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A Junction Box of Memories

July 26, 2010
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Photo Credit: Oula Lehtinen

Los Angeles. An antiquated building made of dark brick and wooden floors. I lived on the sixteenth floor with a German Shepard named Dusk. He sat at the foot of the bed as I edited my novel. Every once in a while I could hear him whimpering. I used a thick blue pen to organize my thoughts on the page. There was something wrong with the first chapter. It didn’t seem to be the beginning anymore.

The phone rang and Dusk paced back and forth by the door. I let him out and answered the phone.

“Hello.” The line clicked and the dial tone remained. Dusk began barking down the hallway. I looked out and noticed the wallpaper was peeling from the walls. Too much moisture. Some parts of the timber flooring were missing. There was a stench of enclosed space, saturated and without ventilation.

The memories came flooding back. I used to live in this place. Many years ago when I began the novel. I knew I had to move quickly. The building was unstable and would inevitably collapse. I shuffled down the hall, the manuscript under my arms and the pen in my pocket. I hadn’t noticed I was barefoot and collected splinters under my feet as I moved closer to Dusk. I looked down the staircase and caught a glimpse of his brown fur a few landings below.

The whole building was creaking loudly. It sounded like singing insects were hidden inside its walls. After ten flights of stairs, I caught up with Dusk. He was staring at the lock over a black steel door and whined when he saw me.

We were meant to go inside.

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Photo Credit: Kallgan

The door was heavy, but relatively easy for me to open. We entered a long corridor lined with junction boxes. Each  were tagged with yellow labels inked in black letters. I passed several dozen without reading them. When I found myself at a forked path, each direction was lined with more boxes, more labels. I turned left.

Dusk was walking ahead, turning to look at me from time to time. I stopped and held a yellow tag in my hands. It read: Birthday, 2006. I looked at the next one. Dinner with dad, 2004. More descriptions and dates. Broken heart, 2008. Alone in London, 2009. Last conversation with dad, 2007. Last conversation with mom, 2010.

Every box was tagged with a specific memory. I began to run a few miles from those memories and found older ones. But these had levers beside them. I studied more tags and found one I’d forgotten. Mother’s truth, 1996.

I placed my hand on the lever and pulled it down. The circular lights under my feet flickered and shut down for several seconds. I stood in the dark and called out to Dusk. He rubbed his large ears over my hand. When the lights came back the one beneath me remained dark. I pulled another lever. Another light went out. I ran back to the forked path and took the right side. Recent memories from the past two years. I pulled more levers and watched the lights blow out. I continued to run and Dusk followed.

This time we were looking for a way out.

We found a dead end without any junction boxes. This corridor appeared unfinished. The nails had not yet been drilled into the walls to hold them together. They were scattered next to a bucket of plaster. Dusk and I pushed the door hard, but it barely budged. When it finally did, we lost our balance and landed on the other side of my bed. This apartment certainly looked like the one I’d just left, but the windows were covered with brown paper bags. As I removed the layers, I felt a cold draft seeping through. When I could see the window, I opened it and saw a pitch dark city below with yellow stars dispersed around the edges.

The phone was ringing again. I didn’t say hello. I listened to a man’s voice say, “You’re late. Mother was expecting you this afternoon. Is the novel ready?”

“No, it isn’t.”

“We expected it a month ago. Did you get the money?”

“Yes,” I said. But it was a half hearted response. As I listened to his reproach, I waited for some sense of recognition. It came the following day when I went to see his mother. She lived on a ten acre estate, in a peach mansion with horses. When she answered the door and turned her back to me I recalled the day she called me. She offered me a two year writing grant and a place to live. I’d refused the living quarters, but happily accepted the sponsorship.

For months, she constantly haggled me over the time it took to write the novel. I listened, but kept me eyes away from hers.

“Are you moving?” I asked. She had hundreds of paintings wrapped and stored in large crates. Antique tables were covered in thick cloths. Chairs were stacked in the middle of the room.

“I’m moving into a smaller house,” she said. “This house is too big for one person. Scotch?”

“I really shouldn’t. I have a long drive.”

She poured two double shots and handed me one. She led me into the room that payed homage to the Impressionists. All the paintings rested against the wall except for one. A portrait of her younger days. I stared and noticed the paint that composed her hair was moving across the canvas. As the style changed, the lines around her eyes grew deeper. I looked away and unwillingly met the old woman’s eyes.

“Will you take a walk with me?” she asked. Her voice softened as she took my arm and ushered us out onto the  footpath. As she spoke, I became engrossed with the uneven green tones spreading across the terrain. The trees stopped swaying. The cold evening air was gone. The footpath was covered in moss. The sensation of her arm faded and I was dazzled by the spectacle of the shifting environment. It transformed into busy streets, lamp posts, heavy footsteps and a bridge.

Rain followed and I was alone in my city of dreams.

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