Memory: A Short Story

I don’t know anything about blogging and nothing has really happened today, but I’ve got this short story that I’d love some feedback on (honesty is super-appreciated!) so here it is:

            A steady rain has begun to drip out of the sky, soaking through the torn and bloody blanket that I have wrapped myself in. I open my mouth and let the droplets fall down towards my throat. A man runs past splashing dirty water onto my face. I close my eyes.

            I remember things when I sleep. I remember being clean. I remember being warm. I remember being dry. Sometimes at night, when the street is empty and the rain has stopped and there is nothing to pull me from my dreams, I remember her.

***

            When I wake I find that someone has emptied my sack and taken all of my food. I can see the corner of the Polaroid peeking out of the dull brown canvas. I wish whoever it was would have put it where I could see her face. I try once again to reach out and grasp the picture. Only a small spasm of my hand tells me that my muscles are trying to respond to my pleading.

            I let out a soft laugh that reminds me of the sounds that people make with their feet as they walk in the gravel next to me. If my parents knew what had happened they would think they were right. I know they are not. She was worth everything, even this. When I close my eyes again water runs over my lids and fills my ears. I wish I could pour it out into the street where it belongs, but it stays, dampening the sounds of the traffic that thunder above me.

            I picture them: my mother is sipping a glass of tea; my father is kneeling over his garden in his sweaty hat. They speak of me; they wonder what has happened to me.

            Each motion, each word, are ones that I have seen before. I patch them together to construct the scene. My life is a collage of memories. It sits before me, an incomplete picture; the pieces are messy and sticky from glue; they are covered in the dirt and grime of the street in which I live. Sometimes I see the world that I have constructed and believe that it is real; it has been so long since I have seen the true picture.

            My face is always wet and streaked with dirt and mud; my mouth is always full of salty water. My throat is always tight; my heart is always pushing in on itself. I wish that I could cry and know that I was crying. I wish that I could cry, and she could know that I was crying.

***

            I pray now as I lay in my soggy blankets. I pray that my arm will move again, just once, and that I will be able to reach out and touch the picture. The cars that tear past on the interstate above me make the concrete echo with thunder.

            A woman rushes down the street; when she looks at me her pale blue eyes turn quickly away. She clutches her bag to her chest and her heels begin to click faster as she gets closer. She does not know that I cannot move; she does not know that even if I could she would still be safe.

***

            I feel as though I have drowned. I am trapped in the water that flows around me; it soaks into my skin. The rain has not stopped all day; I cannot remember what I need to remember.

            I can remember cool nights on the farm catching fireflies with my father. I can remember my mother’s scolding gaze as she catches me dipping my finger into the jar of jam. I can remember moving to this place; I can remember my parents’ anxious pleas to stay with them. I can remember everything except for her. She escapes me the way that I wish that I could escape this life.

***

            I cannot feel the water anymore. I cannot feel anything. Pieces of my life with her flash in my mind. I see the bright green paint in the shiny bottle; she moves her arm in careful strokes covering each nail; her hair hides the face that I know is beautiful. I see her standing in the doorway of our home; her body is outlined by the golden light of the sun as she leans against the doorframe. I see her prancing in front of the mirror admiring her new full round belly. I see her sprawled languidly on the couch with her hand in the bag of Oreos; her smile is sheepish as she catches me watching her.

            The man who has been sleeping next to the concrete slab a few feet away from me for the last two days wanders towards me. He kicks my knapsack and curses when he finds that someone has already taken everything from it. The picture of my wife falls back into the empty black crevasse. The collage I have formed in my mind is torn apart and I am left with shreds of memories.

***

            I wake to find a sandwich wrapped in plastic lying next to me. A bill is tucked into my hand. I imagine that it was her.

            I imagine that she is walking the streets again; she is carrying her duffle bag full of turkey sandwiches. She has gone to the bank and taken out one-hundred dollars; all of it is in five-dollar bills. The filthiest men and women are the ones that she picks; each receives five dollars, a sandwich, and a smile. Some of them smile in return, but most simply murmur something unintelligible: none try to hide the look of shock that passes their faces. Why this woman is helping them is something that they cannot understand. Neither can I.

***

            I begin to remember and this time it is what I need to remember.

She is almost six months pregnant. I am working on a case that has me spending most of my time at the office. I want to finish soon, before her swollen belly grows even more, so I stay later than I need to. When I return home the house is empty. The kitchen is a mess of mayonnaise and there are empty bread bags everywhere. I spend a few hours cleaning up and try to ignore the worry that has started to creep into me. A stinging bleachy smell pours from the little kitchen when I leave it. Sitting on the couch, I read the same page of a magazine article for two more hours before she shows up.

