Author's Note: Contains Sensitive Content - Sexual Assault and Suicide/Self-Harm
Ben looked through moist eyes out his fifth-floor apartment window in Brookhaven. Tears streamed slowly down his face as he sipped his morning coffee. He couldn’t stop the tears. They came all too easy these days, and he knew he shouldn’t try to stop them. “It’s natural and what I need to do,” he told himself. The sun barely peeked over the horizon, beginning to illuminate the city below. How strange it was. The world continues on as if nothing had happened. He could hear his daughter in the other room talking to her friend on her cell phone. Laughter, then a spasmodic string of nearly unintelligible words of teenage lingo delivered at a breathtaking pace. Then quiet whispers of some secret thing shared only with a trusted confidant. Then silence. He turned instinctively to peer through the open door to her bedroom, something Ben insisted on, an open door. He knew teenagers would have secrets, but being a single Dad raising a teenage girl was laden with landmines. He wanted to make sure she didn’t get in any trouble. There was no one there. He knew that. Yet he could still hear her voice. “Where is she?” he thought. He finished his coffee and got ready for the day, thankful it was a weekend so he could take his time.
The thirty-minute drive seemed like an eternity today. He missed her. His thoughts centered around her no matter what he was doing. Every menial task accomplished without conscious thought. That part of his brain that kept him breathing and his heart beating seemed to take over when his will couldn’t make him consider what he was about, whether shaving, dressing or even driving the car to the beach like he was this day. Ben hadn’t seen her for nearly three months. The last time they spoke there were harsh words exchanged. “If I could only see her again, I’d tell her I’m sorry,” he thought. “It was such a pointless argument. It all seems trivial now. Where is she?” The argument played over and over in his head, the screaming, the name calling, her angry tears, the sound of the slamming front door as she left for school that morning. “I thought I was protecting her, but now–” his thought cut off, jolting alert to slam on the brakes to avoid the car in front of him. Ben tried to think of happier times with Caroline as he continued his drive to keep from having a wreck. He recalled the times he drove her to school, listening to their favorite songs on CD, singing as they went. Caroline was happy then, and so was he.
He arrived at the beach. It was a bright sunny day good for soaking up rays. He made his way to the sand and stretched out his towel in a good spot close enough to the water so he could hear the waves and yet far enough back to ‘people watch’. He sat down and watched as the children ran and played in the water, occasionally sprinting back to moms and dads lounging and enjoying a bit of carefree time. Ben smiled. For a moment he forgot. Forgot it all. Forgot the worried nights, wondering what had happened to Caroline. Then it was gone, and the memories came flooding back. Had she ran away out of anger and frustration? Why hadn’t she at least called to say she was ok. Her cell phone had gone straight to voicemail. He must have called her a thousand times. The police hadn’t found any leads from friends, teachers, or surveillance cameras. It took a few days, but tracking cell phone tower pings and some triangulation had narrowed down her last known location, or at least that of her phone, and the police were able to do a more thorough search. Ben recalled that day there was a knock at his door and the two officers standing there. The blank expression and the way their eyes looked. They didn’t have to say a word and he knew, in his heart of hearts, he knew. Ben hung his head and sobbed silently. Others at the beach didn’t notice, and they didn’t notice the small box beside Ben that he rested his hand upon. He still had to identify her body at the police station that day. It didn’t look like Caroline anymore. That was her body, but she was gone. “Where is she?” he thought. It was obvious to Ben that she had been beaten, but the police said that she was also sexually assaulted and found partially clothed with a single gunshot wound. It was the loss of blood that ended her life. Ben was haunted by those thoughts. “How long did she lay there, in pain, suffering? Why couldn’t someone have found her, helped her?” He knew there were no answers, but the same thoughts were there, every morning when he awoke. He had to shake his head, as if that would make them disappear like some mental Etch A Sketch. Ben spent most of the day there, reliving every moment he had with her from the time she was born until the bitter, bitter end. Alternating between smiling now and then, to breaking down uncontrollably.
It was getting on to evening, and the families had all gathered up their things and headed home. He was alone with his thoughts, the beach and the box. He opened it and retrieved the small bag from within. He knew this bag of dust did not contain his daughter, but this was what she had wanted. She loved the ocean and wanted her remains scattered there. Ben made his way to the water's edge. Wading out, the waves began to crash around his ankles, then his knees and he kept going. He was chest deep in the cool ocean water before he stopped. Without hesitation he opened the bag and flung its contents in a wide arc. A subtle breeze carried the remains further out to sea, drifting on the wind and settling down onto the water. Ben had no immediate family. They had all passed on. “No one will miss me,” he thought. Ben strode on, gazing into the sun setting into the water. As he stepped off a ledge and dropped down, taking in that first breath of water, he thought “Where is she?”. With the last image of the setting sun on the horizon still etched in his mind, a new horizon unfolded with a white light so bright he could never have imagined anything like it, and then he saw her. “Caroline! There you are!”
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My biggest suggestion for this is to break up the paragraphs into smaller chunks so that it’s easier to pick out the information. Paragraph indentation doesn’t always copy over from other software if that’s how you’re doing it but it’s worth it for a story that’s easier to read which will improve reader’s enjoyment. I like the odd closure at the end, his light at the end of the tunnel was Caroline, it’s a strangely sweet ending to a grim tale.
Thank you for that feed back. I didn't catch the fact that it didn't correctly copy over my indentations until later. I learned a better way to do it in the future since their editing software leaves a little to be desired. I started using the space and pound sign paragraph markers. # Like this. Seemed to work ok on a later story I did. Thank you again. Mark
The indentation things is one of the more annoying features of reedsy, you should be allowed to edit that later I think.
Thank you both. I really appreciate the feedback. This was my first short story and I hope to write more and more, and write that novel one day. They say to write what you know, and it is in some ways related to things that I've experienced in life. ~Mark
Amazing concept! I found it interesting that death was a release for him, as he was finally reunited with his daughter.
So sad! But beautifully written!