I think it’s fair to say memory loss sucks. Human beings are a bundle of habits, instincts, selective neuroses, colorful blemishes, praise-worthy accomplishments, and whispered secrets. And I wonder how much of a person is tied up in hazy high school memories of thumping music and limbs awkwardly letting loose, pinwheeling in time to America’s top 40. I don’t doubt that crossing out certain memories would boost the self-confidence meter a few notches. But I also wonder if it wouldn’t just push those embarrassing moments off to a later date. Nothing is certain but death and taxes … and sheer abject terror at the awkward wording of a text sent to a girl (or guy) you were actually starting to like. Then again, some people have Lovecraft level terror heaped on them time and time again. That I can’t speak to. But I will say this, Alzheimer’s is a shotgun blast that takes years to travel through the brain.
Proof of Memory
The local police station had been next to the abandoned Coca-Cola bottling company building for many years. Just a few blocks from the old lady’s house over on Fairway. So it didn’t take long for her to reach the squat brick building filled to the brim with boys in blue, even with her frequent pauses and habit of straying all over town. So much of the sleepy place had changed over the years, though it could have been altered yesterday for all she could tell. The image of the town the old lady saw these days didn’t change too much. She had been walking through this world for nigh on 70 years; problem was her brain sat to take a breather a few years back and still adamantly refused to stand back up. New memories were hard to come by.
The old lady stopped in front of the police station and fumbled with a Polaroid camera around her neck, snapping off a picture down main street, a fast food joint she barely recognized prominent on the right side. She took the film and waved it distractedly in the air. After it was ready, she pulled a pen out of her cracked leather purse and wrote a note on the bottom border, near the date readout. “New Wendy’s”, it read. She stuffed the note into her comically big purse next to the countless other pictures, each with journal like note entries.
Upon entering the station, a gust of cool air cut through her ratty blue sweater. Her eyes glazed over and she pulled the sweater tight. Who turned the air conditioning on? she thought. It was a cool summer day and open windows provided ample breeze. She assumed it had been her husband and that the electric bill for the month would be over budget. Again. And it was all because he couldn’t learn to open a window.
The old lady looked to her right to open the sitting room bay window that was always sticking in place.
The window wasn’t there.
Instead there was an American flag on a metal post and a few nondescript paintings. Aggravatingly generic. Where am I again? she thought. Her lower jaw began to quiver side to side as she rifled through her cracked leather purse. A bunch of pictures, most she didn’t recognize, stared back at her, accusatory. There were several of a Wendy’s down the street, each with something akin to “New Wendy’s” jotted below in her handwriting. She realized she was muttering under breath and abruptly stopped for fear of people thinking she was a loon.
A desk sat in front of her with a policeman manning the station. She walked up to it slowly, unsure what to say to the young man. She noticed he was slouching forward, whole upper body leaning predatorily over his paperwork. That would do terrible things to his back. She decided to tell him as much.
Further into the main room of the police station (or more correctly the only room as all the others were simply closets or the sheriff’s office) Detective Newport undid her ponytail just to redo it a few seconds later. Her desk was a disaster, like a hurricane of paperwork had torn through earlier in the morning. She couldn’t even see the picture of her family anymore. It was hidden behind the stack of papers detailing the suspects of the early morning B and E turned homicide from a few days back.
It was the first murder of the fall for the moderately sized town, was a sad one too. The Martins had lived in town over on Fairway for years. Now there were two kids without a father and one wife without a husband. All because some meth-head needed some spare change.
Detective Newport heard the beat cop currently working the front desk (chief was too cheap to hire a receptionist) talking in clipped and deprecating tones, voice dripping with veiled agitation. She knew that was a normal tone for him. She looked up to see him talking to Mrs. Watts, the neighbor of the murder victim. Poor woman, she thought.
