Memory’s Touch

Contributor: David Strong

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Habit assists her. Founded upon an irrepressible indulgence to sanctify the past, she picks up the black ceramic pot off the stove and surveys the room. Strewn newspapers carpet the dirt floor; a bony, spindly cat weaves in and out of the kitchen table’s legs purring for its morning meal of cheese and whatever other scraps inevitably fall. Satisfied that all is in order, she pours a cup and sits on a cracked oak chair, creaking perilously above its head. Nonplussed, it meanders from one leg to the other to ensure as much patronage as possible. Today it’s Gruyère and toasted crackers. Askance, she spies a dark purple binding on the fourth shelf. The gold embossed title has long since faded into the rusty lettering seen on the fishing trawlers swaying back and forth down at the docks.

“There it is,” she murmurs to herself while placing her finger on the rim and rubbing it full circle. Before she can move, the cat jumps on her lap and paws at the slice sitting on the saucer’s edge. Her hand slides over its head, pressing down its ears before slipping underneath to feel the sonorous purring. Its meditative rhythm is a welcome companion to morning’s first light. She closes her eyes, recalling sleep’s dreamy peace and anticipating those under the sun.

Thoughts of youth dance in her head. Sitting by her father’s feet, listening intently about explorers, architects, and other vanguard inventors. The wonders create a permanent smile on jubilant, fresh cheeks, now tallow and wrinkled. “Can I build a weathervane that captures the lightening someday,” she wonders aloud. “Of course dear, you can build anything you want.” Sundry tales twirl about in her head, enlivened by his intonation of anticipation and amazement. That is what life is meant to be. Yet, it doesn’t matter where she travels: Macchu Picchu, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, or Angkor Wat. The genius underpinning their glory is lost because he is not there. He was supposed to teach her how to make these adventures real. But his heart couldn’t take it. Though she tried, nothing—or more properly—no one could compare to his constant devotion. But life, as he taught it, told her not to give up, not to rest at base camp. Each day she dedicates her life to recapturing this truth; it lies in these books and the memory of his baritone giving each achievement its due.

The cat’s agility shows how movement and space, flowing fluidly from here to there, epitomizes the philosophy he imparted. It cocks its ears when a cacophony of feline shrills and bellows announces the daily trek down to the boats.

“They’re calling. Just remember to come back tonight.”

It perches itself on the windowsill, looking back before bounding down. Free from its kneading paws, she stands and walks towards her father’s monument, sidestepping the Sunday edition. Despite its age, no dust collects underneath her nails as she pulls its free. Her fingers trace the faded letters. It seems like yesterday when he stroked her hair and nothing of the world’s indifference entered into their home. Drifting back to the wooden chair, she opens the book, but the words lost their force long ago. Meaning occurs only through reminiscence, vivifying what was once felt. Closing it, she places her hand on the worn, grainy leather cover where he had so often placed his. This smallest of acts allows her to live in the moment and not the next, to isolate and luxuriate in an instant of love that encompasses both body and soul. A journey that surpasses all others.

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As an English professor at the University of Texas at Tyler, I have published extensively in non-fiction. “Memory’s Touch” is only my third endeavor into pure fiction. My most recent story is found in the summer issue of Full of Crow.
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