The Quotable

Memory Lies

That June day was like tasty pork bits, you know, sweet and sour. Earlier the sun had been squinting through. But there, just then, the breeze got all blustery. I remember because I had my hair permed the day before, not good— too frizzy. I was wearing that creamy hat, see, the one with the floppy brim, and my silk gloves. I looked like a movie starlet on her way to Sunday church in my new Sears suit, like a genuine Chanel. But the wind. Ah, it smelled like September haying. I had to hold my hat on with one hand and on to little Diane there with the other. It wasn’t a busy street, just two lanes moseying along, but there were cars parked along both sides. I recall Diane got antsy and waved at someone she saw on the other side as we started to cross over, can’t remember who now, but her small body just coiled and sprang. I felt her chubby fingers slip out of mine. And I felt that old truck’s horn blare in my chest, and the smash vibrate through my bones.



Gran’s voice dwindles. She sits still, eyes hypnotized, head weighted down by her glasses like mini-barbells. Through the open door, a repetitive dlk-dlk shp shp retreats down the hallway. A tear splats on the black page of her frayed book.

I go to the table by the birdcage where there’s a box of tissues behind a half glass of something thickly pink that reeks of fake peppermint. Nicorette gum sits in a scoured ashtray, evidence of the cigarette habit she had to ditch when she moved in. The tissue smells of peppermint-birdshit fusion.

In his cage in the corner, Magoo side-steps across the swinging bar and rumples his feathers. He senses she’s sad. No parroting, he knows to shut up.

“Would you like a tissue?” I say loudly, but Gran still sits hunched, lost in memory. Stupid expression—I mean, isn’t memory where you find things? Where you get stoked on old stuff?

I wave the tissue under her gaze and she turns, slow, disjointed, to look right at me. Jagged. The speckles in her ash eyes are bright. Her shoulders press back brittle, without the crackle you’d expect.

“Hello, there. Now, who are you?”

“Gran, it’s me, Kayla.”

“Are you one of those candy-stripers come to visit?”

A friggin’ candy-striper? In a nursing home? Well, ‘assisted care’ I guess they call it.

“Would you fill my water jug, dearie? Not so much ice this time. It pains my teeth.”

No use. Maybe I can get her back to where we left off.  “You said there was a truck smash, Gran? What happened?”

“The crash… yes, poor man. Slammed his brakes and swerved to keep from hitting Diane when she darted across. He hit a slick spot and spun sideways. Did I say it had been pouring? Rammed into a parked car. Oh, the shattered glass. His broken ribs mended in time, but his eyes went blind. She just pulled out of my hand….”

I look down at the soft-edged photo where she’s transfixed. They seemed happy enough, Gran and my little Mom. It looked a tad cloudy, yeah, but there were no signs of rain. Mom was waving at whoever was taking the photo. Maybe Grandpa?

Something seems out of sync though, maybe Gran’s outfit? She totally looked like a hottie for back then. Forget the Hollywood starlet delusion, she’s obviously out of touch with what’s cool now, but yeah, the big hat would still look funky in a retro sort of way, especially if she had worn it with a pair of glitzy Jackie-O sunglasses.

There’s something about the way the camera has frozen her in that moment that makes me flash onto my Mom. Something in the way Gran’s thumb is hooked through her shoulder bag, cigarette between gloved fingers, and her shoulder strains forward, solid, as she cranes her head around. As if a charging vehicle would be totally blocked by that shoulder. My Mom says she’s inherited her mother’s traits.

But when I see this picture now of Mom when she was little holding her mother’s hand, I don’t get it. I can’t relate this jumbled kid to the graceful lady she turned into. Here, she’s all chubby cheeks with one pigtail higher than the other and one yellow knee sock slouched around her ankle. Who woulda guessed?


The low sun through the window spotlights Gran. Her hair is a halo, like sun through candy floss, as she perches on her chair at the table with the drop-leaf up, spread with photo books. Sensible furniture for this small place, my Mom says.

Gran’s shadow is profiled on the wall by the sinking sun: curved back tilted forward, neckless head protruded forward, weighted with the triangle of nose. It bobs down, yanks up.

“This is a really cool book, Gran, having all your pics in it. Ours are all on the computer, so we don’t look at them much. But I got a digital frame for my birthday that can show a thousand photos with 5 GB capacity.”

She turns the page. “I have always kept photograph albums.” Like a bird’s foot her fingers stroke the same spot repeatedly on the coarse page, clawing up memory bits. I saw Gran wash her hands before opening the book as if she were sitting down to dinner.

The click of Mom’s high heels comes down the hallway, a high-pitched squeak with every second step. Tlp, txlp. Makes me think of Magoo with laryngitis.

Gran’s head pops up. “Diane?”

“I found an attendant and two nurses, but none were the right one to talk to about adjusting the medication.” Mom glides into an armchair overdosed on polka-dots, the one Gran brought with her when she moved in.

