Memory

Memory: the faculty by which the mind stores information; something remembered.

“There’s nothing as damning as memory, son.”

The boy looked up at his father, perplexed. “What do you mean?”

“Well,” prodding the fire with his cane, “the older you get, the more you have to remember.”

“So?”

“So it starts going,” tapping at his temple, “the old grey matter. The more there is to remember, the harder it becomes to file it away because you only have a finite capacity—which only decreases with age. I mean I imagine it would be hard enough to remember everything if your brain remained at peak performance, peak capacity… but it doesn’t. So you don’t… which, I suppose, might be a blessing, considering. Can you imagine what it would be like to actually remember every single detail of seventy or eighty years of life?” he paused. “Maybe wonderful. Maybe awful. Who knows? I think I’d struggle, be overwhelmed, though.

“But the fact of the matter is that the older you get, despite all those facts and figures and dates you were filled with at school, nothing is as important as remembering a birthday or an anniversary. Or a name. Or,” a chuckle, “a face.”

The boy frowned. “Father, I think you might have had a little too much to drink.”

The man looked down at his flask; it was still more than half full. He bit at his lip. “I just miss your mother, that’s all.”

“Oh,” the boy replied reaching for a twig, picking at the bark and then throwing it into the fire. “So… memory?”

“Yes, memory,” he smiled. “The sad thing is that you don’t really have a choice—one day you remember that face, the features, the eyes, the smile… and the next it becomes blurred. More distant, like you’ve taken a step back. Then the next day it’s another step back. And another. And another, until… until… until it’s become more of a concept than a reality. Something you know did exist, that you experienced and appreciated and loved, but is now too insubstantial to fully grasp or define clearly.

“And you never even realised it was happening,” with a sigh. “Inevitably you don’t get to choose what you remember or gets pushed out, either. Your mother’s face is gone, but now in its place I remember somebody’s dog. Or an advert I saw. It’s not really fair.”

“What’s an advert?”

“Ah, nothing… but ironically you’ve now allocated a slot in your cerebellum to the word at the expense of something else, possibly—almost certainly—more important. It’s not much of a trade. I’m sorry for that.”

“I’ll get over it,” he chuckled.

“I’m sure you will,” grinning back. “So everything that happens adds to your burden, you have no choice, and your brain simply starts decaying, fucking up. Good stuff out, random stuff in. And there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it. It’s diminishing returns.”

The boy’s frown deepened. “What if I concentrate? Try really hard not to forget?”

“That’s what we all think, son. But we all fail. You can’t fight nature.”

“Well,” looking down at the dirt, pieces of quartz glistening in the glow of the flames, “that’s a bit shit, then.”

The man laughed. “You’re not wrong there. And the worst thing is that when you get truly old—if you’re that lucky—and I use the word somewhat ironically—then your mind and memory becomes truly fractured and disjointed. Your synapses make irrational links, leaps of logic that aren’t logical at all. One minute you’re twelve, the next you’re eighty. You see your wife become your daughter become your granddaughter, then you yourself are a child again. It’s… crazy. And cruel. And inevitable, unfortunately.”

The boy thought about this for a moment, then looked up again, smiling. “Doesn’t sound that bad, to be honest.”

“I suppose from your perspective it might seem okay, living obliviously in that disintegrating world, but for everyone else seeing you go through it it’s a literal nightmare, creating bad memories for them, potentially pushing out the good stuff like I said… it’s a vicious cycle.”

The boy shook his head, then chuckled again. “You’re a real fucking bundle of laughs tonight, aren’t you?”

© JR Bryden, 2021. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from JR Bryden is strictly prohibited.

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