Ethan wondered if he was a sociopath. The man on TV was an actor in what his Dad called a “crime drama”. The man was testifying to the jury about sociopaths. Although Ethan was only six, he understood the testimony clearly. The man was saying that a sociopath doesn’t feel remorse, so Ethan decided he wasn’t a sociopath. When he did something bad he felt bad and tried not to do it again.
He knew he was special in another way. He had what the psychologist on a talk show called an eidetic memory. He used to be confused as to why both his Mom and Dad might say something like “What was the name of that guy we met?” How could they not know? There were there when he told them his name. That made no sense until he saw the psychologist explaining it. He then realized that most people’s memories were broken. They remembered some stuff and not other stuff. Some stuff they remembered wrong! No wonder they did dumb things.
“Go get me another beer!”.
Ethan’s revery was broken by the impact of the empty beer can glancing off his temple. That was what his Dad thought he needed to help him pay attention. As he went to the fridge for another Coors, he thought once again how glad he was for what he had seen from the top of the stairs as his Mom watched a late night documentary. The narrator said how it was always best to say nothing and then people would underestimate you. Since then Ethan talked rarely. His Mom was worried he was “slow”. Everyone underestimated him, so it must be working.
“About time.” That was the closest his Dad might come to saying thanks.
Not only could Ethan remember every time his Dad had hit him with a beer can, but he could also remember exactly what he was smelling when it happened. All five senses, that’s what the psychologist had said eidetic memory meant. He could remember the smell of his Mom’s blood every time his Dad sent her to emergency room. He could recall her exactly words as she made excuses for him. It must be the nurse’s broken memory that would explain why she thought his Mom could fall down the stairs six different times.
Ethan learned a lot from TV. Both his Mom and Dad watched it a lot. His Dad, in particular, had no qualms about watching R-rated movies when Ethan was in the room. R-rated movies teach you a lot about life without you having to actually live it. His Dad liked crime dramas a lot, so Ethan knew lots of ways to commit murder even though he had never committed one. Of course, that was before Tuesday night.
His first idea was provided by a show called How Things Are Made. It showed how thermometers are manufactured, so he knew he could get mercury out of one if he broke it. In yet another crime drama a lady poisoned her husband with mercury slowly over time, and the guy suffered a lot. Ethan figured his Dad wouldn’t taste a little mercury in his Coors. But then he remembered how the movie detectives always suspected the spouse first. His Mom would be suspected of poisoning him, so Ethan came up with a better plan.
Tuesday night his Dad was taking a bath and having Ethan fetch him beers to drink in the tub. Ethan came in at one point with an old clock radio his Dad had bought at a garage sale for two dollars. His Dad said, “What the hell are you doing?”, when he saw Ethan carrying it. His Dad said, “What the hell are you doing?”, when Ethan plugged it into the wall. His Dad said, “Are you out of your mind?” as Ethan threw it into the tub. Then his Dad made different noises.
As soon as the radio hit the water sparks flew and the lights went out as the breaker tripped. His Dad was moaning and grabbing his chest. Ethan knew what he was doing was definitely “premeditated” — as the detectives would say — when he went back to the breaker panel and flipped the switch off and on repeatedly while the lights flickered and his Dad screamed.
Later he tried to feel bad about what he had done but didn’t. Maybe he was a sociopath. But when his Mom, who, unlike the detectives, knew his Dad never listened to a clock radio in the bath, looked at him with fear in her eyes, that did bother him. So, maybe he wasn’t a sociopath. As they say on TV, “the jury is out”.