Monday, September 21, 2009

A Quilt of Memories

Like "The Hermit's Week", "A Quilt of Memories" is the result of a random prompt generator. I was aiming for between 1500 and 2000 words and nailed it: 1775! Enjoy!


A Quilt of Memories

There wasn’t much that Casie could remember anymore, not from before the retirement home. It was the other resident, Andrik, who insisted they knew each other, and who was she not to believe him? She had no reason to doubt him, and the old man had no reason to lie. He even showed her an old lobstered gauntlet as proof that he wasn’t lying about once being a knight. Every day he told her stories about their past, and they were stories she liked hearing, about things she had done while in his company, about adventures they’d had that were gone from her remembered past and now returned as a sort of fabricated one, a patchwork of memories quilted together into a whole. She held onto each of the stories, each of the quilt’s numerous patches, as well as she could, but inevitably, one faded away after another, until Andrik told her a story he had told her before, and she listened with the rapt attention of a child hearing his first heroic tale of wanderers and fierce beasts, and he knew that she had forgotten again.

Andrik regretted that more of the stories he told couldn’t be of love conquering all odds, or romantic horse races across breathtaking landscapes with a final kiss at the end, but that wasn’t how their friendship had been.

“We met near the cliffs, where the fertile land butted up against the desert, and there was a long drop from the grass to the sands. That was where we met, you wandering on foot and me on my charger, all in armor and sweating in the late summer heat. The look in your eyes told me you were thinking about running away, and that you were afraid to run away because you thought I might think you were a thief trying to escape, so you held your ground. We talked. The sun went down, and the sands far below the cliffs turned dark and rolling in what was a surprisingly boring sunset, not at all like the ones in made-up stories. It was blue and purple, the sand, and we talked. I told you about being a knight then. You asked if I had any food to spare. Of course I did, but I didn’t tell you that then; there was still that possibility that you were a thief.”

Casie furrowed her eyebrows and crinkled her forehead in the expression Andrik had come to associate with her both trying hard to remember and trying harder to make a memory of the story. He saw in her eyes the careful stitching as this patch of her memory was sewn to whatever was left and not yet forgotten. He tried hard not to let tears come into his eyes; every day he told her a story that was new to her, watched it add to the quilt, watched as over the weeks, the story fell apart and faded away.

“You insisted that I pay the man exactly the price for the horse, but I refused so many times you nearly gave up and walked away. It would be your horse, you said over and over again, so it should be your choice, but I said it was my money, and I wanted to buy it as cheaply as I could. I was always very stingy with my money, and with my food-- you never let me forget that day we met, when I wouldn’t share my food. You always teased me, saying that I was just being stingy with my food like I am with my money, not that I thought you were a thief. I finally bought the horse for more than I liked but less than you liked, and you named the horse Cheapskate just to annoy me. You always liked to tease me.”

She cocked her head at him. She didn’t talk much anymore now, just listened and smiled and nodded and frowned in all the right places; Andrik almost thought she might remember in her subconscious, that some scrap of each story lingered from before, and that she remembered but didn’t remember that she remembered, and so she couldn’t tell the story if she wanted to, but that when he told it, there was a sort of constant subconscious “Oh, yes!” deep inside her.

“And then the beast disappeared, at least from my vision. But you insisted you could still see its shadow, and you grabbed my sword from me and threw it. You THREW it! I had never been more angry in my life! But it hit, and the beast appeared again, only now my blade was sticking out of it. It thrashed around and finally fell to the ground, dead. I told you since you killed it, you had to pull my sword out and clean it, but what did you do except turn around and LEAVE! So after all of that, all that tracking and getting lost and my saving your life more than once, you killed the beast with my sword and then made me clean it! I was so angry with you! But you said we could just take the reward money and buy you a sword with it then. I told you that you could spend your part of the money on it, but you even disagreed with that. If I didn’t want to share my sword, I needed to provide you with one myself, out of my OWN money or you would just have to keep borrowing mine. I found you a sword, but it was like buying your horse all over again: I paid far too much.”

There had been times when he considered making up new stories, giving Casie some nicer patches for her quilt, more romantic stories to make her smile more, but it just didn’t seem right to make up stories like that. It might change her attitude towards him now, and he didn’t want to change that for the world.

“The ransom was too much money. I had nothing near it. I never quite figured out why bandits would try to kidnap a knight’s friend, anyway, since bandits should have known a knight could easily trounce them. But they tried, and I had to come rescue you. So I traveled day and night, hoping and praying that I would get to you in time. But when I got there, you were playing cards with the bandits! You and the ringleader were talking like you were old friends! When you realized I was there, you just looked up and smiled, and while I was staring, confused and stupefied and all those words a knight shouldn’t have used to describe him, the rest of the bandits pulled me off my charger and tied me up. Only when they had finished and you were done with your card game did you ask the ringleader to have me cut free.”

The day came when Casie couldn’t sit up anymore. Andrik visited her in her room then to tell her the day’s story.

“The church was beautiful: all white and clean, with wreaths of autumn berries and flowers and turned leaves and those little pinecones. I was all dressed up and waiting, but you never saw it, did you? No, you just sent a note. It said that you had changed your mind and didn’t want to change our friendship, and that you had taken my sword and most of my armor and if I wanted it I had to catch you. So I rushed outside of the church and sure enough, there was my charger all saddled and ready, with nothing but my cape draped across his hindquarters. What could I do but chase after you? So I did, and I finally caught up with you, on the very cliff where we first met. We never kissed, you know?”

Casie smiled and closed her eyes, but not in the furrowed “making a quilt” look. She looked peaceful, content. She opened her eyes again and smiled at Andrik and nodded. She was tired and wanted to sleep. Andrik left without another word, just as he always did.

He never told her another story. It was the next morning, just as he was getting ready to go to her room and tell her the next one that his nurse came in. He immediately knew and sat back on his bed, trembling and fighting the unknightly tears welling in his eyes. The nurse held out a big paper grocery bag. His name was written across one side in thick permanent marker. He couldn’t help but notice how beautiful the handwriting was. For a long time, he held the bag in his lap, staring at the writing. The nurse was gone when he looked up again. His hand went into the bag and came up with a heavy blanket. It was a hand-sewn patchwork quilt. This patch showed a knight and an adventurous-looking woman bartering for a horse. Here, the woman was walking away from the knight. Here, a sword was sticking out from a dead beast’s throat. There was a castle, and the one next to it showed a king making a proclamation to the knight. There was a church, there a grassy cliff overlooking a desert. This patch showed the knight and the woman riding one horse, the knight bent over the reins as the woman sat backward, firing arrows behind them. Andrik recognized all the stories in the quilt, every one he’d told her.

The casket was open at the funeral. A nurse helped Andrik walk up to it as he held the quilt close to his chest. Something heavy was wrapped inside it.

“Andrik, she made that quilt for you,” the nurse said as he laid it on top of the closed part of her coffin.

“Maybe she did. But these are her memories, not mine. I simply gave them to her. I wish I had really known her. I’m sure she was some woman.” He patted the quilt. “This is only the life I made up for her. It should go with her.” His hand ran over the fine stitching, the patchwork quilt of memories that weren’t really memories. He could feel the lobstered gauntlet inside, the “proof” of his knighthood. The receipt from the pawnshop was still inside the gauntlet. Three dollars and seventy-eight cents: the only thing in his whole life he had paid full price for. It had been worth it.

Tears fell from his eyes, the kind that a knight shouldn’t shed but the kind that were okay for a penny-pinching former factory worker.

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