Memory is a Toy
It is fall of 2017. I just toured colleges upstate with my mother and I’m driving us back to the city. I remember this day because it’s when my mom lost her mind. I thought at first that the seasonal coffee drinks we got from a drive-thru had turned her mood in a dark way. She ordered an iced pumpkin drink topped with whipped cream and orange drizzle. Mom begins muttering to herself, dicing up her drink with the bottom end of a straw. My eyes lock to the road. Sometimes I get distracted by watching people in their cars. Mom is vibrating oddly.
I talk a bit. “You notice that this narrow road is making older folks smile? Look when they pass. I bet they like how the road winds around these beautiful hills. Every exit leads to a quiet way.”
Mom turns to me and I can see out of the corner of my eye that she’s smiling with her mouth open. The sun begins to mess with my vision. I slap down the visor and hear her sip from the pumpkin drink.
Then she says
MEMORY. IS. A. TOY.
Problems with road-feel: I’m square in the middle of the lane but I find that I must aim slightly diagonal to the right, not with the wheels but rather with my eyes as to compensate for my inclination to veer left where I sit. I trick myself into the center.
“Memory is a toy.”
I glance over to her and for a moment I jump because she’s wearing a mask but really she’s smiling in a new way with both her eyes and her mouth. Her face is hued wildly by the setting sun.
“Memory is a toy.” I feel her turn to look out the window. “We don’t recall on our own.” She waves her hand around her head. “We use toys.”
Soundless leaves scatter against windshield. “The eye is a vacant organ feeding light and shadow into a flaccid timeline that doesn’t know what to do with it all.” I take a sip of my drink which is the same drink as Mom’s but a size down. “The ear is tickled by random sound. For what?”
The engorged sun descends over the vista as caramel flavor and coffee’s essence work into my system. Bound like a perfect sensory package. A tab of acid on your tongue that becomes a postcard and then later a seasonal aroma. Cartoons build the world.
Mom pops open the lid of her cup and dips her finger inside. “Perhaps we’re better off. No unusual images taking up too much space. We play when we want to. We tap in.”
We’re passing by another car. I risk a glance to see who’s inside. An older man smiles at the road as he drives. A woman sleeps beside him. A dog, shivering, leans through the crook between the two, staring straight ahead. They blend to one shape as the sun beats through the windows and dissolves the borders of their bodies. I turn to the road. To keep centered my eyes flick side to middle, side to middle.
“Memories are toys. When you’re done you put them back in their box. To respect the space.”
She sips the very bottom of her plastic cup. Mom draws over the silhouette of a car passing us on her frosting window. For a moment it fits exactly. We pass the car. The shape is empty.
YOU HAVE A NEW MEMORY.
“Memories are like collections of objects tweezed out, available for play upon request.” She’s drawing on the window again, just lining her finger over the same grease trail. “Good driving, Elon. You’re getting the feel, I can tell.” The last of her drink is sucked down.
My eyes stammer along the road. A dull depression burrows in my forehead.
“Sometimes remembering is orgasmic. Like sliding the key into its hole, the notches of brass aligned with their negatives, clicking open. Something euphoric in that agreement. The pleasure in recovering the lost, over and over again. Forgetting as a means to enjoy remembering. A means of sustaining a center. A fixed point in space.”
I lose grip of the wheel turning off onto an exit ramp as the sun turns crimson and the hills of Westchester blacken. I skid past the cement partition. Mom is unmoved. The ramp hooks downwards. The road is primitive and lumpy. Fading dashes layered over one another offer a palimpsest of abandoned ways. I struggle to perceive a niche. We loosen from the path.
Mom’s still got her mask on, her eyes a bloody red, sympathetic to the ending sun. Google Maps situates us.
“You might even describe orgasms as such. The erogenous analogue of visual recognition.” We pass a litany of construction vehicles and click back into the road.
“My relationship to memory has become like my relationship to orgasms. I realize I shouldn’t say this to you.”
“It’s okay. Really, it is.”
Driving in the dark doesn’t require the presence of the road to keep a steady line, only the avoidance of lights darting around your periphery. You are on the right side of the perforated divider. If there is a light in the mirror, it means there is a car. The rest is road. You progress through negation. The absence of daylight removes details and spares only necessary cues. Your headlights activate the reflective paint of giant arrows and your steering hands obey without resistance, without thought. Our car is a sign. Memory is a toy. An idea of pumpkin stains our mouths. Mom hums a nameless tune.
Here is the toll booth:
Laszlo Horvath is a painter and musician working in New York City. The above is an excerpt from his forthcoming novella, The Gigging, which has also seen publication in Heavy Traffic Magazine as well as the upcoming Manhattan Art Review physical edition.