Chapter 1 : Jigsaw Memory
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One too many... One too many... When I don’t pay attention, there are always three forks.
Three words, posed in the same question, Wendell’s worried eyes peek above wire rimmed glasses.
“Are you ok?”
And the two word response
Cue smile. Make sure to wrinkle the eyes. Another thread lose, another hair disheveled. Soon I’ll be bald, but dinner goes on.
I find it difficult to know what I have imagined of my life and what is real now that I am ‘living the dream’. Years seem to have gone by in a blur, and other moments -upon reflection- glow with color, shiny and new, loud and detailed, like televisions that move too fast and see too much to be anything but a recording. The blurry nature of life and reality sucked out for a better picture.
I’m unraveling at the seams.
Alarm goes off, blaring at me in the dark. 6:10 is lit up in big block numbers. The big round button on top has three small dots on it, rough on the skin. Easy to find with sleepy fingertips. Deep breath from Wendell. I scrub my eyes. We do this every morning. His feet, bony and pale, are the first to touch the floor. I will follow after yawning, stretching, and cracking my back. It’s time to go to work.
There’s a wrinkle in my brow that doesn’t seem to go away, instead it sags under the weight of ponderous reflections. Unfinished conjectures ending in question marks pile on top of one another until I can’t see straight and the burden of all my forgetfulness crushes the breath out of me. For a moment I’m a stranger in my own skin, trying to find the pieces of my jigsaw memory.
And still the threads of my sanity are unwinding. There is always one fact, one statement, one thing which seems to be forcefully solidly true. I’ve always dreamed of going away...
Blue gloves, florescent lights, children, parents, grandparents with almost no teeth left sitting in grey chairs and staring at peeling wall paper or brightly colored fish as they go round and round in the pristine aquarium. The jingle of a bell signals their arrival, and I only have a moment to myself between examining all of their mouths. I can see that years of wear has worn the occlusal ridge of the anterior teeth down until they are almost nothing, and I talk to a wrinkled, pockmarked old man about whether or not his speech can be improved with dentures. I take a bite registration with thick, foul smelling goup, box up the sample, and send it to the lab. Another one bites the dust. Breath in. Breathe out. Next patient.
Why did we move so suddenly? We’d always dreamed of going away...
And now we are away. Away from anything familiar, as far as friends and neighbors are concerned. The house is fresh, like new car smell, or laundry warm out of a dryer. Close to the sea, with a good view of clear blue water, the sound of the waves filtering in through wide windows. Not like the house in London with its dark wood accent and white walls. Cottage like and cozy, it was. Sometimes it was silent there, though there seemed to be the echo of laughter hiding in the rafters as we’d packed up to leave, as though there was more than a dream in our life once. Always wanted to go away, but it hurt to leave. Bumps and bruises on the walls seemed precious, as though something momentous has happened in those rooms, within those walls, and I caressed each one before saying goodbye. Now it is all new.
The pictures feel new too. Things from years ago seem different, off center.
“Do you mind if she comes ‘round for dinner?” Wendell asks. I’m surprised. There is no lead up, no absolute definition of who ‘she’ is. Smart. Charming. Polite. I quite enjoy her company and nod. Things are always quiet here, and I’m not sure why it feels so empty. At least now I’ll have an excuse to use all three forks.
Why don’t we have children? Children deserve stability, and we deserve to follow our dream... We’d always dreamed of going away.
Wendell is stalled in the hallway in front of me, starring at the receptionist again. She’s biting the fingernails on one hand and holding a large quantity of bushy brown hair off of her neck with the other. The fact that she is half our age doesn’t escape me. It is the second time this week that I’ve noticed.
Normally, I might be jealous. But I’m not sure what to believe anymore, and it isn’t lust on his face. It’s confusion. Wendell stares at her like I stare at coffee cups. Silverware. Pregnant women. He shakes his head slightly, coughs, and puts another pair of gloves on. I see him stitch a fake smile on, like I do every morning. There’s an eight-year-old in need of a spacer sitting anxiously in the examination room behind him.
We’ve always dreamed of going away.
The pictures feel new, but some things feel old. The pale yellow mug in the back of the counter, growing dust in order to avoid shedding tears. The date on the bottom, seemingly uneventful and useless, is carved into the bottom of the porcelain, untidy scrawl taking up the entire diameter of the mug. Love you! It says cheerfully. Had it been a gift? Who gave it to me?
These questions have no answer. There is only one answer I find these days, but wanting to go away doesn’t explain the mug.
Wendell tells me we must’ve bought it in a yard sale, but still the tears fall if I ever take it from the shelf. “Let’s go out to the beach, Monica.” he will say, “We’ve always wanted to live by the beach...”
But Monica feels like stranger, and the beach feels like a lie.
“It’s very nice to be here,” she says, those doe eyes of hers dropping to the floor before rising to bounce back and forth between us. You and I both have trouble looking away, but it’s rude not pay attention as someone else is introduced. “This is my...boyfriend,” the pause screams that they’ve only been together for a short time. The name escapes me as soon as it leaves her lips. The tall, lanky, ginger youth is restless, shifting his weight from one foot to another. His palms are sweaty as we shake hands. I wonder if this is their first date. There are only three forks on the table.
Drinks, dinner, desert. The young couple entertains us every now and again, and in time I don’t have to force the smile anymore. It is good, having them here. We both enjoy their company. It’s worse when she’s away, the unraveling of my mind. I feel as though she brings a certain focus to my life, though I can’t imagine why.
“This was a lovely day,” I hear her whisper, holding a dusty picture frame up off it’s shelf.
“Can you tell?” I ask, walking up behind her. It is my least favorite picture, the emptiness in the middle glaring out at me.
“I can remember,” she says, and as she turns around I wonder why she has brought a stick inside.
Everything comes back to me in a rush.
I feel like a marshmellow, attempting to shove swollen feet into acceptable shoes. Ten months pregnant, and still no baby.
Pink blankets, pink bows, pink bears, pink beds.
Birthdays, scrapped knees, pig tails, pantyhose, a yellow mug for Mother’s Day.
A letter, from an owl. A hug, a kiss, a wave goodbye.
Tears fill my eyes as I reach out, the pieces of my jigsaw memory finally falling into place. As I hold my daughter for the first time, and the millionth time, I can only choke out, “I remember too, Hermione. I remember...”
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