This is a project for school, for English language class, and I’ve been working on it for a few days. It is pretty lame, I’m sorry, but the subject was memories, and this is what I came up with. Alas, my English teacher would not have accepted the inclusion of zombies, bug-eyed monsters from the ninth dimension, and intrepid shot-gun wielding heroes with brass manacles and a steam-powered Harley. So, it had to be this muted thing instead.
If you read it, I hope you enjoy it. If not, I hope you enjoy something else on the blog. If not that either, thanks for the visit.
The smoke is a single snake of grey against the dark when I arrive at the campfire. Mindy sits with her back toward the tall fir forest. She pulls the thin blanket tighter around her shoulders. Her eyes are immobile, and fixed at the reflective dark surface of the lake. Above the moon is full and its reflection in the water shine up towards us.
The fire smells crisp and acrid in pulses as the slight wind tug and push the smoke. A few sparks fly from the small pyramid of sticks and firewood wedges and die somewhere in the cool air far above the fire.
I must have made a sound. She pats the ground beside her when she hears me, without turning around. Her shoulders tense, become straight and rigid. I go to her, and sit down in a lotus position on the side where she patted the earth. I stare at the lake too, and not at her.
“Listen…” I start, but she lifts her hand. I can see the veins. She’s grown older. She’s over forty now, I remind myself.
“Shhh! Just sit there. I can’t handle more than that. Not now.”
I fall silent again. The pressure for silence deaden me. I couldn’t speak even if I tried. No words could have passed the lump in my throat. I remember what day it is, and why she is sitting here, and why she is staring at the lake.
I stare too, more intensely than before, and it is almost as if the shadows bend and weave to create that figure which haven’t been around for so long. I frown because try as I might, I don’t remember any details of him any longer.
It’s like that Brian is coming up along the path. The path is just a furrow that cuts through the hip-high grass in the field between the house and the lake. I tense up, and barely move even if my legs start to feel numb beneath me.
But Brian has been dead for four years, and that is why Mindy is here on this day. She can’t let go. The lake took him from us. I want to throw things into it, roil the surface, destroy its calm. But I just sit there, still, next to her in my lotus position.
I’m not hungry anymore. Was I ever? Really? The thought makes me frown.
The next morning is hot and sharp. The sunlight beats straight down from a clear sky. Mindy is still by the now burnt-out camp fire when I come out on the porch and put my hand over my eyes to shield them. She’s going to be so horribly sun-burnt.
She’s sleeping, drooped over on the side. Her arms are wrapped around her legs, and she is snoring. When I come close an acidic, sweet and sour stench rise up from her. That tug of pain mixed with anger make me look around her body.
There. I bend over and take the whiskey bottle that lie between her and the fire, and see that there’s not a drop left in it. She must have hidden the bottle. She did drive off to do some shopping the day before. Was that why she sent me away after an hour last night?
“Shit,” I whisper. It’s like this every year when we come here. I should have known!
My mouth twists into a decision, and I go down to the jetty, through the grass. It really is too late now, but I need to do something, anything.
The lake glitter and cluck in the sunlight from the clear sky, and the smell of seaweed and mud is strong and powerful. On the jetty, I stand next to the same row-boat that Brian had used when he drowned.
It’s a simple white and blue glass-fibre one, and there’s a lot of water at the bottom of it. You could almost call it half-sunken. I hope it sinks, disappears, and is never seen again. I want to kick it.
Instead I continue out on the jetty, and at the edge of it, I pull my arm back and throw the bottle into the water. Fuck you lake, I think. The bottle splashes into the water embarrassingly close. It bobs and sparkle there, with the tip circling around pointing toward the sky. It doesn’t sink. I wanted it to hit the sun’s reflection.
I shout at the lake. Some feeble threat. But it feels right. It’s like the lake glances back at me, and then ignores me; I’m a mosquito buzzing around a blue whale. A has-been of no consequence to its existence.
Some of the anger is gone, and there’s just a tiredness there. The shoulders slump down, and on the path up to the house, my feet scrape the dirt of the path, kicking earth and stone around.
I don’t really want to go back, but today is going to be awful for both of us. She’s going to be so angry, and she’ll be incapable of anything. And I will stupidly try to make things better for her. Like I always do.
She’ll refuse my help, and be angry, and she’s going to want to drink more. There will be bottles hidden all over the house. Every one of them has to be found and disposed of. I know all the nooks and crannies of the house though.
I hate this place so much now. I’ll never be rid of it.
