister, Elise, age nine, ever since
his mother left and his father started drinking. Erik couldn't blame him;
he thought he'd try and drink himself blind too if he'd caught his wife
splayed out on the kitchen table with a man who resembled Ben Kingsley
from Gandhi. At least, that's what he heard from his neighbor. His mother
left shortly afterward. But she was the type of woman, Erik thought, that
you knew would leave sooner or later.

 With his father on an indefinite hiatus from life's duties, Erik cooked and
 cleaned, watched the Sunday morning cartoons with Elise. Sometimes she
 cried and asked for dad (who was either at the bar or supposedly at
 work.) She stopped asking where their mother was; Elise was not stupid,
 Erik noted.

 After he tucked her in at night, he wondered how many pills it would
 take. He decided on 38.

 That number played out in his mind throughout the week, more so on one
 Sunday night when his father came through the door and stood, looking
 ghostly and strange with dark brown marking the wrinkles below his eyes.
 His unwashed hair, lazily parted to the side, had grown especially
 long-the wild characteristics of a horse's mane. The unkempt beard,
 though, was what made him seem most unfamiliar.

 He stayed on the welcome mat for some time then walked over to him slowly
 and stopped before him. He leaned and kissed the top of his head. When he
 lifted his lips from his hair, Erik could see the look on his face-a look
 he'd not seen since the day in the hospital after his science teacher,
 who mistook his seizure for a fit, had dislocated his shoulder while
 dragging him across the floor. It was the same look before he saw his
 teacher's face the next day, a black and purple sick bruising around one
 eye. The look said plainly: forgive me.

 Erik had always found solace at his neighborhood's swimming pool after
 dark. This night, after needing said solace desperately after seeing that
 look, was no different. A day had passed and he had not seen his father
 since he placed his lips on his head.

 After transferring Elise from her makeshift bed on the couch to her real
 one, her little arms wrapped so softly around his neck, he stood in
 amazement at the depth at which she slept. It was two in the morning when
 he headed through the golf course his neighborhood was built upon, toward
 the pool.

 That night there were no stars, only clouds in the sky. The moon, as full
 as a light bulb, was somewhere tucked away behind all of it. Besides the
 solar-powered landscape lights that lined the course's cart path, Erik's
 vision was strictly black.

 He'd left his house under the assumption that he would be climbing the
 fence without his father’s keycard, but when he arrived he was met by the
 gate half-opened. Maybe, he guessed, the maintenance crew accidentally
 left it open. When he circled around the back of the clubhouse to the
 pool, he saw no one. Erik was alone.

 As he did most every night, he slipped into the pool and held his breath,
 lifting his arms and legs up, floating there like in space. He stared up
 at the unimpressive sky with his ears beneath the water, hearing nothing
 but the filter running steadily, thump, thump, thump.

 Behind the clouds that moved steadily to the east, he could see that
 eventually there would be a break in the clouds soon. There would be
 moonlight after all. Erik floated along and saw the moon peak out from
 behind a purple cloud, a bleached white circle with an enormous halo
 surrounding it. In his peripherals, everything appeared like
 magic-closed umbrellas and lawn chairs, a sign that read NO DIVING-and
 the water about him came to life with each slight wave reflecting the

 That was when he saw it, the black circle contrasted against the white of
 the pool walls-a familiar shape. He did not scream or gasp, but only gawk
 at the figure, the sick feeling ensuing that he already knew. Closer now,
 he examined the shape that he was now convinced was a head, cold and
 purple, turned away. The top of it was covered in thick hair and, though
 soaked and matted, still shown unruly like a horse's black mane. When he
 saw the glistening tangled beard, he immediately became sick.

 To Erik, everything-the backing away, thrashing water while slipping on
 the pool's slick floor-was a blur. He remembered the slapping sounds of
 his wet feet against the pavement, then shortly trimmed grass and soft
 earth, all the way to his house and past the red and blue flashing lights
 of the police cars, to the front door where his tiny sister stood crying.
 He held her tightly against him and as her body shook against his, he
 remembered clearly the look that his father had given him the night
 before. He wished desperately that it‘d been the last look he'd seen on
 his face.

Motivation: Not sure. Just had an idea and went with it.

Bio:I am a senior at the University of Kentucky. I work, go to school, then battle for time to write. This is my first publication.

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Editor: Pamela Tyree Griffin

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