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Authors: Janet Berliner, Janet & Tem Berliner

What you remember i did

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What You Remember I Did 

By Janet Berliner & Melanie Tem

 

 

First Digital Edition published by Crossroad Press & Macabre Ink Digital

Copyright 2011 Janet Berliner & Melanie Tem

Copy Editing by Erin Bailey

Cover Design by David Dodd

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This eBook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This eBook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you're reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return the vendor of your choice and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

ALSO FROM MELANIE TEM & CROSSROAD PRESS 

NOVELS:

Prodigal

Slain in the Spirit

 

WITH STEV RASNIC TEM

Daughters

 

UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOKS:

Slain in the Spirit – Narrated by Ann Richards

 

ALSO FROM JANET BERLINER & CROSSROAD PRESS

 

NOVELS:

With GeorgeGuthridge

Sol's Song

Child of the Light

Child of the Journey

Children of the Dusk

 

UNABRIDGED AUDIOBOOKS:

Child of the Light – Narrated by Jane McDowell

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About the Authors: 

Janet Berlineris the author of six novels, including the four-way collaborationArtifact(with Kevin J. Anderson, Matthew J. Costello, and F. Paul Wilson) and the award-winningChildren of the Dusk(with GeorgeGuthridge). She has also edited six anthologies, includingSnapshots: Twentieth Century Mother-Daughter Fiction(with Joyce Carol Oates) and two volumes with illusionist David Copperfield.

More information can be found on Janet's web site, http://www.janetberliner.com/

 

Melanie Temis the author of more than a dozen novels, including the award-winningMaking Love(with Nancy Holder), and the international bestsellerBlack River. Along with her husband, SteveRasnicTem, she earned multiple awards for the novella "The Man on the Ceiling" (forthcoming in an expanded novel form fromWizards of the Coast Discoveries, the new Speculative Fiction imprint) and for the multimedia collection Imagination Box.

More information can be found on Melanie's web site, http://www.m-s-tem.com/

CHAPTER ONE 

Nan didn't like being late for anything. Most of all, she didn't like staging a grand entrance. She carefully let herself into the college auditorium, hoping no one would notice her, but the big wooden door squeakedunobliginglyand the hubbub from the courtyard followed her in. As if he could feel her scrutiny–or maybe just annoyed by her interruption–the poet up at the podium stopped reading and looked at her over the heads of the small crowd. Numerous others turned to follow his gaze.

She shut the door behind her and waved an apology, which the poet, Matthew Mullen, didn't acknowledge except to look down at the book from which he'd been reading and make a "Where was I?" show of finding the place she'd caused him to lose. He resumed reading into the microphone in a surprisingly conversational tone, his voice deep and mellow, with a strong New England accent:

 

In all its forms, in all its

Fashions, no matter

How we remember it,

Love is decidedly

Perverse.

 

Just what she needed, a night of nonsense and pessimism.

She glanced around the auditorium. There were enough empty seats that being inconspicuous would have been hard even if she hadn't actually drawn attention to herself. Leaving would make matters worse, so she did the next best thing and chose a seat near the door, wondering why poetry readings didn't have intermissions. Mullen was not at all the James Mason look-alike her friend had led her to expect, though he had a similar underlying sensuality. He was a fiftyish man with either short gray hair or a ponytail. She mentally composed irritable witticisms for Dan Masterson the next time she saw him. "'Cute' my ass. Don't do me any more favors, okay? Let me screw up my own love life. I've had plenty of practice."

"Perversion does Lovelove." Mullen was breathily close to the mic.

Nan groaned inwardly and shifted in the already uncomfortable seat. What the hell could that possibly mean? This was why today's poetry was, if not actually dead, then certainly demented. Defined by the spewing of meaningless words.

Which made her think of Mom. Which made her sad and tired. Which made her wish she'd stopped for coffee on the way here. When she'd called home after her last student, half an hour ago, Liz-the-caregiver had pronounced this a pretty good day and figured Nan could stay another hour on campus before hitting the highway toward home.

