The Memory Keeper, p.1Lisa Stowe
The Memory Keeper
Published by Storyriver Press
Copyright © 2012 by Lisa Stowe
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part, in any format.
Cover design by Tracy Hayes
This book is available in print at most online retailers
This story is dedicated to those who planted the seeds:
My father, who lived with the paternity question and died with no answer.
My siblings, Jani, Beth, Steven, and Holly, who grew up with the question and allowed me to create my own answers.
My husband, Art, who gave me the courage to not only write, but to admit it, and whose dreams keep me trying. I write only for you.
My son, Arthur, who stood behind me and said, “I’d put a comma in there,” and was right. Keep being my inspiration.
Arthur again, and Rowan, for letting me borrow the Crack Horror. Congratulations on bagging a first ascent at age thirteen.
The O-Pen Writer’s group for prodding me along, especially through radiation fallout.
Sabrina, a poet of the wilderness and an incredibly strong woman, who loves my writing, even when I don’t. Thanks for sharing the woods, the trails, and the mountains, and for talking me out of tossing pages.
Sue, for 40 years and counting of loyalty and unwavering friendship. Let’s see what trouble we can get into in the next 40 years.
Jenni, for reading multiple versions, and sharing your wisdom and friendship.
For everyone in Kris’s sandbox, you’ll recognize compilations of names, and to any television trivia buffs out there, see if you can figure it out.
Special thanks to author Susan Schreyer for lots of coffee and hand-holding, and to Tracy Hayes for her artistic intuition.
And most of all, thanks to the past and present residents of Wallace and Burke, Idaho. For being a story and dream throughout my life, for meaning so much to my father, for giving him good memories, and for being patient with all the fictional changes I made in order to answer his question. People and places in Wallace and Burke may have provided initial beginnings, but as with all good fiction, they have evolved in my imagination to become unique and in no way are meant to represent the real Wallace or Burke, or real people. I took the liberty of moving the Ranger Station only to make it easier for the characters to get around. I also did some damage to the Mining Museum, but in reality it’s just fine and a fascinating place to visit. Hopefully locals will understand the changes were made to fit what the story needed and not because the real thing needs changing. Idaho is fine just the way it is, and Wallace is still the center of the universe.
Cody Marsh breathed through her mouth in the funeral parlor’s back room, trying to avoid underlying odors that the heavily perfumed potpourri could not disguise. Instead she tasted death, scents transferring to her tongue, adhering to her throat, and forming an aching lump. Something inside had been keening for two days now, but that sound of terrified abandonment could not quite drown out the question.
What would happen if she reached out a finger and closed his mouth?
The mortician should have done something. After all, he had combed her grandfather’s fine gray hair neatly, and washed away all the bodily fluids that seeped out during death. If only the man had shut Charles’s mouth, her grandfather would have been able to retain some dignity. But not now.
Decorated in basic generic, the small rectangular room held a sand colored armchair that faded into thin carpet of the same non-color. Next to the chair was a glass end table with a strategically placed box of tissue. And along the back wall was the high gurney holding the body. Standing inside the doorway Cody waited for movement, for some sign that the grandfather she barely knew and greatly loved hadn’t abandoned her. Instead she saw how his feet stuck out beyond the end of the stretcher. There was no dignity in that, either. Didn’t the funeral parlor have a rolling bed long enough for an old man? He’d told her once he’d been well over six feet, but his back had curved with years of crawling on his hands and knees putting in carpet and linoleum and hardwood.
A fine trembling moved through her, waking up loneliness so deep she could not retreat from the abyss.
Did she want to touch him, to say something that would send the silence fleeing? What was she here for, if not to connect with him somehow, to deny this end? Why had she insisted on seeing him before he was cremated? There was nothing left to forge more history with, to hang on to. Her grandfather was gone.
The trembling deepened until her breath shuddered out. She stepped back against the door, fumbled behind her for the knob, and left what might have been.
