– perfect memory

Perfect Memory
by Susan Pogorzelski

The only thing she remembers is the dog. Not just his name, though that might have been enough, but she remembers the spot behind his ear that makes him growl in satisfaction, remembers the Christmas she found him under the tree, a gift from her family, remembers the days he would curl up beside her when she was sick in bed with the flu, even remembers that he has an upcoming appointment to the vet clinic the following month.

The neighbors in town who meet at the market shake their heads in lament and whisper that it had been a result of the trauma; the doctors nod knowingly as they converse at the nurses’ station and confirm that she had been in the cold water for too long, but not long enough.

She’s taken to wearing floral house dresses with lace collars and when I see her I notice that she rubs the fabric between her fingers. I try to remember if that’s a new habit, try to remember if I’ve ever seen her repeat that motion before.

She walks the dog at the same time every morning, skipping down the driveway, the dog waiting at the end of the long leash until she catches up to him. She pats him on the head and feeds him a biscuit from her pocket, shakes her finger at him teasingly and says that he won’t get another one unless he’s a good boy on their walk, but she knows that he will be, knows that he won’t run away again, knows that they’re inseparable now.

She remembers the dog, and the dog is happy to have her back and hasn’t left her side. This she knows as she sits on the grass, rubbing his belly and cooing words of adoration.

It’s the only thing she knows.

She closes the blinds during the day and opens them at night. She offers the neighborhood kids bottles of beer and invites the adults in for milk and cookies. She jars one bread roll at a time and forgets rotting peaches in the breadbox. She leaves full bottles for the milkman and sets out a bowl of Apple Juice for the cat.

But she remembers the dog. She crochets sweaters for him in the winter and feeds him chopped meat and white rice every evening. She claps her hands together in glee and recalls the first time he ever saw snow, tilts her head back and laughs with delight as he runs through the sprinkler. At night, the neighbors watch curiously through the window as she lifts his now arthritic body onto the couch, his head settling into her lap as she listens to classical music, stroking his fur rhythmically.

She remembers the dog. She doesn’t remember me.

She walks down the driveway to see me as I change the oil on my truck, the ballet slippers she’s taken to wearing sliding along the pavement, her fingers reaching up to remind herself that the lace is still there. I can feel her watching me as I tinker with something lose in the engine.

“You’ve always been a good neighbor, ain’t that so?” Her southern drawl is nothing new, though her voice is deeper, huskier.

“Yup,” I grunt and pick up a wrench, leaning into the engine.

“Have I known you long?”

“Since you’ve been here.”

She pauses, and I can tell that she’s trying to do the calculations in her head. We’ve had this conversation before.

“Well, Elvis is 10, so it must be at least ten years.”

“At least.”

And as I glance up, I can see that her face has changed, and there’s a smile on her lips.

“I remember when I first got Elvis — there was this tiny puppy waiting under the tree for me with a giant red bow wrapped around his neck like a collar. And when he saw me he howled and danced and fit so perfectly into my arms and I knew we were meant to be.”

“Who was he from?”

At this she pauses, and though I’m not facing her, I know that her smile is sliding into a frown, a cloud of puzzlement crossing her face.

“Why, no one. He was just there.”

I nod and lean back, grabbing the greasy rag to wipe my hands before giving up and sliding them across my jeans.

“He’s a good dog,” I say, and she lights up again, turning around to search the yard for him.

“The best,” she says, and she walks away, clapping her hands together as the dog runs up to greet her.

I sigh and turn back to my truck. This evening, like every evening before, I’ll prepare dinner for our kids and give them their baths and tell them their bedtime story. And when she opens up the curtains, I’ll close them. And when she goes to bed, I’ll lift Elvis up to be with her, holding him against me a little tighter.

For a moment, I understand her connection to this animal. For a moment, this dog is the tie that binds me to the woman I used to know. Because he’s the only thing she remembers. And I want to remember her.

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2 Comments

  1. Rebecca said,

    This made me cry and was great. I saw on Twitter that you were moving towards doing more of this kind of writing on your blog… I’ve been kicking around the idea of an online writing club to support and critique, etc. I’ve been to a couple writing clubs in my city and didn’t really feel connected to the people or what they were writing. Anyway, let me know if you want to kick the idea around with me… happy weekend!

  2. twentyorsomething said,

    Rebecca,

    Thanks so much for your comment. The best thing about being able to share these stories is to get feedback to improve the story and my writing, and I would love to be able to do that with and for other writers! I’ll send you an email soon so we can talk.

    Thanks again; I’m looking forward to it!

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