What if we had the same memory?
The fog took its leave from Paris and there was now a bright warm day with thick clouds, making the buildings orange and the grass brown, but she liked it better than the black buildings and the gray people. Alicia didn’t wear a heavy coat like usual, but she wore multiple layers and thick stockings with a little sweater to keep the autumn breeze from overpowering her clothes. She checked the ice box and found that there were no more hens’ eggs and the artist was too stubborn to drink the only cheap, unsavory wine they had, so he sent her to pick up these items as an errand. He also handed her a frail and creamy white shirt and asked her to drop it off at the tailor’s.
Once out the door, she looked at the list of assignments the artist handed her. The words looked like they were melting, being blown in a direction, stubbornly bending and seeping down, lazily written. The artist must not be feeling well, and she feared another of his characters would come out soon enough. She brushed away the memory and abandoned the steps to set out for the market.
It was crowded today, as it was every Monday morning. She stopped at the news stand and tossed him a rusted nickel. “Quel jour est aujourd’hui monsieur?” she asked the vendor.
“Aujourd’hui cest Lundi, le premier de novembre, mademoiselle.”
“Merci beacoup. Avez vous un die ben!”
She left the newsstand and headed into the market. There was a handful of house wives and children too young for school, the noise was manageable but the air was filled with shouts of vendor claiming their fish is the freshest and their fruits are the sweetest and the screams of children scuttling through each stand and woman asking prices. She breathed the deep air and tried to find a route through the market with the least people. She made her first stop at the booth full of olive green glass bottles filled with putrid fermented grapes. She headed for the bottle bearing the name the artist enjoyed the most when another delicate small hand reached for it and brushed onto her hand. The contact startled her and she jumped back slightly, careful not to knock over the booth. The other hand also retracted and the voice attached to it bloomed with joy.
“Alicia, my, what a coincidence to see you here,” escaped through plump Spanish lips.
“Oh,” stuttered Alicia, still shaken from the unexpected moment, “um- Carmen, yes, c-coincidence. You… yea.” Her face got clammy with beads of sweat and her heart was racing but she took a few deep breaths to relax.
“Well don’t stand there with your gobbledygook, come and give me a hug dear!” She embraced the trembling frame of Alicia, but Alicia forced herself to calm down. It was only Carmen, there was nothing wrong there. They each grabbed a bottle of wine and payed the necessary amount of francs and went on their way.
“I didn’t know monsieur Way enjoyed the same wine as my Frank.”
“Yes, he requires none other or else he refuses to work.”
The women finished their errands in silence, Alicia making sure to keep her distance. Alicia’s final stop was the tailor’s when Carmen had to go home to prepare lunch. The shop wasn’t very crowded, in fact the small humid shop contained only Alicia and the tailor. He gave her a warm smile as she passed through the glass door. Her heels clicked on the linoleum floor quickly, she wanted to get home as soon as possible, too, because she didn’t trust the artist alone for too long.
She left the shirt and left, avoiding conversation and leaving the tailors face puzzled.
Frank picked up the shirt and couldn’t believe what he found bundled in the artists’ shirt. Had Alicia known it was there? That didn’t matter, what mattered was what he held in his hands. A yellow rose. He was not shaken by the fact that it was a rose, but rather the color of the specimen. It was yellow when almost every rose found in Paris was a dark crimson. But that was it, [almost/]. There was only one place that bore yellow roses in Paris and that place haunted Frank’s memory. He dropped the rose from unconscious actions and hurriedly put away the shirt and closed shop, heading home.
“Hello, Frank, you’re home rather early,” said his wife upon his entering of the small shack. He seemed in a bit of a hurry but he didn’t want Carmen to think any suspicions of him so he put down his coat and hat and made himself more comfortable. After all he still had the rest of the afternoon and eve to visit the artist. Carmen was standing over the wooden stove preparing a vegetable stew. He slithered his way behind her and snuck his arms around her waist, kissing the side of her neck.
He mumbled into the fold of her clothes, “I just couldn’t wait to get home to you.” His lie stung his throat, he didn’t like having to keep things from Carmen, but she probably would like the truth less than knowing Frank had fibbed.
She set the table with two bowls of hot and a glass of wine each with a slice of bread and cheese. They sat quietly as usual, but this time Frank could see she was pale, her stomach made noises and she grimaced as she sat, but she continued smiling widely at Frank. But she broke the silence, “Oh, I saw the assistant today, Alicia.”
“Did you?” He was only half interested; his entire mind was focused on his plans for the evening.
“Yes, she was at the wine stand, grabbing the very bottle you’re drinking from. She let me have it and grabbed another.” She was laughing, content with herself. That was one thing Frank couldn’t get enough of, her smiles, her laughs and her happiness. She was all too happy with the life she had chosen and she wouldn’t ask for it any other way.
“Honey, I’m going to step out for a while, would you mind if I go alone?” he quipped with a nervous twist in his face.
She was a little offset but knew that odd behavior was expected of her husband. “Yes, I’ll set the bath for you and heat the bed. Back soon though, you know how I worry so.”
“Hello Frank, what brings you here?”
“Oh common, Gerard, quit it. Why?”
“What do you mean why? There are so many reasons you could be asking why right now.”
