The Memory Lake
The faces are the first to fade. It is as if the waters of a lake close over them and they sink slowly down until there is no trace of them whatsoever. I try to retrieve my mother’s face but it is too far gone now for me to bring it back. An element perhaps, but it is no more than an echo; a worn out radio signal washed out by the white noise of all the intervening years.
My grandmother is even deeper. Our brief coexistence was too short for her to imprint itself on my memory. I can conjure up only the idea of an old woman who had Ryvita and marmalade for breakfast and who would always break a piece off for us to eat. But there is no map of her face. I cannot conjure up her eyes or how she might have looked when she smiled. I know only that she was short and and maybe had yellow tinged skin. I could not tell you if she was a good woman or bad. She existed once. That is all I can tell you. Ask me her name and I would not be able to tell you.
In later life, other things begin to topple unnoticed into the water. Words and names mostly. I will be halfway through some utterance or another and I will come to an unexpected gap, where a
word or a phrase has been washed away like a bridge. It happens frequently now. Yesterday I was in the kitchen when Natalie asked me what kind of soup I was making. When I tried to tell her, all I could manage was ‘potato and … ,‘ and then nothing. I fished around beneath the surface of the lake but couldn’t find the missing word. I turned to look at the long corrugated green stems lying on the worktop. I felt the panic rising. Then, my fingers suddenly closed around it and I pulled it dripping from the water. ‘Celery,’ I said, relieved.
Faces first, and later the words and names. That’s the order they go in.