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the wayfarer

United States

a teenage girl who enjoys her words.

Message to Readers

Any constructive criticism would be great. Just what you honestly think of this piece would help loads.

The Sense in Forgetting (Has No Sense at All).

April 28, 2016

PROMPT: Quartet

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The first thing people see about him is lonely gray eyes, a smile that shines like the Fourth of July. The first thing people learn about him is that his name is Robby, that he travels around the country taking photos of nature, and that he is possibly the kindest most loneliest man in the United States of America.

But this is not what he knows of himself.

What Robby knows is this: He is sixty years old, he has hair the color of his eyes, an extreme distaste for endings, hands that steadily hold a camera that wasn't around when he was a child, and that he once loved a woman who's heart beat in time with his.

Robby has learned a lot on his sixty-odd years; He's learned that two plus two equals four, that macaroni tastes like crap without the cheese, that tuna isn't always from a can. Robby has learned that nature doesn't always stand still, that life moves quick, here for a moment and gone the next.

But most importantly, he's learned that hearts don't always mend.

..


Robert Timothy Matthews meets Analise Lou-Anne Burgess in 1969, when the weather's hot and his hair is long. Her hair, in contrast, is short, her skin the color of sand. She has been reading on the beach, all alone, a sun hat on her head and denim shorts on her legs. "Hello," He says to her, "Whatcha readin'?"

She looks up at him and smiles, "The Sense in Forgetting," she says. A little smirk flits around before settling on her face. "Ever read it?"

"I don't read much," He confides, "I'm into lookin' at things."

"What type of things?"

"Art," Robbie responds. "Things that make you feel something."

Her eyes scan her book before looking at him. She extends a hand, a perfectly manicured hand, and Robbie just looks at it. Analise shakes it, snapping the man out of his little daze. He takes her hand and kisses it. "I'm Robert," He says, "But you can call me Robby."

"Analise," She responds. "Don't kiss my hand again."


..

He doesn't kiss her hand again, but he does hold it. Time goes on and Robby Matthews finds himself looking up at Analise Burgess, listening as she reads her favorite book, The Sense in Forgetting, to him, aloud.

Somewhere along the way, Robby finds her words washing over him like a river, soothing him to sleep. "Are you tired?" She asks him, and his eyes open.

"I am very tired," He responds, but doesn't move.

"Go home, Robby," She says. "Stop looking at me and go home."

"You're more interesting than anything at home."

"Why's that?"

He shrugs, his hand reaching up to touch her cheek. Robby breaks out into a smile. Analise mirrors it. "What is it? Why are you looking at me like that again?" She squints her brown eyes, "Why am I more interesting than anything at your house?" When he doesn't answer immediately, Analise smacks him lightly with her book.

He laughs, gray eyes twinkling. Robby sits up, rubbing his arm. "Ow," He says. "Okay, okay, you wanna know?"

She nods.

"You're more interesting than anything at home," He says, "Because you make me feel something."

Analise smiles.


..

On Robby's good days, he remembers all these wonderful moments from when he was younger, younger and in love and not lonely. Before he picked up a camera or carried around a worn out copy of The Sense in Forgetting in a beat up truck that matched his eyes.

On Robby's bad days, he sits at a diner in a forgotten town, his eyes scanning the words of a woman's favorite book, not reading it, but seeing her in its pages and as he desperately tries to pull himself together.

..

" 'One's heart cannot truly mend until it comes to term with its loss, don't you agree?' Catherine asked Stefan, her hair tickling her. 'For a heart that pushes away its troubles has not really dealt with them.' Stefan gave Catherine a small smile, 'M'lady-' "

"That's stupid," Robby interjects. Analise sets down the book, an eyebrow arched. Her hair has grown, reaching her shoulders. 

"What is?" She asks.

"That a heart can't mend until it deals with its issues. Forgetting is a way of dealing. Forgetting the bad parts and remembering the good parts, right?" He looks at Analise, waiting for her response.

She laughs at him.

"You're a modern version of Stefan!" She exclaims. 

"I don't wear poofy pants," Robby denies, making Analise laugh again.

