We’ll see summer come again
Darkness fall and seasons change*
In the early afternoon he sat down to write a letter, having skipped lunch out of boredom with eating and the realization that preparing a meal would require too much effort. It was a warm day and the fans were humming, lulling him into a state of torpor. But he thought probably writing was still possible. It was worth a try because he had to finally say what needed to be said.
“I’m sorry I said that I loved you,” he wrote. “It was uncalled-for.” He raised the tip of the pencil and turned the barrel in his fingertips. “You always said that I don’t speak the way I think and I can’t think the way I ought to think, so I think you should have seen this coming and been prepared with something passing as tolerance, even pity. After all, you knew my limitations better than anyone, especially me.”
He paused and looked out the open window where the sun was high and bright on a single cypress tree in the distance, on a hill. He wasn’t hungry yet.
“I remember when we met at college and after class I saw you by the elevator, dressed in purple. We rode down together and went for coffee, to talk about philosophy. Spring came and rainy days and nights but little time to stop and think. The time went by so fast. There were things I thought I wanted and what I thought I wanted from you I didn’t want and never got. What you wanted from me, you took. But your purple dress was beautiful.”
Hunger caught up with him and he went out of the room and down the stairs, past the slotted windows shaped like pears that revealed only the climbing wisteria. In the kitchen were garden tomatoes and cheese, chilled water in a canning jar. He sat for a while and looked at the pictures in a catalog: Flannel shirts, jackets of quilted down, sturdy boots.
Autumn was coming and he would be alone. In solitude, he always said, there was less friction. So his life should have been like an oiled sheet of ice, except for all his memories. They would never leave him entirely alone.
He put the catalog down when he remembered the pencil he had left upstairs. It was bright yellow, waiting in the light on the unfinished page. He climbed the stairs slowly, thinking about how the letter should end. It was a long time coming and maybe the letter should be about time. She would have gray hair by now. Grandchildren. She was living or not, somewhere in the turning world. So for years he’d been writing the letter, again and again, watching as graphite filled the page with pain he couldn’t remember if he ever felt.
At the third turning of the twisted stairs, an odd old bellied window showed the wisteria was blooming lavender and purple in the late summer light. “If the blossoms are purple, what color was her dress?” It worried him for a few steps but the thought was gone before he reached the desk. He picked up the pumpkin-colored pencil and started again.
“Please forgive me for saying I loved you but I was overwhelmed by your wine-colored dress and all the darkness in your eyes, and the white shorts you wore at the lake. I was stunned by your courage with the boat and your soft brown hair. I saw that you would live forever, always nineteen, and the only things that frightened you were what I said and a boring life. Come back so I can never say it again, not for another forty years.”
In time he looked up from the paper to the window but the sun had set and the old oak tree was gone from view. Inside the room, everything was tinted faintly orange by the shade of his lamp. He crossed the room and looked out again but there was nothing to see and all of the friction of others was gone from his life. Below on the trellis, the wisteria was climbing up to him with flowers black as night. He pressed his forehead to the glass and said to evening, “I love you.”
J. Kyle Kimberlin
Creative Commons Licensed
*The Grateful Dead
I wrote this flash fiction piece after reading an article about the writings on memory of neurologist Oliver Sacks, on the subjectivity and communal interdependence of memory. My idea was to create a piece in which the present seems to change memory and memories seem to color the present. The inconsistencies in recollection and color are intentional. There are allusions to the Kafka quote I posted recently, and to Ash Wednesday by Eliot,which is basically an allusion to Dante. And while I was writing, I was listening to The Weather Report Suite by The Dead.
There is, it seems, no mechanism in the mind or the brain for ensuring the truth, or at least the veridical character, of our recollections. We have no direct access to historical truth, and what we feel or assert to be true … depends as much on our imagination as our senses. There is no way by which the events of the world can be directly transmitted or recorded in our brains; they are experienced and constructed in a highly subjective way, which is different in every individual to begin with, and differently reinterpreted or reexperienced whenever they are recollected. . . . Frequently, our only truth is narrative truth, the stories we tell each other, and ourselves—the stories we continually recategorize and refine. Such subjectivity is built into the very nature of memory, and follows from its basis and mechanisms in the human brain. [Link]