When Memory Becomes Mythology
You ask me to come over for dinner this evening. Which means you want to me to take a look at the latest work you’ve done on The Lying Lesson—the memory you’ve been perfecting over the past year. It’s been several weeks since the last time, and no doubt you’ve made a number of alterations. Though I am still fond of that afternoon with Mom, I am reluctant to see your new version of it because that will confront me with inescapable implications. Your fascination with this childhood episode is ever verging on obsession, and you are looking to me to ultimately validate this fixation—through the resonance (or some strong reaction, at any rate) you believe the memory will eventually elicit in me. But I know that if I decline this “invitation,” you’ll simply issue another one in the coming days.
So I take a crowded rush-hour train across the city, through the evening fog, to that quaint street lined with secondhand shops and delicatessens. When I arrive at your place, you have all the dishes laid out—sautéed kale, seared scallops and buttered pasta. My meager lunch of an avocado sandwich between meetings has left me hungry since mid afternoon, but somehow, I eat at a leisurely pace that matches yours.
After we finish our meal with the herbal soup you’ve simmered all day, I dispose of any remaining pretense and say, “All right, let’s have a look.”
Leaving our bowls and plates in the sink, we go to the walk-in closet you’ve converted into a studio just for this memory. You wait in the doorway as I peer at this scene from our youth. It’s mostly the same. The grass might be a deeper green now.
I’m tempted to feign a reaction along the lines of what you’re probably hoping for—blurt something like, “You got it—this is it!” But it’s almost certainly too late for that now. At this point, you’re bound to suspect any emotive response to be contrived. So I give the memory some more consideration and go through its familiar chronology.
The three of us sit on a blanket in the meadow, wildflowers speckling the hills in the distance with yellow and orange, the sky a patchwork of blue and gray, summer’s humidity encroaching. Mom begins teaching you and me how to make lies not just convincing but compelling—better, more earnest than the truth by being believable, beautiful and charming. She explains how good lies must be told like secrets. It should seem as though we’re revealing something important that few are privy to. But just a glimpse, a fraction of the rich detail and emotional complexity—a concise confidence, not a disgorging divulging. There must be much more to the lie than what is told.
You and I nod along to our mother’s words, spellbound by this primer on perfidy, marveling at the sophistication of this art form we’ve been only bumbling amateurs in—all the while believing ourselves auteurs of the exaggerated claims we had passed off on classmates.
When Mom goes to talk with a neighbor on his way through the meadow, I ask you, “Isn’t she worried this will encourage us to lie to her?”
“No, just the opposite. This is her way of discouraging us from lying to her. By showing us how much she knows about lying.”
“Oh, right,” I murmur, this logic obvious after you’ve pointed it out.
“This is also her way of telling us she loves us. By preparing us for a world in which lies must be beautiful to be most useful.”
I turn to you, and our eyes meet, yours askew as you lean on the doorframe, your right shoulder pressed against it to become a fulcrum for your body—or psyche even, leverage toward a demeanor otherwise out of reach.
“You didn’t say that,” I point out.
“But it feels like I did,” you reply.
I recoil at your words as though to dodge them as they whiz through the air in front of me. But a moment later, they’ve infiltrated my mind with their crucial meaning. You are getting at your subjective reality of this memory. You as Mom’s translator, making her language of instruction and affection comprehensible to me. And this convinces me that your relentless refinement of the past is worthwhile; tells me that you have a chance at finding what you are seeking from this memory—not within it but through the expansion of it.
This may even convince me to take a closer look at The Anatomy Lesson, another afternoon in the meadow months later when Mom explained to us the parts of the dreaming mind and how to take care of them. But for now, I return to the memory here and continue on, toward the part when Mom tells you and me about one of her best lies, to see what you may have uncovered there.
Soramimi Hanarejima is a writer of innovative fiction and the author of Visits to the Confabulatorium, a fanciful story collection that Jack Cheng said, "captures moonlight in Ziploc bags." Soramimi’s recent work can be found in [PANK], The Esthetic Apostle, Firewords and Tahoma Literary Review.