The one defining characteristic about pictures is that they are stationary. You don’t have to worry about people coming and going out of your life, not knowing when they’ll come back or when their next departure will be. You don’t have to worry about the deceased friends and star-crossed lovers, the ones who traveled over the abyss that separates the living from the dead. They remain posed and scripted for your eyes to see as well as the generations of people who may come after you’ve reached your expected demise. Well, I refuse to forget about my father Mellanio Brun, who resides at St. Marissa’s Mental Institute a mile down the road. Today, I will use the power of photographs to bring him out of his incoherent reveries and back to the reality that he once had and still has. All he needs is the right person to jog his jumbled mind.
I’m standing in my bathroom, checking myself to make sure I’ll look presentable for my father. The light blue beret brings out my auburn hair, which heavily contrasts with my olive complexion. A ribbed white cotton sweater hides under my pea coat. Funny. I remind myself that I have my mother’s round cheeks, hazel eyes, and her way of conjuring up menial thoughts that’ll bring nothing but stress and delay. See? That within itself is an unnecessary thought. Also, the thought of recognizing that it’s an unnecessary thought will only bring you further down into the rabbit hole of your subconscious until all you see is a pinprick of light that you can’t reach. I’m getting ahead of myself again.
I close the door to my bathroom and head into the living room, where my valise waits near the door. Before I go, I do one last ritual. Over by the fireplace, on the mantle, a vase of roses takes a place beside a picture of my mother. No matter how many days go by, no matter how many minutes and hours pass, aging the building and the residents, my biological clock ticks to the day I can be with her again.
My mother didn’t believe in an afterlife. She believed the afterlife was something as trivial as a little girl helping her mother bake almond cookies or a boy learning how to catch his first baseball. She enjoyed life and all the pleasantries and misfortunes it brought along with it. She saw no reason why she would want to go to an afterlife, where everything is perfect, celestial even. “The only flaw of being perfect is that you can’t try again.” Those were her dying words as she laid in her bed, half asleep and half aware that I was there, caressing her hand and resting the other on her forehead until her last breath escaped from her and she was nothing but a withered body, beautiful and ghostly.
I have to get going. “Bye maman.” I kiss my index and middle finger and bring them together to her smiling photo. “Don’t worry, maman. I’ll bring him back.”
Le Rue is a wonderful city, just East of Paris beyond the canal that separates it from the Eiffel Tower. No matter how many times I walk down the narrow streets, the city fills me with happiness that I can’t contain. While walking past carpenter shops and office buildings that smell of June rain, I say hello to everyone I pass. Cassidy, the shopkeeper of my favorite flower shop, smiles and waves as she sweeps the outside of her porch while her husband manages the cash register inside, meticulous in counting the daily profits. Lawrence, the shoeshine boy, or man in his case, smiles his toothy smile at me while tending to a customer engrossed in the daily paper. His skin resembles dark chocolate and I wouldn’t be surprised if every female in Le Rue and beyond would want to fancy him for a boat ride on the canal.
When I reach the intersection, I look to my right. Clement’s pastry shop is booming with men and women of all ages, eager to taste his newest creations. Under the peppermint colored awnings, people are seated at circular tables licking whipped cream off their spoons or patting their stomachs in content. Emerging from the shop is the man himself. Clement wears brown corduroys with suspenders that form an X on his back. His shirt, like the clouds in the sky, is bright white and fits well to his person. His hair is combed in his signature swoop and a follicle hangs loosely at the center of his forehead.
“Tatiana, hello!” I wave to him as he jogs over to me. “How are you today?”
“I’m doing just well, thank you.” His eyes, blue and aqueous, shimmer and I have to pull myself away from them before I drown.
He takes a cloth from his apron and wipes his forearms which are caked with flour. “Would you like to come in? I had beignets imported from Louisiana. We could try them together.”
I was breathless for a moment. For five years, he’s been giving subtle hints, but each time I declined. It’s always “Would you like to come and help me prepare for the shop’s opening” or “The weather is perfect for a walk. Why not we try it.” It’s not that I don’t find him attractive. I wish I had the courage to let him take me by the hand and spin me around as we dance to Edith Piaf under the moonlight. With my father occupying my mind, I have no such time for romance.