“Well the first would be the dolls, God dammit Gerard! What do you want?” Frank was sweating, frustrated and tired, he slunk into a chair. Alicia had disappeared into the kitchen and let the two have their privacy. Frank leaned forward and rest his elbows on his knees, rubbing his face and trying to think clearly again. He put down the dolls on the oak table in front of him and leaned back into the chair. The artist watched intently as he did all this but never made a sound.
Frank looked at him again, stared, waiting for an answer. It never came. “Well?!” Frank added.
“Well what? What do you want me to answer, Frankie?”
Frank rubbed his face again and almost began sobbing from frustration. “Don’t c-call me that. Just tell me wh-what you want.”
“I want the same thing as you Frank, I want answers.” The artists answer was calm and serene, as well as the face he wore when he said it. Frank was to a near hysterical point and the artist was completely fine, no hint of frustration or anxiety, just sadness. “I want answers to my life.”
Frank was again puzzled and nearly screamed, but instead spit out, with more bundled frustration, “I can’t answer the questions in your life since I’ve only been in it thrice! I never even spoke to you before preparatory school, Gerard.”
The artist leaned over and picked up the doll. He cracked each doll and pulled out the shell inside of them. He finally reached the eight, the smallest doll inside, and leaned over again. His voice still let out no emotion, but a sadness masked his eyes as he whispered to Frank. “This doll,” he began, rotating it between his fingers that had dried paint hidden in the cracks of skin and the edges of his nails, “this doll represents me. Got that Frank?”
Frank had never understood anything more in his life. Every cell in his mind was focused on what was going on in front of him, the demonstration the artist was putting, and nothing could tear his focus right now. The room became listless and nonexistent, the crackle of the fire no longer sounded, the only things in Frank’s world right now were the artist, the doll, and their voices. He nodded and breathed deeply, if he was breathing at all, he could no longer tell whether he was breathing or not.
“These shells, the other, bigger dolls here,” the artist displayed the cracked dolls resting in two parts on the table, the glisten of the bright blue eyes and the thick bright red lips with glints of rosy cheeks stared back at Frank, mocking him with a tone of ‘I know something you don’t’ and an imaginary laughter of a taunting child ringing in his ears, “these are my memories, haunting me, encasing me and disallowing me to move forward.”
Frank was no longer frustrated but desperately confused; he felt like he was being pushed into a downward spiral and Gerard was the captain taking him there. “I repeat this only once,” Frank said, now observing his fingers. He almost lost track of what he was going to say, he was so focused on the cracks and creases of his skin that allowed it to fold freely in every direction, but there was nothing that could distract the point he was eagerly trying to make. “Gerard, I’ve only known you for some time. Since we were 15 years old. Ten years ago. And in those ten years, I’ve only talked to you thrice. What could I possibly do to help you remember your memory?”
Gerard sat in his chair, rubbing his clammy face and chin pointed with a gruff collection of stubby hairs from the lack of a proper shave. He tapped on the table, his fingers dancing on the polished oak table with the brass oil lamp sitting atop it. He stood up and walked over the fire, leaning in front of it and letting his face absorb the warmth. He looked like he was going to tell Frank something as his lips were muffled by thick heat, but instead he strode away and to his work station. He rummaged through papers as though suddenly remember something of great importance that had been misplaced of his possession. It appeared unfound when Gerard turned around and leaned his back against the small station. “What if…” he began in a loud tone, but quickly hushed again for fear that someone might overhear. He crept forward to Frank and squat down before him. “What if we had the same memory? That it was also your memory, not just mine alone?”
Frank was again bewildered, but tried to not get the wind knocked out of him again by the hit of another thought. He leaned into the artist, with a sarcastic arch of his eyebrows and whispered, “I don’t remember any dolls. I only remember the book and the rose.”
“Aha!” Gerard boasted, as though uncovering something rather embarrassing to Frank, though the reality was quite the contrary. “So you recognize the rose!”
“Look, I don’t know what trick you’re trying to pull, Gerard-” began Frank.
“Oh but a trick it isn’t! I’m simply asking for the assistance of your memory to help rebuild mine. But… You think this is a trick?” His voice was low and heavily laden with sympathy. “I-I didn’t mean to upset you.”
“I’m not upset,” said Frank with a thick throat. “I just… don’t like yellow roses.”
“Because they’re only found in the Garden. Is that it?”
“Y-yes.” Frank slunk in his chair and images of the garden flooded his eyes and heart. “Why’d you give it to me? I know it’s not for sentiment. I may have only spoken to you very few times, but I know very well you’re not a man of sentiment. No artist is.”
“So, what do you recall of the garden?”
“I don’t want to talk about it Gerard!” he began, his anxiety returning, crawling under his skin and inching up to his head, making it throb with a migraine and his vision slowly melting before him. “I need to leave,” he told the artist. He stood but a little too soon, his muscles quickly stiffened and his hearing became fuzzed with invisible cotton blocking them, his vision no longer melted but became white noise before him. His step swayed a little but he soon regained his regular state and walked out the door. The artist followed him outside where the sky was swelling purple with a sunset, reaching his hand out onto Frank’s shoulder.
“Please,” said the artist. “I’m asking a favor.”
“And in return you bring me horrible memories, is that what you expect?”
“I don’t want that, I just want answers. Sometimes answers are painful.”
“But the questions usually hurt more. I-I need to get home to Carmen.”
The artist withdrew his hand and let Frank flee; he didn’t want tension to grow any thicker between them. He just knew, deep down, that it would not be the last time he saw Frank.