3rd Mea Culpa

Nights were the worst.
Images, insurgent, irrepressible and unrelenting, forged into regiments and marched onwards, ever onwards. There was no escape. Insomnia was his purgatory. Transfixed, wide-eyed in the darkness, he was compelled to re-live past events, night after night after night.
The days brought some relief, some respite, but rarely for long. Surprisingly, after prolonged practice, he’d found that eating provided a modicum of comfort. Masticating each spoonful until it became tasteless mush churning in the crevices of his mouth, he’d count to twenty before swallowing. He trained himself to blank out other sensations: sounds, sights and smells, concentrating on his teeth, his tongue, his palate and the sensation of swirling and saliva. The minutes, or seconds, when he’d achieved forgetfulness of his past, later registered as relief.
By increments, he gained some control on his treadmill of torture.
Initially reticent, he put into practice the mindfulness that had been recommended by suave professionals, those souls in suits who’d offered well-meaning but meagre support to him in his anguish, his mental pain. Except for the welcome aberration of meal times, relief eluded him during the interminable, unchanging days. He spoke to no-one, refused visitors…
He tried reading, but no page could occupy his attention for long. Music and TV helped, a little, not much. There was no mental respite for Dan. The real world lurked in every corner of his cell, in every paced step in the exercise yard. Facing his guilt, his remorse, his hideous mistake, unretractable, inescapable– this was his fate. He admitted he deserved it.
***
‘Admit you were wrong, Dan.’
That was how his Pa would admonish him as a kid, his face smiling and stern all at once. Dan had probably attracted attention by hitting his younger brother Pete on the head with the plastic hammer, or committed some crime involving the contents of the sand pit where they conducted their childish business of the day.
It became a common refrain during his time from toddler to teenager.
‘’Admit you were wrong, Dan.’
One particular time he remembered: Pa, stern, with no evidence of a hidden smile. Probably that could have been when he’d ‘accidentally’ dropped Pete’s favourite book in a puddle or tied string tightly around Rover’s tail.
Still living at home, unlicensed, he drove the family sedan to the beach with a few mates, damaging its paintwork, wrecking a guide post.
He’d back-chatted the school principal, loudly, publicly.
His parents showed him their displeasure when the sergeant knocked on the door; and when the formal letter requesting a school appointment arrived in the mail box.
His father’s patience had been whittled away over time as Dan’s exploits aggregated. Paternal pleas and maternal directions were dismissed as mere blips on the radar of their elder son. Dan enjoyed his lifestyle and could perceive no reason to change. His adolescence was a riot of daily delights descending into chaos. If, and only if, he was caught, he’d admit fault.
Well-loved, but sometimes grounded…
***
Of the court case he recalled some sights and sounds. Later they blurred in his memory. For this he was thankful. But certain words were indelible.
‘We have, Your Honour.’
‘How do you find the defendant? Guilty or not guilty?’
‘We find the defendant, Daniel Geoffrey Miller, guilty of all charges.’
Dan had obeyed the instructions to stand to receive this verdict. On wobbling legs, he’d clutched the rail for support. Steadying–clenching his jaw, his fists, his buttocks, eyes front, determined not to flinch or utter a sound.
Those words delivered in a clear high-pitched voice were set to resonate in his memory all his days.
‘Seven years, parole yet to be set.’
His mother wailed, once. His father murmured his name. Dan didn’t look in their direction. Their sounds strangled. Silence prevailed for a few moments, but the brief hush was shattered by chiming voices, clamouring voices…
It was a just sentence.
He was prepared for his punishment.
Sombre faces turned to watch his exit.
***
It had been hot that day, a scorcher. He’d clipped the seat belt. The child had wriggled and gurgled. ‘Dada.’ Blue socks matching blue eyes. Soft music on Bluetooth.
Dan remembered the order of trivial things: locking the van, turning the key in the front door, dropping papers and bag, rummaging for his ringing phone—pleased with the novelty tone new a week ago.
Flicking on air-conditioning. Dishes in the sink. Toys on the floor.
He’d sunk into the lounge, ‘Hi.’
Call over, he’d scanned messages. Why not e-mails too? (‘So many plurry attachments,’ he’d cursed.)
***

The sound at the door. Footsteps. Sal.
‘Hi, sweetie.’ Her butterfly kiss.
‘Bit late today?’ His voice scratchy from sleep.
Her smile.
‘How’s Harper?’
One blink. Another one, longer. A realization.
‘Nooooooooooooooooo.’

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