“Of course,” Clement notices my silence, “If you have other matters to attend to, I don’t want to keep you.”
“Oh, no thank you, Clement. I must be going. Perhaps later, yes?” He’s smiling that toothy smile that’s all too familiar.
“Ah, to see your father I presume?” He hands a passerby a freshly baked croissant, smiling and waving even after she’s turned a corner.
“Yes, I must be going.” I hold onto my valise and walk backward, not wanting to be rude to Clement, but also to let him know that this matter is of the utmost importance to me. He tips his beret in my direction and smiles his same smile where the corners of his mouth go vertical, as if his smile will protrude through his hair and around his head.
So far, everything is going well. The sun is out and about and thanks to the rain that fell upon the city yesterday, the city is coated in a mist, a rich ambiance that will leave people to wonder whether it’s Le Rue or Heaven. The red and brown cobblestone paths illuminate with such brilliance, such serenity. You would feel as though you were walking on gold. Everyone in Le Rue is taking advantage of the forgiving weather. To my right, in an open café, couples dance to Edith Piaf, lost in their own worlds of romance and heartbeats while fairy lights hanging along the gates leave their bodies bathed in yellow. Up ahead, near the river, men in corduroy pants and fedoras lean against the parapet, laughing viciously and speaking freely about their everyday lives, as if the world is their stage and they, along with everyone else in their lives, are actors and the world is a prologue to something vaster.
I turn right on Fontaine Avenue, spinning myself slowly on a dark green street lamp and land on my heels. I pass under awnings still dripping with yesterday’s rain, each droplet making a subtle splash on my cheeks. Cherry blossom trees send pink petals falling gently to the ground, only being whirled by the wind or by other Parisians perusing the street. It reminds me of my mother’s signature accessory. I wonder how many of the violet pedals she collected while walking with my father along the same path twenty years ago, holding hands by their pinkies. I pick it up and carefully place it on the inside of my coat.
My father, a kindred soul. The thought of him being in that institute makes my stomach churn something sour and it nauseates me. It was ten years ago when his mind fell into a state of dilapidation, each memory having no distinct significance, no correlation to one another. He was fifty-five to my twenty-five. Luckily, because I have been in his life prior to when it began, he still recognizes me. Or rather, he recognizes the familiarity of my presence and how we’re connected to memories that have yet to be extinguished but for how long I’m not sure. This is nonsense. My plan will be as flawless as the emerald on my finger he gave me for my nineteenth birthday. His mind will conjure up memories of his old life; the sibilant sound of my mother frying bacon on the stove while he wraps his arms around her waist nuzzling her neck. The library where I would sit on his lap and lay my head against his chest as he read “The Wizard of Oz,” even doing the voices of the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Lion…even Dorothy!”
At the end of Fontaine Street, a large gothic building rests just beyond the spiked gates. St. Marissa’s. It’s barred windows and eerie silence sends shivers through my spine. In the courtyard, a circular fountain made of marble houses Balder, the God of Light. He sits motionless on a pedestal, overlooking the entrance and Le Rue through his narrow field of vision. My valise suddenly gains extra weight, and it becomes more cumbrous to carry as I walk through the gate. “Je viens pere. I’m coming father.”
After signing in with the receptionist and notifying them that I was Mellanio’s daughter, Lilah leads the way to my father’s room on the third floor. We weave past patients who are speaking with family members and friends in the common area and we catch snippets of conversations from reuniting families and friends.
“It’s good to see you again, son,” an elderly man says.
“Everything’s waiting in the car for you grandma,” a ten-year-old says, resting her hand on her grandmother’s.
We go through a hallway that smells vaguely of saline and mixed solution for the floor. Six flights of steps separate us from my dear one. The sound of our heels echoing off the metallic stairs sends vibrations throughout my body that I mistook for the jitters. When we reach the sixth floor, we head down a hallway so narrow that we have to walk in single file to not bump into a trolley serving the patients their dinners or giving their daily dosages of medicine. My heart races when I see his room number. 306. I smooth down my skirt, check to see if my sweater has any miscellaneous attached to it like burs, and pat down my hair.
