September 2018

Back to Issue 4

Memory Games

By Kathryn Gossow

Yesterday it was the EFTPOS machine that brought you into my mind.

          Steven. Stevie. The king hit of regret and guilt has receded with the decades. I’m sorry. Troubles compound over the years, new concerns bury our adolescence. I’m not sure if we don’t become ‘other’ people. But you will never get to learn that. We can’t debate and discuss.

          Yesterday began as most others. In the morning, I pulled my front door closed and imprinted to my memory – I need three things at the supermarket this afternoon. To rememberall three things, all day long, amidst the policy interpretations, urgent emails and office trash talk one extra demand too many. I just needed to remember there were three things, but the detail of those three things could wait until I needed to remember them. They say in middle age we should work our memories. Use tools to remember things. Mind games to imprint new people’s names to memory. I don’t know if they work. I don’t have time. I am just frantically trying to keep the fridge stocked.

          It was different in our day. Remember how the three of us rode home from the supermarket, grocery bags balanced on the handle bars of our pushbikes? The inner city traffic buzzed around us. The idea of owning a car was unreal and I said who needed one anyway? We had buses and bikes and a $12.50 grocery budget. You and Pete still yearned for your own wheels. Maybe it is a boy thing.

          Of course, when I arrived at the supermarket yesterday afternoon, I had forgotten what I needed. I sat in the car, my head in my hands like a grieving widow … ham, paper towels and … and … and – until it leap frogs into my brain. Marmite. My teenage son has a marmite addiction.

          I am not bound by a tight grocery budget these days, this decade, this century. It is a new century. I make decisions based on nutrition labels, time constraints and pleasing a family horde that stands in the middle of the kitchen and moans, there’s nothing to eat,within minutes of unpacking groceries.

          Money worries still niggle, but tend to be nebulous – what will it cost to put the kids through uni, should we do more to provide for our retirement, should we buy an investment property? A long way from when we bought three peaches, one for each for us, as a treat.

          I wandered through the aisles in a fuddled fog, almost as though in a maze, not a rectangular building of straight lines that I know so well that I sometimes name the items in each aisle to put myself to sleep. Like when I wake up at two in the morning packed full of prayers of worry.

          I stood, among the three hundred and thirty bread options, my mind blank. Marmite, paper towels and … and … nothing. The trolley traffic moved around me like I was a stone in a murky, flooded river, until at last. Ham. I grabbed some bread just in case and went to look at the specials in the cake section.

          They have self-serve checkouts now. And scanners. Barcodes on each item read by a flashing line of red light. Blip. Blip. No-one ever has the job of rolling sticky prices on every item for a checkout chick to finger into the cash register.

          Blip, Blip – and then I run my EFTPOS card through a slot and – wham – there you are in my head – because you will never know. Never see this wonder of technology. Never take it for granted.

          The day after they found you, the police handed over the contents of your car including the Buzzcock’s tape we recorded off Pete’s record. Drops of blood spotted and obscured random letters. Remember that song – Ever fallen in love (with someone you shouldt’ve)? We loved that song. Drips of dried brown blood blotted out letters so the title readbecame Eve allen in love (with some you should).

          The drops of blood transfixed me. Life extinguished. Flowing in veins, a violence I didn’t want to envisage, and then only this. Brown splatters obliterating letters.

          I cooked your last meal. You told me to steam the vegetables instead of boiling them. I imagined your body, lifeless, my beef and vegies half-digested in your stomach. Some people said you did it on purpose. I knew it wasn’t true. A person, no matter what happens later, cannot be concerned about retaining the nutrients in vegetables and then go out and do that on purpose.

          Once you are in there, stomping around in my head in your Doc Martens, I cannot prise you out.

          I unlocked my car with the press of a button. Beep. I think how you would have only known you could do this with a key. I scroll through hundreds of songs on my iPod and play Missy Higgins through the car stereo because you’d have hated her and she might chase you away. At home I look up a recipe on my iPad, flick through the pages with my finger, carry my laptop onto the deck, read my emails and pay my phone bill. I see the size of my TV and imagine you drooling.

          The world just moved on without you. You were gone before the birth of the world I got to be an adult in. You would have loved all these gadgets. The easy access to porn, and music, and this thing called the internet that in 1987 was something I had never heard of. Not that I remember.

          The last time I saw Pete was one New Year at an obscure out of the way pub in the hinterland. Years ago, before I had kids. The night was a fizzer and the band in the lounge outnumbered the audience. I went into the bar and Pete was there. We both said, “Wow the last time I saw you was…” but neither of us wanted to finish the sentence. After the funeral, he took off to the Melbourne. The lease was up on the house and – he just left the sub-tropics for somewhere drearier.

          Someone I ran into one day tried to tell me Pete had become a junkie. I didn’t believe them. They just heard it from someone else. I think sometimes I could look him up on Facebook but I don’t think he’d go for Facebook. Ok, truth, I have tried to look him up on Facebook but he is not there. You would have hated Facebook. I am not even going to tell you what it is.

          Maybe I could look you up on Facebook. Pretend it is possible for you to be there. It’s not that weird. People pay for their Twitter accounts to keep posting after their death. Well, yeah, that is weird. We leave electronic footprints either way these days. All I have of you is a bloody Buzzcock’s tape. The blood on a Buzzcock’s tape. It’s not even your handwriting. It’s Pete’s. It’s like when it’s in my hand our triangle is still complete.

          I waddled to our ten-year school reunion, eight months pregnant. They mentioned you. When they read the list of deceased and had a minute’s silence. You were the only one from our class. I spent that long minute thinking of seeing you that last time, you and Pete perched on the edge of the back stairs with cheap goonie – Riesling, always awful Riesling – and anger and pent up hormones, the sky black and starless, the air heavy. No one at the reunion asked me about you. I don’t know if they knew I was there, cooking your last meal. Someone asked me if I was happy, with life generally. I thought about it a while and said I was content. I was at the time, why not, a new marriage and a baby in the oven.

          I’m sorry. Was it too soon to be content?

          I had the nightmare more often back then.

          I had it last night, for the first time in ages. I woke at four-thirty eight with nightmare adrenalin stabbing at every nerve ending. My heart tearing at my arteries, pumping blood for flight when there is nothing to run from. This time I had buried the body in the back garden. I had forgotten it was there. But then I remember with a whoosh of guilt. I don’t remember the actual killing, or who I killed. I never do. Just the realisation I had done ‘it’ and the desperate desire to hide the truth – to escape, not punishment, but the shame of discovery.

          Pete said he couldn’t remember what you talked about on the back stairs. Or he was lying. You’d locked yourselves in conversation, closed the door on me as you often did when your tongues got bitter with wine. Pete’s darkness a disease he made sure he shared with both of us. Did you catch his darkness that night? The light of that new car, green and sporty doused by his dark spirit. Did you get behind the wheel to flee him?

          Pete prising open his wounds, bleeding on us with his words. I knew what he was capable of. I should have stayed up. Kept watch. Taken your keys.

          There is no point in staying in bed with my nightmare needles pricking. I get up. The morning light fresh and pale on the garden. No bodies buried. Just some grevillea shrubs, dying grass, and drought dust. I drink coffee until the house stirs and then fumble into the kitchen to make lunches for everyone. I open the fridge and realise I forgot both ham and Marmite.