An Original Sin

By Colin Brezicki

We have heavy weather in Muskoka on this Saturday afternoon, a big winter storm coming through. I’m backing out of my drive, heading to the convenience for propane, a few perishables, some beer. We’re okay with wine. Steaks are marinating. Life is good.

Untitled photo of girl in winter clothing by Hamed Parham

Untitled. Photo by Hamed Parham via Flickr (Creative Commons)

Snowing for an hour already. Best to go before the roads are a problem, even for four-wheel drive.

Beth and Ciara are inside the cottage, a fire blazing in the grate. Another long weekend together, away from the city.

But I’ve forgotten my wallet.

I brake, leave the truck in neutral and walk up the steps to the back door. Suddenly, Ciara’s at my side on the deck, her purple coat and fur-lined hood covered in new flakes. “Daddy, come and see my snow angel.”

Where the hell did she come from? “You were inside with Mummy.”

“No. I was outside making snow angels. Come and see!”

She takes my hand and leads me back down the steps to the driveway where my truck is idling in the dusk. In the glow from the porch light I see half a snow angel already gathering thick flakes behind the rear wheels. Underneath the truck, the other half of the snow angel is clean.

I could have driven right over her. Thank God I forgot my wallet.

That’s the dream I have many nights now. Most nights, once I finally drift off.

In dreams you want to wake up before the really bad stuff happens. In life you don’t really sleep at all because it’s already happened.

The dream takes me to the edge, and it stops there. Same place every time. I could have driven over my own daughter, and I wake up. Until next time when it happens all over again.

When I told my counselor about the dream he said I should write down what I was thinking as the events of that day unfolded, and what I think now that they’re over. He says that examining my thoughts about what happened that day will help me to make sense of it.

I can never make sense of it, I tell him, and the events of that day can never be over. I ask him how I’m supposed to examine my thoughts when I wear them like a shirt full of hornets. But I’m giving it a shot because nothing else works.

I tell him it’s impossible for me to go back to that day without thinking of Eve. She’s with me all the time now, and I go a little crazy wondering what impulse made her reach through all those red flags and pluck that apple from the tree. In that instant, what made her believe she was doing the right thing, making the right choice? If only I could know that. She made a decision that changed the world forever, and so did I.

He tells me to include my thoughts about Eve when I get to her. I should start my story at the beginning, he says.

Suddenly, we hit a patch of black ice under the snow, and I’m doing a three-sixty in slow motion….

But really there is no beginning. This is a story on an eight-track. It plays endlessly, and there’s no Stop button when things turn ugly.

This is how it works.

An overcast Saturday in Muskoka, and heavy snow is falling. I’m reversing out of the driveway to get some things at the convenience.

Could we have survived the weekend without them? Of course we could.

I think it’s best that I go before the roads become impassable. Beth and Ciara are inside the cottage, the fire blazing in the grate.

But I’ve forgotten my wallet.

I brake and get out of the truck, leaving it to idle. I walk up the steps to the back door and go inside.

Ciara’s in the kitchen putting on her coat.

“Where are you going?” I ask.

“Outside to make snow angels. Can you come and make them with me?”

“Not now, darling. I’m going to the store. I’ll be back soon.”

She zips up her coat and pulls the fur-lined hood over her head. “I’m coming too.”

“Alright. Beth, Ciara’s coming with me. Okay?”

“Okay, Aidan. See you guys in a while. Drive carefully.”

With Ciara buckled up in the back seat, I reverse out of the driveway. There’ll be plenty of new snow around in the morning for snow angels, I tell her. And it’s getting too dark to see them properly.  “Snow angels, sweetheart, like all angels, are best seen with the morning sun on their wings.”

She laughs from the back, then leans forward and punches my shoulder. “Daddy, you’re really dumb.”

“I know. And you’re really smart.”

Together, we sing along to Cinderella on the CD.

No matter how your heart is grieving
If you keep on believing
The dream that you wish will come true.

