The Hanged Man

© Ståle Edstrøm | Dreamstime Stock Photos

He hated dropping his son off at kindergarten each morning because he couldn’t stand the hushed whispers from the gaggle of parents huddled around their mocha lattes outside of Room 5.  What a shame, one of the flock might say, he looks devastated.  These kinds of things just don’t happen around here.  It could have been any of us.  Are you kidding, another would say, it’s just too bad they haven’t taken that child away from him.  It’s obvious what he did to her.

It had been one hundred seventy-four days since they last saw her, bundled up in her snow coat and scarf, crouched down to kiss her son on the forehead before he entered the classroom.  As much as he hated the gaggle, he envied them too because they got to say hello and then goodbye.  They got to smile in her direction.  They got to look at her one last time.  For him it was just a call me when you’re ready to talk, a door slammed harder than necessary and then a phone call six hours later that their son was still at school waiting to be picked up.  It all happened so fast, there just wasn’t any time.

There were cameras for a while with desperate pleas and morning show anchors and church ladies with their Lord Jesus please bring her home safe.  There were so many cameras at one point that he had to send his son to stay with his grandmother because the reporters were saying things no child should ever have to hear.  Where’s her body, they would shout from the curb outside his house, why aren’t you cooperating with the police?  But they didn’t know that he cried himself to sleep at night, partly because he didn’t have any information that would be helpful to the police, but mostly because the last thing he said to her was call me when you’re serious before he slammed the door and never saw her again.  They didn’t know that his son could only fall asleep if he was gripping a small picture of his mother to his chest so hard that the frame left indentation marks on his forearms.  The cameras and the grip marks went away, but the regret never would.

When he couldn’t take another minute of feeling helpless to help her, he found himself in a dark room with an old wrinkled woman who smelled of cat vomit and Chanel No. 5, between them a card on the table showing a picture of a man suspended upside down from a tree, one leg bent across the other.  The Hanged Man, the old woman said and he leaned in, because her voice was just above a whisper.  She tapped a heavy finger on the card – clarity, suspension of worlds, sacrifice, she said and she tapped it again.  He felt stupid.  He never believed in that stuff before, never gave it a second thought until he remembered that she had seen a tarot card reader once.  The fortuneteller had predicted the birth of their son, right down to the day – almost down to the minute.  He told the old woman in the dark room that he didn’t understand and she asked him what he wanted of her.  I want to find her, he said, I want to be with her again.  My son deserves that chance.

She eyed him up and down before extending her hand and motioning for his.  Her skin was cold and dry and he was surprised at how comforting that was.  She traced the lines in his palm with her forefinger without a saying a word.  So you want to see her again, she asked, her hand hovering for just a moment over the scar that extended all the way across the base of his thumb, a scar that reminded him of her and that argument they had in Joshua Tree.  He nodded.  She forced his hand closed into a fist, pressed tight in between her own.  But you are too young to die, she said, and your son is but a child.

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