Tucked inside his father’s arm, Roger listens to his father read the familiar story—“Fee Fie Fo Fum, I smell the blood of an Englishman!”—but something is different. He has never been such a despondent or angry or loud giant. Somehow Roger knows that his father is pitching his voice to penetrate the closed bathroom door, where his mother is taking a bath.

Later Roger goes in to say goodnight, and he sees his mother is not sitting up, as she usually does, her hair in a bun. She is submerged, her hair floats all around her, her eyes are closed. In the fish-shaped soap dish Roger sees three hairpins. She smiles. He has seen his mother naked many times, but only now does she seem exposed, in a way that he doesn’t understand so much as sense. It’s as subtle as the salty scent of blood.

Thirty-five years later Roger is forty-one, in Ashland, Oregon, directing a play. When he tells the actor who plays Othello, “You must seem more paranoid in that scene,” that long-ago evening sails back to him: his mother’s hairpins in the grooved soapdish; his father’s booming, serrated voice.

Pin It on Pinterest