Sunday, June 14, 2015
Memory: A Short Story
He had shot his mother. He was four years old. That was his first memory.
She survived. His mother. In fact there was little more than a graze. No scar remained an year later. No. That would be incorrect. No scar that marked her flesh remained.....
The writer scratched the last line. It was too melodramatic. He abhorred excess in his writing. And more so in his own story.
But the sentiment that he had expressed was true enough. Yet, he felt....bored.
Strange, that sensation. He had written so many stories but his own surpassed the ones born in his imagination. He had won fame for his stories. His talent had a role but his allure as the guy who had shot his mother as a child, drew even the disinterested.
So, it had seemed only fitting that he should tell his story this time. The true story. Or, at least as true as he remembered.
He got up from the hard chair he had been given. It must be the chair that was blocking his flow. And the table - it was atrocious. He hated it. How was he supposed to write his most important story if the ambience was not right?
He let out a growl of frustration as he paced the room. But ambience or not, he had to finish this story else it would haunt him forever.
He tried again.
"I shot my mother. The resounding gunshot is my first memory. Even before I remember remembering my mother, I recall the report of the gun. it was only as she was falling that her face came into focus. And for the rest of my life, the word 'mother' and its infinite forms brought to my mind, a face contorted in disbelief and horror but oddly fearless. A pretty face that looked ugly in the chaos that followed.
And that is when my story began.
I was four years old. My mother survived. That is what she was good at. Survival. She had been a top model before she met and married my dad. The night I'd shot her, she had been seducing a man. I don't know who the man actually was even today. But the funniest thing is that I never got to know what had led to that shot.
At first, it was because they wanted to shield me and later, I guess, no one actually remembered. Though the only person who could have really revealed it was my mother.
'But honey, I don't remember. It was just an accident. I have never held you responsible,' she'd say and then smile at me beatifically. She definitely didn't remember. I was sure.
Not that people were not curious. As I started becoming famous for my stories, people took great pleasure in trying to unlock that one door.
Unfortunately for them that key seemed to have been forever lost.
Especially now. When my mother is truly and finally dead...."
The writer’s thoughts trailed off. This was turning out to be more and more difficult. And he was running out of time.
He resumed writing.
“My father was a cop. A top cop, as some would say. He had met my mother at some charity function and the two had fallen hard for each other.
Growing up, I was equal parts fascinated and repulsed by their relationship. There was so madly in love that it was embarrassing at times to be in the same room as them, even if they were sitting ten feet apart. It was saccharine sweet and gross at the same time.
Yet there was always a tension, a mistrust that underpinned their life together. When I grew older, I realized that it was due to their inability to stay faithful to each other. They loved crazily but they were too restless to find that stillness that grounds a relationship.
They would invariably have affairs outside marriage, fight passionately about them and then make up with equal passion. It was quite exhausting, staying in the same house as them. And they did live together, their marriage in some ways truer than many others I have known, until the death of my father six months ago. He died of a heart attack.
My mother was devastated, unable to process even her daily life. She was still a very beautiful woman, with many men willing to help her overcome her grief. But she was not interested any longer. It was as if all her affairs had been a staring match with the man she loved, just to see who would blink first.
Since she no longer cared about her surroundings, the task of sorting and taking care of my father’s things fell to me. It was as I was going through his desk that I came across a yellowing envelope, addressed to no one. It was sealed. When I held it up against the light, I could see the outlines of a letter inside.
I was curious. In usual circumstances, I would have considered it impolite to open the envelope. But my father was dead and my mother was in no condition to be of any help; I tore it open.”
The writer paused. His fingers had begun to quiver a little. He took a sip of water from the glass that they’d left him. It tasted bitter. But maybe the water held no bitterness; his memories were covered with a patina of rusted iron. Like blood gone stale.
He recalled how everyone had tried to treat him like a regular kid, had taken extra care to do so, for years after the shot. And somehow that had kept the sound of the shot fresher in his years.
He would have preferred that somebody told him what’d actually happened that night.
Through his early years as a writer, several journalists had tried to solve the mystery. With their innate distrust of celebrity, they assumed that he had been hiding something, that there was a sordid tale that deserved to be exposed. But they all failed. Even the most cynical ones. At that time, he’d actually been disappointed. He’d wished that someone would tell him the truth. He wasn’t miserable but his innate curiosity had kept him awake many nights.
The writer shook his head and forced himself to concentrate. He picked up the pen again.
“It was a letter addressed to me.
‘My dear son’, it began. ‘I am writing this to you, knowing that I will never have the courage to actually give it to you.
You are only five years old now. Perhaps too young to understand what I am writing here. But one day, when you become a man, even then – and especially then – I would not be able to let you read these lines.
You did not shoot your mother.’”
The writer’s pen faltered for a moment before resolutely carrying on.
“’You did not shoot your mother.
That evening nearly an year ago, I had been on night duty. A prominent politician had been assassinated and there was mayhem in the city. I was not expected to be at home that night.
Before I write any further, I must confess that both your mother and I have been unfaithful to each other. Many times. And maybe we would continue to do this. But make no mistake. We love each other more than anyone else. Even you.
Back to that evening. While on duty, I had been hit on the head by a stone thrown by someone in an unruly crowd rioting in the city. I was attended to by the doctors and then ordered home.
I returned home around ten. I let myself in. The lights in the living room were on but it was quiet. I walked down the corridor and reached the room. I noticed you first, playing in front of the muted television. And then I saw your mother kissing a man – someone I did not know – on the sofa.
Even though we had always been aware – indeed confronted each other – of our infidelities, we had never walked in on each other like this.
They were so engrossed in each other that they did not even notice this.
I was furious and eerily calm. I walked upstairs to our bedroom. I opened the bedside drawer and took out my personal revolver. I went back to the living room, called your mother’s name.
She jerked upright and stood to face the gun I’d trained on her. The man took a look at my face and scrambled. I never saw him again, even when the story hit the streets.
I fired but your mother turned the last moment. The bullet grazed her arm.
You did not cry. Just watched her as she fell with a thud. And that brought me out of my stupor. I rushed to her, whispering my regret and my love, again and again.
She brushed me off. Cool and composed, she told me that she loved me. And then declared that we needed a cover story.
You can guess what the cover story was. I am a good cop, a great cop, in fact. I knew how to handle the evidence and steer the story in the direction we wanted.
You, my innocent son, have been turned guilty by your own parents. But I am not sorry about it.
We love each other – your mother and I – more,
My eyes were dry when I reached the end. I just sat in his chair, my mind consciously blank. And then suddenly, hell broke loose in my head. All the thoughts whooshed back in a chaos that defied words. But just as suddenly, they were gone, leaving a clear, single thought in my mind. It was that simple, apparently.
I took a deep breath, went to my room and retrieved the gun that I kept in my night stand. It was an exact replica of the one that had become my first memory.
I went in search of my mother….”
The door of the cell slammed open. “It’s time”, the guard said in bad parody of an awful movie scene. The writer looked at his nearly complete story with regret, then shrugged it off to walk to the noose that they had made for him.