As if She’d Come to Collect Memories

I thought I’d share one of my creative non fiction stories. This was published in The SFU Writer’s Studio Emerge anthology.


Salt Spring Island Chain In Water

As Epiphanies Go

Her psychiatrist gave her an ultimatum.

“Him or me. You’ll have to choose.  I can’t work with you if you continue to go back to him.”

He was 57. A father. Part-time college instructor.

Favourite things?: Pot. Sex. Cigarettes. Baseball. Dogs. Birds. Red wine. Crown Royal. The Simpsons. T.S. Eliot. Teaching. Stan Rogers. Journalism. The CBC. That was him.

She was 37.  In therapy, in part, because of him. And the one before him and the one before that. Take your pick. That was her.

This time she opted for self preservation and she finally stopped seeing him.   Then, about a year later, she decided to call his number. The recorded voice on the other end said, “This number is no longer in service.”

She was confused. Had he moved? Had it been that long since she’d talked to him? She felt compelled to check in even though she knew it was probably a bad idea. Something inside of her wouldn’t let her not go see him.

She drove south across a bridge where industry lines up behind ditches, fish boats tower in dry dock and the road to the marina T-bones at the river. Turn left, drive all the way to the end, you’re there.

She got out and walked down the metal ramp to the dock below. Her footsteps crunched on the frosty deck.  It was October 31. Halloween. When she stepped onto the porch, his floating home dipped slightly. She opened the screen door and knocked hard. She told herself that no matter what he said, she wasn’t going anywhere. She wanted to talk to him.

After a long absence, the place looked even more dilapidated than she’d remembered. It was the first time she’d realized that its outsides were a likeness of his insides: worn.

She’d knocked louder the second time and when he opened the door, and the sun streamed into his eyes, he hesitated until he saw that it was her. She thought she detected a smirk.  He stared at her briefly.

It was a surprised pause. Then,  all he said was “Come in.”

She gave him a hug and he responded, loosely, as if he was already somewhere else.

“What the hell’s wrong with your phone?”

He shrugged. She noticed and ignored it.

As they moved to sit down, she was nervous. Small talk. So unlike them. She scanned the room as if she’d come to collect memories.  The wooden bookshelves, his flat pipe, the blue tea tin he kept his pot in.  The way the sun streamed through the dusty blinds and hit the bottom step on the stairs that led to his bedroom.  His dog. His cat.  That ugly chair, the one he was sitting in, the one she hated that bled white stuffing because it doubled as the cat’s scratching post.  Even the smell, nicotine damp and river moldy. She took it all in.

It was so cold inside that she kept her coat on.

He didn’t offer her tea.

She didn’t know why then, but she figured it out later. He knew that she would have asked for milk and then she would have seen that his fridge was almost empty. Inside her head, she began a debate, back and forth, back and forth. She was trying to figure out how to say what she hadn’t even counted on needing to say before she’d dropped by. She didn’t know why saying the words suddenly felt so urgent.

He was complaining about his best friend, his neighbors.

“ I’ve told him before, don’t come over here at dinner. He doesn’t listen.  It’s so disrespectful.  I’m sick of him.”

She remained silent. Her silence punctuated his anger, gnawed at her confusion. “I’m sick of all of them,” he said.

It was out of character; a rant, petty, angry, unreasonable.  She knew that now was not the time for her opinions.

Instead she took a breath before she said it; the words sounded broken, a fragile plea bargain.  “I still love you, ya know.” Her voice cracked.

“I know.” That was all he said.

Sometimes there’s no point in saying what won’t change a thing. She got that.

She never intended to stay long and n0w she was ready to leave.

When she got to the door, she said, “I don’t know what to say.”

“There isn’t anything to say.”    He emphasized the word “isn’t”. He sounded annoyed.

Imagine. Them . Nothing to say.

She walked back along the dock up the ramp. Halfway to the top she turned slightly to see if he was watching her through the kitchen window. He wasn’t.  She looked back again just in case. She looked back three more times and as she drove away she noticed a starburst of light reflecting off the top left hand corner of the windowpane. She’d never seen that before. She couldn’t stop examining it. It seemed imbued with meaning.

She didn’t know what she thought or felt. Every nerve in her body was trying to tell her.  For most of the rest of that day she thought about him. She told herself that maybe, in a few days, she’d drop by again. As soon as she had that thought, she knew she wouldn’t

A week later, her phone rang just after five o clock. His best friend’s voice, the one he was mad at, was on the other end. She was surprised. He’d never called her before.

Just  two words. “Mac’s gone,” was all he said.

“What?”

“This morning. Early. In his car.

She heard him. She just wasn’t sure she understood. She instinctively knew it was a time for self-protection.  Maybe they just couldn’t find him. Maybe he’d just needed to get away.

“Where?”

“Other end of the marina. Stranger found him. Engine still running. Firemen smashed the driver’s window to get at him. It was too late.”

She inhaled. A sound she’d never heard before, the kind that ramps up like a siren, as if someone had jabbed her, the sound a small animal makes when it’s injured, leaked out of her.

A few days later, she opened one of the typewritten letters he’d left for her.

The last line said:  “So that’s it. I’ve spent all the money. Smoked all the pot. Drank all the wine.  I have enough cigarettes to last me through this last night. And, truth to tell, I never wanted to be sixty anyway.”

As epiphanies go, she didn’t care much for that one.

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