We pull in at the store. It’s a throwback that sells everything from hardware to haberdashery. In the summer they rent out canoes, in the winter, skis and snowmobiles. There’s even a set of pulleys suspended from the ceiling that spools out string so Madeleine and George, the owners, can tie up your brown paper parcels. Like in the old days. “The olden days,” Ciara says, as she watches Madeleine pull down the string and fasten it around the packages containing our burgers, fresh buns, and candles.

It’s why we come here. To live in a time warp for a few weeks in the year. Why we go bumper-to-bumper north on the 400 every vacation and long weekend.

I place our purchases in the back and make sure Ciara’s strapped in. We drive through thick, horizontal snow. I’m thinking of that glass of burgundy before dinner. After, we’ll watch The Lion King in front of the fire before we tuck her in for the night. Then two more days of bliss before we head back. Or maybe we’ll be snowed in and steal an extra day.

I count our blessings. We’re content and comfortably off. Beth designs office interiors. I manage retirement portfolios. And, like everyone else, we enjoy our time away from it all.

Ciara’s our only child, and we love her to death. Now that she’s at school, and we’re home most evenings, the nanny’s part time. And no nanny at the cottage. This is our time.

Suddenly, we hit a patch of black ice under the snow, and I’m doing a three-sixty in slow motion, a line of snow-covered firs floating across my windshield. Then a sudden traction. The tires grip, and the truck launches itself down an embankment, plowing into a field. Eventually, we stop. With the engine still racing, I take my foot off the accelerator and shift to Park.

I thought I was in four-wheel, but I’m not. I never checked.

I look at Ciara in the back seat, and she’s staring ahead. She looks older, her face kind of grey like she’s been injected with quickset.

“It’s okay, darling. Everything’s okay.”

“No it’s not.”

I can see she’s in shock, but otherwise all right. Strapped in. “Mummy will kill you.” She stares ahead like she can’t move her neck.

I force a laugh. “Probably. But look, we’re all right. You’re not hurt, are you?” Now I’m thinking maybe whiplash.

“No. Why did you drive off the road?”

“We hit some ice, sweetheart. But everything will be fine.”

Suddenly, there’s banging at my window and a man’s face peering in, the grey mustache flecked with snow. Then a mittened hand wiping the glass. I open the window half way, and the snow blows in.

Up north this is what people are like. You depend on ordinary people at times like this.

“Are you guys all right?”  Now there’s a woman beside him. She’s tugging at her hood against the wind.

“We’re fine, I think. Damn lucky.”

“We saw you wipe out. Scary. You just missed the hydro pole. Come get in our car.”

The woman goes round to help Ciara out of her seat. “Come on, little one. We’ll get you warm.”

Ciara looks at me. I nod.

We get out and climb the embankment to their car parked on the shoulder. I look back through the driving snow at the SUV, barely a shadow now, and the front almost buried.

Christ, we were lucky.

Inside their car we warm up. The woman’s in the back with Ciara.

The man smiles. “We’ll drive back to the store and you can call the garage. You’ll need a winch out of that field.” Then he shakes his head. “You did a number there for sure.”

“Thanks. I really appreciate your help.” I tell them I’m with auto rescue.

“No problem, then. Lucky we were following you. We saw it all.”

“Daddy, I want to go home. I’m cold.”

“We’ll be there soon, darling.”

Our good Samaritans are the Hendersons. Jimmy and Cheryl. They have a cottage nearby.  They know the Dirksons who live down the hill from us. And of course they know the store.  They shop there all the time, like everyone else. They’re friendly and ordinary. Mid-forties I would guess.

None of us has a cell, something else I forgot to bring; so I tell them I’ll call Beth and auto rescue from the store.

He pulls in and keeps the engine running.  “We’ll stay in the car and keep her warm.”

“Daddy, I want to go home now. I want Mommy. Please Daddy, can we go home?”

I have an idea. “Listen. You know the Dirksen house?”

“Absolutely. Bill did our kitchen a while back. I went to his house to pay him. So, yeah, been there. Right, honey?” He eyes the rearview.

