My grandfather loved books, and I think he loved me almost as much.
I know I loved him.
I can still remember the feeling of squashing down next to him in that comfortable ancient armchair.
No one sat in that chair except my grandfather. It wasn’t because we were scared of him or anything like that, it was just that it was his chair and to sit there without him in it, didn’t seem right.
I was working overseas when my grandparents died; one after the other with only days between them.
It wasn’t the kind of job that I could up and leave, so by the time I was back in the country, there wasn’t a physical sign that they had ever been here on this Earth. Their ashes had been scattered, and their house emptied and sold.
Indecent haste was how I phrased it.
“Where the fuck were you while all the work was being done?” was their reply. I guess I pissed my father off because he wouldn’t tell me what had happened to my grandparent’s furniture. It was the armchair that I was really interested in, but I guess it was landfill or in some op-shop warehouse somewhere. I hoped that it had been purchased by a house full of uni students. I could see a nineteen-year-old female English Literature student curled up with a tattered old copy of something by Somerset Maugham. Possibly, ‘The Razor’s Edge’. Yes, that would be good.
My grandfather introduced me to the delights of Enid Blyton and Robert Louis Stephenson in equal measure. He didn’t treat me like a little girl, he saw only a curious, young person who had fallen in love with the worlds that existed between the pages of a book.
He had the most beautiful husky voice, and sitting close to him was like sitting in an old dusty closet. He was warm even in winter, and I got the feeling that it was because of some kind of inner glow caused by his love of books.
He always read me books that were a bit above my understanding, and I think that was on purpose. He would smile when I asked him what a particular word meant, and he would sometimes get me to run my finger over the word as he explained its meaning.
I collect bookmarks because he did.
I give books as presents because he said it was a wise thing to do.
His heroes were authors, and mine are too.
He thought that reading was as essential as writing, and so do I.
We will meet again someday, but for now, I have to be the person he wanted me to be, and I need to find a comfortable old armchair so I can sit and read and remember.
“No, I’m here. On this tram; heading into the City. This tram is going into the city, isn’t it?” said Sam.
“Yes, it is.”
The two men were sitting opposite each other on a sparsely populated number 12 tram. Sam would get off this tram in about half an hour when it reached the top end of Collins Street — the Paris end. The man asking the questions would alight from the tram much sooner.
“What happened to you, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“How do you know that something happened to me?” said Sam
“Your hair is cut very short, and it doesn’t suit you. I’d say, head injury.”
The inquisitive man was about Sam’s build, and he was probably a few years younger. He looked familiar, but these days everyone looked like someone he should know, so he didn’t ask. Much later, Sam would regret that decision.
Sam wasn’t looking directly at the man, but he had been looking at his shoes.
“Brown Oxfords. You don’t see quality shoes like those much these days,” said Sam. The rest of this man’s outfit was out of place — a bit scruffy, but again, Sam said nothing.
“They belonged to my brother. I wear them to remember him. So what happened to you?” said the man with the brown shoes.
“Some bozo T-boned me at an intersection and ran away and left me. The old me would have gone after him with a tyre iron, but the new me just sat there and bled robust, mildly honest blood. Quite a lot of it as it turned out. Of course, I don’t remember any of this, but the ambulance driver liked to talk so he told my wife all the gory details — kind of him to do that.”
“Did they catch the bloke?”
“Would you know him again if you saw him?”
“Mate, I only recognise my wife because she has a tattoo with her name written across her arse.” Sam was suddenly aware of the little old lady who was sitting next to him. “Sorry lady, I didn’t mean to say arse.”
“That’s perfectly okay young man. You sound like you have been through a lot, and you did get hit on the head.”
“Thanks, lady. I don’t want to upset anyone. I want the world to be peaceful and calm. What do you think my chances are?”
“Not very likely, I’m afraid,” said the little old lady.
She wasn’t all that little, but she was old. Sam guessed at about seventy-five, but who can tell, especially with women? She was well dressed in that way that older people were. They dressed up when they went out. Pride in appearance. Sam wondered when her husband had died. She still wore her rings, but he could tell that she was alone, and he wondered how he knew. Sam wondered about a lot of things.