Easy for her to say; her responsibility ended when she went home at six.

Nan immediately felt guilty about allowing herself so much as a hint of resentment. The good part was, she told herself, that an hour of poetry like this could very well reduce her to a state not much more oriented than Mom's. Tonight they could wander around the house naked together. Despite herself, despite the residual pain and revulsion that came with the image of her mother going from room to room dropping clothes along the way until she was standing entirely nude in front of the open refrigerator complaining of the cold, Nan chuckled.

At the same moment Matthew Mullen bellowed:

But I did not do what you remember I did!

I did not!

 

Nan wanted to cover her ears. Whatever had happened to Auden, Angelou, Dickenson–Shakespeare, for God's sake? Where were the Moderns like Dickey and Masterson? Then again, who was she to judge when she didn't have a creative bone in her body? Unless creative financing counted. Maybe she was missing something. Mullen had, after all, won the Yale Younger Poets Award–a thousand years ago, about the same time she'd won her first Junior Nationals. Comparing tennis and poetry was a stretch, but at least she'd known when it was time to quit. She wondered if poets understood the concept of retiring at the top of your form.

Bored, she looked at Mullen more closely. There was something attractive about him. She felt a stirring of interest and dismissed it at once as pointless, given what she'd lately learned about the limp libidos of men her age.

But I did not do what you remember I did!

I did not!

 

This time Mullen read the lines in a whisper. A protracted moment of silence was followed by enthusiastic applause. Nan clapped once or twice, looking for a chance to escape. The poet held up his hand. The applause faded and stopped. She had lost the moment.

"Thank you." Mullen smiled pleasantly. "I trust in the next few weeks I'll get to know many of you personally and find out if you really liked what you heard, or if not, why not. For now, it's open mic time." He started to walk off the stage.

"Dr. Mullen!"

The poet searched for the owner of the voice.

"I'm going to read. Would you honor me by staying?"

Mullen hardly hesitated. "I'm sorry." He looked directly at Nan. "I have a previous engagement."

His eyes held an appeal for help. Nan found herself nodding slightly as she stood up and made for the exit. She bought his book of poetry from a student at a table in the lobby. When Mullen joined her, she handed it to him for his signature.

"For my mother," she said. "Her name's Catherine with a C."

"You must be Dan's friend, the tennis player," he said, scribbling on the title page. "Sorry about using you so shamelessly in there."

"No problem." She was pleased he hadn't said the tennisteacher. "I hate to see a fellow human suffer."

"Could I buy you a cup of coffee–Nan, isn't it?"

"Nan it is, but coffee's out. I have to be on my way home in exactly–" she looked at her watch, "–twenty minutes."

"Your family awaits?"

"My mother. She's...not well." She stopped herself from adding that she had two brothers and two sisters, who helped with her mother to varying degrees, but that she was the primary caregiver. Usually, she threw in the caregiver part as soon as possible. Most people backed off at once. She had found it was better to gauge reactions earlier rather than later, but for some reason she didn't say it now.

"The machines are pretty fast." He gestured toward the student union across the hall. His eyes crinkled at the edges when he smiled, giving him the appearance of a naughty schoolboy. Nan liked that. "I bet we could get a couple of cups of coffee in fifteen minutes."

They poured their coffee from the bottom of an old pot and suggested to the student at the cash register that he should make a fresh brew. "Bring mine in Styrofoam, with a lid," Nan said. "Please."

"Sure thing. I'll bring you guys a fresh cup as soon as it's ready."

The kid looked like a younger, slimmer version of her ex, face more pretty than handsome, body language inviting, blue eyes gazing deep into Matt's. Was it something aboutherthat sent men scuttling toward their feminine sides?

