First Book of Lasts
In what order are events stored in our memories?
My brain edits our days down to scrapbook snapshots: our brown legs, entwined on a ship’s deck; your bikini-framed belly, round and taut as a beachball; the veins of my arms like lines on a roadmap home. I categorize our moments.
By time: You made me laugh. We shared a wine bottle. We made love.
By size: Your small hands, wrists thin as the bedrails. Your wide smile. Your infinite heart.
By importance: Me. You. This life we’ve navigated together.
Shipwrecked, I’m a castaway still clinging to you.
Memory books of firsts — first tooth, first step — don’t record the lasts. Only in hindsight do we recognize finality. Awareness in the moment of a last — that’s a gift. Do you remember your ultimate flying leap into a pile of freshly-raked leaves? Or the final late-night hour our son suckled at your breast?
Parents recount the first time their child rides a bike, but not the last.
Indeed, my memory book will chronicle the lasts. First, a faded photo: Miranda’s last bike ride! A hill covered in swirling autumn colour, your white hair whipping in the wind, the joy on your face turning you ageless.
A second picture: both of us, lying in bed. We share a book, pass it back and forth, taking turns to read aloud — you were always better — I’d stumble, never quite getting the hang of reading ahead while speaking. Never mind, you’d said, trying to hide your frustration under your hair. Let me read this time. You listen. Who read the last chapter? Who spoke the last sentence?
There will be no last time I loved you, no final burst of feeling like a tropical flower releasing its scent. My memories of you hold sway over the days and months and years. You are the anchor and the ocean. You are the photo and the frame.
I perch at the edge of the worn armchair by your bed and read to you, now. We’ve read it before: Margaret Atwood’s The Circle Game. I find my favourite poem, which I discovered first in high school — it made me realize what poetry could be. This is a photograph of me… It was taken some time ago.
Is my choice morbid? Do you appreciate the irony? Are you laughing beneath your unconsciousness? I’ve held on to your laughter, its seagull shriek, its dolphin chuckle.
Like burrs on my brain, words have stuck with me all these years. I see the world in pictures made up of these words and burrs. Where do the words go when we have said them?
All the words between us, too — in whispers and shouts, through blinking tears and crinkled eyes — stick to me.
Another picture: our last fight. An argument over bananas of all things. Put them in the freezer when they go brown, you’d said, I’ll make muffins. I threw them out — you plucked them from the garbage can, ever-meticulous in your environmentalism, not even in the compost! I loved and hated that about you.
That was a long time ago. The deep yellow and mottled brown of bananas no longer an issue, they lay unsaved at the bottom of the compost. Why bother freezing when each could be our last?
A nurse enters and looks at the chart, the machines, but not at you. He leaves. A doctor sweeps through the room, speaking words I can hear, but no burrs among them. I wonder what it’s like, to have held in your hands both the first moments of a life and its last before death? I suppose doctors have done this, if they are aged or unlucky. Aged and unlucky: is that the same thing or the opposite?
When was the last time you and I made love? And when was the last time we fucked? Two different times — the latter, long ago. Fucking is for the young. Lovemaking is timeless.
I fast forward through the entrances and exits of nurses and doctors, their nonsense conversations. They come. They go. But I am still here. I hold you now as I once held our child.
I hold you at your last.
I whisper against your forehead, touch your cheek. I kiss your cool lips. Do I add this picture to the book? Our final kiss.
Some moments are both firsts and lasts. This last photograph of us: I hold you up. I let you go. Swallowed by gull cries, you are the salty air, the spray of waves.
You are ashes in the wind.
You are already gone. And yet I remain. A captain. A ship.
I write this Book of Lasts to anchor you here.
Christina Grant a Canadian, has completely immersed her life in all things bookish by becoming a writer and teacher-librarian. Grant’s first young adult novel, Being Human, was published in 2015. She is presently working on the sequel, but procrastinates by writing poetry and short fiction for contests like this one. You can find more of her original work online at cgrantwriter.com
First Book of Lasts is the 2016 Fiction War Fall Champion entry. Please do not reproduce without permission from the author. Originally published at fictionwar.com. Image credit: @jenn_azraimages