“Here you are, Tatiana. Mr. Brun is inside. He just awoke from his nap, so he should be cheerful to see you.” Her eyes are hazel, little pools of burgundy that reflect sincerity and compassion.
“Je vous remercie. Thank you.” She nods and turns away down the hall near the stairwell. I have nothing but respect for Lilah. When my father would have his episodes, she would calm me down as she escorted me out of the building, kissing my tears away, telling me things would be alright. We even started meeting outside when she went on her breaks. Nothing special about us. Just two women having a laugh over something funny in the paper or admiring the peaceful nature of the city. Even for those moments, I felt my world was intact.
Inside’s the same as when I visited two weeks ago. A fold-out bed resides in the corner of the room and adjacent to it a window view of Le Rue, with the Eiffel Tower looking more like a toy model than a gigantic piece of architecture. His armoire is half open, revealing an abundance of vests, corduroys, and ties, neatly tucked away for when he’s allowed to venture outside for a stroll. Green and white striped wallpaper covers the room and translucent rays of sunlight send the room into a distinct lime and gold hue.
“Hello?” I set my bag down at the foot of his bead and do a three sixty, examining the room with hands on my hips. On the outside, the building reflects nothing like the cozy décor of my father’s room. It’s as if I stepped into another reality, a reality that left me the same time my father’s mine did his.
A door opens in my peripheries and I turn to see a man dressed in a crisp white collared shirt with an unbuttoned brown vest. His hair is done in a comb over, like pages in a book forced to close.
His mouth’s slightly agape and I fear that I may have lost him. I feel myself float away, watching the scene from a bird’s eye view. Before I call his name, I’m enveloped in a bear hug that sends me back down to the world below me.
“Tatiana, my love.” He kisses my eyelids and places two firm hands on my shoulders.
“Father, it’s good to see you.” He steps back and smiles, and I do the same.
“You as well. My, how you’ve changed.” It was only two weeks ago that I visited him last, but I refuse to remind him and rupture the moment.
“How are you?” I ask. He motions me to sit on the bed as if he’s avoiding my question. He slowly lowers himself down and soon I’m sitting right next to him.
“How’s Madeline?” He asks.
“She’s…she’s doing well, father.” Madeline, my mother, died six months after my father was admitted here. The doctor said it was a heart attack, but if you ask me, it was of a broken heart. The last memory he retains of her was right in front of the entrance. My mother kept crying into his shoulder, saying she couldn’t bear the thought of not having him around our home, and that she would try to see him as time would allow her to. Unfortunately, while my father held her in his arms, whispering sweet nothings, delusions overtook him as he kept questioning why she was upset. It was as if the thought of moving from a loving home to a sterile mental institute didn’t change his perception on the veracity of the situation.
“Good, good,” he says gruffly. He rubs his hands up and down his thighs. It’s taking all my will power to restrain them.
“Do you wish to see what I brought you?”
“For me?” His eyes, as aqua as the sky outside, become smaller.
“Yes, do you wish to see?” He shrugs his shoulders and lets out a grunt. Biting my lower lip, I open up my valise and take out a brown leather book that requires two hands to carry. Lilacs and roses are embroidered into the edges, each curve feeling like bristles against my fingertips.
Tentatively, I open the page to what I hope he will recognize. A picture of the three of us on my tenth birthday. We’re seated around a small circular table. My mother’s behind me, wearing a blue long-sleeved dress that’s half covered with frosting and flour. A mini food fight started in our kitchen and my parents exchanged eggs, flour, and sugar, all while laughing, not caring about the mess they would clean up later. A smile forms on my lips when I see my father kneeling down beside my younger self, his hands covered in the remains of the first slice he ate, touching the tip of my nose with icing.
“Do you remember this? It was my tenth birthday. You baked me the most delicious cake…and then ate a slice before I could blow out my candles!”
My father’s face is stoic, but I see the corners of his mouth curve into a smile.