I turn to look at her, and she nods her head. “Okay. We’re the next house up the hill. White vinyl siding. Two storey. Cathedral window facing the lake. Can you take my daughter home? You’re okay with that, sweetie?”

Ciara nods. She’ll be with her mother in a few minutes.

“What about you? How will you get home? We can come back and get you.” They’re so helpful. Up north this is what people are like. Anything can happen up here. You depend on ordinary people at times like this.

“I’ll be fine. I know the garage guy. If my truck needs work, Steve will take me home. I appreciate all you’re doing. Seriously.”

“No problem. Happy to help out. Just glad you’re both okay.”

I give Ciara a hug. She’s fine. She wants her mother. “Bye Daddy. See you soon. I hope the truck’s okay.” She looks straight ahead.

I watch the car turn onto the road and disappear into the swirling snow.

I call CAA from the store, and they connect me to the garage. Steve says he’ll come and pick me up right away. Then I call Beth. Her voicemail kicks in immediately, because she’s already talking to someone. It’s just after six ⎯ so it’s her mother. No point in leaving a message because they’ll still be talking when the Hendersons deliver Ciara to the door. I have a coffee at the counter while I wait. George and Madeleine tell me how lucky I am not to have hit something. I nod.

The snow angels were with us. I’ll tell Ciara when I get home.

Steve arrives, and we drive through the storm in his pickup. When we arrive at the field he angles his truck to aim the headlights at the SUV, but we can barely see its outline, being almost blinded by the bright flakes that swarm in our light.

“I’ll need the flatbed,” he says. “It’s got a ramp and a winch. Pretty sure the chain will reach, though you’re a long way down there. We’ll haul your truck back to the shop and check it out. Won’t be much wrong is my guess, just snow and ice jammed in the wheelbase. You had a clear run.”

Again I’m told how lucky we were.

He radios his assistant to bring the flatbed and then drives me back to the cottage. When we’re in the driveway, I hand him my ignition key. He’ll call in the morning and let me know the damage. I get out and, in his headlights, climb the steps to the back door. Now I really want that glass of burgundy. I enter and shut the front door behind me.

Beth looks up from the counter. She’s dressing the salad. “Thank God. I was beginning to worry.” Then she smiles and looks at the door behind me. “Where’s Ciara?”

The floor drops away, and suddenly I can’t swallow.

Where’s Ciara? Beth’s still smiling and looking behind me, like it’s a game. Like she’s expecting our child to come through the door and shout, “Surprise!”

But then she sees the look on my face. Not a look you can fake. You can’t make your eyes go dead or the blood drain away. Her smile freezes.

“Aidan, where is she?” Her voice is little more than a whisper. She moves her hand to the back of a chair and curls her fingers around it like a claw.

My stomach’s churning now, and I think I’m going to throw up. Somehow I speak. “She should be here. We hit black ice and ploughed into a field. She wasn’t hurt. A couple stopped to help. They’re local. They know the Dirksens. The store. They were bringing her home. I’m calling the police.” I turn to the phone and dial 911.

She listens to me talk. An accident. A nice couple. Our daughter’s gone.

I hang up. “They’re on their way.” Do I mean it to sound like everything’s okay now?

She shakes her head. “You gave her to strangers.”

I stare at her whitening claw on the back of the chair. And when I look up at her glaring eyes I think she’ll suddenly release her grip on the chair and rip out my face.

But she looks away.

Someone else would say youre an asshole. A moron. What were you thinking? She doesn’t say these things, nor do I expect her to. She was never one to waste words on the obvious, the facts beyond dispute. She wants only to make all of this go away.

“What did they say?”

“They want a description of the couple. Photos.”

“Of Ciara.”

“They want a full report.” Then suddenly I think we’re overreacting. “Maybe she had to go to the bathroom, so they took her to their home first. It might be on the way. Maybe their car got stuck. They didn’t have a cell. They could still be out there with her.”

“You haven’t a fucking clue where they are, Aidan. They’re still out there with her because they’ve fucking got her. She’s in their car, and they’re taking her God knows where.” She takes a step forward, her fists clenched, but then turns to the window again.