Nan sighed. Her insecurities were showing again. Still. And her anger at herself for her inability to see what had been right in front of her. She had never considered other people's sexual proclivities of any interest to her, but things had changed: Her husband of more than twenty years coming out of the closet; having to tell Ashley that Dad wasn't who she thought he was; having to tell Jordan that Grandpa wouldn't be around when she came to visit.

She glanced at Matt as they sat down at a small, square metal table. Were secrets encrypted in his poetry? Was it possible to reach middle age without them? She drank down the tepid coffee and looked at her watch. Ten minutes at the outside and she'd have to leave. "Have you been married?" she asked, mostly to fill the silence, partly out of a desire to cut to the chase, and wondering afterwards why she hadn't saidareyou married.

"Once. My wife died–"

"I'm sorry. Any children?"

"A son."

To Nan's relief, he did not pull out a batch of photographs. She was a loving mother and grandmother, but somehow carrying around images of her family had never quite worked for her. "What's his name?" she asked.

Matt's expression darkened and he looked away.

"His name?" she asked again.

"Eliot, one L. Like the poet."

It took Nan a minute to realize he meant T.S. Eliot. She felt stupid and not a little irritated by his evasiveness. That was all she needed, another man with secrets. She might have said something were it had the server not arrived with fresh coffee.

"Well, that was quick," Matt said, cutting off further discussion about his family.

The student had remembered the Styrofoam cup. Nan was impressed and told him so. "I'm going to have to take mine with me," she said, standing up.

"I'll walk you to your car." Matt started to stand, too. The boy handed him his coffee. Their fingers touched. The boy blushed slightly and the look in Matt's eyes was sad.

Nan pressed a light hand on his shoulder. "Stay. Finish your coffee. The car's close and there are plenty of lights."

He sat back down, making no attempt to argue or stop her. She scored another point in his favor. She could get to like this man.

"Listen. I bring good coffee to the courts before my first lesson," she told him. "It's early, but you can join me if you like. The courts are right behind the English Department."

He nodded. "I can see them from my office window. What time should I be there?"

"Eight o'clock."

"Early first lesson, huh."

"Usually, but my first lesson canceled. Tomorrow I don't teach till nine."

"Eight o'clock it is," he said. "I'll be there. I'll bring the coffee."

"Black," she called back over her shoulder. "No sugar."

 TRIAL RUN 

By ten o'clock in the evening, the geriatric ward at West Nyack Hospital was eerily still. The meds had been distributed, the snacks eaten. Here and there, a television glowed and occasionally amoanor a scream disturbed the staff from their gossip. They had no reason to notice the figure dressed in green scrubs walk with a weary gait down the corridor and use a shoulder to push open the door into the last room near the exit.

Once smoke began to curl under the door it was too late. The figure was gone.

CHAPTER TWO 

"There's been another nursing home tragedy. A geriatric patient at West Nyack Hospital apparently fell asleep while smoking a cigarette," the voice of the DJ on the radio said. "The fire was quickly contained but the patient died of smoke inhalation. Was the cigarette worth it?"

"Yes," Nan said, lighting up as she pulled into her driveway. For the moment it was her only sin and she intended to hold onto it. As usual, she told herself she'd put the car in the garage later; as usual, she thought about getting a remote garage door opener, knowing she'd never bother. She sat in the car listening to the opening strains of one of her favorite tunes from "A Star Is Born," singing along with the familiar lyrics and remembering how perfectly the movie showcased the smoldering good looks and British style of James Mason. She couldn't recall the last time she'd sung, except to entertain her mother or soothe her granddaughter. And vice versa.

She chuckled. Apparently, Matthew Mullen had made quite the impression on her.

One snowy Sunday not long ago, after a night interrupted by one of her mother's asthma attacks, the two of them had built a fire and curled up to watch anA Star Is Bornmarathon. They saw all three versions, back-to-back. The theme was still contemporary, though the original film had been written in the Thirties:handsome and talented man rises to success, then plunges into alcoholism and suicide when he falls from favor.

