Don’t tell

Mary Cassatt, “The Child’s Bath,” oil on canvas, 1893.

fiction by Tim Chapman

When the police arrive you tell them you were coming from the kitchen with a big bowl of popcorn when you heard the blast. You tell them you dropped the bowl and ran. You saw the bowl bounce, scattering its fluffy contents in a semicircle across the hardwood floor. The pattern of blood, bone, and tissue on the bedroom wall is semicircular as well. You tell them the shotgun had reduced your husband’s head to a nightmare and that you vomited as soon as you saw it.

You sit on the living room couch while the detectives move in and out of the bedroom. You show them the stash of pills you found under a chair cushion. Edgar had stopped taking his medication, you tell them. He was hiding it. You see them dust the shotgun for fingerprints. They use adhesive stubs on the backs of your hands, telling you they need to check for gunshot residue. They ask if you touched the shotgun. You tell them, no, you didn’t. You don’t tell them about the rubber gloves hidden under the yarn in your knitting basket.

A week after the incident, your sister brings you back to a house that has been thoroughly cleaned by some helpful people from your church. Despite your sister’s pleading, you enter the house alone, your overnight bag clutched tight to your chest. You go straight to the bedroom. The bed is gone. The wall is clean. Holes have been spackled and painted. Only a few pockmarks in the ceiling hint at the tragedy. The overnight bag slips from your arms. You open a dresser drawer. Under a neatly folded blouse is a photograph. You pick it up and start to cry. You realize it’s the first time you’ve cried in years.

It’s five hundred and seventy-five miles from Rainsburg, Pennsylvania, to Chicago, Illinois. Robert had moved to Chicago after his last visit home from college. He had brought a young man with him, Phillip, and together they had sprung the news that they were in love. Edgar dug his old pump-action shotgun out of the closet and, as he loaded it, told Robert that if anyone should ask about his son, he would tearfully explain that Robert had been killed in a pileup on the interstate while driving back to school. Edgar kept the gun shouldered and aimed at Robert until long after he and Phillip had tossed their bags in the back of their little car and driven away. He marched back into the house and pulled all the photos of Robert off the wall. He ignored your pleading and carried them to the back yard. You managed to save one, a picture of baby Robert in the bathtub. Edgar burned the rest. You cried that day too.

You phone the minister of your church and thank him for cleaning your bedroom. You ask to be added to the list of parishioners who are helping at the homeless shelter. Then you call Robert. You tell him about his father’s tragic death. You are not surprised when he cries. Edgar had loved him when he was a boy. You don’t tell Robert about the rubber gloves.

It’s your last day in Chicago, and you’re having a wonderful time. Robert and Phillip have taken you to boutiques and bookstores and restaurants that serve the best food you’ve ever eaten. You spent this morning exploring the Art Institute. Now, Robert is waiting for you in the museum gift shop. You know you should go. You have a plane to catch, but you can’t pull yourself away from this painting. Its beauty roots you firmly in place. You’re shaking, and tears are streaming down your cheeks. A young woman standing next to you places her hand on your arm.

She asks, Are you okay?

You say, It’s just so beautiful, and it’s over a hundred years old. Imagine that.

The woman smiles. It’s one of my favorites—a mother giving her child a bath. Mary Cassatt was so good at capturing the simple moments in our lives.

You say, Look at that woman’s face. She’s so happy.

Then you tell her about the rubber gloves.

Tim Chapman is a former forensic scientist for the Chicago police department who currently teaches writing and tai chi chuan. His fiction has been published in The Southeast Review, the Chicago Reader, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, and the anthology, The Rich and the Dead. His first novel, Bright and Yellow, Hard and Cold, was a finalist in Shelf Unbound’s 2013 Best Indie Book competition. In his spare time he paints pretty pictures and makes an annoying noise with his saxophone that he claims is music.

This article originally appeared in the June 30, 2017, issue of The Norwegian American. To subscribe, visit SUBSCRIBE or call us at (206) 784-4617.

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The Norwegian American is North America's oldest and only Norwegian newspaper, published since May 17, 1889.