The Reckoning of Noah Shaw Read online





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  For Janie, may her memory be blessed.

  And for my grandfather, Robert Kramer, the strongest person I know.

  Mara,

  If your story was a memoir, then mine is a confession. My confession is that I regret it. I never thought it was possible. I didn’t think there would ever be a day, a moment, a second, when I would look back and wish I’d never met you, but that is my every moment, now.

  You are an ocean away at a café on Fulton Street. We’ve been there together, I know the address and the name. But you aren’t with me. And I miss you. You are missing from me.

  I want you here, now, more than I’ve ever wanted you anywhere. I want to breathe you, drink you, devour you—I want you inside me so that I never have to miss you again.

  I want to own you, is what I want, and yes, I do know how fucked up that is, thanks. But we’ve always been fucked up, really, and we said we would never lie to each other, didn’t we? (Though, we have lied to each other, haven’t we?) So I’m telling you the truth now. I want you to belong to me. I want to ask you if you’re mine, and I want you to say yes.

  It’s funny, or not funny, but ironic, but not really ironic—the point is, once, not very long ago in fact, I claimed you before I’d even kissed you. I did it so easily, thoughtlessly, because we both knew it wasn’t real, though I knew, even if you didn’t, that I wanted it to be real. And then, after I did kiss you, there was a time when you wanted me to claim you. I could ask “Are you mine?” and you would say yes.

  But I can’t ask you now. Or I could, but I don’t know what you’ll say anymore, and I’m too much of a pussy to risk it. So I’m writing this to you, even though you’re never going to read it, in the hope that I can exorcise these thoughts, these words from my mind. Are you mine? Were you ever mine? Or were we always what we said we’d never be, idiots who made promises to each other that we would choose not to keep?

  Because it is a choice, after all. You can choose to be claimed, or refuse. You can choose to claim someone, or choose not to. You can leave them unclaimed, alone. And no matter what we say to each other—no matter what we’ve said to each other not even two weeks ago, breathless and sweaty with love in our eyes and lies on our tongues, both of us knew, and know, the truth. You are not mine. You never were mine. But right now, I feel like I would do anything to have you—leash you, cage you, trap you, so that you’ll have to be mine, whether you want it or not.

  You once told me that you were poison, and I was the drug that made you forget it. You were right and wrong; I’m not a drug, I’m a wound. And your poison is in me.

  It feels like lightning and tastes like sugar, a fevered sweetness that I would give anything, anything to forget. I would tie stones to the memories of you and drown them before tying myself to you again. I would beg for nothingness, pray for blankness, but there’s no one to beg. I know no God but you.

  I have nowhere to send this, and no reason to believe you wish to receive it. I can feel the night behind me as I write these words to feed to the flames. You wrote because you had something to prove. I write because I have to speak, and there’s no one left to listen.

  Yours, still,

  Noah

  Part I

  The truth is a snare: you cannot have it, without being caught.

  —Søren Kierkegaard

  1

  MY TRAGIC HEROINE

  THE DAY STELLA JUMPED, THE day Mara left, her grandmother turned up in a white dress and a black car and told me to get in if I wanted to save her.

  She looks so much like Mara.

  Or rather, she looks like someone Mara’ll look like someday, a living, breathing perversion of her. The shadow of laughter behind her eyes when something amuses her but she won’t share. When Mara closes her eyes to search for just the right word, she closes hers as well. The shape of Mara’s mouth when she’s hiding a secret behind her lips is the shape her grandmother’s takes, too.

  The first thing I asked her wasn’t how she was alive or why, but—

  “What shall I call you?”

  She sits beside me, looking straight ahead, but I see her smile in profile. “I told you my name.”

  “I can’t call you . . .”

  “Mara?” She finishes for me. “Why not?”

  Because her name sticks in my throat. Because the sound of it might kill me.

  “It was my name first,” she says.

  Her voice snaps me back to attention, to this moment, facing this not-Mara beside me.

  “Fine,” I say. “Your family name, then.”

  “Which one?”

  Her eyes are quick, laughing.

  “If you don’t give me a name, I’ll choose one for you myself,” I say.

  She arches an eyebrow. “Go on, then.”

  My thoughts are furred, though, and even as I try and think the name Mara, I’m hardly able to get past the first letter.

  “M,” I say.

  One of her hands reaches for the collar of her white silk dress. She rubs the fabric with her thumb and studies me. “Good choice,” she says eventually.

  Her stare is bold, unflinching, and as the silence stretches between us, I feel more exposed, more raw. “Why are you here?”

  She blinks, once. “I told you. I need your help.”

  A matter of life and death, she said. Someone we both love.

  “Right. That got me in the car,” I concede. “But I’ll need more if you want me to stay.”

  She watches me, unnaturally still and calm. “You have questions.”

  “You have no idea.”

  That cryptic, smug smile again. “I have some idea.”

  It helps, her smiling like that. It’s harder to be awed by someone so irritating. “Your family thinks you’re dead,” I say.

  “Yes.”

  “Mara saw it.” Not strictly true, but it catches M’s attention.

  “What did she say?”

  I reach back through the door in my mind, the one I closed on Mara minutes or hours ago, God knows which, wincing in anticipation of the memory of her voice, and hear—

  Nothing. Silence.

  M waits.

  This is what I remember instead: my father’s ghastly Florida mansion. An unused sitting room with furniture draped in drop cloths. Mara’s tentative, shaking hands lifting a soft, crude little doll between two pinched fingers, then tossing it forcefully into a fire. The smell of burning hair. The curl of singed paper.

  That was what we thought was left of Mara’s grandmother—that doll, the pendant sewn inside of it, and the ashes of her suicide note. The note Mara saw—remembered—M writing.

  I look at her grandmother now and consider, not for the first time, that I might be well and truly mad. Maybe something broke in me the moment Mara left. Maybe it broke before.

  It’s a strange and unfamiliar sensation, not knowing whether to trust your own mind. Not knowing if your own senses are betraying you. I never quite got what it was like for Mara, when we met. Never quite understood why she’d wanted me to keep that journal, writing about her, for her, when she thought she was losing her mind. Losing herself.

  I’m beginning to get it now.

  M watches me expectantly, head tilted, a fall