Memory Cheats

By Last Updated: January 13, 2024Views: 2891

The past is not romantic. It is not an adventure. It is not a drama. It is neither a comedy nor a tragedy. It is not any of these things. But it is all of these things. Because memory cheats.

Memory will take fragments of events, disjointed and vague, and merge them with hints of forgotten emotion then cobble them together into a narrative. Artificially coherent. Like scenes in a movie.

In partnership with Memory, I have become a fine director. I am the writer and the star; the leading man and tragic hero. I am greater than the story. The past is malleable because memory cheats. Picture the scene:

Open in a bar: Pan across a half-crowded room, smoke-filled and dark. Most patrons are alone. It is quiet save for the jukebox playing Rolling Stones over the muted and muffled conversation. There are two old men in a window booth playing Liar’s Dice. Periodically the sound of the leather-covered cups slamming on the table disturbs the scene. Quiet. Slam. Then quiet again.

Close-up to a young man sitting at the center of the bar: Long hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, his red flannel shirt tattered and frayed around the collar and elbows. He smokes Marlboros one after another while absently doodling on napkins with a number 2 pencil. He drinks Budweiser by the pint.

The bar is old. A storefront galley-style long bar with brass railings and old wood runs along the north side; a row of pale-blonde wood tables along the south. There are no TVs. The only food served is peanuts and Goldfish crackers in clear plastic bowls. Behind the bar, dead center above the young man is a massive moose head. It wears a top hat made of plastic. Across the brim of the hat are cardboard balloon letters that read Happy New Year. Streamers and Marti Gras beads hang from the antlers. A pair of dark knock-off Ray Ban sunglasses perched on the snout. Whenever the door opens the beads sway gently from side to side.

Cut to the far end of the bar:  A young woman is drinking a margarita from a pint glass, the edge heavily coated with salt. She wears heavy mascara around her eyes but no other makeup and a t-shirt that reads “Frankie Says Do It” in bold, block letters. She stares down at the chipped and faded bar and rarely looks up.

The young man waits for the right moment then points to the moose and in a loud voice says, “It’s a shame really,”

The woman looks up at the moose and shrugs, “How so?” she says.

“He was having such a good time when he died,” he says.

She smiles, slowly, a creeping thing that spreads across her face. In a single motion, she finishes her drink and then moves down the bar to the empty seat beside the man. With one hand she pulls his ponytail – three quick tugs like ringing a bell – with the other she takes the cigarette from his fingers. She inhales deeply then blows a plume of smoke over their heads through tight lips. “Buy me a drink,” she says.

“Why should I do that?” he asks.

“If you have to ask,” she says, “then you are dumber than you look.”

Pan back now: We see the two from a distance. They are laughing. She puts a hand on his knee, he touches her back. Occasionally he leans in to whisper in her ear.

Jump cut: We are in a bedroom. It is dark. The only light is filtered moonlight through an open window and yellow Christmas lights thumbtacked to the ceiling. Black and white framed posters line the walls – James Dean, Marylyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn – the room smells of baby powder, lavender, and beer.

The young man sits on the edge of a twin bed. He is naked and smoking. He rubs his chin with the back of his hand, back and forth. Back and forth. The woman is curled into a ball wrapped in a stained sheet facing the wall. She is crying.

“I didn’t mean it,” she says, “It was my old boyfriend’s name, it just came out,” she pulls the sheet over her head.

“It’s okay,” he says, “Just threw me is all.” He finds himself scanning the authors on her bookshelf. O’Conner, Salinger, Poe, Kerouac. All the required titles. He remembers who he is reading. Gabriel Garcia-Marquez. He is proud of this and wants to tell her. He should leave, he knows this. He actually pictures himself standing, dressing, and walking with quiet dignity out the door.

“We could try again,” she says, “If you want.”

“Okay,” he says, “Just give me a minute.” He rubs his chin back and forth. Back and forth.

Cut. Cut. Cut. Strike that last scene. Delete it. Start again.

Fade in on the couple leaving the bar. They are laughing and close. She stumbles, falling forward slightly. He is there, catching her in outstretched arms. He pulls her close. “Careful now,” he tells her. Gently, he kisses the top of her head. Holding hands they walk slowly into the night to begin their adventure. It is a romantic scene.

Fade to black. Print. Memory cheats.

originally published June 9th, 2013

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