Chapter One of Innocence, a novel by James Lewelling

It is an extraordinary coincidence that on the morning of the day of my incapacitating accident, my mother called to tell me that Moira had committed suicide. I had just returned from dropping my daughters off at school and was getting ready to mop up the apartment when the phone rang. I picked it up immediately. My mother was on the other end. She had bad news, she said, and then she told me Moira had committed suicide. Moira’s father—my uncle—had found her, my mother said. Moira had been visiting them—my aunt and uncle—and then gone home. She hadn’t called them when she got home as she usually did, and then she hadn’t answered the phone when my uncle called her. My uncle figured something must be wrong so he drove out to her place and that’s when he found her. She was dead. She had taken pills. She had left a note. She didn’t want anyone to blame themselves for her death, my mother said. The note was a kind of apology. It also included instructions for her funeral, my mother said. I didn’t know what to say to my mother. I hadn’t been close to Moira since childhood. In fact, I hadn’t even spoken to Moira in more than ten years. Still the news of her death came as quite a shock. In fact, for several long moments, I could only sit there at my desk with the phone pressed to my ear, speechless, but then I told my mother how sorry I was that such a thing had happened. She said she was sorry too, and then she hung up.
I was alone in the apartment. I had the mop out and the bucket full of sudsy water and had picked everything up off the floors. I was all ready to go, as they say, but I could hardly begin mopping the floor as I had intended before my mother called. To do so would have been like continuing my day as if nothing had happened. It wouldn’t be decent, I thought, sitting at my desk. I should do something, I thought. I would write to my aunt and uncle, I knew. But I would write to them later. Whatever I wrote would have to be carefully considered, I was thinking. I hadn’t seen Moira in more than ten years and hadn’t been close to her since we were kids—a long, long time ago. I felt bad and wanted to share that but at the same time I didn’t want to write something either phony or generic. Also, I was in shock.
I think it was the idea of her father finding her that shocked me even more than the suicide itself. Hearing the news that my uncle had found his daughter dead in her apartment—dead by her own hand—I couldn’t help but imagine for a fraction of a second, me finding one of my own daughters—in some hazy hypothetical future—dead in her apartment, dead by her own hand. Such a scene was inconceivable to me as undoubtedly, even given the situation Moira had been in for some time, it had been inconceivable to my uncle before he had been forced to take part in it. In fact, sitting there at my desk with the phone still in my hand and the mop in the bucket leaning against the wall behind me, I felt momentarily that I had passed through an invisible door into a strange and unreal world.
It’s like a car accident, I thought, still sitting at my desk with the phone in my hand.
You might feel, upon hearing of the death of someone you know in a car accident, I was thinking, that you have passed through an invisible door into a strange and unreal world. You might feel shocked even though you regarded the occurrence of car accidents as commonplace even predictable events in the modern world. Everyone feels shocked when someone they know is killed in a car accident. What’s more they feel shocked even when the person who was killed in the car accident might have been expected to be killed in a car accident, for example, in the case of reckless drivers or the elderly who are nearing the very end of their driving lives. Even in those cases—cases in which you may even have warned the future car accident fatality that if he or she continued to drive like that—that is recklessly—or indeed continued to drive at all—in the case of the elderly—he or she could more or less expect to be killed in a car accident, you are bound to feel shocked when you learn that person has indeed been killed in a car accident and even feel, momentarily, that you have passed through an invisible door into a strange and unreal world.
Why, then, if one is rarely, if ever, shocked when someone one doesn’t know is killed in a car accident? I was thinking, still sitting at my desk with the phone in my hand.
Having someone one doesn’t know be killed in a car accident is the most normal thing in the world, I thought. In fact, one can even read about the rate of car accidents in one’s vicinity or globally—and thereby be informed of the killings of hundreds or even thousands or even millions of past and future strangers—without experiencing even the mildest of shocks or any hint of the sensation that one has passed into a strange and unreal world. Quite the contrary, on reading about the rate of car accidents—and thereby learning of the traffic deaths of hundreds or even thousands or even millions of perfect strangers—one is filled rather with an almost numbing sensation of normality.
I put down the phone.
In the case of Moira, I thought, one could have expected her to commit suicide because she was depressed. What’s more she had been depressed for a long time. She had been depressed for years. Not only had she been depressed, but she had been clinically depressed, as they say. That is, her depression had been diagnosed by professionals and she had been universally recognized as one who suffered from a debilitating condition. In fact, I was fairly certain, due to her depression, she even collected disability payments from the government in the same way she might have done had she been blind say or paralyzed from the neck down. A person in a situation like that—depressed to the point of disability—I thought—is bound to commit suicide sooner or later. What’s more, the longer such a situation persisted, the more likely the person in it would be to commit suicide. One could not sustain oneself indefinitely in such a situation, I thought.
I got up from the desk, grabbed the bucket and the mop from the corner and carried them to my daughters’ room, where I started mopping.
James Lewelling’s latest novel, Little Rooms, came out this year from Deep Sett Press. His second novel, Tortoise, was published by Calamari Press in 2008 and his first, This Guy, by Spuyten Duyvil in 2005. James’ short fiction has appeared in a variety of literary venues ranging from The Cream City Review to The Stranger to The Evergreen Review to Fence. James has been writing fiction since 1988 while at the same time teaching and working abroad in Morocco (as a Peace Corps volunteer), Turkey and for the last ten years here in the United Arab Emirates. Presently, continues writing fiction while teaching writing at Khalifa City Women’s College in Abu Dhabi.