“Are you sure that you wouldn’t recognise the man driving the car that hit you?” The man in the brown shoes was still talking, but Sam had blanked him out momentarily. Brown Shoes sounded insistent.
“No mate, I wouldn’t recognise him. I was sleeping at the time. Large hole in the side of my head with a big chunk of my life leaking out.”
“It’s been nice talking to you Sam, but this is my stop.” Brown Shoes was on his feet and deftly jumped off the stationary tram as it waited for the traffic lights to turn green at Barkley Street.
“There used to be a shop that sold model cars just over there.” Sam pointed to the far street corner. “I’d get off the tram on the way home when I was a kid and spend ages in that shop. Why can I remember that so clearly and not be able to remember marrying my wife?”
“It won’t do to get yourself all worked up. People with head injuries need to be patient and calm.” The old lady put a hand on Sam’s arm. It felt nice to be touched by a caring stranger.
“You sound like you know a bit about this stuff?”
“I was a nurse in my younger days. Saw a lot of boys with head injuries during the War.”
“Did they get their memories back?” There was a touch of desperation in Sam’s question.
“Some did, but it took time. It helped if they had loved ones around them. Does your wife love you, Sam?”
“She says she does, and I want to believe her, but how did you know my name was Sam. Did I tell you?” There was that desperate tone again.
“No, the other man called you Sam. That is your name, isn’t it?”
“I didn’t like the look of that man, and I’m pretty sure that I could describe him to a police artist if I had to.”
“I believe you lady.”
Sam did believe her. He always believed little old ladies. Most people dismissed them as ‘biddies’ or ‘nuisances’, but Sam knew better. Old people notice things and people who notice things are like nuggets of gold to a private investigator. It was an old lady who gave him his big break in the Jameson case and it was an old professional boxer who told Sam where the Collingwood Strangler lived — not the exact house, but the right street. The rest was straightforward. These two cases helped to build his reputation and gave him excellent fodder for his two most successful novels — thinly disguised fiction based on these two instances. None of this would have happened if Sam had dismissed the observations of two elderly citizens.
“That probably won’t be necessary, but you never know. Do you have a card?” Sam was joking, but the little old lady opened her black patent leather handbag and drew out a pristine white card. The font was conservative and the content ‘to the point’.
Mrs Joanna Beed
“Thank you, Mrs Beed.” That was another thing that Sam had learned. Never call old ladies by their first name. They really don’t like that.
Dr. Doug had asked Sam to make a list of the things that he did remember and another list of the things that he would like to remember. He got the notebook out of his inside pocket and wrote, I remember not to call old ladies Joanna. At the back of the book he wrote, I want to remember my wedding day. One list was considerably longer than the other, but over the last few weeks, the other list was catching up — ever so slowly.
The tram was slowing down and ready to stop at the Edinburgh Gardens, not far from Sam’s beloved Fitzroy Football Ground. Joanna Beed gathered her things.
“You take care of yourself Sam. A fine young man like you has lots of important things to achieve. I hope you remember your wedding day soon. I’m sure it was a special day. Don’t forget, if you need me to identify that man for you, I’m only a phone call away.”
“Thank you, Mrs Beed. I’ll be fine. I promise. Enjoy your day. You brightened up mine.” Joanna Beed smiled and stepped down from the tram after looking carefully to see if some impatient motorist was trying to sneak past the stationary tram. Every Melbournian knows that getting off a tram on St Georges Road is an adventure in dodging death.
She made it safely to the footpath and as she did she looked back at the tram and gave a dignified wave. Despite himself, Sam waved back.
Sam’s world had changed drastically. From dodging bullets and signing books to sitting on trams talking to old ladies while trying to piece his life back together.
The rest of the journey was uneventful. The tram was thinly populated and no more conversations broke out. Sam’s half of the tram contained a young married woman, probably on a shopping expedition. Confirmation arrived when she got off at the same stop as Sam. Shopping in the expensive end of town, says her husband was ‘well healed’. Probably in RealEstate, Sam surmised.
The only other inhabitant was a man who was wearing a good suit that was poorly maintained. His expensive shoes were scuffed and dusty. The man had the air of someone who had recently lost his job. There was a caring woman in his life, but she was absent at that moment.
