Nothing to Remember
The sunset shrouded the bay in a mantle of gold. Ben scanned the horizon from his second-floor balcony and then leaned forward in his chair to gain a clearer view of his front yard. The jacaranda trees were in full bloom, their lush petals serving as a purple canopy for anyone strolling up the path to his house. As the maid was finishing her daily chores, she took special care to turn on certain lamps that would create the subtle tones Ben might best appreciate. Then, she placed a glass of iced tea on the table next to him and adjusted his jacket collar. Once she was sure he was comfortable, she left him alone with his thoughts and headed home to yet another round of household tasks.
Ben was used to being alone. At 85 years old, he had outlasted all of his best friends and siblings. His wife had left him years ago and then passed away herself. They had never had children. Now, he was ready to go, too. At this point, death seemed like just one more thought that would lead to another uncertain event. He had watched nearly everyone he knew pass away unhappily. Most of the ones still around were nothing more than empty husks waiting to blow away to who knew where. Ben felt tired, disappointed that he hadn’t accomplished more, and hurt that no one cared.
Now in the darkness of early evening, the soft balcony lights gave form to the vase of red roses sitting on the table and the jasmine vines woven into the surrounding trellises. This is what Ben would miss the most — the rich, decadent beauty of the natural world and each sweet or torrid sensation it delivered. Yes, he still had his house, memories, and minor diversions, but what were they compared to that endless and unpredictable array of urgent sensory appeals that always felt so familiar and transient? He lifted the glass of iced tea to his lips, nibbled on a cube that had shrunk to the size of a nickle, and reveled in the tingling chill that slowly numbed his tongue.
The buzzing of his cell phone broke the silence. He timidly hoped the person on the other end would be someone ready to share at least some small conversation, as incidental as it might be, something intimate and kind. He answered the phone, only to hear a recorded message from his service provider asking him if he was interested in an upgrade. He wondered if this would be the last voice he heard.
He gazed skyward and focused on the brightest stars in Ursa Major. He had given up on the notion of a soul some time ago, and he thought about all the people he had hurt. Then he considered all the different jobs he had held over the years, as if doing so might validate some pattern of worthwhile behavior. Eventually, one stray memory arrived like a nearly forgotten guest, the day a massive bolt of lightning struck the cornfield across the road from Ronnie Lawson’s farm where he had been working late when he was just a teenage boy. As the thunder faded, he reimagined the night his wife left him. But this time, instead of walking silently out the door, she turned to him and said, “Forgive yourself, Ben. There’s nothing to remember and nothing to forget. You have to forgive everyone else, too, you know. There’s still time.”
Ben awoke and wiped the sweat from his eyes with his trembling hand. “I’ll try, I’ll try,” he whispered. “I promise I will.” In the morning, he would greet his maid with a warm smile, and they would talk. He didn’t want to burden her with unexpected problems. They would negotiate something fair, something that would reflect a final act of respect and decency.