I go out to shovel the steps and clear some of the snow from the deck so the police have a path to the door. When I come back in, Beth is standing at the window.

We stare out in silence at the falling snow, looking for headlights to turn into our road at the bottom of the hill. Because I can’t bear to think my own thoughts I try to read hers. How can this man walk out the door, our daughter in hand, and then walk back in two hours later without her? The fire’s blazing and dinner’s ready. When I heard boots clumping on the deck it meant both of them were back, safe, and ready for an evening together, and then two more days of peace, and restful nights interrupted only by silent lovemaking so we can conceive a sibling for Ciara. But now there isn’t even a Ciara because he gave her away to strangers, and I think I want to kill him.

I want to get up and go to her, but I know she doesn’t want me near.

Finally, a car appears and comes slowly up the hill. Maybe it’s the Hendersons. Something delayed them, just as I thought. Ciara’s here. I almost say it to Beth.

But the car that turns into our driveway has a rack of lights on its roof and “Police” in white capitals on the side.

When I hear the stamping of boots on the steps I go to the back door.

“Mr. Spencer? Good evening. I’m Inspector Crenshaw and this is Constable Nanda. Gravenhurst Police. You reported a child missing. Do we have permission to come in?”

“Yes. Thank you for coming.” I stand to the side and they enter, removing their parkas. Crenshaw is tall with a buzz cut. Nanda has olive skin, and her dark hair is pulled back in a tight bun. I introduce Beth, and they nod.

Then I see a cone of bright light swinging back and forth along the side of the house.

“That’s Constable Davidson. We have to search the premises.”  Inspector Crenshaw asks for the key to our shed and says he’s sorry about all this. Constable Nanda opens the front door to hand the key to the policeman outside.

And I don’t know what Inspector Crenshaw means by being sorry about all this. Is he sorry for disturbing our evening and invading our privacy, or is he sorry because he already knows our daughter is not in the shed and he hasn’t a clue where she might be?

Beth becomes agitated. “Ciara’s not here. They took her. She’s not here.”

“It’s procedure, Mrs. Spencer. Could we see the child’s room please?”

Outside the window, through the flakes, I see the officer with the flashlight, its beam stabbing at the swirls of snow as he unrolls the bright yellow tape to mark off our property. Now we’re a crime scene. He stops to sweep snow off the garbage can before lifting the lid.

Inside, they’re checking the rooms, the closets, the basement. Constable Nanda comes up the stairs and smiles at Beth. “Everything seems to be in order here. Thank you.”

Another vehicle pulls up outside, its beams spraying our front windows.

“Forensics. Do we have your permission to let them in?” Crenshaw waits for me to respond.

I nod.

He opens the door, and a man in an overcoat enters carrying a briefcase.

A camera hangs on his shoulder.

We watch him as he unpacks his case.

Crenshaw speaks. “We need fingerprints, hair samples, items of clothing.” He leads forensics into Ciara’s bedroom.

The questions follow, and they seem accusing. Are we married? Is the marriage in trouble? Does our daughter live with us? Can we prove Ciara is our child? They want photographs. Contact numbers for her doctor and dentist.

Dental records, like she’s already dead.

“Where’s your vehicle now, Mr. Spencer?” I give him Steve’s number at the garage.  Forensics will examine the truck in the morning. No, I did not get their license. I watched their car pull away, but the plate number was obscured by snow. And I remember not even thinking about checking their license because they were only driving Ciara home.

Beth opens her laptop and shows them our most recent photographs of our daughter. She took one of her yesterday in her dark purple coat with the fur-lined hood.

They upload the photos to Constable Nanda’s hard drive.