Writers do that — they can’t help themselves. They see interesting people, and they begin to build a backstory.
The dusty shoed gentleman stayed on the tram, and Sam wondered if he rode the tram all day for something to do — a memory of his previous daily routine.
The number 12 tram snakes its way at the top of Collins Street, so even though you may be lost in thought, you know that you have entered the City proper. As a child, this meant that the magic of a day ‘in the City’ was about to begin.
Sam stood in the doorway of the tram and looked back at his seat. So began a routine that he’d learned as a child, “Always take a look back at your place after a long journey. You may have put something down and forgotten it or something may have fallen out of your pocket.” These words rang in his ears on the frequent journies to Dr Doug’s office.
If only it were that simple: if only he could look back and see all the things that he had forgotten, lying on the seat next to him.
‘If onlys’ were a waste of time. What was needed was hard work and patience, something that he had in spades. Or, at least, that is what he had been told.
Crossing the road from the tram stop is always an adventure. City traffic has little regard for pedestrians and people getting off trams are considered fair game. Motorists hate trams. They see them as huge green and gold obstacles sent to earth merely to annoy and make them late for wherever it was that they so desperately need to be.
Having arrived alive and in one piece, Joe, the doorman swung the large glass door open and greeted Sam.
“How are you this morning Mr. Bennett?”
“I’m as fine as can be expected, Joe. How’s the wife and kids?” Because Joe’s appearance in Sam’s life had come ‘post-accident’, Sam found it easy to remember him.
“The kids are fine God bless em, but the missus is worried.”
A severe man in a dark suit brushed past them both and grunted.
“Why worried Joe?”
“The word is that the building owner is planning to put in an automatic door, so no more Joe.”
“Don’t you worry Joe. I’ll buy the bloody building if I have to, but you are not going anywhere until you want to.”
Joe smiled, and thought that Sam was trying to be supportive, but he had heard rumours about Sam’s wife’s spectacular wealth — maybe he meant it.
Sam was serious, and he put it in his notebook on the way up to Dr Doug’s floor. Scarlett knew everyone, so she would know who to contact. Sam needed stability in his life, and Joe was always there. Sam needed that — someone who was always there — always where he was supposed to be.
The elevator doors opened, and Sam walked into Dr Doug’s office. He smiled at Dr Doug’s secretary and felt his pocket ensuring that he still had the three typed pages. Dreams are hard to capture, but Sam had managed it, and soon he would share them, yet again, with the man who was helping him to piece his life back together.
This story is now published as part of the anthology ‘Loyal and True’.
As it turned out, it was all about memory.
Chadwick Kirchmeier had spent a large portion of his long life fiddling about with stuff.
At least that’s how his wife Veronica described it.
They were both a bit forgetful but not so much that it caused problems.
They were not what other people would consider old, but they knew that life does not go on forever, at least not in these corporeal bodies, and Chadwick wondered what might happen if one or both of them began to drift off into that unkind darkness.
He was determined to gather all their memories together so that those who came after them would know who they had been, who they loved and who loved them.
Neither of them could write well let alone type, and the idea of talking into one of those damn machines had little appeal, so Chadwick did what he had always done since they had been together; he improvised.
For a long time, he had known that the long metal fibres that can be found in certain wire brushes behave strangely if you heat them ever so slightly.
They become a kind of ‘memory wire’, and they absorb the knowledge from whatever you put close to them. As far as he could tell the wire held that knowledge no matter what you did to it. So long as it remained intact, the knowledge remained intact, and even rust did not seem to diminish it.
To retrieve the knowledge or memory it contained, you simply stood close to it and remained very still. The memory would flash into your mind and stay there until you began to move.
Most of the strands contained shared memories, and they recorded them standing side by side because this is how they had been for most of their lives.
When all the recordings were finished Chadwick and Veronica bundled them all together and put them in a cupboard in their kitchen.
As their friends came to visit them over their remaining years, they seemed drawn to this room and always remarked on how warm it was, even in the winter.
PHOTO BY: earthquakeboy many thanks for letting me use this amazing shot.