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The four sat at the supper table as usual, each gazing at the flickers of fire sashaying at the tips of the candles. The father would say grace any moment, but he seemed hesitant, distracted. All at once his head fell forward with such force that it split the walnut surface in two. The wife and two boys, too stunned to shriek, thought at first the father had played a joke on them. But no, the man was dead, his face contorted, swollen, his lips appallingly open and cracked. The wife and sons sat stiffly and watched as a brownish beetle crawled out of the father’s mouth onto the table. Then, as truth anchored in, they screamed and rushed out of the room.
Years later the eldest son found himself holed up in a hovel, from where he rarely ventured. He saw spiders scurrying inside of his sole, foggy mirror. Insects shimmered across his flesh as he slept. He was kept alive through the good will and generosity of his fellow homeless. But he was no longer aware that he was alive. He sharpened his teeth on old rib-eye bones the dogs left behind.
The younger son had succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings. He estimated his fortune in the billions. He produced low budget horror movies, invested in terrifying video games and toys. He forgot that he ever had an older brother or any other family. He told everyone that he had been orphaned at birth. He slept obliviously, never dreamed, believed in nothing. Once in a while he saw flickering at the corner of his eyes and assumed glaucoma. But he was too busy to see a doctor, all of whom he dismissed as frauds.
The mother, ageing gracefully, still a looker, remarried, raised another child, a lissome, forlorn girl who rarely spoke. The new husband, a contractor, loved his wife. They lived in a splendid three-story brick house on an enviable avenue. Their lives were perfect, though the mother worried about three vertical ridges rising from her eyebrows to the hairline. No creams nor emollient softened or eradicated the ridges. She considered plastic surgery but resigned herself to the bleak fact that she was getting old and should ignore the ravages. Late one night, as she applied CeraVe to her cheek, she noticed a small, serrated tendril emerge from one of the ridges. Or thought she noticed anyway. She would get out the tweezers tomorrow. That’s what you do with the past – you pluck it out.