#fridayflash Cheese and Memory

When James told me to burn my diaries I did, so now I can’t be sure of anything.

There was a man I used to see every day at the bus stop, at least I think it was there. He had a face the colour of render, a big craggy jaw from which a cigarette always hung, unlit. He used to square up to invisible people with a pirate like ‘Yarr’, rushing forward then retreating, his body folding and his head bent down, all deflation.

Where we waited for the bus there was a pebble-dash building across the road. I was alone one day with the mad man when he shouted at it, ‘grated wall’. I didn’t know where to look so I looked at the pebble-dash too and it was so bleary eyed early in the morning that ‘grated wall’ seemed a feasible interpretation and being interested in cooking I also considered the wall’s ricotta resemblance. I thought of sharing my insight but the man seemed to be dozing and then the bus arrived. It was only much later while having my lunch that I realised we both could have been talking about cheese.

That was before the accident when cheese seemed a little more important than it does today. I say that but to be honest I can’t really remember what was important then, my memory is not what it used to be and things run into each other, a bit like mozzarella. Oh there I go on about cheese again, it’s one of the symptoms of my injury, getting stuck on the same things, not being able to move forward and propulsion wise the wheelchair doesn’t help either.

It’s funny, but one thing I can remember is that James always used to say that I was neurotic, a little bit stuck on stuff, always checking the fire alarms and the plugs and cooker and the iron on the way out, always patting my pocket to check for keys, always turning round in the driveway to check the front windows were closed. I thought everybody did those things but James told me (kindly and gently) that I was a little bit abnormal. He had this way of laughing at me instead of with me. So after the accident and the head injury and the legs that didn’t work anymore he was inclined to believe that it was more of the same old me coming out, despite what the rehab people told him. Sometimes I swear he believed that I was malingering and could get up out of my chair any minute and walk. But he showed such forbearance, such tenderness that you could never accuse him. And when I had trouble remembering, he’d stare at me for a little bit longer than I was comfortable with, his head creased into a frown as if I was a memory, not such a good one. I never said those things to him, it was just a feeling, perhaps I was neurotic or paranoid or whatever it was. ‘Side effects’ I heard James mutter and he went to prepare his specialty, a cheese souffle.

I think I surprised him when I got back to work several months later. Through my own determination the rehab said or at least the nurse reminded me they said that. The library was very accommodating, wheelchair friendly and a largely stress free environment. Although talk of cutbacks and closures made me shudder, to start again in a new workplace would feel like having to climb the Himalayas. I returned to work close to Christmas and was glad of the break when it came, the period of readjustment had been tiring.

It was on Christmas Day as we were tucking into the cheese board that he told me that he’d been offered a fabulous job opportunity in some very far away country. I don’t remember the name and I don’t think it matters. It wasn’t that he’d been headhunted, I suddenly realised what all his long hours on the PC had been for. You see, it wasn’t that he wanted to break up with me, it was just, well, not really feasible for me to move out all that way. He wasn’t sure what to do, he said as he considered the Stilton, it was such a good opportunity, once in a lifetime really……

He left a suitable pause …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

I chewed on the extra mature cheddar and waited.

He made a cheese cracker with Brie, wiped up the crumbs with his fingertip.

I sipped my mulled wine.

He lined up his cracker with the edge of the cheese board. Right angles.

In the end I wheeled away and found the liqueur truffles that I’d hidden in the branches of the Christmas tree.

On the first of January I opened up a new diary and wrote him out of my life. Actually I didn’t mention him, as if he never existed, I wiped him out of my memory. I was glad that he told me to burn all the diaries because most of them had contained him. I didn’t write about myself either, dealing with myself on a practical level was enough and by the end of the day when I took out my diary I wanted to go somewhere else.

I wrote about the man at the bus stop. I tracked his sanity, his cheese references, his obsessions with numbers, the times when he spoke out loud and those when he muttered under his breath. On my first day back to work, he announced ’41 cars!’ On another day, he said, ‘mozzarella, cheddar what else?’

‘Yes’, I wondered, ‘what is the third cheese in a three cheese pizza?’

And after a few months things started making sense. I discovered the man’s name was Michael and that he couldn’t help speaking out loud. He said he’d fallen from a tree when he was a kid and that he’d been stuck in his room for months counting the ceiling blemishes. He asked me why I’d got so odd, why I talked to myself and repeated the bus number and said ‘fire’. That was a good day, after that he didn’t speak to me for three weeks, he spoke to the bus shelter instead. But I keep writing everything down now in between, all the things that are going to happen, all the things we’ve said and are going to say to each other, all the many hundreds of kinds of cheese.

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8 comments

  1. Brilliant, I love it. Her voice and thoughts are so well written, with a touch of humour. It makes me like her without having to feel sorry for her. Definitely a story to remember.

  2. The character’s voice really stands out. There is a nice tone to her. I especially like the part right before she writes him out of the diary. The lack of communication, just going after the truffles.

    Nice read.

  3. Wow. I’m struck by the individual phrases that serve as checkpoints, letting us know just how tenuous the narrator’s situation is: “now I can’t be sure of anything”, “after a few months things [that the madman said] started making sense”, “I talked to myself and repeated the bus number and said ‘fire’”. I don’t know if your intent was to be uplifting in the final paragraph, giving us hope that the narrator was adjusting to her situation, but I found it chilling, with the implication that she is slipping further away. Very well done.

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