“A doctor is coming around soon.” She crosses her legs high on her thighs; her foot twitches.

Gran turns another page of her world. “Diane?” she says, whether to Mom or her book isn’t clear. The parrot double-pecks his head toward her as if he could see. But he’s blind. Has been all his life, I think.

“Are you two doing okay for now, Kayla? How’s she managing?”

“Meh.” I tell her how Gran likes to describe the stories of her pictures, but that she doesn’t know who I am today. “She told me about the one of you and her just before that accident. Pretty harsh.”

Mom looks at me like I’ve blurted something in Chinese. “Accident?” she repeats like Magoo. She tricep-presses herself out of the chair and strides over, tlp, txlp. I turn back the page and Gran makes a sound like a whimper with a question mark.

“This one here, Gran and you when you were little.”

Mom tucks in her chin, stares at me out of the tops of her eyes like lawyers do when they cross-examine an answer they don’t like. Mom has trouble switching roles after work.

“Kayla, sweetie.” She exaggerates like she doesn’t mean it. “That’s not right… your grandmother’s a bit befuddled. See the cars? These are more recent models, not 1960s. No, that’s a photo of me with you, Kayla, about ten years ago when we were on our way to Uncle Bruce’s wedding. See? You’re waving at Daddy across the street taking our photo. Remember?”

“Uh, no—I was only four, Mom.”

Mom fake-laughs. “So you thought I was actually Gran in that picture? Take a good look, sweetie, you’re probably having a bit of a sneak preview of yourself.”

“Ha, as if!”

I didn’t know Mom had smoked. She’s just turned everything upside down. So the kid with yellow socks is me, only I’ve lost all the baby fat. I look at my Mom in the photo, and something skids sideways in my mind I can’t quite catch.

“Did you say something about an accident?” Mom asks.

But then a man in a white coat flashes by the door and, tlp, txlp, Mom staccatos after him and calls over her shoulder, “Ask Gran about more photos. I won’t be long.”



Frankie could wring such sweet sound from that violin; he made it sing like the heavenly seraphim. He had a small band with those guys—guitar, piano, a singer. I remember how they played for barn dances and church socials and weddings. Like here at our Diane’s wedding. And, heavens above, what a divine day it was. Sunshine galore. Everyone said we were crazy to have an outdoor wedding, to take a chance on the weather in these parts, but the Lord smiled. Everyone smiled when my Frankie played “La Cumparsita” and Diane danced the tango with her new husband. They whirled and lunged and dipped. All those years of ballet and tap lessons for her—what a price, but it paid off. I remember she and Tony practiced for weeks. They were glorious! See all those little tables we borrowed from the Rotary club, blue and white checked tablecloths? Made it look like a Spanish plaza. And see that backdrop behind Frankie and the band? It was a lot of work to paint all those café fronts. Ahh, but we were the toast of the town.




OK, this is a lie. Now I know for sure Gran has lost it. “We might not have photo albums in our house, Gran, but I’ve definitely seen Mom and Dad’s wedding pic.”

She jerks her back up straight from the photo album and looks at me slanted without turning. “Oh. Have you come to take me to the dining room? It’s about that time I suppose.”

Crap, who does she think I am now? Forget it.

“Their picture is in a silver frame on the mantel.”

It was taken on the steps of St. Joseph Cathedral downtown with guests holding umbrellas over them and wet confetti plastered to Mom’s angel-cake gown.

“This picture in your book, Gran? This was taken two years ago in Buenos Aires. Remember our trip? It’s in a neighborhood called La Boca.”

It was my Grandpa Frank’s last trip before his cancer got so bad, and it was a major deal for him. He wanted to take both his kids, meaning Mom and Uncle Bruce, and us grandkids.

She doesn’t believe me. Won’t look at me. So I’ll shut up. Magoo pecks at his paper lino. A wheelchair crying for WD40 squeaks by the open door.

Then she slowly raises her arms as if she is about to dance a clumsy flamenco, or take flight maybe, leans into my face, intense, and stage-whispers, “I remember. He played La Cumparsita.”

I remember, too. I remember Gran bitching about Grandpa taking his violin along as we boarded the plane, said he was delusional, and who did he think he was—Carlos Gardel? Whoever.

La Boca was so awesome. I recognize the photo, the in-your-face blocks of color painted on all the store fronts like licorice of all sorts—lemon, tangerine, mint, strawberry. The energy of those streets hooked me. Tango dancers gyrated and flicked so sexpert I thought they were going to do it right there in the street.

“Look,” Gran points to the Latino dancers in the picture. “Your mother and Tony dancing at their wedding.” She’s even forgotten my Dad’s name is Thomas.

“Gran, I think you’re messed a bit. I’m just saying.”

I’m not supposed to argue when she gets like this. I know about dementia. The doctor says she’s not completely gone, yet, but she’s “declining”. It’s her short term memory that isn’t so hot, like she may not remember when we come again on Sunday that we were here today. Long term memory, he says, is better in old people. Apparently not today. Where the heck is Mom?

