Muddled Memories – Tom Gaffney
Muddled Memories – Tom Gaffney
“So good to be home. Finally. To finally be here with you all. It has been so long. I was afraid I’d never be back. I always loved this kitchen, so many good memories.”
Sarah stared at the clock. Again. Looking so often that it never moved. Home indeed, with you two. What fine examples we are. And this kitchen. Yellow, with linoleum that cannot be forgiven, even in the context of its early seventies installation.
“Just coming up the road. The trees shimmering in the summer heat. The racket of the cicadas. The blues skies aching for some clouds and a thunderstorm. Afternoon drinks, barbecues. All the times we had. Do you remember the first time you brought me home to meet your folks? I was so nervous. The stern looks your dad would give me. Do you remember sitting with me on the bench in the backyard? Walking with me down to the lake in the moonlight?”
Michael eyed Sarah anxiously. He was not sure how much more of this he could take, let alone her. He squirmed with agitation every time his Father opened his mouth. He stared at the clock too. Time crawled. These afternoons rarely moved quickly, but this afternoon it felt like time had stopped.
“Those were the times. The times of our lives. So sweet. The smell of the field din the summertime. The crickets at night. The heavy heat of the day still lingering as lay on the blanket down near the water. The rushes swishing in the breeze, you are lying close to me.”
“Dad, this is Sarah, your daughter in law sitting here, not Mom,” Michael admonished. “Dad, you are sitting in my kitchen, here in Seattle. This is not Minnesota in 1960, its Seattle, the 21st century.”
Dad paused, still for a moment. A cloud seemed to pass his face. He seemed to reset, if not rejoin fully, the two people he was sitting with at the table. The periods of confusion were worsening, coming more frequently. At least there was no agitation, and however far away his mind took him from where he was, at least he seemed happy. Happy, and talking to his son’s longtime girlfriend, partner really, someone he had known for years, as if she were my Mom, his wife, a woman whose heart he broke years ago and had no contact with him for the better part of two decades.
“Well, anyway, it sure is good to be home.” he said. “Any chance we could have a cocktail? Seems likes its happy hour to me,” winking at Sarah. “How about a martini?”
Sarah took her eyes from the clock. Looked at Michael, plaintively, reflecting a patience that was strong but growing weary. She longed for something to break the stillness that had settled on the room.
“Dad, you haven’t had a drink in fifteen years. You had to stop, do you remember? No more martinis.”
And he could not have sugar either. And now his meds and diet had been updated, because of his kidneys. He needs some kind of treat.
“How about some cookies Lou?” Sarah chimed. “They’re delicious. Just got them today?”
Delicious might be a little strong. But the vegan cookies at the natural foods store had been making strides.
“Well, a cookie isn’t a martini. And I am sure they aren’t as sweet as you. But that sure would be nice, honey” he replied with big moon eyes.
Lou definitely has something going on today. Perhaps they’ve got him on some hormones? He’s dreaming of getting lucky tonight – that’s obvious. I’ve gotten used to the rambling. But he does not usually talk about his memories so much. It is hard seeing his confusion. A man with his flaws, a lack of self-awareness, but no meanness, really that I know of.
At least he thinks he is in a happy place, not this disturbing kitchen that looks like a psychedelic nightmare. Perhaps the colors in here are doing something to him?
“If I can’t have a martini, how about a cup of coffee? Something to go with a cookie.”
“Sure thing, Lou.”
She rose from the table. Retrieved the cookies, started making the coffee. Lou watched her every move. She could fee his gaze. Michael was tiring, no surprise. His eyes stared out the window, or checked the clock repeatedly, hoping it would be time to return Lou to the home soon. Still a while to go.
I wonder what he thinks to himself in quiet times. When he is coherent. Does he think about how things came apart for him and Mom? All the mistakes he made? The years that he was not interested in being a part of my life? He looks at Sarah and goes back in time, but never a word about all those years that I do not know what he was doing, who he was with. None of that seems to come to the surface. Even now, the only trigger he’s got is a woman’s presence, her smile, her prettiness. Ugh, even if it is his daughter in law.
“Yep, those were some mighty fine times. No place like then. The corn in the fields. The open space instead of the country. All of these people, none of them from here – all from somewhere else, crowding us in. People not like you and me.”
“Dad, we’re in Seattle. Seattle, Dad. Do you know where you are?”
He does not seem to hear Michael. He chews the cookie deliberately, his eyes following Sarah as she grinds the beans.
“Here, let me help.”
Rising, he joins her at the counter. Michael’s gaze returns to the clock. How much longer? This afternoon has been an eternity. How many visits like this can we take?
Lou grabs the coffee pot, starts filling it with water. The memory might not be steady, but his hands still are.
“I know you remember that night at the lake. How could you not? You told me it was your first time. I know it was not the way you wanted it to be. I’m sorry I forced things. But we did alright. Didn’t we? You forgave old Lou. And look at the times we did have. So many good times. Sweet times. But that night, I’ll never forget. I know you won’t.”
Lou reaches out and pats Sarah on the behind, leans to kiss her ear.
Sarah jumps, recoils.
Michael rises from the table.
The coffee pot falls. Shards of glass and drops of water fly and spread across the tattered psychedelic linoleum.
“Time to go home Dad. You can have dinner at the retirement center.”