Three hours later Mindy isn’t in front of the camp fire anymore. She is sitting at the kitchen table, inside the house, with a large mug of tea in front of her, and she stares out the window without looking at anything.
I try to talk to her, try to make her feel better, try to make her see me, but she doesn’t even acknowledge that I’m there. So I sit in the wooden sofa and read a book. The letters blur out across the page, and I can’t follow a line, but I still try. It is better than to go out, or go upstairs, or do anything.
If I go she’ll try to find the bottles. She’ll turn the house upside down, even if she’ll know I’ve poured them out. She is so angry with me. Her anger is like a heat coming off her. So, I can’t go out. I have to sit her and let her chew me up.
“You had no right,” she says after a while.
I don’t answer. The words blur out even more.
“You had no fucking right,” she repeats. “I’m not a fucking child. Why are you even here?”
The profanity stings.
“Tell me where the bottles are.” She turns to me. Her eyes dark with anger.
“I’ve poured out the booze,” I reply. “The bottles are at the compost heap.”
She stands, moves to the door, and then runs out. Through the window I can see her rush to the compost heap. There she falls to her knees, and then down on all four. Glass glitter in her hands when the sits up on her knees. She holds one of the bottles upside down. Her shoulders shake, and her hair hangs down. She bends forward.
“You had no fucking right,” she says when she returns half an hour later. Her face is pudgy and red.
“I don’t like seeing you like this,” I say.
“Get fucking used to it. It’s my life.”
“It’s mine too.”
“Not any more it isn’t!” She screams that, right in my face.
She raises her hand, and then slaps me across the face. The slap stings, and I can’t help but start to cry. She slaps me again. And again. I don’t move. It will only get worse if I move.
She sits down, pushes her fingers through her hair and looks at me with that hate in her eyes. That blistering hate that make me break inside every time.
“You’re so like him,” she says. Her voice is hollow, worn-out.
“Him” is Brian. We’ve been though this before.
“Down to a fucking T. I can’t take this any more.”
“I love you,” I say. It doesn’t come out right; not strong or powerful, just whimpering and stuttering. Snot pours down on my chin. I wipe it off, and try again, but she gets there before me.
“I hate you,” she says. “You look just like him. Except you’re a kid. Just a damned kid. Every fucking day, every fucking minute, you remind me of him. How is that possible? Why are you even here? Get the fuck out of my sight.”
I turn around, and leave the room. I go outside, and then go down to the jetty again.
Only, when I come down there, I hear the car engine. I run back up, and see the tail lights as they turn sharply around the bend, and then the car is gone. I can hear the engine move further and further away.
Where was she going? To get more booze? That had to be it. She had never done this before. A tug in my stomach made me think the thought… She has left me. She has left me alone. What am I supposed to do now?
I don’t know what to do, so I just stand there, staring at the spot where the car turned around the bend.
She didn’t return for a whole week. One minute there was silence; just me and the house and the lake, and then she stood there on the threshold, looking at me. She looked different, healthier.
Then she turned and walked outside. I hurried after her, and I wanted to shout questions. Where had she been? Why had she left me here alone? What was going on?
But the lawn in front of the house was full of people. At least twenty of them, and all had parked their cars along the side of the forest road. The people were dressed in black. Some of the women were crying.
Mindy moved away from the people, and I tried to keep out of the way too by following her. We stood next to each other and watched the mourners. She seemed very sombre.
“Who are they?” I asked.
She didn’t answer than, and instead said: “I didn’t really know her at the end. Still this is a beautiful place for a burial.”
“Are they going to stay long?”
“Just a little while.”
“Who is getting buried?”
A priest emerged from one of the cars, and then the driver of the hearse jumped down from the bonnet where he had been sitting and smoking. The priest gave him a sharp wave, and the driver hurried to the back and opened the back so that the pall bearers could get the coffin.
As the mourners moved to the grave, Mindy and I followed behind, and then took our places. The priest started to read the words. Only then did I understand. I looked at Mindy, and then down in the ground.
“I’m sorry,” I said.
“I didn’t mean this. If I had known–”
She looked sharply at me. “It’s not your fault. It’s her own. She could never let go, and didn’t live anyway. Seeing you was really just the last straw. If you exist, then why should she go on? So she kept coming back, and you couldn’t stay away, could you, Brian?”
“No, I said. I couldn’t.”
“So, if you exist, then why should she go through life alone, without you? It seemed simple. It’s not ghosts that haunt people. It is the memories that do. Ghosts are just the beacon that shine on what’s been lost.”
I took her hand, and she squeezed it. She was older, and was over forty now, and I was just a kid. It didn’t matter.