by Peter Palmieria
Dr. Lloyd Copeland is a young neurologist who is tormented by the conviction that he has inherited the severe, early-onset dementia that has plagued his family for generations – the very disease which spurred his father to take his own life when Lloyd was just a child. Withdrawn to a life of emotional detachment, he looks for solace in hollow sexual trysts as a way to escape his throbbing loneliness. Still, he clings to the hope that the highly controversial treatment for memory loss he’s been researching will free him from his family’s curse.
But when odd mishaps take place in his laboratory, his research is blocked by a hospital review board headed by Erin Kennedy: a beautiful medical ethicist with a link to his troubled childhood. The fight to salvage his reputation and recover the hope for his own cure brings him face to face with sordid secrets that rock his very self-identity. And to make matters worse, he finds himself falling irretrievably in love with the very woman who seems intent on thwarting his efforts.
Praise for The Art of Forgetting:
"Read this one!" Bobby Garrison, Amazon Reviewer
"Entertaining medical thriller!" Roy Benaroch, MD
"The Art of Forgetting is unforgettable!" Apollonia D., Amazon Reviewer
Chicago, June 6, 1982
“What is my penance, Father?”
For the past five weeks Anne Langdon had come to Wednesday afternoon confession, sometimes waiting for the other penitents to leave before stepping into the box to disclose her petty transgressions: returning a book to the library past its due date, slipping into a movie matinee and then fibbing about it to her husband, pretending not to be home when Mrs. Murphy, that crusty owl of a next door neighbor, rang her door bell to borrow a cup of sugar.
It seemed as though Mrs. Langdon were holding something back. Father Roy felt it the day he bumped into her in the canned food aisle of the supermarket. She had startled when he said hello, dropping the can of green beans whose label she’d been inspecting, and blushed when he’d kneeled to pick it up. And he had felt it during mass when his gaze fell upon her eyes as he delivered his sermons. Sad serious eyes. Beseeching eyes, glazed with a somber emptiness. In her mid-twenties, Mrs. Langdon had the mien that Father Roy had only seen in souls burdened by the yoke of a life-long secret too shameful to reveal.
Now, he spied her through the grid separating the compartments of the confessional. Motes of dust floated in the hazy light which outlined her profile, the effect making her seem even younger – plain yet exuding that curiously poignant allure borne of vulnerability: the naïve appearance of a peasant saint. She smiled as if they were sharing a moment of innocent intimacy.
“What is my penance, Father?” she asked again.
He leaned towards the grid. “Is there anything else you wanted to tell me?”
She took a deep breath and looked down at her hands which lay folded on her lap. “Yesterday, I was looking out my kitchen window at my neighbor’s back yard. She has a row of tulips; yellow, pink and red, all lined up like perfect soldiers. And suddenly – I really don’t know how the thought got in my head – I imagined what it would feel like to step on them; to crush the flowers under my feet. And I felt such a thrill, as if I were really doing it. I just stomped and stomped and stomped, and I could see, in my mind’s eye, how the stems were left all bent, the petals torn, but what’s more… I could feel them under my feet.”
A bang echoed in the church. A worshipper had dropped a kneeler in a nearby pew.
“I could feel it, Father,” she whispered. “It was absolutely delicious.”
“You didn’t trample Mrs. Murphy’s flower bed now, did you?”
“I did in my heart.”
“I don’t think that rises to the level of a transgression.”
“But Father, isn’t it a sin when we think something... when we think of something so much that we start to feel it with every fiber in our body.” She was breathing heavily now. She looked at him through the grid, her eyes watery, her lips slightly parted. “Isn’t that a sin, Father, when you imagine the impossible and live it in your thoughts?”
Father Roy brought his fist up to his mouth, turned his head slightly and coughed. He felt a bead of sweat trickle down his back. Mrs. Langdon’s demeanor, the shape of her mouth, the subtle heaving of her chest thrust forward like an unexpected belch the memory of that summer his family vacationed in Door County before his sophomore year in high school – the last family vacation. He had met a girl – Kathleen was her name – the daughter of a man who sold fresh produce out of an old, converted gas station. Auburn hair, lanky legs bronzed by the sun and lively green eyes that beamed with all the incandescent self-assurance of sixteen-year-old beauties.
Roy’s mother referred to her as “that jaunty lass”.
“Do you intend to whittle away the afternoon with that jaunty lass again, Roy?”
“Her name is Kathleen.”
“The way she looks at you…”
“We’re just friends, mother.”
One afternoon they had gone swimming on a secluded rocky beach; not another soul in sight. When Roy inched his way deeper in the lake, toes curled, arms raised as if he had a gun pointed at him, gasping as the frigid water lapped at his waist, Kathleen chopped the placid surface of the lake with an outstretched palm spraying chilly droplets across his back. Roy arched his spine and jutted out his shoulder blades as if in the throes of a spasm while the jaunty lass snorted and snickered.
“It’s not funny!”
She splashed again and giggled.
“I’m warning you, you little vixen.”
Kathleen’s jaw dropped at this last word but then her eyes lit up and again she started splashing with renewed zeal using both hands.