"Just listen, you'll see," She picks up her book, a hand tangled in Robby's hair as she continues reading, " 'For you see, there is some sense in forgetting. There are some pains, I feel, that are too deep and scarring to face. If we did, we'd all drive ourselves mad. Some pains you must choose to block from heart and memory, to move on with life as if the story never occurred. The sense in forgetting, madam, is something of an art, I believe. For to forget a pain, you must also forget a cherished memory.' Catherine's face throughout Stefan's entire ordeal had slowly grown from amused to serious. When he had finished speaking, she waited for a moment before asking him a question:

" 'Pray tell, Mr. Stefan, have you ever experienced such a pain?'  His face darkened, so even before he answered, she knew what his response would entail. 'Once, and I hope to never experience again.' Catherine nodded, her mind forming another sentence. 'Then I hope you will not be offended by my response to your argument. Though seeming logical, the argument has but one fault: Human nature. Our nature is to recall cherished memories, and so we cannot truly forget without at some point or another remembering everything. We may try, but it will be a life lived in sorrow to do so.' "


Robby makes a disgruntled noise. Analise kisses his forehead.

"Stefan gave Catherine a good-natured smile, but when she looked at his eyes, blue as the sky, she saw a tired shadow resting there. 'Ah, it seems, madam, that you have caught on to my facade. The sense in forgetting is perhaps nonexistant, but I must try. For you see, even if you deal with what gives you pain, hearts don't always mend.' Stefan gave her a small smile, 'Now, if you'll excuse me, Miss Catherine, I must make my way back to my sisters. They cannot be left alone for too long.' Catherine returned his smile, and they parted ways, each a bit dissatisfied with the conversation, and the little time they had spent together."

She shuts the book, her chapter finished, before looking at Robby. "See what I mean?"

He looks at her, takes in the light hair and brown eyes, before shaking his head. "Not even a little bit."

Both of them know, he's lying.


..

A little girl runs up to him, her hair in pigtails, dressed the way little girls dress nowadays. She says, "You look like my grandpa!"

He breaks out into a smile, "Your grandpa must be a very handsome man, then."

Her eyes, little blue things that shine bright again brown skin, light up as she giggles. "You're funny."

He knows he is, but doesn't say so. "What's your name, little lady?"

Suddenly shy, the girl looks at her hands. "Maya."

"Well, Miss Maya," He responds, offering her a french fry, which she takes, "My name's Robby."

"Hello, Mr. Robby!" She chirps. It is then that her mother comes up behind her, snatching her up in a surprise hug. In the blink of an eye, Robbie has his camera out, taking pictures of Maya's delighted smile and her mother's kind eyes.

Robbie's heart drops, the kind eyes bringing back memories of another pair of eyes in another face, in another time, so very long ago. "It's good to meet y'all," He says, spouting polite words until mother and daughter walk away.

The eyes still haunt him.

Robby deletes the photos.

He leaves the diner.

..

When Analise Lou-Ann Burgess leaves him, it is 1988. They have two boys, Andy and Ryan, who leave to go to the grocery store with their mother. Robbie stays home.

That mistake keeps him up at night.

..

"I'm going to marry you," Robby says in 1971. 

"Are you, now?" Analise asks, amusement filling her voice.

"I am," Robby responds, "I'm going to marry you and love you for the rest of my life."

"I believe you," Analise says, nodding.

(They get married in 1974. Robbie keeps his promise.)


..

He's in the middle of taking a picture of a little boy who's slowly approaching a deer, when he realizes the boy looks like Andy. Red cap, blond hair, green eyes. The boy's reaching out a hand, and Robby grips his camera tight, snapping the photo just before the deer takes off.

It's a good photo, and it sells for quite a bit. Robby is glad to be rid of it.

..

"Hey, Dad."

"Ryan!"

"So, Heather said her first word."

"No, really? That's great, son! What was it?"

"So, we were driving along..." He listens as his son tells the story of Heather's first word, taking a bite of his steak as his son speaks. "She said, 'More.'"

"The girl sure likes her animal crackers."

Ryan laughs, "So, Dad, I was calling to give you some other news, too."

Robby sits up, "What is it, son?"

"Minnie's pregnant. With twins."

Robby grins, "Son, that's fantastic! Have you chosen names?"

"Yeah, but I wanted to check with you first."

Robby's brow furrows. "I'm flattered, but you didn't have to do that. Just tell me the names."

Ryan takes a breath, "It's a girl and boy. We were thinking Andy and Analise."

Time slows down.

"Oh." 

"They're my family too, Dad. Shouldn't Mom be remembered? And Andy... he might join Mom, soon, too, so shouldn't he be remembered too?"

Robby snaps back to life, "No, of course! Of course they should." No they shouldn't, please let's just try and forget. "That's a wonderful tribute. When are they due?" I want to forget why can't a forget.

Ryan tells him. They talk for a few more minutes before hanging up.

Robby isn't hungry anymore.