“Red frosting with vanilla icing. You were so happy that day, dear,” he says. His fingertip caresses the memory.
“I was, wasn’t I?” He remembers the cake! That’s a start. If only I could see inside his head. I imagine a series of gears and one of them is turning, slowly reaching out toward another one to activate his jumbled mind.
The room’s temperature has grown warmer and I shed my pea coat and lay it on the head of the bed. “Are you warm father? Do you wish to ask downstairs to turn the temperature down?” He’s not listening to me. His gaze holds steady on the scrapbook, his fingers rat tat tatting on his thighs.
“Father?” I ask again.
“Show me more, please.”
“Oh. Okay.” I go forward a few years. This picture’s one of the most memorable, at least from what my mother told me when she was alive. It’s a picture of my mother and father. It was their fifth wedding anniversary and I had to stay with a distant aunt south of Le Ruz. They were sitting in an outside restaurant and the world was on the brink of sunset. They were seated on one of the benches fixed into the mini garden behind some restaurant that I was too young to attend. My mother was wearing a blue navy style ivory dress with black stalkings and high heels. While my mother looked composed, my father of course made it hilarious. He was wearing a hilarious topper hat with dark green pants and a white collared shirt halfway unbuttoned. Their eyes were locked with each other’s, their incandescence fueling their hearts.
“Madeline,” my father whispers.
“You were so goofy. I thought I would have to take a trip to the infirmary when I first saw this picture.”
He lets out a huff of air. “Yes. She was quite upset with me.”
For two more hours, we peruse the scrapbook, visiting memories that have nearly faded into oblivion, particularly for my father. Me standing under a streetlamp when I was ten in my raincoat, smiling my crooked smile and my face welcoming the rain. My dad spinning my nine-year-old self in midair, my dress nearly covering half of his face. My grandparents as well as myself outside of a chapel in the green pastures of Le Rue. A picture of my father looking over the bridge at the distant Eiffel tower, a silhouette watching one of the most memorable pieces of the world far from his reach. Each memory turns a gear in his head. I could tell by the way he smiles from ear to ear, the way he laughs holding his diaphragm, and the way he looks at me with those blue aqueous eyes. I’m not with a stranger in a mental institute. I’m with my father. The one who bandaged my knee and kissed it when I fell. The one who came to my room at night with my mother when I had nightmares. The one who took me to my academy’s dance, holding me in his arms while seventeen-year-olds stared in awe and bewilderment.
After the nurse brings my father and I meals from the cafeteria, which is much less appetizing than I imagined, we eat our meals in a comfortable silence. Outside, the bright azure sky becomes beige, clouds overtaking the sun. Lights have come on in the distance and the city’s in the transition of day to night. We’re caught in between. I love this time of night. The way everyone appreciates the night surroundings. The absence of people making you think about life’s greatest mysteries, from our origins to our purpose in life. The way the setting sun sends a hush over the world, forcing people to be honest and open about their feelings. Right here, we are two souls, tethered together in a fashion that makes us inseparable and transcendent.
“You know, Edith Piaf…is an amazing songstress. She captivated audiences all throughout Le Rue, Paris, and all of France really. In fact, that’s sort of how…Madeline and I met.” In the corner of the room, a phonograph rests on a chairside table.
“Really?” I didn’t know this. Even my mother never gave me this information, even before my father became unwell.
“Yes. I was…just finishing schooling and a couple of my friends decided to celebrate at Viola’s Hut. Inside, there was your mother, standing at the far corner of the room. She wasn’t like anyone else there…she didn’t ramble on and on about menial things like everyone else. She created a world for herself and when she saw Edith Piaf on stage, she was in a state of rapture. I saw she noticed…the important things in life.”
He looks down at his wedding ring and kisses it briefly before placing the record in the slot. “Of course, Ruth Etting was simply evangelic.” From the machine, a violin fills the room and a woman with a petite voice spills from the machine and circles around us.
“Father? What are you doing?” He turns around and stretches out his hand, palm up. Behind him, the sun has set over the horizon, and slit rays of pink cascade over the floor and the room.
