Mystery

By Bud Smith

Essay

Good Luck: Episode Thirty

 

My memories are locked up in a wooden house, each year growing and distorting.

No roads or rails get there.

The house is over the hills, and across a wide valley, past two raging silver rivers, beyond a seemingly endless golden field stupid with wildflowers.

Some years I even believe the house gets farther and farther away.

Beyond those forever fields there is a maze of forest, which recently just filled up with wolves.

Long I’d suspected my house of memory had fallen into squalor. I’d seen the signs, recalling something and finding it wrong. A memory of my grandmother as a rabid woman. No.

Every year a new room is added to this house, and the maintenance gets worse. I should get there soon, I thought. Then I didn’t go. I should open the windows and air the place out, pull the vines down that are creeping up the downspout.

Focusing on the present, I’d let the past evade me.

Forgive me, Rachel Buleri.

I’d forgotten our sixth wedding anniversary.

She came home from work with gifts. Flowers and a cake with our names on it. I had nothing for her. I hadn’t even written a poem, something I’d done every anniversary. The poem always modeled on the vows I’d written for her, a recommitment.

Even sitting at the table, watching her cry, I couldn’t be convinced we were married on May 4th 2013.

“Please,” she said, “go to the doctor. Something’s wrong.”

 

I took the train into the city. Walked those crowded streets. The doctor took my blood. Checked my pulse. Agreed my dilemma was real. So real I needed a specialist.

A week later, I was on another train and walking similar crowded streets. The specialist read my report. He joked that he specialized in helping men who had forgotten their wedding anniversary.

The specialist laid me down on a bed. The bed was sucked into the mouth of a white machine. Inside the machine, I heard dings and saw flashing lights, and heard the whirring noise of the machine like a creature I was alive inside, but trapped. I lay still, unblinking. The machine scanned my brain. My eyes burned. The doctor said, “You can blink, it’s okay.” I blinked. I imagined what all people imagine when they are in these machines—what it was like being in the womb, even though that was a memory I did not have, nor did anyone.

Soon the whirring stopped and the bed with me on it was pushed out of the white tube, and the doctor showed me the results of the brain scan. “You’re perfectly fine.”

“Damn.”

“There’s no tumor. That should be a comfort.”

“It is, but I can’t remember things. I’d like to remember.”

“What? Can you remember your graduation? Your childhood? Losing your virginity?”

“When I think about my childhood, for some reason, now I’m frightened. I’m seeing wolves chasing my brother William and I through the woods.”

“Through the woods? Oh? This happened to you?”

“I’m not sure. I’m seeing a pack of wolves chase William. I’m recalling a wolf eating him.”

“What you need is a therapist,” the doctor said, patting my shoulder, leaving the exam room.

Out at the receptionist’s desk, I made sure I got a receipt so I could prove to Rae that I had actually gone to the doctor.

 

On the train home, I realized what the problem really was, and I felt like a fool. My memories had been left untended for too long. I closed my eyes and left the train.

I traveled over the hills and across the valley, and both silver rivers and then the endless fields and then through the forest, hiding from wolves, tripping the whole way, falling into green puddles and getting spiderwebs in my face.

The house of memory had grown in the years since I’d last visited. People were living on the porch now. Squatters. They’d made a camp of mattresses and piles of clothes. Liquor bottles. Trash scattered about. I said, “This is my place, everybody has to leave.” No one listened. I’d deal with them all later. I tried the front door, it was still locked. A good sign. I took out my keys, unlocked the door, walked inside. The house was dim and full of dust. I recognized the general layout of it, just not the new hallway branching off with four years of new memories that I had never visited and didn’t have time to now, either.

I walked to the door where I thought my memories of my wedding day were kept, but I was wrong. Behind that door, Rae and I were drinking beer with Chuck and Erin in our apartment in New York. “Is this 2013?” “No,” Chuck said. “It’s 2011.” “Well, it’s good to see you. I’ll come back and hang out soon.” I closed the door. I wrote the year on the door with blue chalk.

I opened another door and I was behind the door, younger, and with long hair, sitting on a bed with a girl whose name I couldn’t remember. They both said hello, I said I was looking for my wedding day. The girl looked nervous, the younger me looked nervous too. I told them not to worry, they wouldn’t have to marry each other in some future memory. They looked so relieved. I left the room.

The next door I tried was the right one.

I stepped right into the building where I was married.

An old movie palace.

The tables were set, but empty. The meal hadn’t been served. I looked up at the chandelier and past that to the balcony where Rae and I had exchanged our vows. We’d been married by a non-denominational minister named Shelia. I took the stairs up to that level, hoping I had timed it right and I would be able to see our ceremony.

When I got to the top of the stairs all I found was a pile of skeletons.

One of the skeletons wore a white dress.

One of the skeletons wore a tuxedo.

Another skeleton was my brother, William. Another was my mother. Another was my father, and so on. They were all there. As far as I could tell, each and every guest to our wedding had been killed in the memory.

I walked down the stairs again and looked at the cards on the tables but someone had scribbled the names out.

On I searched, no sign of life anywhere.

But in a distant storage room, I found a hole in the floor.

“Hello,” I called down into it.

No response.

I climbed down into the hole, and turned on my phone’s flashlight and saw I was standing in a tunnel. I followed the tunnel for what felt like miles. At the end of it, I fell through a black bedsheet that was covering the mouth and then I was standing in one of my childhood bedrooms.

I recognized myself as a child. Pudgy and pink-faced. Seven years old.

“Who made these tunnels?” I said to me.

Me said to I, “Some guy covered in blood.”

“Some guy covered in blood? Jesus.”