“So, Mr. and Mrs. Spencer, here’s what’s happening right now.  We put out a radio message to all units, giving details. Middle-aged couple, driving a dark green or blue Ford Taurus, with a girl, Ciara, aged ten, wearing a purple, hooded coat, black leotards, Little Mermaid boots and a white toque. We’ve set up a roadblock on the main route to Highway 11, and established checkpoints in Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, Huntsville and Burk’s Falls. We’re already examining our records for incidents or complaints in the area that might be related. We have to do a background check on both of you, of course. Again, it’s normal procedure. In the morning we’ll contact the landfill management centre and check the Sex Offender Registry for the area.”

Beth gasps. I put my arm around her as I listen, nodding like we’re hearing details about an upcoming surgery. They’ll search the neighbours’ houses tonight and register Ciara’s description, along with particulars of her abduction, on the Crime Centre Missing Person File.

And now he wants my formal statement.

Constable Nanda is on her radiophone describing our daughter as she examines the photographs. Fair hair, straight with bangs, blue eyes, slight gap in her front teeth.

I have little to say to Crenshaw about the Hendersons. He was in his forties. Salt-and-pepper mustache. Stained teeth.

Beth groans.

He wore a duffle coat, navy, with those wooden toggles. Dark hair, untidy or maybe just windblown. Some graying.

The woman is harder to describe because her fleece-lined hood covered most of her face. She grimaced in the cold wind and distorted any distinguishing features. She wore blue mittens. A grey quilted coat. In the car, she sat in the back seat, but her hood was up all the time.

Ford Taurus. Green or maybe dark blue as I said earlier. Hard to say with all the snow. Grey interior. I wish I had more to tell them.

“Why did you think you could trust them, Mr. Spencer?”

Beth glares at me again.

My reasons sound embarrassingly feeble. They knew the Dirksens down the hill. Bill and Bertie. Bill renovated their kitchen, they said. They were middle aged, married and therefore safe. I gave them our daughter to bring home because they stopped to help—first responders, a nice couple. Ciara was cold and in shock, I thought, and she wanted to come home. And I’m thinking now what the hell was I thinking? I want to disappear is what I’m thinking now, the floor to open up for real this time.

We look at the children, the young girls in snowsuits and parkas, walking with adults; but no one is wearing a purple coat with a fur-lined hood.

But the officers don’t judge. Inspector Crenshaw asks me questions and Constable Nanda records my answers. Still, I can guess what they’re thinking beneath their questions and my answers.

Beth comes forward. “What do we do now?”

I put my arm around her again, but this time she shrugs it off.

“We’ve set up a hotline at this number.” Crenshaw writes down the number and hands it to Beth. “If you hear anything you’ll let us know. In the meantime, it’s very important that you don’t conduct your own investigation. You leave it to us. You don’t want to be alerting anyone by interrogating strangers.”

It’s ten o’clock now. Ciara’s been gone for five hours. I think of her as only doing a spacewalk. Out there in her suit but attached to the mother ship. We’re still connected. She’ll be back before morning.

The cruiser backs out, and I watch it until I see it turn into the Dirksens’ driveway down the hill. Bill’s sure to phone when they leave. I pour two glasses from the bottle on the table. We have calls to make. Our families must be told. But not yet. Neither of us can bear the thought, or drink the wine.

No one wants to start the conversation. All I can think about saying is, “Sorry, darling. It’ll be all right. Maybe they couldn’t find the house.”

But Ciara could find the house. She knows the way from the store. She’s been back and forth along that road all her life. And now I’m thinking what if that really was all her life. So I say nothing.

“When will the truck be fixed?”

“A day or two, they said.”

“We’ll rent a car, then. Tomorrow morning.”

“What do you have in mind?”

“We’ll drive.”

“Drive?”

“To the field. Then to the store. Then we’ll head back this way and go down every fucking road in the county until we find her.”

“Seriously?” What’s the point of that, I think.

“What do you suggest, Aidan? Stay here and wait for something to happen? Like maybe she’ll walk up the steps tomorrow morning and knock on the door?”

She has a point. About keeping busy.

Bill Dirksen rings. “The police just left. We’re so sorry, Aidan. It’s a terrible thing for you both. But they’ll find her. They asked us about this couple who came here to pay for some kitchen work I did. Never happened, Aidan. People I do things for these days, I’ve known them for years. Know what I mean?”