..

"Hello? Robert Matthews?"

Robby nods into the telephone before realizing he can't be seen. "Yeah, that's me. Who is this?"

"Your wife is Analise Matthews, maiden name Burgess, correct?"

"Yeah," Robby's forehead creases. He's getting nervous. "What's this about?"

"Sir, I'm a nurse. Your wife and two children are in the hospital. You'll have to come, quickly."

"What happened?" Robby asks. His hands are shaking.

"Just come down, sir." The nurse gives him the address to the hospital and hangs up.

Robby goes to the hospital.


..

Robby eyes the hitchhiker with a wary eye. There was a time when he'd have pulled over and told the man on the side of the road to hop in the front seat with him, but the world's different, now. Not like it was in 1950. Still, the young man looks nice enough.

Robby pulls over. "What's your destination?"

"I'm on my way to Houston," The man says, but he says it wrong, he pronounces it how-ston instead of hee-oo-ston. Robby cringes.

"You a Yankee?"

"New York, born and raised," The young man responds.

"Comin' to the Lone Star State for a new start?"

The man nods.

"Got a couple tips for you, then," Robby says, smiling, "Say y'all like your life depends on it, don't ever use your knife and fork to eat a sandwich, and be overbearingly friendly."

The hitchhiker smiles. "Thanks."

"Hop in the back, son."

He moves to do so, but Robby remembers his original correction. "Oh, and one more thing."

"Yeah?"

"It's pronounced Hee-oo-ston." 

The hitchhiker laughs, "If y'all insist."

Robby likes him.

..

Robby has been heading to Katie, a little town right outside of Houston, so he drops the man -Alex- off on the highway and wishes him luck. "Same to you," Alex responds.

They never see each other again, but a few years later, when Alex has just asked his girlfriend to marry him, he gets a package in the mail. There's a photo of him, when he was younger, walking along the highway, and some cash. Briefly, Alex remembers a man with gray eyes and an old gray truck who asked if he could snap a few photos of him.

He wonders how that man is doing.

..

"My, my name is-is Robert Timothy Matthews and, and, and, I got a call saying my wife and kids were here, and now I'm here and where are they?"

Robby has never sounded so desperate. His voice sounds angry, frustrated, worried. He just wants to see his family, for Heaven's sake. Why can't he see them?

"Sir, please calm down-"

"Don't ask me to calm down!" Robby responds, his hands flailing. "No one's even told me why my family's here, I just ran over here worried because I got a call, I'm scared half to death, so don't ask me to calm down!"

The nurse -belatedly, he realizes she's got the same voice as the nurse who called him- nods, "I remember you now. Analise Lou-Ann Burgess Matthews, Andrew Louis Matthews, and Ryan David Matthews, correct?"

Robby nods. His energy has left him. "What's wrong?"

The nurse's eyes are sympathetic, and Robby hates it. Her mouth opens, she says something about how sorry she is, but Robby only hears the important part.

"They were in a car accident."


..

He's always though sun rises more beautiful than sun sets.

The promise of a new day, new chances, has always mattered to him, all his life. A sun rise is gone in an instant, but it makes him feel something.

It's an art, how the sun can rise and look so beautiful, mean so much, but only for a few moments in the day.

Robby's always liked art. 

..

Her long brown hair is spread like a fan around her. Her usually bright, brown eyes are dull, her smile cracked around the edges.

The sight is enough to break him.

He turns away, dials the phone for his mother, gives her enough information. She comes to the hospital to watch the boys while her son sits at his wife's bedside, watching her die.

Analise wakes for a few moments. "It's not your fault," She says, immediately.

"Except it is," Robby responds, "If I had gone with you, I would have been driving, because I always drive, and you would have... you would have..."

She attempts to raise a hand, to cup his cheek, but it falls back to the bed. "Sweetie," Analise whispers, "I love you, so much. None of this is your fault. Promise me you won't blame yourself."

He can't promise her, but at the insistent look he nods. "I love you, too, baby." Slowly, he slides a book out of the backpack he'd brought. "The boys, they're okay. Ryan's barely got a scratch on him. Andy... he lost a couple fingers."

Analise looks ready to cry.

"But he's okay. Our kids are tough, baby." Robby kisses his wife's forehead. "My mom's taking care of 'em."

"It's my fault, I... I didn't stop, I should have stopped, I didn't see anyone coming-" Robby shushes her, but Analise shakes her head, "I should have stopped, I should have stopped, I should have stopped..."


..

Years later, Robbie thinks his wife was right.

