{Prose}: The Exquisite Art of Nostalgia

The Remembering Season

“If I had known to properly love an individual, you would have to watch them die, I would have never chosen to love after all.”
(Unknown)

Her hands, wrinkled and frail, were spider-webbed with veins the color of bruises. In her hands, she held a tin box that once held butter cookies. The box she held now contained memories. And dreams.

A button fashioned out of opal from a dress she wore once. A swatch of Chinese silk from a scarf she purchased on her honeymoon. A tweed patch from her husband’s suit. A sterling silver locket with a clipping of his hair.

Now, she was very old. Very, very old. There were sketches she drew when she was young: horses; men with sad eyes and mustaches; women with the smiles of angels.

There were fragments of dreams in the tin box she held: journal entries with ink smudges and scribbles, dried flower petals, tulle from her bridal veil. She had tears bunched in her eyes that threatened to spill out. She felt like a sentimental fool, sitting in a darkened room, dabbing at her eyes with a monogrammed handkerchief.

Margaret Stone rose from her recliner and switched on the lights. She set the tin box on her book shelf and shuffled to the kitchen, cranked the can opener around a can of soup she had no memory of purchasing. Its teeth bit into the can, and she pried the lid off. The dim hum of a woman’s voice sang a sad song in French as Margaret heated the soup on her stove top.

Her soup tasted of metal, and every so often, she would let out a sigh. She held her loneliness close to her heart as some would hold desire or love. She read obituaries and engagement announcements with equal longing.

Some nights, Margaret Stone left the television on for companionship. The voices were similar to echoes of happiness. The laugh track was produced in a can like tuna or chicken. It never sounded authentic, but it always made her pine for a different life. A more beautiful life.

She imagined herself the bride, the millionaire, the game show contestant.

This night, she sunk into bed, the pillow beside her cool as it had been for years. Nostalgia was the bottle of wine she drank from night after night. Her bones held every memory of Charles she had. She had his letters memorized and told them to herself like the holy might recite Vespers.

“My darling Margarite,” as he loved to call her, “when will you learn this love will last until the stars extinguish, until the moon is snuffed out like a candle, and ever after?” She wished for his body, his touch, his fingertips threaded through her hair. She blessed herself with holy water and prayed for death or contentment. The words were practically synonyms anyhow.

The loneliness that crept through her bones escaped as a heavy sigh as she drifted into sleep.

When she awoke, her eyes were watery and unfocused as though they held secrets no one else could fathom. Her pain was like a knot in her chest she was too exhausted to untangle. She hadn’t cried out in her sleep, but her sleep felt interrupted. She drank a cup of lukewarm black coffee and stared out a window at a yellow finch that hopped.

Her heart felt heavy in her chest. Margaret Stone was tired of life. The din of the television robbed her ears of its artificial happiness and instead, sounded of noise. The cheering of the game show contestants sounded like screeching, and the buzzers and sound effects all sounded like alarms alerting her to something she couldn’t quite pinpoint. When she turned the television off, the air was as quiet as cotton.

She could scarcely hear herself breathe.

She remembered what her husband told her about adversity. When one struggles, inner strength shines through. What would Charles say of her now? An old woman sitting in a chair, drinking coffee slowly growing tepid?

Margaret didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Her life was not a storybook, nor was it something you would see on her television set. She took out the tin with the mementoes of her life. She tended to spend the most time lingering over memories and dreams, yet there was a thin layer of tissue paper at the very bottom of the tin box. Peeling back the tissue paper and buried underneath were her disappointments, her shattered dreams. The things she wished to be that would never happen.

A silver baby spoon. Yellowed newspaper clippings. A rattle. She unfolded the journal entries she had told herself she would never read again.

“July 7, 19–” the year was obscured by a smudge. Though it was just a blotting of ink, Margaret Stone recalled that smudge well. It was from where a tear rolled down her cheek and onto the page. There were several similar smudges throughout the page.

“Charles has left me. My soul is destroyed. My world is ending.  His scent is still lingering on my clothing from the last time we touched. Everything smells of smoke and of death.”

Then, though it had been over sixty years ago, tears began welling in her eyes again. Margaret Stone was no sentimental fool, but here she was crying as she unfolded crinkled, yellowed articles. The details about the plumes of smoke rising from his vehicle, the way Charles Stone heroically saved his young bride, and died in the aftermath.

She was in love with his ghost, with his memory. Sixty years went by mournfully slow, and all Margaret Stone wanted was to be reunited with Charles Stone, the man she fell in love with when she was eighteen and married when she was twenty-one.

She remembered the glow of his eyes, the feel of his hand in hers. The way his touch exhilarated her and left her breathless. Now, she had wrinkles where her skin was once smooth, lines etched in places that once were blemish-free. Her age made her undesirable, and she sat in darkened rooms, remembering ghosts, crying over memories.

She had no children to visit her, no loved ones to come calling. Her family had either passed away or moved away. She was living in a tomb of memories, and no one had bothered to check she wasn’t withering away.

All she had was memories. A thin patina of dust coated all her possessions. There were coats in her hall closet she hadn’t worn in years. Hats with veils from a different era, mink coats, dresses that stiffly hung in her closet. She pulled her robe around her tighter. She was an artifact in a museum. A living memory book

A lifetime of memories reduced to a three-year span.

More than anything, Margaret Stone was exhausted. Her bones were sore from carrying the weight of her memories. She still smelled smoke when she fell asleep at night, and when she awoke, she always felt as though if she had changed one thing or another, she could have had her fairy tale ending with Charles.

She ran her fingertips deeper under the tissue paper, buried past all the articles, the journal entries, the purchases made for the babies she never birthed. A brief flicker of light flashed in her eyes as she felt what it was she searched for. She rarely smiled anymore. When she left the house, she felt as though others watched her and judged her as a recluse. Her beauty fled years ago, and now, her vitality was fleeing in addition. Her body ached; the bones popped and cracked when she rose.

Nothing mattered anymore. Her roses wilted. Her coffee grew cold. Everything tasted of sawdust and ash. Margaret Stone walked among the living but was, in fact, dead.

She died a number of years ago, and now was the time to commit her final act.

She sat at her desk, a pen clutched in her grip. “Isolation is,” she began, “having no one to talk to, day in and day out. Having no one to love, despite loving one for over sixty years. My memories, the ones I hold so dear, are reduced to a box that once held butter cookies. Even my memories of my dearest are disintegrating, dissolving like sugar in water.

This is goodbye.” She wrote. Her pen spinning spider webs of words. Her eyes watering and unfocused now clear. “I am making this choice consciously and of my own free will. It is time to say goodbye. My love left me in a fire, and so I only see it fit that I leave by water. Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye…” As if the pen knew its owner’s time was running out, its ink dried on the final goodbye, and when she scratched the paper to add a final message of love to her few scattered family members, no words would come out.

She walked outside, the house dilapidated, spider webs festooned in the corners like bunting. Stones buried deep in the pockets of her robe, rolled up her pajama pant legs, and she wandered down the street. No one saw her leaving her home, and not a soul noticed as she entered the lake.

Her death was as quiet as a ship sinking, as soft as an elderly woman crying in her sleep. When they pulled her body ashore, no one knew her name.

-L.G.

 

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