For her money, the 1954 James Mason version with Judy Garland left the others in the dust. More fickle, her mother sometimes was an ardent, not to say swooning, fan of Frederic March in the 1937 version, and at other times declared Kris Kristofferson's '76 adaptation the winner. The debate was frequent and often fervid, despite the fact that Catherine's fascination with old movies was a recent development coinciding with her mental and physical decline. Nan had to admit to a bit of an obsession herself. Which was a good thing, considering how many old movies she watched these days. Over and over.

On her way to the front door Nan could, as usual, hear the television, and she wondered which old romantic movie her mother was watching for the umpteenth time. "In all of the gin joints in all the world," she heard, as she opened the door. Catherine finished Bogart's line: "She had to walk into mine."

Her mother couldn't remember what day it was and almost always got lost when she went out of the house by herself. On bad days she couldn't remember her grandchildren's names. Lately, there'd been chilling moments when she hadn't been able to retrieve the names of her children, or even know for certain who they were.

But she knew every word ofCasablanca, and ofIndiscretion, andWuthering Heightsand God knows how many others. Sometimes this made Nan sad, sometimes so irritated she thought she couldn't stand another minute of it. Sometimes she found it amusing and endearing.

The strong, dramatic, not-quite-in-control old voice went on speaking the lines. Though Catherine made no adjustment for the softness or sweetness of Bergman's voice, she managed to catch the nuances of the lilting Swedish accent.

"Mother?" As if she didn't know she'd find her on the sofa in front of the television set, dressed asIlsaand poised to watch Rick tell Sam, the piano man, to play "As Time Goes By."

"You played it for her, you can play it for me," her mother said, each word emerging a fraction of a second before Bogie said it. "Hurry, Nan," she called out. "You'll miss it." There was no torment in her voice, nor the dullness of Alzheimer's, and she used the right name. With five children and off-and-on-again dementia, that alone made it a moment to remember. Tonight would be a good night.

Nan let out a long sigh of relief, feeling closer to her mother now than she had in a very long time–maybe ever. As a child, she had called her mother a Drama Queen and found her eccentricities embarrassing. Now she accepted and occasionally envied them, even wishing she herself could be a little less uptight and careful, a little more flamboyant.

"A cup of tea, Mother?"

"Yes. Please. Chamomile."

"Coming right up." Nan filled the teakettle and prepared a tray, taking pleasure in the details. Doily first, set on a small cut-glass plate the two of them had found at a garage sale for a quarter, then a layer of her mother's favorite lemon cookies. The delicate cups and saucers matched the two-cup teapot. Even the strainer was an interesting shape and added to the effect. Gary had taught her to notice things like that. Thinking of Gary pleased and hurt.

As a final touch, she retrieved Matt's book of poetry from her bag and wedged it artfully on the side of the tray. The slim green volume looked nice, and, unlike Nan herself, her mother had always loved poetry. Later, as had become their custom, she would read her to sleep. Maybe that would provide her with some insight into the poem he had been reciting when she'd entered the auditorium. She'd had the impression it was especially important to him. That might not be true, of course; he might just be a good reader, or a generally passionate man.

She rather liked that last possibility.

Or maybe her mother would come up with something, as she quite often did in her increasingly rare lucid periods. Maybe she would know whether his poetry was as intimate and personal and even secret as it seemed.

Nan put a portion of tea in the strainer, placed it over the open teapot, and slowly poured boiling water over it. When the pot was filled, she stood back and watched it steep. The ritual and, especially, the aroma were soothing, reminding her of childhood.

"What is chamomile, Mother?"

"It comes from a secret flower the fairies grow."

In those days, secrets had given her a shiver of delight. That had been the perspective of a beloved and protected child who hadn't yet known about the pain that could come from covert things.

Secrets. Pain. Gary.

The sequence was inevitable. She still thought about him disturbingly often. They saw each other at family occasions, for Ashley and Jordan's sakes and because they really did like each other. Nan was glad about that. What she wished would stop were these stabs of memory that made her feel winded, the way she did these days after a few hard sets of singles.

