Living Memory (Flash Fiction)

He called to ask if I was going to my mother’s funeral.  I don’t think I am.

That he would be in a position to make the phone call at all is, I’m sure, a surprise to everyone in my family. We never imagined the old man would outlive our mother. For as long as I can remember, he’s been sick. We thought either the drink or the depression or the cancer would have gotten him by now. We all know that disease has been secretly feasting on him for years.

We used to whisper about it behind his back, wondering when it would finally finish the job. For a reserved man with little to say, he wasn’t very good at keeping that particular secret. I guess starting every day throwing up in your sink makes discretion a little difficult.

He asks if I’ve heard from anyone else, and I shake my head even though he can’t see me. I tell him, no, he’s the only one who’s called. Though there was an email from my youngest brother.  Short, sweet, to the point:

Mom’s dead.

At the time I couldn’t decide how I felt about it. Even today I’m still not sure.

She and I were close once, and I imagined she’d spend the twilight of her life living with me and my family. In my mind, I saw my children lingering underfoot, always ready with a kiss or a hug or a quick I love you, free of the self-consciousness those words can bring when raised in a home where love is either in short supply or only available for barter.

For children, a grandmother is a touchstone to the past, and a reminder that while you might navigate this world alone, you are also a part of something larger: a lineage that stretches farther back than recollection. Everyone comes from somewhere, and there is no better teacher of that lesson than a living memory.  One who cares for you when you are sick, cooks your favorite meal when it’s your birthday, and places her lips to your forehead at night and whispers “sweet dreams” as you drift off to sleep.  That’s a memory that stays with you. Always.

Sometimes ideas stay with you as well, and they grow into belief and then action. Other times, ideas wither and die on the vine, victim to shifting circumstances that rob them of the nutrients they need to survive. With my mother and me, it was family that did us in. Old alliances and unspoken secrets were allowed to grow and fester because they had not seen the light of day. No one acknowledged what had happened. The family was happy to keep right on living, pretending the tumor within it did not exist.

But I could not abide those lies. So I spoke.  And in the space of one afternoon what had seemed whole was ripped asunder, scattering family members to the wind. My grandmother, my mother’s mother, that formidable presence that was both loved and not, pulled her family close and drew the battle lines.

My mother and I were on opposite sides. So it goes. So it went. She was outlived by those who divided her loyalties, and to see her one last time is to see them as well. And that is something else I will not abide.

He asks me for a final time if I am sure, and I say, yes. I will not attend: to my mother or her memory.

Sometimes memories were meant to fade.

Larry Jenkins is an aspiring Word Pimp. Has laptop, will travel. Let's make this happen, people.

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