It’s been a while since I’ve done a “personal” entry on this blog, but I figure I’d do one today since I haven’t really had the motivation to plug out any of the movie or book reviews I’ve been meaning to get around to for about a week now. I even have a guest entry to work on for 3Guys1Movie, but I’m still trying to figure out what to do for them since I know they cover so many movies regularly on their site. I have a feeling it’s going to be a bit difficult to find something they haven’t covered yet.
The inspiration for this entry can be credited to Troy Blackford (@TBlackford3 on Twitter), who is a fellow writer that somehow found me on Twitter. Don’t ask me how, because I have no idea how half of the people find me either there or here, though honestly I’m glad I do—I’ve met a lot of great people and I hope one day we can all meet in person. Perhaps I’ll organize some kind of event, though of course the pickle there would be finding out if people would actually make the trip. (If you are one of my regulars and you’re reading this and thinking you might be up for it, definitely let me know. I’d totally draw up some plans.)
Anyways, he—along with some other writers I follow on Twitter—tends to post on his website little short stories on a fairly regular basis. This is amazing because I don’t think I’ve been that abundant of an oasis for creativity like that since probably high school. At some point the two of us got to talking and he encouraged me to post some of my work on my website. Now I’m all for sharing my work, but I tend not to go “all out,” so to speak, when I’m not posting anonymously. Even then, sometimes I find myself holding back a little. Part of the reason for this is that since I do want to at least attempt to make a career out of my writing, I don’t want to let all my tricks tumble carelessly out of the bag, if that makes any sense.
That being said, this little idea popped into my head sometime after I had that conversation with Troy. This is one of those “middle of the night” write-ups. Not a whole lot of planning went into it. Normally I write for the sci-fi & fantasy genres, but my short stories tend to be more slice of life. At first I tried to make this a full-fledged short story, but I was in one of my lazy writing modes that night, and went for a snippet-style instead. Kind of like how Mitch Albom writes his stories, but with considerably less meat and not at all edited, though I think it is written with the same kind of simplicity…but enough ramble. The piece is untitled—honestly I couldn’t think of anything that seemed to fit, so I just left it as is.
Averie Landes has lived too long. She has outlived her parents, which was to be expected; however, she has also survived her husband, two children—one was stillborn—and most of her friends. She lives with her granddaughter, Emma Clarke, and she lives quietly.
“Momma, why does grandma cry sometimes at the TV?” Emma asks her mother once.
This is a long time ago. They are in the kitchen. Emma eagerly awaits a reply while her mother continues to cut vegetables, though she’s cutting them much slower than she had been prior to the question being asked. Emma is maybe about six; old enough to know that there’s something different about her grandmother’s tears. As for whether or not she is old enough to understand; her mother takes some time to think about this.
She settles upon this answer. “Grandma is just old, sweetie. Sometimes old folk cry.”
Emma’s face scrunches like she’s thinking real hard, turning her mother’s words over in her head. Her mother holds her breath.
Emma blinks and says simply, “Oh. Okay.”
And that’s that. Her mother lets out a sigh of relief. Her daughter skips off and quickly becomes absorbed in other activities.
Joanna Summers knows of what her daughter speaks, because she has also seen it before, though not since she got caught looking. After that time, Averie made sure to be more careful about it, at least, Joanna thought she had. Then again, maybe it was just that Joanna had kept her distance from then on. Perhaps both.
“Honey, please. Put the camera down.”
It is the only real argument the couple ever has. When they had been dating, Daniel Landes had loved that about her. Of course, that was because he had still been wearing his rose-tinted glasses, so Averie’s insistence on chronicling almost every single moment of their lives via camcorder was artistic, not an obsessive compulsion.
After getting married, the only time he can get her to put the camera away is when they are in bed, in bath, or in sleep. Over time he comes to accept this aspect to her, but he never stops wondering why she never sees the importance of the here and now. He always means to ask, but he never gets around to it.
One day, Daniel gets sick and the camera disappears for a long time. No one says a word about it.
Joanna discovers her mother’s secret by mistake. She needs help with homework and her father is still not yet home from work, so she searches the house for her mother. The house is an eerie quiet, and it isn’t until she goes up the stairs and walks closer to the master bedroom that she hears muffled sounds from behind closed doors. Curious, she cracks the door open only slightly and sees—
For a while, Averie prefers watching DVDs. This is when she’s in her fifties. After Daniel’s passing she spends months upon months converting the master bedroom into a video library of sorts; extra shelves ordered, installed, and soon overflowing with countless DVDs. Hidden in the mix is a single VHS tape—she watches this one sparingly and takes great care of it because it is the most precious, and also because she knows it has a limited shelf life. She used to watch it mostly when Daniel was away at work and while her daughter was elsewhere in the house. Later she would only watch the video when there wasn’t anyone in the house at all.
She misses Daniel terribly, but at first she is able to bear it, thanks to her collection. At some point she finishes organizing and begins going through the discs, one by one, revisiting moments from her past.
