The thing about bruises is that they heal.

Papa: beat big sister's legs with one of the long vacuum tubes and then dragged her by the hair. She cowered. This is what we think we remember. It happened in a matter of minutes — two, maybe three.

Mama and Papa: married on leap year. Papa says they eloped. He says they didn't know that it was leap year. Each time he tells this story, we — his children — don't really believe. This same time every year he remembers. She carried a rag doll and wore a yellow dress when he came to take her away from a home that she wanted so desperately to forget.

Regret: Not knowing is not the same, as not remembering.

Even if someone had taken photos, no one would have believed that this man could have done such a thing. He appears ordinary and sweet.

Who would attribute such cruelty to this man who walks around the house in bare feet? Whose hands used to caress the dog's belly before stirring the homemade soup for his family?

One imagines a child beater as one with a permanent scowl or steel-toed boots on his feet.

Papa: doesn't remember exactly what kind of doll Mama held as they held each other in the spare room in the house of his navy mate, or what material the yellow dress was made of or if it was plain or decorated with checkers or flowers, or clasped closed or zipped. He does remember that both the doll and Mama were soft and sweet.

Regret: Maybe at the same time that he raised the tube, he remembered the splatter of hot oil on the skin of his arms and forehead, the oil left unattended in the frying pan, or the time when his mother made him kneel on salt on the floor while holding several books in both hands. Whenever he tells this story, he makes sure to admit what a naughty little boy he had been.

When he was just a little boy in the Philippines, he sang little tunes for the American soldier who handed him a candy bar. He didn't have a secret hiding place like other little boys. His cousin, the one with the mean streak, kept him safe from bullies and Japanese soldiers and their cruelty.

He says that keeping pets is really a form of cruelty. Animals were meant to run wild and free.

Papa: says he never wielded the tube as an instrument of punishment that day. He says he can't remember — no he could never — do such a thing.

Regret: Even if you showed him photos, bruises don't come easily.

His mean-streaked cousin, older than him by only four years, lived into his 40s and not surprisingly, drank consistently.

At the time of the alleged beating, Polaroid cameras were in fashion. But they were used (ordinarily) to record happy things — holiday celebrations, birthdays and costume parties.

A monkey that belonged to an army officer bit him in the leg when he was seven. He didn't kill it or beat it over the head because he was still a little boy and the monkey wasn't his pet.

He used to call big sister, when she was small, Little Princess, instead of by her real name. He's surprised we remember that.

He used to call the occupying soldiers "those mean Japs — each one of them — mean and cruel, through and through."

Papa: as a little boy, witnessed a Japanese soldier blow off the top of a woman's head. Blow a man's guts out so that his little son tried for the longest time to hold them in.

Now that he's an old man, Papa, a navy vet, has forgiven them. He doesn't call them names. He doesn't speak much about World War II — or any other war for that matter — but of more ordinary, mundane things.

Regret: Most often he hides away in his office that is also his bedroom — the one with the doorknob that doesn't have a lock. He keeps the door shut, even though he lives alone, by inserting a little piece of cardboard between the door and the frame. It's not so easily opened.

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