Ned's Memory Pt. 1
Edited for grammatical errors
The sun did not shine quite like it used to on the leafy trees in the complex. Each day I would come out of my apartment into the cold morning and look around, hands in my pockets to fight off the chill. I was dressed warmly against it, but it still seemed to find its way into every spare crevice, every nook that was not pressed tightly closed. I began each morning in this way, looking over the grey blocks that were numbered, stretching out to both left and right. Firstly, up the long sloping hill to the left, finally to the shorter stretch at the right. I hated looking right and almost never walked that way. The slope itself seemed defeated as it stretched down, mingling with the road. Rocks stuck up here and there, washing down from God knows where, but intermixing in the hellish pit that stood with water for days after a rain. It gave me a shudder looking down, imagining the filth that must be fermenting in that puddle. I promptly turned and started slowly meandering up the slope, past the neighboring grey blocks. They stretched on up, disappearing around a bend that filled me with a strange apprehension as I gazed up. I slowed my pace, hoping it would take some time to reach. I kept my eyes on the sidewalk, following the cracks as they stretched up, looming nearer, then a little further as my awkward gait carried me. Life stirred, cars cranking and doors slamming as my neighborhood woke up, little slugs crawling from their nests of heat and warmth, taking their greyness out of their houses and into the world. “Good Morning, Ned!” my next-door neighbor called, a friendly gentleman of about thirty who drove a car that looked fresh from the scrap yard. I kept my eyes trained towards the ground. I searched around for his name, coming up blank though he was a frequent object of annoyance. I walked as quickly as my gait allowed, hoping to ignore him. ‘Isn’t it a lovely morning?’ he asked again, loudly so I could not pretend I couldn’t hear. I raised my gaze, looking up the short distance to his car, parked carelessly too far from the curb. ‘Damn your friendliness!’ I muttered, throwing up a hand. ‘It’s as damned a morning as God could’ve made, Charlie! One of these days your car will get hit.’ I called out to him, his grinning face peering over the car door. That grin never wavered, ‘That’ll be the day! Maybe I’ll upgrade. Enjoy your morning!’ He stooped into the small cockpit of his vehicle and pulled out quickly, a sputtering noise filling the air. I winced as his brakes squealed and the car shuddered, for a second resisting its owners will. Finally, a snapping noise sounded, and the car lurched on, down the slope towards whatever Charlie did for a living. I lowered my head again, almost feeling sorry for the car that it had to suffer such an attitude. I continued my walk, hoping not to find anymore intrusions along my route, making a mental note to wait for Charlie to leave the next morning before beginning my walk. I squinted up at the slope ahead, continuing. The sunlight shone dully off the walls of the blocks, dotting the way up the hill. After a few slow moments I was in the curve, looking at the bleak fronts of a few empty apartments. There had been a fire not too long ago in block C, right at the top of the hill. I stopped, wondering at the people who had lived there. They were good people, minded their own business and didn't seem to let children in the road. Most importantly they kept their car less than six inches from the curb as was the rule. The block stood streaked with black in front of me, faded lines tracing their way from the windows of soot and dirt, mingling with chipped paint and trash that littered the small porch. The upper story looked worse for wear; one could easily see the roof had caved in. There was something here, I thought to myself, something here but I could not remember. What is funny is they had such a neat lawn. I wanted to plant a garden just like that with the same plants, petunias, begonias, and lilac, all in a neat row just the same way. I could not help but feel we would have gotten along nicely. Before I knew what I was doing my feet led me towards the front door, a blackened 12- hanging on a silver placard, the final number obscured by soot. I shook my head, squinting. I stood a long moment, knowing I was forgetting something. Oh well, I thought, too bad they could not have had Charlies apartment and been my neighbor. I turned back up the path and walked slowly up the slope. It leveled off for a bit right above the burned-out block then pulled away, continuing the curve down the slope. I looked behind me at the ruined upper story, the window yawning open. A patch of sky hung from the left window. I imagined being in there, in a neat little office filled with my books. Almost like what I have in my own but without the view. I can picture so clearly what the view would look like and how it would feel to sip coffee and read right there, glancing out the window at the stony blocks stretching away, the road curving up beyond that and trees surrounding it all. It was so clear. ‘I’ve got quite the imagination,’ I thought, turning back. A younger woman walked up the slope, holding the hand of a child. I ambled to the side, looking down. As they passed, I felt the child’s eyes glued to me, boring into me. ‘What do you want?’ I asked, looking down at her. The mother stopped, a smile on her face, ‘We just wanted to say good morning, Ned. It’s nice to see you.’ I squinted, trying to see her face more clearly. ‘Do I know you?’ I asked, surprised by her friendliness. There was something in her eyes when she answered, almost like I should have. ‘It’s Emma. And remember Lulu?’ I looked down at the little girl who was beaming up at me, a gap peering out from her front teeth. Suddenly I remembered, we were sitting in the little playground behind the office having a picnic lunch. Little LuLu was swinging as I sat on a blanket with Emma and we were laughing, but whatever it was about escaped me. I looked around me, my mouth falling agape. The apartments were not as grey as they were before nor was the sunlight as dim. In fact, it shone brightly on the sides of the blocks nearest, creating a soft golden glow out of the early morning. I felt tears spring into my eyes, the neighborhood transforming around me. ‘Ned?’ Emma said softly, startling me out of my thoughts. I could not speak. I only stared, mouth still agape, forgetting the chill. ‘Oh, come here, Ned,’ Emma said, holding her arms out. ‘No, what’s going on?’ I asked, confused. I turned back towards the burned apartment, ‘What’s going on?’ I asked again, memories flooding back into my head. It was not my imagination. It was not my imagination at all. It was my house, my coffee, my office. My mind raced as my memory returned, a fogginess I had not noticed clearing. The tears flowed now, ‘Oh my god. Oh my god,’ I said, ambling towards the house. ‘Ned, don’t go in there!’ I did not hear a word. ‘Mommy, what’s going on?’ Lulu cried. I suppose I was terrifying her. My legs moved faster than I could control, and my feet stumbled on the porch steps. I fell forward, scraping my hands, glasses flying off my face. My vision blurred, but mostly through tears. I was standing in the office and smelled smoke, ‘Elizabeth?’ I called out, my lovely, lovely wife downstairs. I stumbled out of the office, a haze covering everything and an acrid smell in the air. There was a roaring noise coming from the kitchen and a glow throwing itself on the walls. I walked slowly down the stair, eyes stinging as smoke choked me. I stumbled on the final step, tumbling down. ‘Elizabeth!’ I yelled, trying to get up. My ankle buckled underneath me, twisting as I fell in pain. ‘Elizabeth!’ I yelled, my breath catching through the smoke. ‘Ned!’ I heard a voice yell, a familiar voice normally tinged with cheerfulness. The room started spinning around me and I fell back, strong hands gripping me, pulling me away. ‘Elizabeth…’ I tried to call, my vision failing me.
I felt hands around me again but this time they were not strong, more insistent than anything. ‘Ned, come on. You’ve got to get up.’ I struggled to wipe away tears, blood from my hands mixing and burning my eyes. Far away I heard a child crying. It must have been Lulu. ‘Ned, stop, you’re going to make a mess out of yourself.’ My vision finally allowed me to see Emma’s face looking concerned, looming closely towards mine. I struggled to roll over, an aged turtle battling with a stomach and an old hernia. I grunted as I forced back my tears. ‘Now it makes sense,’ I said. ‘I forgot again. Damn this brain! Damn this life!’ I raged on the porch, wallowing in tears and a new self-loathing. Emma turned to me, holding her phone away from her face. ‘Stop it. It’s okay. This isn’t your fault.’
That’s what she told me. That it wasn’t my fault. I can’t remember a damn thing and it’s not my fault. I sat there while she called my nurse aide and got her out of the bed early again. I wished I were dead, or that something would come along to stop me being a nuisance to my loving neighbors. It was becoming a common occurrence. My condition does not allow me to remember things very well, and I become so confused. Typing this is an effort and I only hope to continue. You see, I feel if I write it all down then maybe I can remember a little better, for the next time. I have printed out these pages, plenty of pages with little stories all around the house to show me exactly what I really need to remember. The only thing I really have grown to hate is the idea of being put away somewhere, away from my little neighborhood and these people. Away from the life I shared with Elizabeth for, a little joke for you, as long as I can remember. I don’t believe I could bear it, so my indecision and despair has struck me down, though I know it burdens them so. I cannot fathom what hell life would be like in one of those houses of death, a torturous place without character and life. What would become of an old man, like myself? For the sake of my neighbors, perhaps I will find out.
