He who does not forget

In his quest to forget the past, he gets more burden into his mind

994 words · 5 min read

An old photo is hung on the wall. It is his first wife, Anita, staring at him from the wall since he divorced his second wife. Other than some slight yellowish discolourations, Anita looks exactly as he still remembers: long dark hair, bright eyes, and a smile that showed the dental braces.

Andrew didn’t understand why he wanted to fetch that picture, along with other things, from a storage space he rented just outside of the downtown, though it certainly wasn’t to remind him of her face, because he couldn’t, and still can’t, forget anything.

It was the worst mistake he made in his life—marrying her right after they both graduated from the high school—not because they didn’t love each other, but because, just after the wedding day, she died.

He cried for three months before he could muster up enough courage to pack his dead wife stuff from his place, a small flat they rented near the shop they both worked in. That photograph was one of them. The picture, along some other memorabilia, was stuffed into a sturdy wooden box, nailed, and put into the furthest corner of his small apartment. He would later cover that wooden box with white cloth, decorate with a vase of flowers, and later buried under a pile of old newspapers. He wanted to keep it out of sight, but he lacked the determination to discard it altogether.

He didn’t store those items to be reminded of Anita. He stored those items just because.

Others might see it as his strength, but Andrew has always seen his inability to forget anything as an impediment. With the exception of his first few years, he could remember everything, making him a straight-A student for a very long time until he didn’t give a shit to grades any more. School was too easy.

As he didn’t realise how shitty memories of average people were, whenever he came across people who couldn’t seem to remember a thing, he would wonder what the fuck were inside those brains. He tried to keep a lid on his agitation, but he couldn’t keep a lid on forever. Other people were soon annoyed by his know-it-all attitude, not knowing that he really did know it all; and when people did realise he did know it all, they became annoyed that he really did know it all.

Andrew was tall; he had a curly short blond hair, blue eyes, aquiline nose, and high cheekbones, but no one liked him except Anita, because she saw in him a kind heart and intelligent mind “unlike the others;” and she was the only person he liked, because she was the only person who understood him, despite not having a perfect memory herself.

He learned from watching films that drunk people couldn’t remember a thing, so he started drinking more and more, wasting himself everyday at the pub near where he worked. It turned out he could remember everything just as well: the customers who argued then fought, the girls flirted with him, the girls he ended up going to bed with. Nothing could stop new things from adding to his mind, and nothing had ever left his mind.

At one point, he was in such a deep despair that after drinking himself into madness, he went to the bridge and intended to jump to the river. Before he jumped, however, someone was shouting at him from his left. He turned there and saw a girl under the dim, yellow street lamps, and for one split second he thought he saw an apparition of Anita while she was in fact a completely different person. But it was enough for him to abort the plan to kill himself.

Her name was Joyce, and only a drunk Andrew could confuse her with Anita.

Joyce listened to him intently, and she could feel for him, for she herself had a pretty good memory—not as good as his, but enough to burden her.

“As people always say, time heals,” she said. “And fall in love with someone else.”

At that, he decided to fall in love with Joyce. When he reckoned he didn’t really love her, he pretended to love her and forced himself to marry her. Then, he put the wooden of Anita’s stuff into a storage, out of his sight.

Marrying Joyce, however, was the second worst mistake he made in his life. She was charming and kind, but she was no Anita. As her own old painful memories faded over the course of their relationship, his own memories of Anita not only failed to fade, new memories continued to accumulate—memories of feeling sad about not being able to forget things, memories of feeling miserable about feeling sad, all the memories, meta-memories, and meta-meta-memories.

He continued to pretend. They even had a kid, who turned out to have his father’s the perfect memory. Knowing how his perfect memory would strangle his son the way it did to him, the guilt of making his son exist added to the already long list of miseries.

“No,” he said to her after their marriage broke down years later. “Time doesn’t heal, only forgetfulness does.”

After Joyce and the kid moved out, he got back the wooden box and put the photograph on the wall. He stopped trying to fall in love to avoid adding more miseries into his memory.

He is now a dying old man. Looking at Anita in the picture, he reflected upon everything happened to him in his lifetime. He has been suffering just as much as before despite not falling in love. His son decided that perfect memory was so torturous that he banged his head hard onto a wall and turned himself into an idiot.

Then he thought about his second wife.

But what’s her name?

Three days later, his neighbour finds him dead in his house. The police says he’s been dead for exactly three days.

He was smiling.

 Short Stories    24 May, 2016
 Fiction    Death    Loss    Memory    Short Stories  
Copyright © Peter Y. Chuang 2019

Peter Y. Chuang


Peter Y. Chuang is a novelist, short story writer, and a music critic. When he’s not writing or reading, he’s probably listening to classical music or tinkering with his computers. He uses Linux (current distro of choice: Arch Linux). Read more about his Linux stuff.