FORGET, TO LIVE • by Ben Langdon

It wasn’t always raining in Portland, but when the sun did come out you didn’t really notice it until it was gone again.  It left you wondering whether it’d come out at all, and feeling a little embarrassed for missing it.  Kind of like Maisy Parker, I guess.

Apart from a sort-of interesting name, Maisy was inimitably forgettable.  Was she the third or fourth, or did her death come much later?  I should have known her, and maybe I did.  We sat in the same classroom with old Mrs Thornhill, the one with the wandering eye.  There must be a photograph of her somewhere, a class photo maybe, some evidence from before her body was discovered. Everyone remembers that last photograph, the one of the broken girl and the strange marks. But no one ever seems interested enough to pursue the other Maisy, the living one, and her parents have long since gone.  Even Thornhill is retired now. Maybe she’s dead too.

You would think that I’d remember her more, perhaps out of a sense of guilt or an attempt to take on her memory and guard it against the corrosion of time.  She’s gone now, buried out at the bluff, her feet pointing to the dark sea.  She had these small white shoes, I remember. They are dust now, too, I suppose, or close enough. No one will look, though, no one will check.  And if there was any blood on my hands it’s long since washed away.  Like I said before, it’s always raining here.  No stain stays for long, it all washes away.

My father is also buried at the lot overlooking the bluff, but people always remember him. He draws the tourists, brings in the money.  Someone joked that the town should build a statue in his honour – the idea was greeted with laughter: dirty, knowing laughter.

It’s strange how the villains are remembered more than the victims, but I guess that’s because they get the last word.  They can throw it around all they want until they get strapped into the chair.  Words flying across rooms and radio broadcasts.  My mom used to cry a lot when she heard my father rant like that, and it was only a little bit because he often blamed her for what he did to the girls.  He never yelled at me, but then again he never really knew I was there.  I was only eight when he went away so I wasn’t really very interesting, apparently.

Time marches on, they say; the winds keep blowing and the bluff retreats a little every year.  Sometimes when I sit in my car cradling a cigarette, I wonder how Maisy will deal with erosion.  Will her little bony legs pop out first with the tattered remains of her white shoes?  Will the coffin appear in the rock one day, poking out; or will it be the bones? I think it will be the bones.  I like to think that; with my cigarette in my car, watching the rain and imagining the past coming back to shake its torpid finger at me, at my family.

I once almost dated a girl.  We talked twice: once at school and once outside the theatre in town.  I was fifteen and my dad was still alive in some secure location upstate.  She said she liked my eyes and didn’t laugh at my attempts at humour.  Most of the other girls laughed and drifted away, but this girl just stood and waited for me to stop prattling, waited for me to shake off my nerves, to grow up.

Turns out she was related to Maisy Parker, a cousin but not a Parker.  She might have been a Trish, and she disappeared slowly.  One day we were standing silently in the rain after seeing a film (not together, but in the same building), and then she wasn’t there, not in Portland.  I didn’t ask around but I did some research on my own.  Her family moved south.  Her father was a biologist.

I mention this girl, who may have been Trish, because when I think about Maisy Parker I wonder why my father chose girls who were all my age.  When I was only little, not yet walking, he strangled a girl at a beach whose birthday was only three weeks past mine.  When I started grade school he killed another girl from the Catholic School, and when I was eight he killed Maisy, who was in my class.  It was after Trish disappeared that I worried about her.  Even though my father was incarcerated I wondered when Trish would turn up, bludgeoned to death or strung up on display.  My father was an exhibitionist, apparently; always wanting to show his dirty, fatal work.  People wondered how he had evaded capture for so long, and I sometimes think it was probably because he was so ‘political’.  He had a voice, my dad. On every committee, in every club around town.

Each day I park near the bluff I go through two packets of cigarettes.  It’s a routine, like a benediction I need to give and receive.  I inhale the poison and breathe out silent apologies.  In and out, for two packs.  The smoke drifts away from the sea most days, away from where Maisy lies.  It’s like she doesn’t want to forgive, like she still hates.

I said I don’t have blood on my hands, and that everyone has forgotten the details of the case; but when I stretch my mind back to my childhood and see only blank, faceless shapes I know that I am responsible for the forgetting.  The whole town has done it, and so have I.

My mom once said ‘We forget to live’.  At first I thought she meant that we forget to carry on living, but she was playing her word games, the type that only she found amusing.

“We forget, to live.”

A high school teacher by day, aspiring writer by night; Ben Langdon lives in the seaside town of Narrawong in Victoria, Australia.

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