A very short story: I don't remember

 

     I don’t remember the salt tablets. I don’t remember that swallowing them on hot days like this one kept me from dropping down to the hot cement floor in the lurid light and freight train noise of the blast furnace so that I kept working well no matter what and paid the mortgage on the red brick house with a nice porch and I was the one, the first in the family to stop renting downtown when we were all just a generation away from arriving in Hamilton. I had a smooth gravel driveway and a new car in it often enough to make me a careful kind of proud.

     I don’t remember that there is a garden in back with hummingbirds and her dahlias and herbs and my fat staked tomatoes warming in the sun. I don’t remember that I planted 11 kinds of roses and built their trellises and watched them come into clouds of bloom like coloured factory smoke, that I was the rose guy on the block and could eyeball the neighbours’ climbers and shrubs and name the problem that speckled their leaves or loosened their petals and name the rose itself in Latin. I don’t remember, thank God, the one summer we got to the beach for two weeks and Japanese beetles ate my roses.

     I don’t remember that there is a striped awning and matching umbrella or the swinging bench I made for her or the gazebo for playing cards in the evening with the rain soft on the roof and the grappa bottle tucked under my chair.

     I don’t remember when I started to forget details like that, to lose first the describing of things and then the saying of what they are, to remember their shapes and shadows but not their uses or places or what to call them. I don’t remember that first time I began to speak, to tell her tea was ready, and found that there was nothing there, that I dropped into a deep, dizzy, speechless space. A hot rush of nothing. Her eyes on me, mouth in a tiny O. Then her fingers on her mouth. Finally pouring the tea, speaking slowly to me, and I don’t want to remember the rest.

     I am confused about my children and I am ashamed of that.

     I remember that she will soon bring bowls onto the porch table, that there is a small slant to the floorboards under it and that the book that props up the one sinking leg is a pocket dictionary. I remember its companionship, the pages I read each day, the syllables becoming less strange, gaining heft and meaning. I remember bitterness when I said it was more useful to me there.

     In one bowl will be bread with a bit of oil and in the other tomatoes and herbs that are sun-warm from somewhere nearby. She will dip a tiny silver spoon -- its handle comes to me suddenly as a picture: Souvenir of Wasaga Beach -- into a little white pot, but I will pinch up the rough salt with my thumb and finger and watch it fall onto the dewy cut flesh. She will shake her head and smile at me. I will watch the crystals tumble and melt and feel a soft-edged, grateful thing about salt.