  The fear that has been growing inside of my chest tears its way out in a spew of angry words. She is not safe out there and I want her to know it. Her condition has made it even more dangerous, and she has already promised never to go out after dark.

  She laughs when I remind her of these things. That one laugh floats through the room and screeches into my ears. I begin to scream at her; I want her to feel what I am feeling now. I want her to be the one who has been worrying for the past six hours. I want her to feel the jagged mockery of her laugh. I want her to love me enough to give up her kindness.

            The man from the concrete pillar nudges my side with his boot and pulls me from this memory that I have been seeking. He already took the sandwich a while ago, but the folded bill remains in my hand. I assume that he is checking to see if I am dead yet; he has too much principle to take a dying man’s only possessions; fortunately he won’t mind taking from a dead man and I know that I at least will have helped him in some way. I blink at him and he kneels next to me. His knees hover over my body and he rests on his heels; he peers into my face. After a thorough examination he seems satisfied that I will die – soon – and he wanders back over to his blanket.

            I cannot remember anything now. The rest of what I need to know has slipped once again away from me, and all I can think of is the feel of the rain as it drops steadily onto my face.

***

            The pain has returned. I do not know if it ever really left. It spreads through my body and throbs into my limbs. It has been five days.

            I was eager to share the prize I had found: a sack full of cold hamburgers. I had been on the streets for four years and still I did not think of myself as one of them. I do not think of myself that way, even now. I am just a man, a man trying to do what his wife could not. I should have seen the car. I didn’t, and now I am dying.

            I am glad that I reached my blankets before the pain overtook me. I am glad that I am near her picture. I wish that I could see it again. The bag is not even a foot away but I did not think of it when I could still move. And now I am dying; there is something that I need to remember before I can go though. It is important. I can’t remember.

            I remember Joel; the man who was once my best friend. I remember him telling me what a good catch I’d made after I told him that we had eloped. He is showing off the small chip in his tooth as he grins into my face wishing that it was him. I remember the entire scene; it is the first complete memory I’ve had since the accident. It means nothing; I cannot remember what is important. I squeeze my eyes closed. I wish that I could remember her; I need to remember her.

***

            It is Halloween. The Tina Turner that walks past me now is nothing compared to the three I have seen already. Sloppy words fall out of her mouth as she leans on a grossly overweight clown. They do not acknowledge me. A girl dressed in pastels and carrying a pair of wings looks at me guiltily; she does not stop. Her hair reminds me of my wife’s. I wish that I could tell them all to go home. I wish that they would leave me. The rain has not stopped all night, but they are used to it. They do not notice the heavy droplets that soak their costumes. They do not leave, and I cannot remember.

***

            The rumble of the cars racing across the viaduct that towers above me shakes me from my sleep. I am shivering. The memory stays; it clings stickily to my mind unwilling to let go as I awake. I am glad, though it is not what I need to remember.

                        She is smiling brightly as she shows me the list of names that she has chosen: Mason, Bella, Gavin, Elijah, Willow, Shamus, Elliot, Savannah, Sage. The day after she finds out about our baby and she is already presenting me a list of potential names. I laugh as I rest my hand on her head. There is no pattern in her choices. Both boys’ and girls’ names are on the list with no order. Old English, Gaelic, southern, and even Native American names appear on the list. I am six-sixteenths Irish, she is from New York, and neither of us is Native American. I point this out and she rolls her eyes.  I tell her the list can wait and pull her from the couch. Her laugh is high and light – like a child’s – as she follows me to our room.

            It has left me. My consciousness has fought away the memory. I am left listening to the echoes of booming concrete. The man that sleeps next to the concrete pillar moans every few minutes as he sleeps. I strain to see him; he is only visible when I push my eyes far up towards the top of my head. It would be easier if I could move. I wonder what he was before this. I wonder if he is like me. I decide he is not; there is no pain in his face that could mirror my own. I am alone in my guilt. I am alone because I have experienced something that he has not. I am alone because I lost everything. I am alone because he never had anything to lose. I am alone because I lost everything, and I know somehow that it was my fault.

