Night To Remember

Entry by: writerYNKGHTYLDE

13th November 2015
“The things I remember, the things I forget.”
Vinyl turned. The music played.
Darkness cloaked the windows. Flickering flames from the fire the only light across the room.
It was late. The sort of late that leaves the world short of oxygen. That time when humanity runs breathlessly low on energy.
Good job only insomniacs and night workers breathe this dense, dark air, inhabit this eerie space in the blurred intersection between night and day.
He’d got to get it down on paper. He didn’t know how many more of these nights he’d got left.
His best days were behind him.
But what of his nights? That was a much deeper question. He alone knew the answer to that. And right now he was struggling to form the memories.
“Damn brain,” he muttered to himself. Where once such vivid thoughts lived below a crystal-clear, starry, sky, now the noise, the chatter, merged in a confused November fog.
His best nights? His nurse had posed the question. Told him making his brain work, mining his memories from the depths of the past, was the best way of slowing the disease.
The same disease which robbed him of the ability to share those precious memories with his loved ones.
This brain activity – “his homework” his nurse called it - the one thing which could delay the day he wouldn’t even recognise those nearest and dearest.
A single tear rolled down his cheek. He could feel the wetness. His loss of memory had heightened his other senses to the here and now.
He touched his cheek. Felt the bone, smoothed over the wrinkles, rubbed his right hand now across his forehead, his fingertips massaging his temples, then delved into his deepening eye sockets, until he cupped his whole head in both hands.
“Come on, think, think,” he said, his voice rising now with anger. The frustration at his frailty, his forgetfulness, was crippling at times. But he had to think positive. It was “the only way” the nurse said. He knew the alternative – a full-life lived but no mechanism to bring it to life – a fate far too mindnumbingly depressing even to contemplate.
So he reached for the bottle. Lagavulin. Poured himself another whisky into the Waterford crystal tumbler. Stood up, turned the volume up on the stereo – “I miss you, I guess that I should” reverberated around the room, walked over to the fire, riddled the grate and threw on another log.
He picked up his glass and wandered around the room.
Like a pregnant woman, trying to speed up her labour. That was it. Childbirth. The night the twins were born. Mind sparked, clanking into life, suddenly the memories started to flow.
The hospital clock, he could see it now. 11.58pm. The firstborn Rona arrived. 12.16am, the second, Hamish followed.
Fatherhood. The best job in the world. The subsequent years like flicking through photos in an album, a whirlwind of ice creams and donkey rides, holidays in the rain, windswept beaches, smiling faces, all sweeping by so fast. Eighteen years gone in a flash.
He paused on his journey around the room. Perched on the arm of a chair for a moment. And smiled. He couldn’t help it. The memories controlled his muscles.
Then came the regrets, riding on the back of the same wave, as if he’d turned and not seen them coming, caught unawares as they crashed onto the shore with thunderous noise and devastating destruction. If only he hadn’t spent so much time at work, so much time chasing rainbows to see if there really was a pot of gold on the other side. The curse of the wanderlust. The fascination with the greenness of the grass. Just because it was on the other side of the bay, tantalisingly out of reach.
“Such a damn waste,” he muttered.
That’s why he’d ended up alone now. Always searching. Always pushing for the next ‘thing’. Never satisfied. He’d long since found out there was nothing at the end of the rainbow. Just emptiness.
But he’d made the discovery far too late. This therapy wasn’t just about helping him. No cure, it was simply slowing the decline. To him now the far greater goal was leaving a legacy to warn others.
He started scribbling in his black book, the medical diary his nurse had given him.
Another slug of whisky, the moment it hit his throat it jump-started his mind into even more life. He was on a roll, the memories were coming thick and fast now. He didn’t care they were jumbled, they were sparkling, dazzling, brilliantly bright.
It made him want to dance around the room. He did. A Scottish jig, a lonesome reel. Who cares? No-one could see him. And so what if they could? He was too old to bother anymore.
Whirling round the room brought it back. Hugging his son, dancing around the terraces the night their favourite football team won promotion for the first time in 40 years. Wow, that was one hell of a feeling. Hugging his dad the day the world cup was won. Tears along with joy.
Driving all night to see girlfriends in Edinburgh and London. The red MG. He can still hear the roar. Still smell the leather. Still feel the surge after the flick of the overdrive switch.
The night she held his hand on the flight out of Belfast, leaving the city lights twinkling down below. Or leaving the same city’s harbour on a summer night, the hum of the helicopters over the rooftops, as they pulled away, the sound of the surf, the wind in their hair on deck as they headed out into the open sea, licking his lips he was sure he could still taste the salt.
Ships, he’d spent so many good nights – and bad nights on ships – too many to remember, most frequently rising and falling with the North Sea swell from Aberdeen after being seconded to Shetland. Happy nights. All whisky, craic and fiddle music sitting by the ship’s bar.
Music. Oh, don’t get him started on music. Those bouncing gigs in Glasgow, the stadium spectacle in Paris – Paris, yes, that was a contender for one of those nights. City chic, riverside romance. Unforgettable.
Romance? Oh no. Don’t go there please. The memories are cruel. He didn’t want to go back. Wanted to turn the other way, back up the tunnel. But the whisky wouldn’t let him. There was no stopping his mind now, it was an unstoppable force, heading down, hurtling down into the deepest of the darkness.
Of course. That night. The one he’d most tried to forget. The one that he’d dreaded recalling. Tried to block out from all memory.
The night that was supposed to set him free. But instead was the moment which held him hostage for the rest of his life, handcuffed him, shackled him with a crippling shyness. Clipped his wings before he could even fly.
What would life have been like without it? He’d always wondered that.
The biggest problem for his mind was it wasn’t even momentous. It didn’t involve any significant shift in the earth’s plates. No crime was committed. No-one died. No-one even laughed or cried.
That was the trouble. To any other single human being on the entire planet, that night, what should have been the best of nights, but what was to him the worst of nights, didn’t even register a single blip on any emotional Richter scale. Why would it? Yet to him, it was seismic. That’s the trouble with memories, he thought, they're so damn painfully, personal. So inhibiting. So damaging. So debilitating.
To him it was just a blur. She kissed him at the late night bar by the pool. And before he knew it they were back in her room. Not in any way how he would have planned his first romance.
The next morning, as if to prolong the agony, she demanded he take her to a doctor to make sure no life could come from their drunken acts of the previous night.
That the journey took place by boat, under a searing sun, across a flat calm Mediterranean sea for at least a couple of hours from their resort to the nearest town of any size where medical advice could be sought, endlessly dragged out their regrets. The monotonous, monotone sound of the chugging motor at the back of the boat their deathly dirge.
As he looked at her face across the boat, she didn’t smile, she didn’t cry. She just looked emptily out to sea.
The plain, dull, numbing rejection of it all was complete.
There was never going to be any way back from that.
And here he was more than 50 years on.
He sat, looked down into his whisky, swirled the golden liquid around in the bottom of his glass, and as he bowed his head, a drop fell into the tumbler, tears rolling down his cheeks.
It should have been his night to remember. Yet all those decades later, despite his increasing struggle with Alzheimers, despite his advancing cancer, try as he might, it was still the one night, he could never manage to forget.