I suppress a laugh. “Father, I can’t dance.” He doesn’t move. Reluctantly, I put my hand into his and he pulls me in gently. The words travel through my ears and around my heart.
Whether you are here or yonder. Whether all your faults are true. Whether you remain or wander, I’m growing fonder of you.
He places my hand on his heart and we sway back and forth to the music. “Was this my mother’s favorite song?”
His chin rests on my head, and I’m unable to see his face. “Si, amour.” His voice grows tired, and ripples of exhaustion our present. But I don’t want this to end.
I’ve never truly considered why my father’s mind left him. I always assumed that his brain couldn’t keep up with the present, that the abundance of thoughts that come with age have somehow slowed his thought process, reducing it to a near still motion. But now, as we’re dancing in this room with the green and white wallpaper and the music fueling our souls, I’m beginning to think that my father couldn’t truly live in the present because he was too fond of the past and all the memoires that emerged from it. He didn’t want to look too far into the future, for fear of realizing that one day my mother and I wouldn’t be a part of this world anymore and we would become a part of the Earth.
“Father,” I say while listening to the steady beat of his heart, “I’m glad I came to visit you. I’m glad you’re well and that we spent the evening together. Do you remember when you gave me an emerald ring for my nine teeth birthday?
“Emerald ring?” He asks.
“Yes. You have no idea how elated I was. For a father to embarrass himself like that for her nineteen-year-old daughter. It was…”
“Who?” He asks. There’s a sudden urgency in his voice and the music diminishes itself to mere background music in my mind.
“Me, father. Remember, you gave it to…”
“What is…who are you? What are you doing here?”
No. It can’t be. “No, no, no, father. It’s me.” He’s stepping away from me, looking at me like a burglar infiltrating his home, in this case his private life.
“Father, please?” I take his hand and rest it to my cheek. His knuckles are cool against it. “It’s me, Tatiana Brun. Your daughter. I came to see you remember?” I feel a lump in my throat and I’m on the verge of tears.
“Get away from me. I don’t know you! Get back!”
“Father, no, please, you must remember!” I rush to my scrapbook and show it to him. “This is our scrapbook. Remember? Please, I beg you. Just look at the pictures and you’ll see…”
With great veracity, he knocks it out of my hands and it lands on the floor, along with the pink rose petal I put inside of it that I found on the ground earlier. His eyes are no longer welcoming and nurturing. They are hostile and blunt. They bear no resemblance to the kind man who I danced with five minutes ago, or the man prior to when he was admitted. No resemblance to the man who sang lullabies to help my fear of returning to nightmares. No resemblance to the man with a heart as big as his brain, forever growing and content all the same. My expected, but forsaken nightmare has come true. I’ve become a stranger to him. To both versions of him, the one that’s gone and the one now, irritated and confused. I came here to restore his memory with photographs, instead all I’ve done is increase the distance between my father and myself. I’m sorry, mother. I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.
Clockwise, counterclockwise. A step to the right. Clockwise, counterclockwise. Clement counts the rhythm in his head as he wipes down the counter, ready to close for the night. He’s refilled the caddies, stocked the display with fresh pastries, ranging from tiramisu to Zuccotto, swept the floor, and made sure the windows were spotless so that everyone in Le Rue could see the desserts for tomorrow.
When he’s done wiping the counter, he unties his apron from his waist and folds it over one of the small table chairs. Spotlights of tangerine colored lights are present on the wooden floor, the outside streetlamps being their source of tranquil beauty. Clement, with his hands on his hips, breathes in and out, taking in his surroundings. The framed photographs hanging throughout the walls. The red and white checkered tables with unlit candles, though one remains lit where he sat for a smoke break. Still, in this time of introspection, all he can think about is Tatiana.
A wonderful woman, he thinks to himself. Hopeful, Charitable. Clement has her features clear in his head. Three freckles on the bridge of her nose. Her auburn hair, flowing like rivers of crimson when she lets it fall past her shoulders. He wishes to kiss every freckle, every eyelash, every insecurity she may feel when she doubts how beautiful she really is. She’s always been optimistic, even returning to and from the mental instate well past Fontaine Street. A dark figure walks past the large glass window, stepping in and out of darkness. He notices the frantic clicking of heals, a glimmer of auburn hair, and, before stepping back into the darkness, tears rushing down her face.