Gran twitches her head sideways in a silent ‘no’ and her neck cords pop. “Frankie’s band played at their wedding dance.”

Musicians played on porch fronts in La Boca for tourists who drank maté tea at sidewalk café tables. That’s where Grandpa opened his violin case to join them and Gran and Mom were embarrassed but didn’t want to make a scene. Dad and Uncle Bruce had already found a table and were ordering beer.

When the singer finished, Grandpa started playing and everyone turned to listen and, yeah, he was good. It’s true, those guys invited him to join in to play a song they all knew. But that’s not Grandpa in the picture. He was bald, even before the cancer, and those Argentine guys have lots of thick grey hair.


Realize/real lies

Gran leans her forearms heavy on the table, totters to her feet and grasps her walker. Dlk-dlk shp shp. “I remember,” she mumbles. “Where are my smokes?” She scuffs over to the bird cage and goes nose to beak, all twitchy. “Hello, Magoo.”

I sit in her chair and look at the other pictures on the Buenos Aires page. Gran hums and sings half under her breath: I learned the truth at seventeen, that love was meant for beauty queens. I think I remember reading that poem in English class. I remember my teacher saying it was an old song, but I’ve never heard the tune before.

Tlp, txlp, tlp, txlp.  Finally. Mom is pink and damp. I notice her upper back is slumped and her chin pokes forward. For a nano-sec I don’t see her as my mother, as someone connected to me. It’s like I’m seeing her at an angle in a mirror, you know, the angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection thingy.

“I caught him,” Mom announces. “He’s going to review her chart and reassess, maybe order some new tests.” She glances at Gran who’s having an earnest monologue with Magoo.

“You remember, don’t you? No sunspots on you.” Gran croons to the bird.

Mom looks at me, her trick eyebrow up. “Are you two still doing the memory lane trip, Kayla?”

I tell her we hit a few potholes and, anyway, I don’t really see the point of keeping pictures in a book forever.

Mom heads for the dotty armchair. “It’s to capture the moment, so years later when you look at it, it brings back the memories, all the details stored in your mind.” She flicks off her heels, tucks her feet up, and tells me she used to have shoeboxes full, but she lost track of them as they moved from house to house over the years. Said she wasn’t as organized as Gran, but some are still stored under their bed. “Though I can’t say I’ve ever bothered to go through them since digital photos.”

Gran mucks with the bird cage, changing the poop paper and muttering. I don’t catch all her words:  “… doesn’t remember… first (or thirst?) Magoo… Tony (or Tommy?) …” Losing her marbles again.

“Mom, look at this.” I carry the book over to show her the La Boca pic and tell her the screwed up wedding story Gran hooks with it. Her eyes flick over to Gran, then onto her lap. She brushes a downy feather off her pants, but all she says is hmmm.

“Seventeen,” Gran spits the word at Magoo. “Too young.” Mom lurches to her side.


Memorize/memory’s eyes

I turn the pages of Gran’s book. It annoys me, this photo stuff. You take pictures for later on when you might forget and, when later on comes, you look at the pictures and scramble the memories anyway. Lame. What’s the point? I’m going to use my digital frame like art on the wall. Not to be rude, but I haven’t got a sieve memory like my Gran. It’s not going to happen to me.

An attendant arrives to take Gran to the dining room. I say goodbye to Magoo. He squawks. I kiss Gran’s downy cheek goodbye, but as I start to shift away she grasps my shoulders with bony fingers, brings her mouth to my ear, “I remember that wedding,” and she floats her hands down my arms, smoothing me. Soothing me.

I glance at Mom where she’s putting on her heels. I look back into the bright flecks of Gran’s bleached eyes and wonder where she is, what is she talking about? Who does she think I am now?

“Kayla,” she says. And before I can say what? in the pause that follows, she cocks her head and says, “Come again soon.”

“Ciao,” squawks Magoo.

As we head out the door I ask Mom if Magoo was born blind.

She tells me it happened years ago when she was a young girl, on a day when Gran let him fly around the farm kitchen for exercise. He apparently mistook a window pane for an open one. Smashed into it so hard he shattered the glass.

“Gran took it hard, felt it was her fault for letting him fly free.”

There is a dislocating thud under my rib cage, like being hit with an out-of-bounds ball. Or maybe a bird. I wonder about what’s under Mom and Dad’s bed.



Susan (Crowe) Fenner is a former teacher of drama and dance whose memory now increasingly hoodwinks her. She is the founder of in Vernon, BC, Canada.  Her work is published in “My First Time” Anthology (SoftCopy Publishing, USA), forthcoming in Chrysalis Reader, in Canadian journals Maple Tree Literary Supplement, Descant, Existere, The Danforth Review, and in London in Five Stop Story.

Subscribe or Buy

Like this piece?

Support the artist!

Share This