Every year Erik wrote Charles a letter that began:
Please forgive me...
He never asked forgiveness for what Charles considered the most grievous crimes. He never alluded to the politicians he'd blackmailed, the conferences he'd undermined, the bio-weapons he'd funded, the people he'd killed. Usually, he wrote about minor slights that Charles had half forgotten:
Please forgive me for questioning your motives in front of little Jean last December. I don't really question your motives, of course, and I only did it, as you know, to erode her trust in you. It was a cheap trick.
Please forgive me for my hard words when we spoke on the phone in March. I know you were always good to Raven. She knows it too.
The very first letter, however, had been less trivial and, by far, the hardest to read. It ran a mere two sentences:
Please forgive me for my part in your getting shot, and for hitting you that day rather harder than I probably had to. I am sorry about that.
That was all: no explanation, no excuse.
And every year, Charles wrote back some variation on Yes, I forgive you. He meant it too, even that first year, though forgiveness didn't stamp out the occasional flares of his rage for a long, long time. Even so, his forgiveness was always right there, ready at hand before it was asked. How could he possibly not forgive the workings of a heart he knew so thoroughly, when he understood so totally the inner mash that shaped Erik's actions into perverse works of art, eloquent, like Munch's Scream?
He'd mail his brief response to the yearly changing P. O. box that gave him no indication of Erik's actual whereabouts. Erik never replied.
It took three years for Charles to make sense of it. It was November, several weeks after Erik's annual letter, and Charles had been reading in Current Issues in Education about the controversy surrounding comparative religion studies in public schools, when with an almost audible snap, the picture pulled into focus. And he felt enormously goy-ish for not having realized that the letters were a Yom Kippur observance.
The idea sat at the back of his mind all that day and the next. Was there was some ritual response that he should have been making? But after a little background reading and rather more reflection, he decided his responses were all right they way they were.
So every year, he went on forgiving and, wary of upsetting the delicate balance of their correspondence, never mentioned how it warmed his heart to see that one tie to his old human roots, at least, Erik had not thrown away.