“Tatiana,” Clement says to himself. He walks quickly to the door and opens it, the bell jingling overhead. “Tatiana? Are you all right?”
She stops but doesn’t face him. Clement notices she’s clutching her forearms and her shoulders are trembling.
“Tatiana,” Clement asks, stepping slowly to the dark silhouette, “Was it your father? Did something happen?”
“I failed,” she whispers. “I failed. I failed. I couldn’t bring him back. I….I…”
“Here, come inside.” He wraps his arm around her shoulder and with the other takes her hand gingerly and leads her inside. He guides her to the table with the lit candle and she sits down, hanging to him like a life support patient. Even when she’s in distress, Clement admires her humility, her way she deals with problems that are beyond her control. Instead of engaging her in conversation, he goes over to the display area and uses a butter knife to cut a slice of tiramisu and puts it on a small plate. He returns and sets it in front of her.
“I think I’ve done the recipe justice if I do say so myself. Instead of butter, I used vanilla icing. It makes the texture more cloudlike. Here.” He takes a dessert spoon and dives into the cake and holds it in front of Tatiana. Her eyelids are aqueous in the candlelight, her hair tousled, her cheeks puffy. Her breathing has regained some composure, but not by a lot.
“Alright then. I’ll taste it myself.” He opens his mouth and tastes the cake, hoping it’ll coax her out of her aura. “Mmm, delicious. It’s simply heavenly.” He licks the spoon and sees that Tatiana is on the brink of smiling.
“Are you sure you don’t want any. It’s simply marvelous. No? Alright then.” Again, he takes a piece and lets the creamy sensation run along his tongue. “This could cure cancer, I’m sure of it.” Tatiana takes the spoon beside her and slowly takes a piece and brings it to her mouth. Success!
“Thank you,” she says, still not quite reaching his stare.
“Of course,” he says. They both continue to eat the cake in silence. Only the clinking of silverware and a distant radiator fills the silence.
“Do you know why I love baking?” Clement asks. Tatiana has finished the last of the tiramisu. She shakes her head.
“Well, because of my uncle. He was more of a father to me than my own.” He taps his knuckles against the table. This part of his life, the unseen, weighed heavily on him for years. His private life was never spoken about, not even with Tatiana. But in the atmosphere, the dim lighting, the night noises of cars in the distance, and the hum of the display area, he feels open and vulnerable.
“When I was eight years old, I would help my mother in the kitchen, preparing meals and prepare delicacies for my father. It was the only time I felt safe because it was untainted, free from his will to be dominant.” He rolls up his sleeves to his elbows and scratches the hair on his forearms. He looks to see Tatiana’s eyes, intent and unwavering.
“I saw my mother with bruises. I asked her about it. She would always assure me that it was nothing, that she had fallen or that my father was angry and assured me that it wouldn’t happen again. As the bruises grew more prominent and noticeable, I began to appreciate every memory of my mother cooking and cleaning.”
Clement lets out a sigh and waits for Tatiana’s reaction. He’s never given this information to anyone. Ever.
“I’m sorry, Clement. I’m sure she was a wonderful woman.” She reaches over and caresses his forearm.
“Don’t be.” He covers her hand with his. “What brought me to the light was not my mother herself. It wasn’t my father’s death that finally brought me joy and tranquility. It was the memories. Your memories of who people were reside in your brain, whether you want them to or not. It can be cancer that eats away at your soul, until you’re nothing but a body with a heart that simply pumps blood instead of love. It can lead you to become hollow, not fully living in the present. Or…you can embrace them. You can wear these memories as a protective armor against who people are now and how they could’ve been. Do you understand?”
Clement watches as Tatiana nods her head. Their hands still rest on top of one another on his forearm. He caresses her hand as she remains still, only her eyes glimmering in the candlelight, the only movement of her being.