“They were so certain about you and your place.”

But everyone knows the Dirksens. They’re an institution. Lived here forever. Give us your daughter. We know the Dirksens.

“Don’t beat yourself up, Aidan. Up here, we help each other. We have to. It’s always been like that. Not like down city ways. Anyone would have done what you did.”

No they wouldn’t.

I wake up in the night, not even sure that I was ever asleep, and Beth isn’t in bed with me. Then I remember she didn’t come to bed last night. I can see the light on in the kitchen and I think I hear her sobbing. I want to get up and go to her, but I know she doesn’t want me near.

In the morning I find her asleep in Ciara’s bed. Then I go into the bathroom because my stomach is starting to heave.

When the rental is delivered, we drive out to the field. The snow stopped during the night and the sky’s clear now, bright sun sparkling on the whiteness.

A perfect day for snow angels, I think, and wonder how we will ever get through this. The police will find her and return her home safely, I tell Beth. We can’t let go. She just looks at me.

At the scene, the snow has filled in all but a faint trace of the wheel troughs from last night. Corn spikes poke through the snow where the tow truck dragged our vehicle to the embankment. Two hydro poles span the gap we plunged through. There’s a house twenty yards further ahead; twenty yards behind is the bridge over Kettle Creek, its icy metal surface likely where I lost control. We threaded a needle spinning out where we did. Now I’m thinking, with a mind that’s also spinning out of control, that Madeleine and George at the store were wrong, that Ciara and I were unlucky not to have wrapped the truck around one of the hydro poles so none of this would have happened.

And now I remember the man saying we were lucky they were following us. Did he mean following as in behind us or as in tracking us? Was Ciara on their radar even before the wipe out? If so, then how un-fucking-believably lucky they were that we wiped out when we did and that the girl’s father turned out to be an unfathomably stupid man.

Beth trudges ahead, following the track of corn spikes. She eyes the ground and suddenly stops to bend over. Has she found something? No, she’s throwing up. When she’s finished, she straightens and walks on.

We return to the truck and drive to the general store. A bright yellow notice is taped to the door. Ciara’s photo. Her purple coat and fur-lined hood over the white toque. The small gap in her smile. The tiny catch light in her blue eyes. Beth sees the notice and draws an audible breath. MISSING CHILD. We read the police details.

“We’re so sorry,” Madeleine says, looking up at Beth as she walks through the door. I follow.

“Did you know them?” Beth’s voice is hard. “These Henderson people. They told my husband they were regulars here.”

Madeleine comes round from behind the counter. “No. We already told the police we don’t know any Hendersons. We’re so sorry.” George stares at the counter, shaking his head, and then he opens the cash register and counts bills.

She offers us coffee. We decline. She pours one for herself. George disappears into the back. “I told the cops about a couple that came in a week ago. I didn’t know them. They had a map of the area and wanted directions. They had a list of properties for rent. They seemed a nice couple. The cop asked me if he had a mustache but I said I thought so but I couldn’t be sure. They only came in the once, you know?” She sips at her coffee because there’s nothing else she can do, or say.

All that week we drive up and down the back roads once the plows have been through. Beth wants to knock on every door, but I remind her that we have to let the police do their job. We drive into Bracebridge in bright sunshine and stand on street corners watching the people go by. We look at the children, the young girls in snowsuits and parkas, walking with adults; but no one is wearing a purple coat with a fur-lined hood. I look at the cars but I don’t see a dark green or blue Ford Taurus.

We’re on the news of course. TV crews and reporters park outside the cottage until an injunction requires them to leave.

We don’t look at the local papers. “FATHER GIVES DAUGHTER TO STRANGERS.” We can do without that.

Beth appears on television, first locally, and then on the Toronto news.  “Ciara we love you. Please come home. And whoever has taken her, please, please just give us our daughter back so we can get on with our lives.”

We do it all. Crime Stoppers. An episode of Missing. Instagram. Facebook. Tumblr. Flickr. And it all seems so futile.

