Blood and pieces of bone begin to slide up the bedroom wall. A sonic boom sucks out buckshot, sealing holes left behind.
A pasty, overweight man in his late forties sits up in bed. Splatter flies off sheets. The back of his head pieces together, a jigsaw puzzle of skull and scalp.
He leans forward, removes the shotgun from his mouth, removes the cartridge, returns it to the box.
He stands, leans the gun against the wall.
He stares quietly at the gun, sighs, begins to feel less ready. He pushes a tear into his eye.
He sits at his desk, takes a pen, traces letters on a notepad. His sentences disappear under ballpoint. He returns the notepad to the drawer as shadows shorten with the rising sun. On the sidewalk below his apartment in the city, people open doors to return home, slip out of their clean clothes into something they’ve been wearing all day at the office, glad to be home, looking backward to tonight.
Over time the pasty, overweight man worries less about debt. About where he went wrong with his son who will someday speak to him again, play chess with him again. His wife begins to acknowledge him again, to spend more time at home in the old house they share. He ceases to concern himself about conversations cut short as he approaches his wife and her agent, Paulo. He ceases to find the silent glances exchanged with Paulo awkward.
Paulo died today.
Paulo can’t bring himself to move his knight. He could win in two moves, but he gazes over the chessboard with concern at his pasty, overweight friend whose skin is getting taught, tanned.
Over time, Paulo notices the man looking younger, beginning to enjoy chess, becoming more committed to the games with Paulo and increasing his focus. Eventually, Paulo shakes his head in disbelief and swears he will find a way to beat him.
In the new house, the table the man is building in the garage stands neglected, unfinished. He removes screws, pulls wood apart and removes its finish until it is raw lumber again, the smell of which fills him with joy again for what he built in the past. He no longer worries whether his wife loves him, he knows it. His thinking becomes clear. He gains confidence.
Soon his fiancé will discourage him from moving to this town, despite the money he could make. He begins to receive many offers of employment. He’s excited by possibilities but one stands out among the rest. He could go anywhere, and he is getting so young. He begins to drink less, go to the gym more. He looks forward to playing chess again with his father. He dreads some things to come that he remembers will happen, but he looks forward to chess.
He sits with his girlfriend on the patio of a cafe in Houston. It is summer, the heat oppressive even under fans. The air won’t move, so wet with humidity. This girl is so beautiful, laughing at his jokes. Her hair falls over her cheek. She begins to brush it away but stops, sensing something, he thinks, something electric. He moves to her side of the booth. He is falling for her.
That she might fall for someone else at some point in the past, that their son might leave him and never speak to him again, is inconceivable. The past has not happened, he is young and the world is wide open. He can go anywhere. New York. Madrid. Malaysia. One day in the past he might teach English overseas. He is free.
And this girl, so beautiful.
He dials. Puts down the phone. Unfolds the paper on which he will write her number.
In the library, it is clear she cannot focus. She keeps looking up at him. He holds her eye. They share a smile, a light between irises.
He has not yet asked but knows she will say yes.
This is the moment he has been looking forward to, that made him push a tear into his eye at some point in the past that he doesn’t remember, can’t imagine. This moment. Now. The moment he’s looked forward to for years.
Today it is real.
He sees her for the first time, after they collide, deep in the stacks of the campus library. He wants to hold her. Taste her lips. Here and now, at the beginning.