Waiting for the tea to steep and half-listening to her mother enthusiastically declaiming in the living room, Nan couldn't stop herself from thinking, again:Fool! All those years of marriage. How could you not have known?AndBastard! How could you not have told me sooner?

Scrapbook images fell one upon the other: Gary the teenage sweetheart, with whom she'd first discovered sex. Gary the dashing college boy she'd had to share for a while with what she'd thought were other girls. Gary the devoted father, teaching Ashley to paint and do algebra and throw a football. Gary the gentle, considerate and, yes, passionate husband.

"I'm gay, Nan. I've known it for a long time. It doesn't mean I don't love you–"

"Are you coming, Nan? It's almost the airport scene."

It was at minimum a two-handkerchief movie. The first hanky was inevitably soaked during the flashback to Paris, the second at the foggy airport in Casablanca, when Rick looks intoIlsa'seyes for the last time.

"Nan? Hurry."

There was still almost half-an-hour to go, but Nan was glad to have her painful reverie about Gary interrupted. She picked up the tray. "Be right there."

In the doorway she paused to look at her mother, happily ensconced on the sofa in her old, taupe, safari-style jacket, with a crisply tailored white shirt underneath, and a soft, wide-brimmed felt hat set at a rakish angle. Thrown over the back of the couch was a London Fog trench coat that had seen better days, a clone of Rick's coat from the airport scene. The coat was so Thirties, soCasablancaand, once again, soNow. She could use one herself for her next trip to Manhattan.

Her mother's attention was fully in the world of Bogart and Bergman. She was playing all the parts, saying all the lines. Her face was animated and beautiful. There was no way to know whom she saw in the mirror these days–the twenty-year-old head-turning Cat? The lovely young mother and occasional actress Cathy? The elegant pre-dementia Catherine? She still loved shopping for clothes, although her declining stamina meant the trips these days had to be meticulously planned so there were no more than one or two stops. She "put her face on" every morning, never mind that the painted mouth was usually twice as wide as her own and the rouge closer to her ears than her cheekbones; Nan shuddered to think of the damage she could do with mascara and eyeliner. She enjoyed facials and manicures and pedicures; Nan liked holding her hands to do her nails, but drew the line at holding her feet.

Less charmingly, she remained vain enough to refuse to wear a medic alert button, which would have given Nan some peace of mind when Catherine was home alone. "It's ugly," she proclaimed, "and tacky," adding in typically melodramatic fashion, "no use anyway if an intruder chops off my head or hands." It was hard to know what to say to that. Or to the fact that she wouldn't wear a watch because "I can't bear to see the irrevocable passage of time."

Nan put down the tray and sat on the sofa. Her mother smelled of baby powder and faintly of old-lady sweat, but, thankfully, not of urine. A bath could wait until tomorrow when Rebecca came for her weekly afternoon with their mother.

Catherine patted the seat beside her. "Come sit here by me."

"Would you like a manicure while we watch?"

"Later."

What Nan really wanted to do was talk about meeting Matt. There were people she could call–her sister, her friend Rochelle in the city. But they would take her comments too seriously. They hadn't stopped feeling sorry for her about the divorce. While it was nice that they cared, their sympathy made it more difficult to put Gary in the past and move on. She found herself defending him for his courage and the quiet way in which he had dealt with not only his own pain, but also hers and their daughter's. She'd like to think he was a bastard. But he wasn't. He'd just been a man with a secret.

Gratified as always that the pro-colorization people had lost out to the traditionalists when it came toCasablanca, she settled back against the cushions and watched the final scene.

Thick fog swirled around the tarmac and around the plane waiting to flyIlsaand her husband, Laszlo, to safety–away from Rick, the one true love of her life. Staring deeply intoIlsa'seyes, Rick said, "It doesn't take much to see that the problems of three little people don't amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you'll understand that."

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