When the snow melts, even more volunteers come out to scour the woods and tramp through the fields. “Search and Rescue” is now “Recovery,” I imagine, though the police don’t actually tell us that. But one weekend after the ice melts I see two divers in a boat slip under the surface of Pine Lake to poke around in the sludge beneath. A token gesture, I suppose. More lakes in Muskoka than puddles on a sidewalk after a cloudburst, any one of them a secure reliquary for a child’s corpse weighted with breezeblocks.

Police counselors tell us, in the absence of a body or a shred of evidence, that she was likely drugged and taken away unharmed. Best case, they say, is the childless Hendersons seizing an unexpected opportunity. In time, children can grow to accept their new parents. This is bullshit of course. But we don’t challenge them and we don’t ask about worst case.

Worst case is not knowing. Actually, worst case is worse than not knowing. Knowing you did something that led to you never knowing the worst is worse than anything. That’s when the hornets come and nest in your shirt.

Time can only begin to heal when you know what happened. Otherwise ⎯ well, this is otherwise.

Ciara’s birthdays are hard. Christmas is hell. Pretty well every day is the anniversary of something she became or did, or we became and did together. Her framed photos in the house mock and accuse.

Beth and I live separately now in the same house. The police are no longer in touch every day. The hotline’s gone cold. We still spend hours on the Internet, posting pictures of Ciara. The pictures grow more out of date with every day that passes, but even that’s only true if she’s still alive somewhere out there. Otherwise, they’re pretty well up to date.

We sell the cottage when we can’t bear to take any more drives through the backcountry. You reach a point where you have to move on. For a time we think about selling our house in Toronto as well. Delete the past. Reboot our lives. But we keep the house in Toronto, so Ciara knows where we are if she ever comes back.

Jason’s five now. He was conceived before Ciara disappeared.

It certainly didn’t happen after.

We’re glad he wasn’t another daughter. Boys are different, whatever people say, and we needed different.

He has his own room. Ciara’s room is still there for when she comes back. Beth has her own room now, too. Jason knows we live separately in the same house but he just thinks that’s normal. He knows he has an older sister but he doesn’t ask when she’s coming home anymore. Somehow, he’s grown to think that’s normal as well, I suppose.

Another reason we live separately in the same house is that Beth turned to God and I didn’t. She needs God. She needs to know why our daughter isn’t with us anymore. He works in mysterious ways, she says, and so she believes He must be somewhere in the middle of this one humongous fucking mystery. She prays all the time, but she only gets His voicemail. “God can’t take your call right now. Have a great day.”

If God existed at all, and I were God, I’d have an unlisted number so people couldn’t bother me with a million problems I wouldn’t know how to begin to solve.

“Will you pray with me, Aidan? Will you come to church with me? There’s a candlelight novena on Sunday for Ciara. Will you come?”

And I go because it makes her feel better. And then I tell her that I can’t do any more prayers or masses or novenas because I don’t believe in any of it. If there’s a God he’ll be pissed at her dragging along someone like me who’s just pretending. So, we drift apart there as well. She tells me I don’t really love Ciara, otherwise I would pray for her. Not true, of course, but I say nothing. Her turn to slide a stiletto into my heart.

But God has nothing to do with any of this, and not just because he doesn’t exist. I did it all on my own. I made my own choice on that snowy night and picked the wrong horse. It didn’t even come last; it never finished. It jumped the rail and kept going until it disappeared into the swirling snow.

Ciara’s gone from being a monthly blip on the news channels to space junk orbiting the planet to space dust. Friends and even family move on. For our sakes too, they say, but we know.

I worry about Beth because she believes God will bring our child back. He won’t, and then she’ll have lost her God as well as her daughter. I can’t remember the last time she looked at me.

But what I did that night, and what I didn’t do, stare me down every day. They don’t go away.

And this is where we come to the part about Eve.

She was the first to turn midday into midnight in a heartbeat.

Tell me more about Eve, my counselor says.

