Four Days of Forgetting
By Matthew Salesses
I checked this diary when I woke and noticed from the last entry, and then the entry before that, and then entry before that, that I’ve been doing the same thing day after day. Somehow each morning I read this diary and have the same realization and then still I go out into the war that is always there and I kill someone (again). I don’t remember doing this. But here are the words, in this diary, a clear record. This is the 68th day I have written here. This is the 68th day, perhaps, that I have not remembered what I did the day before, or even moments before. This is the 68th day, perhaps, that I have needed this diary. Is that why I started it–to remember; to remind myself?
I checked this diary just now and noticed that I noticed in the last entry that I keep killing people. I just now killed a soldier who tried to climb in the window with his bayonet detached and clamped between his teeth like in the pictures of pirates my father used to show me. The pictures my brother had drawn. I saw the soldier in my window and suddenly I found in my hand a pistol. I lifted the pistol toward his chest. When he dropped the bayonet from his mouth I felt angry. I felt angry that he would let me shoot him while he was unarmed. I felt angry enough to shoot him. Before I pulled the trigger I remembered that my father was gone, out there in the war that is always there. Not that this is a thing I forget. This is a memory I always have with me. Sometimes I forget that I feel worried about him dying, or that I should worry. Sometimes I forget that I feel bad about the war that is always there.
I checked this diary this morning and was shocked to learn that I killed someone yesterday. Then I saw that I had killed someone each day for the last 69 days. I will not kill today. I do not know how this keeps happening. I ripped out a page from the middle of this diary–another page on which I had killed a man after reading here that I had killed a man the day before–and stuffed that page in my mouth. The war is always there, but like Hemingway said, there is no reason to go to it. I’m paraphrasing. My father read those books to me as a child and I hated every word of bravery. I can taste the pages, those pages, in my mouth, feel their sharp edges cutting my tongue, the dry wetness as I swallow. I was a boy who didn’t want to find out how far my father’s wrath could really go. He said he would light the paper on fire if I didn’t swallow, and I believed him. I remember my belief in him as I swallow now.
This is what happened: I caught a man breaking into my car. He was from the war that is always there–his gray uniform stained with blood. He had shot through the driver’s window with some strange old-fashioned rifle. I remembered the hunting my father and I used to do. The soldier looked like a scared little bird, wanting to perch in the machinery of my car that is outside of the war. He didn’t look like he wanted to steal anything except my life that is outside of the war. He saw me. I hated him instantly. I was almost to the car then, and I didn’t care that he raised his rifle. He didn’t look like he could kill anyone. I could kill. I had killed, by my father’s decree, and I felt my father telling me now about the war that could possibly kill him. I felt my father would soon be dead and I was happy. This could be my own brother, this man in my car, my own dead brother I never knew, my own father’s favorite. I pulled the rifle away from the man–I know a trick or two–and then I beat him with the base of it. I drove my car into the war that is always there and left it there.
I checked this diary afterward, wanting to write down what had happened, feeling it slipping away from me, and here I found that I was already a murderer. I will forget tomorrow. Should I thank God that I will forget tomorrow?
I checked this diary just now and got lost in its pages. I read again and again of the horror befalling me each day as if anew, as if to someone else. How could this happen–I am not a killer. I am going to get away today, drive into a different part of the war, or drive straight through the war until its edges cannot contain me. But no–my car is gone. Yesterday, I see here, I got rid of it. Today, I am going to run and run away from this house until I cannot remember it anymore. But no–this house I cannot forget. I remember it far back, all the way back, back to before my mother left us here. I remember it far back to when my father cursed it and I knew the curse would stick, to when he stood at the grave of my brother and made me eat the pages my brother had drawn. I remember it far back to when there was no war, to when I wished there was a war to take my father away, and even further back, to when I didn’t know enough to wish for a war or not.
I ran and ran, reading these words again as I ran, to remember that I was running from something. I ran and I read these words and I made sure that I did not kill anyone. And then I came to the edge of where I knew the war to be, though it is always there, beyond and beyond, inside and outside. A man was sitting there, familiar to me, though I couldn’t remember him. He sat in the middle of nowhere–I couldn’t see the house anymore. I tried to forget that I could remember where it was. Soon I would forget the way I had come, and even though I would know where the house was, and that it was there, I wouldn’t know how to get to it anymore. That was enough. I looked at the man and I saw that he was crying, that he was a remorseful killer, and I wanted his clothes. I wanted to take his clothes to forget my clothes, to forget everything I had left of that house, except this diary, which would be my only guide. I wanted to be him, to cry and to want to cry. And then I thought–the thought crossed my mind even as I held these words, this guide, in my hands–that if I killed him, that if I killed him and remembered that I had killed before, with this guide, I would feel as sorry as he did, and then I would put on his clothes and become him. Then I would leave this diary behind and leave everything of me behind and when I couldn’t remember anything anymore except for who I was when I was a young boy, I would believe that I had changed, in the space of that unknowing, that missing memory, I would believe that I had gone from the me I could remember to the me I saw in new clothes now.
I kicked his rifle away and then I picked it up and then I looked at it and then I decided not to kill him. I held onto this diary. I thought that if I knew I had killed and killed, that if I opened up this diary read these confessions, that I wouldn’t kill this man. I would not repeat those mistakes. And then he looked up at me, and I saw that he was crying not for pity of himself, but of someone else, and I pulled the trigger. And then I wrote here what I had done.
I checked this diary when I woke and here I am when I am supposed to be somewhere else. I am in my house. I could not get away. I am in my own house, the war always there, outside. I am supposed to be far from memory. I was supposed to forget. But as much as I forget, I can’t forget. I know my father is out there, in the war. I know that my father is out there and was once in here, is always in here.
Matthew Salesses was born in Korea and lives in Boston with his wife, baby, and cats. He is the author of The Last Repatriate and two chapbooks. His new book, I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying, is forthcoming in Feb 2013. His stories have or will appear in Glimmer Train, Witness, American Short Fiction, The Literary Review, West Branch, and others. He is the Fiction Editor and a Contributing Writer at The Good Men Project. Follow him @salesses.