Memory fades but a kiss is forever

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The old woman stared through a patio screen door. A low morning sun washed the deep creases from her face.

“What was your father’s name?”

The question hit me like a slap against a cold cheek.

“I can’t think of his name,” she said. “Geez, why can’t I say it?”

I folded the Sunday newspaper across my lap, then folded it again.

The woman continued, indifferent to my indifference. “He was so shy. Such a big, handsome man and so shy. I’ll never forget our first kiss.”

She didn’t remember my father’s name but she remembered kissing him.

“We’d gone out a couple times but he had never kissed me.  I wanted him to kiss me.”

She paused to chew a fingernail. “One night we go dancing in St. Joe and afterward he drives me home.”

She said some other things I didn’t hear. I was still thinking about the questions.

“Anyway, we’re standing in the doorway of my parents’ house and he stands there and puts his hand out — like this.” 

I saw the wobbly hand, the air handshake, but said nothing.

“I didn’t want to shake his hand — Geez, Louise.  So I get up on my tiptoes and reach around his neck with both arms — and I kissed him.”

The old woman giggled like a little girl. “Right on the lips, too!”

Her teeth found a new fingernail in need of nibbling. “He kissed back.  It was the sweetest kiss. Why can’t I say his name.”

It was a long time ago, I said.

“Was he a good father?”

The newspaper tumbled from my lap to my ankles.  I bent over and studied it the way you eyeball a carpet stain that wasn’t there yesterday. I retrieved the obituary page. These days it’s called “Death Notices” and next of kin are charged by the word. Memories come at a price.

Most of us expect to be remembered after death in stories fondly told with facts fondly edited. Until then we expect to be keepers of our own past, thank you very much.  We do not expect to lose the memories of kisses or kissers, let alone have them stolen.

The old woman’s eyelids began to droop.  Her head bobbed.

“Somebody’s sleepy,” I said, and offered an elbow. Her bare feet scraped along the carpet at roughly the speed of a setting sun.  An eternity later we reached her bedroom.  I released her carefully onto a large, low bed. There ensued another eternity of arranging pillows and bed sheets and water glasses and the afternoon’s medications.

“Anything else?” I asked.

She asked again.

“Arthur,” I said. “My father’s name was Arthur. Big and shy. He was a good father and, legend has it, a darned good kisser. He died seven years ago.”

The woman smiled and tugged the bed sheet to her neck, grinning like a little girl on Christmas Eve.  “Arthur — of course.  Why couldn’t I remember that? I must be losing it.”

I said she hadn’t lost anything, then leaned over and kissed her forehead.

Outside the bedroom I scooped up the remains of my newspaper.  My mother’s house smelled of baby powder and cheap perfume.  The walls were littered with framed photographs of children and weddings and holidays past.  Among them was an elderly woman with her arms around the neck of an elderly man. You could tell she wanted to be kissed. You could tell he was big, handsome and shy.

© 2017, by David Chartrand