***

            It is the second loudest hour of the day. The people wander around carrying lattes and tofu sandwiches. The sounds of traffic as people rush back to their jobs after lunch is deafening.         The memory drifts into my mind unassuming and unexpectedly. I am frightened. I am dying, and today I have already had one memory while I was awake. I must be near the end. God will not let me die until I have remembered, but I am sure that He is pushing the memories on me now. He will not let me die until I have remembered, but He knows that I do not deserve to live, either.

                        This time I see her standing in the kitchen. A sticky brown mess is running over the sides of the pot that she holds in her hands. Her mascara makes a black muddy-looking puddle underneath her eyes and her nose is swollen. Her embarrassed smile tells me that she does not want me to notice. I asked if she has been crying, though I already know what she will say. Her answer is always no, even when the tears are still falling. I make a guess at what she is trying to fix and she threatens to dump it on my brand-new suit if I don’t leave her alone. We order pizza and sit on the porch. The scent of evergreens almost overpowers the smell of pepperonis and grease as we slouch on our swing.

            My stomach growls and I curse my body. I have not eaten since the accident; it has not bothered me before. I wish it did not bother me now. I cannot eat; even if I had food, I would not be able to even bring it to my mouth. I try to smile, but I am not able to do even that anymore. I am not overweight now, I think, and know that my doctor would much rather the twenty extra pounds to the condition that I am in now.

Concrete pillar man is gnawing on beef jerky and studying my shoes. I wonder why he hasn’t given up already. I wish that I could. I need to remember first, though, and I haven’t yet. God would have let me die two days ago, if the man hadn’t been greedy enough to come and examine me. He had caused himself a few more days of waiting simply because he had been too impatient. It was his fault that the memory had stopped; God had given me the memory that I needed and that man had destroyed it. I begin to panic as I think of this. I am afraid that God will not trust me with the memory again.

***

I watch as the last few people return to their jobs. Some of them toss a couple of coins towards me. I close my eyes and force the memory to begin again. If I think about the first part of the memory enough, maybe God will give me the rest. I force the scene to play over in my mind.

  She is almost six months pregnant and I am working late at the office. When I get home, she has gone out on one of her missions, leaving a mess behind. I scrub everything in the kitchen with Clorox and try to fight the fear that I feel. When I can do no more, I try to finish the article she had told me I should read. My eyes scan the page for hours and never process the clichéd words about what to expect when you’re expecting.

  When she walks in the door, I begin to yell at her. She has promised to stay home after dark. She is not only putting her life in danger, she could hurt our baby too. The streets are dangerous.

  When she laughs at my pleading, I begin to scream. I want her to be the one who is in pain.  I tell her that since she cares about those people so much, she should go live with them. She should see if they’ll give her a home; she should see if they’ll keep her fed. I tell her that I would rather that she lived with them; I would not have to stay up all night scared for her. I do not mean it, but she is angry and she pretends to think that I do. When she walks out of the door, I do not stop her.

  I decide to give her three hours before I go after her. It is raining and cold and she will be soaked by then. In three hours she will be ready to come home. I decide to try to sleep some; I cannot sacrifice my progress on the case just because she has suddenly become childish and selfish. I curl up on the couch with an afghan and close my eyes.

  A harsh light shining into my eyes wakes me; I have slept longer than I wanted. It is day now. My fingers are clumsy as they hurry to tie my laces. I am sure she is alright, but I am still scared.

  I find her underneath the viaduct just a few miles from our house. There is blood everywhere. The gravel beneath her body is stained red with it. When she sees me she tells me the baby is gone. I do not hear her; I am trying to pick her up. She tells me that she is dying. I do not listen. She tells me to leave her here; she tells me to sit with her until she dies. I struggle to lift her body. By the time I reach the end of the block she is dead.

            This time I know that I am crying. I have remembered what I needed to. This is the place. The gravel where the man from the concrete pillar rests his blankets is the gravel that she stained with her blood and our son’s blood. This is the place that I stood and cursed all of the needy people; this is the place where I tried to blame them for her death. I cannot run from this; I will die here and all I can feel now is guilt. God has punished me. I blamed the homeless for her death; God knew that it was my fault and he has made me one of them.

            The man from the concrete pillar knows that I am almost dead. He kneels at my feet in what looks like prayer; I know he is just waiting for my last breath so he can take my shoes.

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2 Responses

  1. Very good, very sad. I love empty word docs too, but never seem to have time anymore. At one point I thought I’d write for a living, but it takes SO MUCH time and discipline!

  2. Amazing writing, I loved all the detail, you made it realistic. Glad to find your blog.

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