‘What are you writing now, Ned?’ I stopped, my pen ink bleeding onto the page. What was I writing? I skimmed the page, searching for keywords, jogging this tired mind into action. ‘I believe… Yes, I’m writing about what happened earlier today. Another embarrassing moment that God should hold against me.’ I peered over my reading glasses at Delilah, a woman so sweet I could hardly bear it. ‘You know, Ned, I don’t think God would judge you as harshly as you judge yourself.’ She was always saying little things like that, things that made me cringe and writhe, content as I was in my self-loathing. Delilah smiled at me, her grin full of warmth and, thankfully, familiarity. ‘Do you think you’ll need anything else before I take off? Chelsea gets out of soccer practice a little late so I can stay if you need.’ A question gnawed at me, forcing its way to the front of my brain. ‘Delilah, you are an angel to me.’ I simply could not make it without her. ‘But I may have a difficult question.’ Her eyes softened as she grinned again and her head cocked slightly to one side, the giving mother she was. My voice caught before I spoke, afraid to ask. ‘God also wouldn’t want a man to burden his neighbors and have killed his wife, now would he?’ I hated to bring a frown to such a pleasant face but there it was. Delilah’s arms crossed and she stood straight. ‘We’ve talked about this before, Ned. I think at this point you’d better ask him yourself. And remember you’re welcome every Sunday.’ I didn’t say another word as she passed out of the house, a ghost of happiness whom I had killed, another lonely disservice to the world. It was a vile question but the way it had violently fought its path to the forefront of my mind forced it out. Didn’t it? I took my glasses off and folded them, laying them gently on the unfinished work in front of me. It never took me very long to get over things. I am one of those people you see, that does not feel in quite the same as others. Sometimes the mood may strike, and I become weary but pensive, my body failing me but my mind moving, and I get an old itch to call my friend Alfred. I stood up, bodily leaning on the table with one hand. I grinned despite myself, a useless old fool not too useless yet. I could always give Alfred a piece of trouble in the evening. I grabbed the phone off its receiver in the kitchen and stepped onto the small porch. I had forgotten a coat, but the chill had relaxed, a warm winters day having followed a cold front. I dialed the number, from memory no less, and listened to the dull chime for a few moments. ‘What the hell do you want?’ a burly voice answered. ‘To talk to some unfriendly old bastard, I guess,’ I said, picturing Alfred in his gray patched overalls, probably standing in a steaming kitchen with his low country boil cooking up for dinner. A scratching noise came over the line, his itchy beard bothering him as usual. ‘It takes one to know one, doesn’t it you old coot? Well, how are you?’ I sat down in a dusty red chair, lining up the brown metal railing with the road, my left eye closed. ‘You know how I am. Let’s talk.’ With that simple phrase we dove in. I could almost hear his skin crinkle with the grin he undoubtedly wore, ‘Okay, I’ve got a good one for you. The relationship between perception and reality.’ ‘What about it?’ ‘What is it of course. The relationship I mean. What is the relationship between perception and reality?’ It was a good one. I thought for a few moments, chewing over the idea. ‘I suppose you’ve got an opinion thought up already,’ I offered, giving myself time to think. ‘Actually, I saved this one for a common discussion. I figured it’d be nice for you to finally have an original idea.’ ‘Oh, that’s a good one. Original idea, huh? So, I guess we’d ought to ask what exactly perception and reality are. Perception is one’s view of the world around them, essentially, how they view their reality. So, is perception based upon reality?’ Alfred was quiet for a second, ‘We might need to go back a bit, my friend. You haven’t answered the whole question. Reality might be everything that is. Remember, perception can be distorted or changed, but reality cannot be. Perception is something that is developed in the individual and reality simply is.’ ‘Of course, so how big is reality? Reality is simply what is, then we can place no limit on it. Reality is the same, with its grand and overarching wholeness. Perception appears to be so limited, how could something so small influence something?’ Alfred grunted, ‘I think you’re on the right track but I’m not sure. You’re jumping to saying reality builds perception without coming out and saying it, and I understand why. Perception changes with the individual and like you said, reality is something overarching and vast. It’s impossible for us to know everything reality consists of and is, so it’s impossible for us to be able to truly perceive. That said, can we even assign an overarching reality if we don’t know it exists? Our perception is limited to the little that we know, so how do we know perception does not create reality as it goes along? Changing it and shaping it to its own ideas of how things should be?’ I was getting excited now, ‘I believe the answer lies in where each originates. As you said, reality simply is. It does not originate, though it may change. A humans perception can only be built from the time it is born and, due to human nature is limited by the perceptions that are held by their parents' and how much of that overarching reality there is to be seen. It is possible that the child’s perception is formed not truly by reality as we have defined, but by the small piece of reality that our limited perception is able to see.’ Alfred continued, ‘So, it is only our small piece of reality that allows us to build our original perception, meaning perception is shaped by reality and the reality of circumstance as is limited by the perception granted with human nature?’ I laughed, ‘What the hell did you just say?’ Alfred boomed out a hearty laugh over the phone, ‘Perhaps we can each chew on that one for awhile and come back to it. Tell me how you’ve been.’ I gazed out over the neighborhood, wreath in dying light. Clouds hovered over the horizon casting the early evening in a dim glow, washing out the few colors of the neighborhood. I lined up the road with the railing again, closing one eye, taking in the detritus of bicycles and flowerpots that stood around neighboring porches, signs of life. I looked around myself and noted there was only my old chair and a small table adorning my own little porch. Yet another pale imitation of the life that surrounded me. ‘Oh, you know me. I’m getting along alright,’ I said, ignoring the question. ‘Ned.’ He said simply, prodding me. I put the phone down for a minute and rubbed my eyes, regretting having called. ‘Ned, you there?’