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A Very Short Story
I never put this story into words before, for fear of sounding stupid, or for some other, deeper, fear. It happened when I was nine.
It was a Sunday morning in May. I was in TK Maxx with Dad. I loved that ritual of ours, going to TK Maxx in May, to check out the new arrivals. It was how summer started. Dad had bought me what he called ‘an Italian breakfast’, that is, cake and milk, and between the high of sugar and the excitement of the season, I could barely keep a hold of myself.
We were a well-off family, a little snobbish. We shopped in boutique stores. We only went to TK Maxx twice a year, before Christmas and in May, and it was only Dad and me: Mum would not be seen dead into an off-price retailer, and my little sister neither. Our trips there were a boys’ thing, all the more special for that. Dad would always buy me this or that trinket, a cheap toy or a funky t-shirt.
What I loved the most about the shop was the abundance of stuff. Just random stuff, different every season: toys and gym equipment and clothes and household items and chocolates, and, and. All the stuff in the world was there, and I would never suspect, if not for our twice-a-year trips, that the stuff in the world was so much.
But that year there was more stuff than ever, or at any rate this is how I remember it. The t-shirts were so densely packed they were difficult to move so to check them out, the outdoors implements sat in triple rows on the scaffolds, a wall brimmed obscenely with thousands of brightly-coloured candy boxes. For reasons I could not articulate, all that stuff gave me a pang of sadness.
I felt dizzy. That was the first of spells of dizziness that would accompany me for the rest of my life. I had to close my eyes and lean to a column on which an army of soft dolls sat with their head lolling. When I opened my eyes, Dad was gone. I turned my head left and right. Gone.
A shop assistant noticed me move through the aisles. He spoke to me softly, gave me a candy, and took me to the till, where he let me call Dad on the loudspeaker. I had been lost for maybe five minutes. I had had time to get afraid, but barely. The episode would be unremarkable, if not for what happened when Dad came and took me.
I did not recognise him; not at first, and, in a sense, not ever. His face was the same as Dad’s, his smile and his voice too, but there was something about this man which was - not different, but missing. Threatening. ‘Dad?,’ I said, when I saw him, and he answered just, ‘Yes.’
I have seen plenty of professionals, as you know. Psychiatrists, therapists. They helped me. But you are the first one who may believe me, that something terrible happened in TK Maxx that day. Everything that followed - Mum’s violent death, the stories about my sister - started that day. It wasn’t Dad that did all those things. It was another - person, being, I don’t know. But not Dad. It wasn’t him who came to the till and fetched me.
Dad got lost that day in the shop.