A Burned Image
Spencer Richard | Terri Kelleher
Having the final word was what it took. Seven glasses of that good cab gave her purple-tinged teeth and complemented a perfect sense of satisfaction. To see him speechless in the rear view mirror, crumpling his shoulders in slow motion, a convulsion in reverse almost — the man was unbelieving and devastated. Her father, a hollow man.
Six years of abuse, ten stitches, forty-three counsellor sessions and the most frightening pregnancy test she’s ever had to go through, now her father stands in the mirror, getting smaller, darker, soon to be a burned image. Forgetting is impossible. Who gave him the right to apologize for what he did? What makes him worthy of her forgiveness?
Well, Tess, let it be, she thinks. Then her mind wanders.
The tires leave windy tracks in the snow but tomorrow they will no longer be there. If only the same could be said for her father. Well, she thinks, he might melt into the slush. If I let him.
Instead of seeing him there on her doorstep some unfortunate day in the future, she could turn around and kill him. Don’t put that thought past her. She’s thought it before, she’s meditated on it. Perhaps cold words aren’t enough, she reasons, perhaps he ought to die with the daggers she shouted into him. Forgiveness? The word is a blade. Short and sharp, like her.
But then the image comes back. The visage of… tragedy? Is that the word? When a man finally realizes the wrongness of his actions, when he repents to an unforgiving daughter? No, not that—not the wrongness of his actions, not all of it at least. At the most he heard a whisper of it, and still it is enough to bring his pathetic whimpers. You never cried back then, she thinks, so why the change? Is it the fact that I am older now? That I am strong enough to resist?
It is hours later in the night when she stops the vehicle on the shoulder of the highway for a cigarette. This is when the thought hits her. All this time she was waiting to speak, but it took a semblance of sorrow on her father’s part for her to finally say something. It took a moment of real listening. Imagine what she would say if the whole world was listening.
This fantasy is what her mind focuses on as she drives off into the night, red tail-lights blurry from the sleet, no moon above, and hardly a tune worth humming to.
It is fifty-eight years later when she gives him forgiveness. She is lying on her deathbed. A priest visits her and talks to her alone for several minutes while her children, who have children of their own now, wait respectfully in the hallway. John is comforting his sister Margaret. Their father is not around for this, he left when they were young.
In the silence of the florescent lights, the priest asks her if it is worth taking to the grave. It is almost too hard for him to watch the old lady’s tears fill the trenches of her eye sockets. He prays in silence for her soul as he has never prayed. She grabs his hand when he is through.
Finally she says it is not worth taking. She says it between breaths.
It is before the children can come in and kiss her forehead that the final image of her father melts away. It sinks through her and away forever. His torture has ceased, and Tess finds peace in the arms of eternal rest.