Averie goes about halfway through the first week of her relationship with Daniel when she finds herself reaching a hand out to touch the face of a man who is no longer truly tangible, no longer by her side. She is reminded of his pleas for her to just live in the moment, and of how the only time she ever really listened was at the very end. She finally realizes how many opportunities she’s wasted.
Then she cries and cries and cries.
Daniel might have gotten the answers if he had asked the right questions.
“Eva, won’t you look at me?” he asks her once.
“But I am looking at you, darling,” Averie replies with an airy laugh.
They are lying next to each other side by side on a large beach towel when they have this conversation. This is sometime during their honeymoon.
“What about looking without the camera?” Daniel asks.
To which Averie responds by going for a compromise of sorts—positioning the camera so that it still captures her lover’s face, and then lifting her eyes to meet his. Daniel lets out a sigh, gives her a slight shake of the head, and half-smiles. It’s not what he means, but he hopes it’s progress.
If he had ever thought to ask when she started her habit in the first place, then perhaps she would have responded with a why, and then Daniel would have been able to fill in the rest of the blanks himself. But he never asks, and she never tells.
Averie’s father, at one time, had been the king of her universe. In some ways, he always remained so. He had been a jovial man, always doting on her. Averie always considered it a privilege to have known him, even if had only been for a short while.
They say girls chase after men who remind them of their fathers. Averie’s father believed living in the present. Like Daniel, he hadn’t seen the need to record videos or sit uncomfortably still for photographs. “Why immortalize a forced smile when we can remember all the genuine ones?” he used to always say.
The importance of leaving a little something behind never crossed his thoughts, only the firm belief that memories would always be enough. Memories though, like many other things, dull and fade.
She watches her father breathe his last a week after her ninth birthday. She is young, yet old enough to know that he is never coming back. People around her shout and beg for the man, for the soul to remain. She pleads with them in her heart with all her might, but finds herself unable to open her mouth to say the words out loud. Years will pass and she will always wonder if perhaps he would have stayed if she had.
Regret. This is what drives her after and since.
Emma knocks on her grandmother’s door.
“Grandma Avie? Dinner’s ready,” she says. “Would you like to eat?”
There is no response. Only the muffled sounds coming from a television set can be heard through the door. Emma sighs and puts her hand on the doorknob. She slowly twists it to the right and gently pushes the door open a crack, taking a peek inside.
Her grandmother is much older now, one hundred and five, to be exact. They both are older now; it’s a different time and yet in some ways the scene is the same as before.
Averie no longer watches the DVDs—she hasn’t in years, mostly because she no longer remembers the people recorded in them. Emma has placed all those away for her in storage. For a while she is confused until Emma gives her grandmother the VHS player from the attic because she knows that’s what her grandmother needs.
The body remembers what the mind forgets. Averie’s fingers find that tape, her special tape, and she plays it over and over, always in the same place. Eventually she does this more out of habit than anything else, for one day the tape no longer properly plays and all that is before her is white noise. By then it no longer matters, because even the significance of the routine becomes lost.
Emma knows that there is no talking to her grandmother while she’s in her own world, and so she quietly shuts the door and heads back down the hall to the dining room.
Once, Averie vowed never to forget what her father looked like, smelled like, or sounded like. So when those memories begin to fade, she searches high and low for some trace of him. When she finds close to nothing; she is devastated. Then she makes a discovery containing two out of the three things she seeks. Even if it contains nothing more than a glimpse, she holds onto it for as long as she can.
She makes herself another promise. That she will never let something like this happen again.
Her mother thinks to record Averie’s first birthday on a whim. The camera records mostly Averie—which makes sense since she is technically the star of the show—and her mother’s voice. Somewhere in the middle her father can be heard cursing from the kitchen; he’s burnt the cake. There’s a slight pause in the video from when her mother went to go help.
The tape resumes with Averie’s parents singing the birthday song and her father’s face comes into view right when it’s time to blow out the candles. He kisses little Averie on the head, tells her to make a wish, and then helps her blow out the candles.
Averie and her father smile in the direction of the camera and then turn to smile at each other. Averie reaches her hands out to her father and he lifts her up out of his high chair, gives her another big smooch on the cheek and tells her he loves her.
There’s a part where her father starts slow dancing with her while holding her against his chest and humming a made-up waltz tune. At one point he twirls them off screen. Her mother sets the camera down to join them and forgets to shut the camcorder off. It runs for a few minutes longer recording voices, a tabletop and a white wall before the tape runs out.
Averie sees on the screen pictures that are no longer actually there. She remembers no names, only faces. At one point in her life this may have distressed her; now she is free of all worry. All that matters is what she knows—that these people at some point or another loved her.
Sometimes she feels a little impatience rising from within, and those are the times when she ghosts her fingertips over the television screen, as if trying to reach for something just out of her grasp. Most days though, in her heart is a sense of calm, because she knows that somewhere they are waiting. And she will be joining them one day, be it tomorrow, the next day, or the week after.
Maybe even sooner than that.