“This morning I had it all planned out,” Tatiana says wistfully. Clement continues to massage her hand. “I had brought him a scrapbook. I thought that…that maybe if he saw what his past life was like…he could remember it. He would remember me as his daughter instead of a stranger with a friendly face that he holds familiar to his memories.” Clement says nothing and Tatiana continues. “What’s the point of keeping someone in your life if they have no recollection of their past or the people in it?”
“Tatiana dear,” Clement coos, “you know. Yes, your father may not remember you, but those memories, regardless if he remembers them and that he was a part of them, are still yours. Memories don’t change, Tatiana. They haven’t changed then, and they won’t now.”
They say nothing for a few minutes and continue to sit in silence that words are unable to float through. If his words have passed through her permeable shell, he’s unsure of it, for her face remains stoic.
“May I walk you home, Tatiana?” Clement asks. She looks up with a sad smile.
“Yes. I would like that.”
Except for Clement, his mother never had a chance at happiness. She never remarried after she separated from her husband. All her time and attention were devoted solely to her son. Making sure he had proper clothes to wear, food in his stomach, and all the love and care only a mother could provide. Clement feels a tinge of guilt as he and Tatiana make their way through the dark streets of Le Rue, stepping in and out of spotlights from up above windows. She keeps her hands wrapped around his forearm, for fear of letting go and slipping into the darkness or simply out of companionship he’s not sure.
The pair reaches a tall grey building, on the fifth floor Tatiana’s apartment. At the base of the steps, the somber woman turns to him.
“Thank you, Clement. I really appreciated you walking me home.”
“Even big girls like yourself need a little guidance every now and then.”
She scoffs and looks down at her feet and he does the same. When they look at each other again, Clement notices how clear her features are now. She has wiped away the rivers of mascara that stained her eyelids from crying. Her hair, earlier tousled and unkempt, now cascades down her shoulders in loose curls. Not even, but with a distinct naturalness that only the purest of people would call beautiful. Now, under the orange glow of the lobby, she looks like a whole other person. It’s as if the experience she endured with her father earlier has changed her outlook on life. That it’s not a movie, each scene acted out perfectly that’ll result in the most satisfactory ending.
“Thank you,” she whispers. Before the baker turn to leave, she grabs his arm once again, gently turning him back around. She slides her hands around his shoulders and plants a kiss on Clement’s ear. The kiss feels like rose petals gliding along a gentle stream of water and it infuses into his ear and travels through his body, igniting every blood cell until it sparkles. When she pulls away, he’s in shock and awe all at once. She walks up the stairs, her skirt billowing slightly in the night breeze. She steps inside and closes the door.
If life’s purpose is to construct memories among people, and Clement does believe it is, it is to take every memory into account. His mother and himself, for instance, when they would be in the kitchen cooking meals and how the sunlight highlighted the floral pattern of her dress. The customers smiling amiably at the desserts and giving him a pat on a back for a job well done. Even being here, in Le Rue of all cities, walking the streets littered with art work and friendly faces and lights that hang along the various awning of hotels and other shops that sell relevant commodities. Memories are never to be taken for granted or exploited in a cheap manner that makes them mundane. They are to be cherished like a small child and are not to be spoken of so often, for fear of losing their essence. A kiss is a memory, a connection to what’s most desired among humans, and Clement prays that when he’s aged with time, lying on his death bed, he remembers the feel of the kiss from Tatiana Brun.
June 20th, 1935. That was the day Mellanio Brun lost his memory inevitably. He recalled no past events except a young woman, his daughter unbeknownst to him, whose name had vanished into the realms of his subconscious and her cries as she left him had become foreign to him, blending in with the rest of his abnormal inquiries. After the woman left, he spent a few hours in bed. The only plausible noise was the radiator in the corner of the room as well as the footsteps outside his room, coming and fading as the hours went by. When he grew weary in bed, he arose and stared out the window at the city landscape. He admired the pink hue that coated the rooftops as well as the cotton candy colored sky that sent the world into a deeper shade of violet. In the distance, beyond the shops meeting the needs of the Le Ruz residents, ranging from books to music, things of trivial importance, he sees the Eiffel tower cutting a tear through the shifting clouds.