Roy chased her in the shallow waters, plodding clumsily on the smooth pebbles that rolled and shifted under his feet. She attempted a half-hearted escape, trudging backwards, but soon Roy was upon her (she, by now, paralyzed by howls of laughter) and he wrapped his arms around her.
“So you think that’s funny? You think that’s funny? Now I’m gonna dunk you. Let’s see how funny that is!” He grinned at her with clenched teeth as he gaped in those bottomless emerald eyes.
She grabbed his shoulders, pressed them, kneading his taut muscles. “As if you can,” she said in a tantalizing voice.
He widened his eyes, then squeezed her more tightly, lifted her off her feet. She palmed the nape of his neck, just pitting his skin with her nails. Roy plopped her back on her feet and they wrestled playfully, reveling in the contact of their bare flesh. At last, he was able to grab both her forearms just above the wrists and immobilize her as she twisted her torso.
Then Roy saw her as he had never seen a girl. Her chest was heaving, her skin glistening with tiny droplets, her auburn hair tousled over half her face, her white bikini top pushed below her left breast exposing a bright pink nipple. He let go of her arms, took a step back. She said nothing, just stared at him, her mouth open, breathing more heavily still. Then she lowered the rest of the bikini top letting it flip over her toned midriff. Roy gawked at her smooth, downy skin, at the pale, plump breasts. His Adam’s apple lurched up towards his throat. She gently clasped his wrists, brought his hands to her breasts and pressed her open mouth to his lips.
“Isn’t it a sin to have some thoughts, Father Roy?” Mrs. Langdon said in a near whisper.
Father Roy was breathless. “About tulips?” he asked, attempting to sound nonchalant, but his voice quivered.
“As a man, do you ever feel the urge to –”
“I am not the one in confession, sister,” Roy said. It was not the first time someone had tried to ask him that question – a query impertinent souls seemed compelled to ask a young priest with the looks of a Hollywood movie star.
“I’m so ashamed, Father. I don’t know what’s happened to me. I just don’t know what to do any more.”
Father Roy grasped the silver crucifix hanging over his chest and rubbed it between thumb and forefinger. He considered giving a short discourse on the tenth commandment but decided on a more pragmatic approach.
“When our path grows dim and we’re in peril of losing our way, it’s helpful to remind ourselves of our commitments. Our commitments define who we are. When I step in the shadows, I remind myself of the covenant I made with God.”
“My husband sickens me.”
The suddenness of the statement left Father Roy speechless.
“We haven’t had sex in over six months,” she said. “I wanted you to know that.”
“The Diocese offers couple’s therapy for marital conflicts. Perhaps –”
“Couple’s therapy!” Mrs. Langdon said with a sour chuckle. She shook her head. “I’m such a fool. For some reason I was under the impression that we…” She pulled a crumpled handkerchief out of her handbag, dabbed her nose and sniffled. “Tell me my penance, Father.”
Roy hesitated. “Your penance is to reflect on the holy sacraments of our church. And… say a rosary.”
“Am I absolved of my sins?”
Father Roy made the sign of the cross, trying not to make it appear perfunctory and said, “Go in peace, sister.”
He listened to the clicking of her heels resonating off the church’s tiled floor as she walked away, brought a knuckle to his lips and inhaled deeply through his nose. How was it that he had still not learned to recognize when women were attracted to him? Was he doing something to garner this type of attention? Could he whole-heartedly deny that he enjoyed it?
A figure entered the confessional and sat heavily on the wooden bench. “Forgive me father, for I’m about to sin.”
The musty smell of stale beer and sweat permeated the enclosed space making Father Roy sit back and turn away.
“How long has it been since –”
“You know damn well the last time I went to church, Roy.”
“Andrew?” Father Roy studied the silhouette through the perforated partition. “Is something wrong?”
“It started, Roy.”
“It has begun. How did Churchill phrase it? Not the end of the beginning but the beginning of the end… or maybe I’m saying it all wrong. I don’t know, you’re the one with the fancy schooling.”
“Maybe we should go in the Parish office.”
“It’s been going on for months. I know you’ve seen it too. You just didn’t want to say anything and of course I’ve been trying to hide it. That’s the Copeland family way, isn’t it? Ignore things, deny they’re happening, hide all the evidence and go about your business with a stiff upper lip. Isn’t that what Pops did?”
About the Author:
Peter Palmieri was raised in the eclectic port city of Trieste, Italy. He returned to the United States at the age of 14 with just a suitcase and an acoustic guitar. After attending public high school in San Diego, California, he earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Animal Physiology from the University of California, San Diego. He received his medical degree from Loyola University Stritch School of Medicine and completed his pediatric training at the University of Chicago and Loyola University Medical Center. More recently, he was awarded a Healthcare MBA by The George Washington University. A former student of Robert McKee's Story seminar and the SMU Writer's Path program, and a two-time attendee of the SEAK Medical Fiction seminar taught by Tess Gerritsen and Michael Palmer, Peter is now busy practicing general pediatrics at a large academic medical center while working on his next medical suspense.
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