She was put on the spot too, I tell him. She had to make a decision right now. The guy in the sky who can pull a rabbit out of a hat and a woman out of a spare rib warns her that the apple’s a trap. Don’t go there or you’ll die. See and make good choices, Eve.

Then there’s Adam, another control freak, another alpha male. Don’t bite the hand, he says.

And the serpent tells her if she doesn’t seize the moment she’ll never be more than a housewife. Snooze, you lose. Faint heart never won bugger all. He’s got some great lines. God, but you’re beautiful. Take a look at yourself in the pond. Love the wax job; you’re way ahead of your time. You’ll look great in a fig leaf. Got a mind of your own, too, but guys aren’t comfortable with that. Go on, break the glass and eat the apple. You go girl. Think what you can do.

Life’s just begun, and there are no test cases. She’s the first. Eat the apple? Don’t eat the apple? Good reasons for both. What’s a girl to do?

There’s no time to think. Adam nowhere to be found. He’s mulching the allotment, or grooming the goats, maybe drizzling the garden salad for lunch. She’s on her own.

Flip a coin, but there are no coins. Pick a number, but there are no numbers. Not yet.

So, crunch time for Eve and, as it happens, for the apple.

“Can you take my daughter home?”

My counselor looks blank when I finish. The whole Eve thing took him by surprise, maybe.

Anyway, I’ve written everything down, just as he asked.

But it’s changed nothing. Ciara won’t be coming back, and the hornets inside my shirt will never leave.

At least in my dream I can see her snow angel on the driveway. It’s silent, of course, and its white wings are still. But it’s there now and always will be.

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About Colin Brezicki

Colin Brezicki came to fiction-writing a little late in the day, having spent a long career teaching English and directing theatre in England and Canada. Since retiring, he has completed two novels and a collection of fifteen short stories.

"An Original Sin" won first prize in the Literal Latté Fiction Awards in 2014 and "Out of the Blue" was runner-up in 2015. "Paris Street: A Rainy Day" won the J.K. Galbraith Fiction Award, and "Defiled" won first prize in the 2014 Bosque (the magazine) fiction contest in New Mexico, both in 2014. Several other stories have been published in literary journals in Canada and the U.S.

David Bezmozgis and Richard B. Wright have been wise and patient mentors, and he owes much to fiction writers like William Boyd, Graham Swift and Miriam Toews, whose writing doesn’t read like writing. He has a weak spot for fiction that asks questions without answering them and leaves readers in a state of composed uncertainty, which he believes is as near to understanding life as most of us will get.

Now retired from a life of teaching he lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario. He cycles to keep fit and writes to keep sane. He is grateful to NOEPE, a writers’ retreat in Martha’s Vineyard that provides an inspiring location and like-minded companionable enthusiasts.

His daughter Catherine, works as an editor in Toronto and reads his drafts with a keen eye and an active delete key.

His work can be found at Brezicki.com.

3 Comments

  1. Geoff Park
    Posted October 2014 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I can’t even speak after reading that. I was totally captivated, mad at him for writing it and mad at me for reading it, but I couldn’t “put it down.” Well done.

  2. Dylan Mitchell-Funk
    Posted November 2014 at 1:30 pm | Permalink

    Gripping and stark—the grief is downright palpable. I’m looking forward to reading more!

  3. Doug Barr
    Posted August 2017 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    Colin: Your powerful and gripping story had me from the start. I identified completely with Aiden in that he naively trusted strangers. My mother was like that, always believing that people were generally good and then being shocked when she discovered that some weren’t. Over the years, through politics and business, I have become somewhat more sceptical and less naive. While my natural tendency is to wish that people shared my values, I have learned that many do not and that “follow the money” and “what’s in it for them” are oftimes more realistic assessments. In the end, each of us must follow his or her own lights, be true to one’s self and challenge others to seek the “better angels of their nature”. Thanks for this engaging read! It generated some useful introspection. Enjoyed our time together with you, Ian and Pauline in NOTL. Lee sends her best… Doug

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