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by Kevin Carrel Footer

He ran his fingers across the wooden table because he wanted to feel something real again, something that connected him to the organic world. His fingertips feared splinters — admittedly, that was part of the thrill — but they found only worn smoothness as they traced the table’s edge. Wood was mysterious to him, something living and inanimate all at once. It crossed his mind that one day the vegans would come for wood too and it would go the way of fur coats, become a guilty pleasure. It was an absurd idea but in this world, the absurd seemed to be taking root.

Running his fingers along the edge of the table, he entertained the desperate hope of bringing back the memory of the day when she sat on the other side of a table like this, in a café in Buenos Aires. Oh, if wood could tell stories! These days, he felt like an exile sitting at the center of his own life. He thought of Proust in his cork-lined room, isolated from Paris society by those dull walls, writing down the world that had once been his from memory in excruciating detail. 

Only in his case, that memory seemed to be fading.

He feared that he was forgetting the old world, that his memory was no match for the march of time, that the new mundane was filling in the corrugations of existence with alluvial disregard. He pretended to still remember the flesh and the kisses and the glances full of longing — but part of him wondered if this wasn’t just a trick, like those memories you think you remember from childhood but which, under closer inspection, are based on photographs. You think the photo triggers the memory when instead it is you projecting a memory you don’t have onto a photo.

This had happened to him. For years he had thought that his oldest memory was of tossing a ball with his father in a child-sized baseball uniform with blue pin-stripes. But later he realized that he was only remembering someone else’s snapshot of that afternoon rather than his experience of it. He knew the child never would have remembered the details of the outfit so vividly. He might have remembered the pride of putting it on but never the pin-stripping. It was, he concluded, a false memory. 

How many other false memories did he have? What would life be like if he couldn’t trust them anymore? He had seen his mother lose every memory she ever had and it seemed the erasing of a life, a return to a base, organic state. When two people no longer share their memories, the conversation ends.

If he must now live off his collection of photos, he was better-positioned than many. Over the years, he had obsessively documented his life. It had seemed a fetish before but now it made sense. Still, he worried about all the moments he had inevitably missed: there were times when it wasn’t right to pull out a camera. Sometimes you were too in the moment to do so. He would miss those memories most of all.

He placed his hands flat on the table in front of him. He felt the rivulets of grain gouging into the flesh of his palms. He thought, improbably, of a mangrove swamp he had once visited. Floating in a tiny boat through stagnant pools, he admired the sun dappling the water and the roots descending secretly into that underwater world where his eyes could not penetrate, not even to see the alligators lurking. Wood — like the murky water of memories — accrues over time leaving a testimony impossible to decipher. One day he would willingly return to an organic state, but in the meantime he would fight with every word he had to keep those memories — his life — alive.

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