I remember: when I was six, we strolled together one morning along the beach. The tide was low, and dad picked up a shell, an empty, twisted shell of a sea snail, that had washed up on shore.
He handed it to me, saying, “Here, Ben. Keep it. It is a gift.”
My father taught me then how to hold it to my ear and listen, listen with all my being; because, he said, the sound of the waves had been caught, somehow, inside it, which is a secret only few people know, because it only becomes clear if you stay there, very still, and forget everything else for a while. The sound, dad promised, would always remain—even if you took the shell far, far away from here, say, to the city, or to Santa Monica Mountains, out there. Even so, you would still hear it.
I remember doubting him. I thought, Oh well. High tide, low tide. Nothing stays. Nothing is forever.
I admit, in the past few days I have judged him harshly. Now I know, I can tell where I might have gone wrong. When the old man says, “The day is shorter, it seems. And the shorter it is—the more precious each minute,” it is not his life he is thinking about. Perhaps, it is mine.
My father is doing his best to hold things together. Memory is a fragile thing. So he is trying to capture the moment, perhaps for my sake. At least, the sound of it. One day, if—if like my mother, I shall start losing it, my memory, I mean—I want to believe that dad will be there, as close to me as once he was, holding it to my ear.
Time in a fold of brain. The ocean in a shell.
I pick the papers from the floor, which is where they have been trampled on, and I flatten them under the golden lamplight, which warms the tips of my fingers. This is my story, I tell myself. This is me, fifteen years ago. Here is my voice. Here is his gift to me.
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Volume II: The White Piano