Memories, Part IV

    Being on the island meant that she was back at the place where it all happened. Those things she ran away from - things she tried to bury with a new life - they kept resurfacing. Dreams flooded her senses, alternating between nightmares and fantasies. In the morning, she wasn’t sure which was worse. Now she was back, and the memories tumbled over themselves, coming up sharp and painful, everywhere she looked.

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    After burying Mother, she made herself head out to eat, ignoring the reminders of him on the road she took. People didn’t spend the better part of fifteen years together without making a mark on practically every street corner. On an island this small, their memories went as far south as the roads travelled, and as far north as the boats would take them.

    She went to the restaurant that they spent so much time at – when work was steady, and the money abundant. The menu was browsed pretentiously, for she knew that ultimately, she’d choose his favorite dish. It was helpful to pretend she was strong enough to move on; it also helped that a drink was at the ready for sipping. Around her, life carried on. Tourists sipped and relaxed, waiting for their fried fish, or lobster or even chicken, accompanied by starchy rice and beans, a few creamy potatoes and fried plantains. During vacation, it seemed diet restrictions disappeared – butter, oil, cheeses, carbohydrates – they all fit the daily regimen.

    Locals sat at the tables too. Their method of lunching was the quick, reserved dining that indicated most of them worked and had few minutes to spare. Sodas were cheap, so that washed down the food, not alcohol. She remembered how it was – there were days when she literally took a bite and continued working, her open container of food sitting in front of her for hours on end. By the time she looked down and saw the congealed mess, her appetite had long gone, and her day was nearly over. Today, she made up for that.

    She ordered his favorite – asking for an appetizer while she waited – for the first time in her life, food was to enjoy, and money could be no object…

    …Food had been the center of their universe, a wonderful way to connect, to unwind at the end of the day. Every time she stood at the kitchen counter, or at the table, she drew upon her memories. Those endless summer days when her mother showed her to chop, slice, mix, whisk, fry and bake. Intuition ruled her cooking – she hardly followed recipes, choosing instead to rely on the way she remembered her mother making things. Scents led her ever forward, instilling confidence with each step. She tasted as she stirred, adding things as she remembered, always inventing and experimenting.

    From the tiny one room bedroom she stayed in for far too long, to the larger studios that provided a stove, they moved to larger and better places that allowed her to create. He enjoyed those experimental years, and as long as they sat together at the end of a long day, sharing in a meal that she had prepared, all was well.

    The first time they realized something was wrong, they had been sitting down to a simple meal full of vegetables and for him, a sizzling piece of steak. After painstakingly trying out a variety of sauces and dressings, she had managed to get him to eat items other than meat and potatoes. Now he wolfed down big bites, followed by rich pieces of medium rare meat. Halfway through the meal, he stopped chewing and began breathing heavily. His face grew pale, and sweat visibly ran down, soaking his shirt.

    Heart trouble the doctors said. Exercise, diet, medication. Suddenly, she was glad that he enjoyed vegetables enough to eliminate heavy dressings. Food became bland; her trusted methods were set aside to make way for boiling, grilling and steaming. A few months and many, many pounds later, tragedy struck yet again. The C word

    They both thought it was a cruel joke, but reality set in soon when the pain became too much to handle. Getting treatment seemed even worse than the pain, but bit by bit, there came relief. It was after the first all clear that they took the boat ride. For the first time in a long time, they saw everything else around them. The friends who had pulled together to provide support, they clamored for a celebratory getaway. With money they couldn’t afford to spend frivolously, they took the chance boated for a weekend away with their wonderful friends. It was a weekend that gave them back a little color, and some spice and flavor. It was also their last getaway.

    …Back at the restaurant, she realized that almost without noticing, she had eaten nearly all her conch fritters. Her food arrived, a platter of spicy stewed beef, accompanied by some rice speckled with colorful peppers, and a side of creamy coleslaw. While she preferred the chicken, his love for beef, and her love for him, changed her taste, if only for the day…

    …The pain started back up just as it had before. This time, there was a difference, each time he got treatment, there seemed to be less of him. He was never the type to complain, to require endless hours of nursing – but this time around, he asked more of her. She extended the hours she held him, and they simply spent time reminiscing. The unspoken lay between them both after each conversation. When the medications no longer provided relief, the time was mercifully swift.

    For her, time prolonged the pain. Initially shock cocooned her, numbing reality, shielding her. But soon, she had to learn to live alone. For months, she lay awake until the sun rose, waiting to feel the bed sag as he tossed and turned. Anywhere she walked, she felt his presence. Whatever she did, she turned, wanting to tell him something…

    …After a particularly good bite, she found herself wanting to turn, her mouth open to speak, wanting to share. Her reality was invaded by her fantasies…she realized that she would never stop wanting, or trying, to hold on to his memory. His was the brightest - he never faded from her. He was at the forefront, always waiting for her. It didn’t matter where she was, whatever she did, he remained. Being here, being where it all took place, somehow, it eased a bit of pain. She would leave, returning to the life she left behind for a few days. But now, she could come back…

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