Mrs. Watts hadn’t been much help to the detective. She lived all alone in that house since her husband died, probably had heard the gunshot but couldn’t remember. Instead, all she could think about were ways to critique the detective. At least that had been her take away from the questioning shortly after the homicide, and the countless times Mrs. Watts had been helped back home by the detective after wandering. Mrs. Watts didn’t have enough money to pay someone to help her out. So unfortunately, that burden fell to society. Even so, Mrs. Watts had taken a picture with the detective on that old Polaroid she was always carrying around, something about using technology to make new memories. Mrs. Watts could be acerbic, but she never stopped trying.
The detective stood up from her desk and walked over to the front of the room. Mrs. Watts saw her coming and stopped talking with the cop at the desk. Her eyes trained on Detective Newport and sized her up, like a camera coming into focus. A brief flicker of recognition played across her features.
“You wouldn’t happen to know a one Mr. Newport?” said Mrs. Watts. “You look like his young daughter, just older and wider of course.”
Detective Newport smiled, thought it was only skin deep. She had recently read an article on micro expressions and how they might assist investigators in eliciting the truth. She wasn’t convinced they existed. But if they did, her face just went frame by frame from a pinched frown to downcast eyes to a fake smile. She regretted that the smile was fake, but sometimes her annoyance got the better of her.
“I’m his daughter Mrs. Watts. Remember?” said Detective Newport.
Her reply was acerbic. “Of course I remember.” Her jaw worked silently. “You know the bay windows in my sitting room are stuck again. Do you think you could have your father take a look at them for me?”
There were a few more mumbled words but Detective Newport didn’t catch them. She didn’t have the heart to tell Mrs. Watts her handyman father had died years ago. Instead, she convinced Mrs. Watts to come back to her desk to talk. The detective thought it couldn’t hurt to ask one last time.
“I can take you back home whenever you like Mrs. Watts. But first, do you remember when I came by your house a few days ago?”
She was careful not to mention the homicide. Sometimes ignorance was bliss, like how before she became a cop the seedy underbelly of the town was hidden under its model charm.
Mrs. Watts sat silently for few moments then gave a terse reply. Something about the detective needing to sit up straight. She lifted her purse on top of the detective’s desk and nodded towards it.
Back when Detective Newport was a young girl in town, Mrs. Watts had been a teacher at the local high school. She was a real battle-axe, the hard-ass kind who always carried a ruler and slapped it against her other hand. Though she never used it, the intention was clear. That tone of authority and rigid bearing still came through from time to time, poked its way through the fog. Most often when she was correcting someone. And as aggravating as that was, Detective Newport found it preferable to the rubbing sounds of Mrs. Watts’ lower jaw working back and forth as if she was the one caught breaking the rules and worrying through a response.
“I’m not sure why I’m here,” said Mrs. Watts. “But … could you help me look through these pictures?”
She tipped her purse over and poured the contents onto the detective’s desk. They spilled all over, a resurgent wave after the hurricane of paperwork. It consisted almost entirely of film from the Polaroid that Mrs. Watts kept on her neck at all times, each with journal like entries on the bottom border. Most of the pictures were recognizable, some from earlier in the day if the time stamps were to be trusted. They were pictures around town, mostly in between main street and Mrs. Watts’ house on Fairway drive. There were pictures of the bank turned historical society down the street, the cheesy themed car wash, the bike repair shop, and so on.
But the picture that caught the detective’s eye was one from the same day as the murder, early in the morning. It depicted the hazy grey sky of a fall dawn, as seen through wide bay windows. The glass was scratched and wood discolored, but the detective could still make out a man caught mid stride, running from the neighboring house.
It was the murderer. And the detective recognized him.
Mrs. Watts noticed her looking intently at the picture and cleared her throat to speak.
“See, those are the windows that always get stuck. I need someone to fix them. I keep on saying that they stick and nobody listens. Maybe this could be proof of some kind.”
It certainly could be some kind of proof, thought Detective Newport.
And that is the end of that. Another notch on the post and another hole drilled through the belt trying to contain my beleaguered sheets of paper. Hope you enjoyed the story. If you did, comment below or subscribe to my website by putting your email into the designated text box in a widget on the right. I pinky swear it will only send you an email when I post new material. And if you do not believe in the sanctity of a pinky swear then I am not sure what I can do for you. Thanks for reading! Spoken word poem next week.