He spent the rest of the day being guided by nurses and other staff members to and from rooms. Mellanio disliked the starchy feel of their uniforms, which caused his forearms to itch and break out into miniature hives. For Mellanio, something as insignificant as a misplaced trouser or the weather can send him into his moods. His personality resembled something like a wheel that the game shows used, each color representing a different prize or downfall. Some days he would be elated, greeting everyone with a smile or a nod, despite the non-existent relationships he forged. Other days he would be somber, quiet as a church mouse as he ate his meals in solitude or stared out the window at nothing in particular. Maybe he was trying to forge a memory, trying to pull one last hope of his daughter or his wife out of the rabbit hole of his mind and into the sunlight.
Later that day, as he was preparing for bed, after having a shave and a shower, he noticed near the foot of his bed a flower petal. He picked it up and looked at the now foreign item. He admired the way the edges were still bright pink, not completely void of life. He placed it on his nightstand and climbed onto his mattress. Naturally, he would read one of the newspapers on his desk or listen to the phonograph crackle out Edith Piaf or Louis Armstrong, but the day had been exhausting for him and now he wished to sleep.
When Mellanio was younger, around five years old, he would report to his parents the types of dreams he had. Having a love for reading at a very young age, his mind would concoct scenarios out of thin air, and he would reenact them in reality with his parents or other concubines. Once he pretended that he was the owner of his own bookstore and he would have his father pick him up as he grazed his fingertips along the spines of books that were in the library. Another day he was a famous pianist and he would play the piano, though not very well, with such conviction and diligence that he would lose himself entirely and become encroached in this new personality that he was able to create from the remnants of his dream.
His parents, while they thought it was amusing to watch their child develop such a tendency, found it difficult to pinpoint when he was and wasn’t pretending, for this continued on through his years as a teenager. In other words, they worried which personality, which character was their beloved son. Of course, in that time of adolescence and mischief, a child could dream he or she was anything. A child in Paris could dream of being a famous artist, creating masterpieces and tour de forces with a swift of a paintbrush. In England, a young girl would dream of being an author, using her infinite vocabulary to weave stories together effortlessly and without treason.
But the one person he failed to be, the one person his mind failed to grasp any longer was a father and husband. His wife Madeline and his daughter Tatiana had become abstract figurines on the canvas of his meshed mind, not standing out in particular and having no definable traits that’ll remind Mellanio why or how they came to be in his world. He’ll never recollect Madeline’s smile when they awoke the morning after their wedding, how she kept smiling at him as they caressed each other’s calves under the sheets. He’ll never again hear her laughter, sweet and childlike, but also composed and sent an aurora of compassion throughout their home and the entire city of Le Rue. As for Tatiana, it was a much greater pain.
Although he didn’t remember entirely, and it was futile to try, he did feel a sense of nostalgia wash over him as he laid his mattress. Through his clouded memories, he saw vaguely a man, cheerful and ready to experience life for what it is, carrying a little girl. This little girl had auburn hair and was trying to bite the man’s nose only for him to pull away at the last second and his laughter ricocheted off the walls and around them as they continued their game. Mellanio envied that man, though he didn’t know why. He shouldn’t have had any malice in his heart for this stranger, for he didn’t know him. It was the mere presence and presentation of their happiness that caused Mellanio to become despondent and weary. Unbeknownst to him, that man, through his insular vision, was himself. It was like looking through a telescope, past the stars and planets of the familiar and the unknown, gazing at a memory too far out of his reach to grasp and too precious, too innocent, for him to hold onto any longer.
The cicadas sang their quiet song for hours on end and very few cars passed by on the other side of the gate, returning to families and friends after a day’s work or leisure. Mellanio slept with his hands folded over his stomach and as he was bathed in the darkness, only the twilight of day coating his eyes, his memories faded into oblivion and like the scrapbook Tatiana showed him a few hours beforehand, they became logged away in a hidden compartment where they morphed from lighter to darker shades of sepia.