Carpet muffled Cody’s dragging footsteps as she reluctantly followed an umbilical cord of a hallway toward her mother. The dry air charged her cropped red hair with electricity and she could feel the curls she tried to kill with scissors tightening and cringing like her emotions. She headed toward what was left of her life and what had always been.
Her mother overflowed the boundaries of a chair next to the mortician’s desk, arms folded and resting on the round shelf of belly. Wadded tissue peeked between thick fingers that were growing around rings, but no tears were visible in the folds of May Marsh’s plain face. Her white hair failed to mute the bright pink and green flowered caftan she wore.
“All done then?”
“Except for the bill,” Cody said, testing, waiting to see what her mother would do.
“Of course,” May said. “If you could hand me my purse, Cody?”
Cody crossed the room and picked up the large handbag from where it rested next to her mother’s swollen feet. She placed the purse in May’s lap and retreated to the doorway again, distancing herself. If she signed nothing, had no part in paperwork, then maybe none of this would be real. She waited, craving solitude, while her mother and the mortician moved through the formalities.
“Could you help me up, Cody?” asked May as the leather portfolio closed, the business of death concluded.
Obediently, Cody took her mother’s hand and heaved her up, feeling the warmth she knew would have been missing from her grandfather’s fingers. If she’d had the courage to touch him, that is. Maybe she should have. Maybe reality would have sunk in with the feel of his chilled flesh.
Outside, the rain fell in slanting sheets blown by a cold wind, as if fall had arrived with death. Zipping her dark green fleece, Cody ran for her old Subaru and drove it to the entrance where her mother waited, sheltered from the late afternoon storm.
“Since we’re in town, do you mind going by the grocery store so I can pick up a few things?” May asked, wheezing as she extended the seatbelt as far as it would go and buckled it. “And I thought maybe we could go to McDonald’s. And I wanted to rent some movies, since we’ll be right by the store. I’m in the mood to watch a romance.”
“I need to get home,” Cody said in rare defiance. “But I’ll run you through a drive-up.”
“There’s nothing you need to get home for,” May said. “It’s Friday night. I know you don’t have plans.”
“I want to go through my grandfather’s things.”
“Grandfather. It’s not like you knew Charles or anything. I’ve spent twenty three years doing more for you than he ever did." Embedded lines of disappointment bracketed May’s mouth. Now her lips crimped down deeper into those old cracks. “If he wanted to be your grandfather he should have been around all your life. Just like his son should have stuck around. I’d be a lot better off right now if I’d never even met your father. ”
“I’m sorry dad abandoned you." Cody’s hands ached from strangling the steering
The words resonated in heart-pain. Her grandfather. Hers, so briefly.
“So he says. Personally I doubt he spent all that time looking for you. I’m just glad this business is over." May poked Cody’s shoulder with a thick finger. “There’s McDonalds. After that the grocery store won’t take long.”
Cody bit her tongue, tasting the familiar futility. Underneath, guilt tried to suffocate the growing dissatisfaction. After all, she did love her mother. But she loved her grandfather as well, and how could she tell him when he was dead? Yes, she’d only known him a couple months, but she’d treasured the evenings when he had shared stories of his childhood, his steady voice bringing a world to life she had never known. How could she show him she had listened, had absorbed, had swallowed his words as his life opened up what lacked in hers? There had to be ways she could cling to him. There had to be more stories somewhere, people who had known him. Cheated out of time with him, she craved more.
His stories about growing up in the mining town of Wallace, Idaho echoed in her memory. How long before she forgot the sound of his voice? If that happened he would truly be gone. How could she prevent more loss? Would the town he grew up in hold anything of him still, after all these years? If she found his history, maybe she’d find a way to build her future.
“I’m going to take some time off,” Cody said softly, under the rustle of paper bags and the snick of her mother’s jaw as she bit into her first burger, filling the car with the scents of onions and grease.
“Don’t be silly." May had always had excellent hearing.
“I am, Mom." Cody might pay for the disobedience later, but right now the words felt right. As did the decision.
“I’m going to Wallace.”
The Memory Keeper by Lisa Stowe / Mystery & Detective have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on40 votes