My little brother peaked out from the closet. He was maybe six years old. He said, “The bad guy came out of this closet. He did it.”

“Which bad guy?”

My brother didn’t know the bad guy’s name. But he showed me the bloody knife the man had used to kill everybody, including me at my wedding.

“What’d he look like? Was he tall?”

“No, kinda short.”

“White guy?”

“Yeah.”

“Mustache? Beard?”

“No. He was wearing blue jeans and basketball shoes. His shirt was red from the blood. So was his face.”

Willie waved me into the closet. I saw he was standing at the mouth of another tunnel. This was the tunnel the bad man had come out of.

I left the room. I went out into the main hallway and marked the door with chalk. A big skull and cross bones. I went down the hallway and opened another door, behind that door it was summertime, a year after the wedding and I was playing horse shoes with my mom and Rae and two guys I worked construction with. I stopped the game and they all seemed upset. I told them the faster they helped me, the faster they could go back to their game. We had work to do. I went in the shed and got two bags of cement. I took a shovel and a wheelbarrow. We ripped up the bricks from my mother’s garden path. I had one of my coworkers run a garden hose out through the door and into the hallway of the house of memory. I opened the door with the skull and crossbones. We worked together to seal off the tunnel to my wedding day with the garden path bricks.

Whoever was on the other side of the tunnel, the killer, I thought, couldn’t slip back.

I unlocked the door out, brought everyone back to the memory where they belonged. Unlocked the door going in. They went back to playing horse shoes on that summer day. I was the only one with the keys. It was my house.

I came back into my childhood bedroom and climbed down the tunnel in the closet where the bad man had come out, little kid me and little kid Willie saying not to go.

That tunnel led to a dusty room full of people in brown cloaks, all sleeping in piles on the floor. I didn’t know any of them. This was my grandmother’s house. Mid 90s. None of these brown-cloaked squatters belonged in this memory.

I shouted and they all woke up, one by one.

They were frail and starved. They pleaded with me not to cast them back into the wilderness. They were, all of them, shoeless and dressed in brown cloaks. They told me they had been living in the forest. I counted thirty people in the overcrowded room. Trapped there. They told me they’d made a mistake and wanted to get out of the room and go back to where they were living, would I just open a window and let them all go back to the forest?

“Who let you in here?”

My grandmother and grandfather appeared in the doorway. “We let them in, they were knocking on the window incessantly, crying about wolves.”

“One of them is a murderer, I think.”

My grandmother said, “These people couldn’t hurt a fly.” I left the room and searched the rest of my grandparent’s house. It was strange being there. It was bulldozed during my senior year of high school. The rest of the house was empty. I sat in the kitchen and had cheese sandwiches and ginger ales with them. I thanked my grandma for the sandwich and left.

It took me a while, but eventually I found the door where  my memories of first grade were locked.

In first grade, we went on a field trip to the police station and while we were there the cops pulled the ridiculous prank of locking my whole class up in a jail cell and pretending we weren’t going to be released until the morning. It was the middle of the day and they even flipped the light switch off, though the sunlight still streamed through the barred window. We all started crying in the cell and the cops came back smiling and laughing and bringing us red juice and chocolate chip cookies.

I found that exact day.

I found the chief of police.

I took him out of that memory and I led him down the hallway of the house of memory and into the room that contained the skeletal memories of my wedding. The chief of police looked like he was going to cry when he saw all of the bones. He called the coroner on the radio.

Then we visited my childhood room, where my little brother gave him the knife. Together my brother and the chief set up a toy crime lab and dusted the murder weapon for fingerprints.

The cop and I went back into my grandmother and grandfather’s house, where my grandmother was washing the mustard off the plates we had eaten our cheese sandwiches on and where my grandfather was already down the hallway in his EZ chair watching a VHS recording of a Dolphins game. I introduced my grandmother to the cop and said he was here to help me with my murder investigation, she offered him a soda but he said no, he was fine.

Back inside the crowded room, the chief of police began to interrogate the cloaked squatters.

Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013? Where were you on the evening of May 4th 2013?

Everyone said they were in the forest trying not to get eaten by wolves. A good answer.

As the chief of police turned to ask another person, there was a clamor and I turned and saw someone trying to break open the window to escape. I yanked the guy down. His cloak fell off and underneath it he sported blood-stained Levis and Reebok Pumps.

I hit him in the face and a fake beard flew off. A teenager. The cop handcuffed him and we checked the kid’s ID. Charlie Butterfield. Shit. I’d heard all about him. Rae’s first boyfriend.

The cop dragged him out of the room.

We went back to my first grade jail memory. The cop said, “All you kids, juice and cookies.” He kicked the cell open and the kids streamed out and Charlie Butterfield was thrown face first into the bars.

The cop said, “Your fingerprints were all over that knife. Why did you do it?”

“I loved her. She was mine.”

I left that memory.

I found “2012.”

I found Rae and I sitting in our apartment in New York. I told them that they didn’t have to wait to be married if they didn’t want to. They said they didn’t want to.

They put on their nicest clothes (which weren’t very nice but oh well).

I took them to the theatre. The police chief was there. The coroner’s office was just removing the last of the skeletons out a side door. It was like nothing bad had ever happened. I told 2012 Rae and 2012 me to wait right there. I went and got my friend Chuck Howe from 2012, too. He married us.

It was beautiful.

I opened my eyes on the train.

Now I could remember my wedding day.

I could remember our vows. I could remember the way I kissed her, and the way she kissed back.

May 4th, 2013. I’d never forget.

If I did, fuck, I guess I’d have to go fix it, again.

 

 

BUD SMITH lives in Jersey City and works construction. He is the author of the novel Teenager (Tyrant Books '19), among others.

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