by Priya Dabak
The memory box feels tiny and so heavy. I dive into its recesses and pull out a book. I smile faintly as a memory whooshes past me, of five little children looking for clues, led by a fluffy tumbling dog. The book falls open on its own, and I glance curiously inside. In the middle lies a pair of dusty blue wings. Meticulously preserved. And a voice booms familiarly in my head. I walk toward it and right around the corner, I see a girl in a pink frock, clutching her Pappa’s arm. The man laughs, a reassuring ringing, and the girl peeks at the thing in his hand; he’s holding what used to be a pretty blue butterfly in his fingertips, having squashed the life out of it only a second ago. The girl tastes the new word on her tongue, tosses it around in her mind, and it drops into mine. Lepidopterist. It’s called a Common Wanderer the booming voice declares, and I whisper along, for the way it leisurely basks in the sun I hold the book open now, lift the wings gingerly, watch them sparkle in the sun. My breath falters; I know it before it happens; the dusty blue wings crumble under my touch and a whirl of blue fairy dust falls on my green skirt. I close my eyes, regretful, shivering at the loss.
In a corner of my mind, something stirs; but I reach deeper into the memory box. And I find a little marble. I’d swallowed it. Gran had warned me if I chewed my nails, I’d grow a nail tree from my tummy. A marble tree seemed like such a good idea. I must have been what, five? Pappa had laughed, that ringing sound, and rushed me to a hospital. That was then. But I still see an ER, dull flashes of white and murky green, the smell of medicine and disease, an old salt-and-pepper haired man coughing, incessantly. Something contracts in me and I shudder. I close my eyes and my heart, for a bit. Then I roll the marble on to my palm and look inside. At the wispy swirly blob hanging inside the little blue-green ball. I often wonder if there even is an inside for a marble. With a flick of my wrist, I throw the marble on the sidewalk. I wince, blink and for a heartbeat, I wait for it to fall open and let out its little wispy smoky horror. But it just rolls off into the gutter. I sigh, relieved. Secrets are comforting; knowledge is hard, reality bites. My watch ticks with slow determination.
I know that thing still lurks at the corner of my eye, insistent, at the brim of the memory box; something tugging at me, until, I can’t breathe. I hear noises, a wheezing, a whining and a retching, my throat is constricted, my cheeks wet and hot; the earth is quaking beneath me and I’m going blind, my God, I can’t s… two hands latch themselves onto my shoulder and another pair violently tightens around my waist; the road spins as I stand up. Shh. It’s going to be alright. Give it time, it’ll be okay. He’ll always be in your heart the voices say. I can’t stop, any more, the memory that pops open at the corner of my eye. It latches on to my mind, even as I resist. I see the ER again. In the murky green, fuzzy blur, sits a woman I know, clutching a gray haired man’s limp hand. I reach out to her heart and I squeeze. It crumbles under my touch and a little whirl of dead heart dust falls on her green skirt. I wrench myself free from the comforting grasp and double over. My guts gush after the little marble, rancid, down the gutter.
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Priya Dabak is a language teacher, cat lover and bookworm. She blogs at www.tabularasabookblog.com