She should have stopped.

..

Robby is reading when his wife leaves him.

The sound of the flatline frightens him. A nurse rushes in, begins to do whatever it is nurses do to wake the dead. More people flood in. No one sees him. No one sees the man in the corner, reading The Sense in Forgetting to his dead wife.

When they do spot Robby, it's already too late. 

His eyes are glued to the cold sweat that's plastered across a hot face. The tube lodged in his wife's mouth makes him want to throw up. She looks dead.

A pitiful look from the nurse confirms it. She is dead. 

He walks carefully, quietly, his posture old and defeated. Another nurse tries to pull him away, but the doctor shakes her head. He leans close, kisses his wife's forehead. Then he goes back to his chair.

"All her life, Catherine had been a stubborn, uncivil thing. All his life, Stefan had been a man who walked with a stiff back, who never spoke ill of anyone. 

"Slowly, Catherine was learning how to hold her tongue when necessary and speak when important. She was learning her manners, little by little. Slowly, Stefan was learning how to run wild in the evenings, right before the sun goes to sleep. He was learning how to ride horseback without gloves, little by little.

"Slowly," 
Robby reads, ignoring the looks the doctor and nurses give him as they trickle out quietly. "They learn. Little by little. And always together."

Analise doesn't respond.


..

He's sitting, minding his own business, in some pizza parlor. He doesn't go to pizza parlors, not usually, but he's hungry and this was the first joint he saw. And so, here he is. The seats are cushion-y, not old and worn like the seats of his favorite diners, but new and squeaky. Everything is shiny, everything is intruding. Loud music he identifies as the most recent Pop sensation blares out of speakers overhead.

It's not art, he doesn't feel anything, there's no story in this restaurant. Robby just wants to eat, and leave.

That's when a boy and a girl walk by, the girl with dark hair, the boy blond. She holds a book in her hand. The picture is so strikingly similar that Robby drops the packet of cheese he was holding. "E-excuse me?" He calls out.

They turn. She's wearing a long skirt that swings around her ankles until it stops. His shirt says something Robby doesn't understand. "Yes, sir?" It's the girl that says it. Her voice is a key higher than Analise's, but that's okay. That's okay.

Robby smiles, looking down at his pizza before looking up at them again. "You two make a lovely couple." He locks eyes with the young man, "You hold on to her, y'hear?"

The man's eyes light up, a glint Robby makes out as mischievous filling them. He says, "I plan to, sir." Then he gets down on one knee and takes a black box out of his hand. Inside rests a ring and a heartfelt speech.

She says yes.

(So did Analise.)

..

Her box is white, her favorite color. She's buried with a Bible, a rosary, and her favorite pair of sunglasses. "You're not going to bury her with her favorite book?" Anastasia, Analise's sister, asks.

He shakes his head. Anastasia doesn't argue.

Her parents are dead, so only her three siblings and their children come. Some friends, aunts, uncles, cousins. Robby sits in the front, worn and tired and grieving. Ryan is to his left, red-nosed and sniffling. Andy is to his right, stone-faced. His left hand is void of two fingers, his right, one. "Son," Robby says, to Andy. "It's okay if you want to cry. You're seventeen, and you lost your mother."

"I'm fine, Dad."

Robby tries to comfort his son, but he knows that isn't the job of a father, not in times like this.

It's a mother's job.

The only problem is, Andy's mother is dead.

After the funeral, they pile into a rental car that's got no air conditioning. Andy puts himself and Ryan to bed.

Robby looks out the window, trying to find his wife.


..

His cell phone rings. He flips the phone open, "Hello, this is Robert Matthews speaking."

"It's me."

The voice is clipped and short, a no-nonsense tone that almost kills Robby. "Andy," He says, happy nonetheless. "Andy. Oh, son, where are you?"

"England."

"What are you doing there?"

"How are you?"

It's a tactic Andy's always used; Changing the subject when he doesn't feel comfortable answering the question posed to him. It exhausts his father, but Robby lets his son get his way nonetheless. "I'm okay, son. You know me, always okay."

"Runs in the family."

Relief fills him. Andy's okay. Maybe not great, but he's okay.

For now, that's enough.

..

Andrew Louis Matthews gets a job at age twenty, and leaves the United States for it. "What's the job?"

"Workin' for the US Government." Andy answers his father, on the way to the airport.

"You've given me that answer six times in the past month, son. Answer me straight this time. What's the job?"

They park. Andy looks at his dad. Ryan's in the backseat, ready to intervene in case an argument breaks out. "I'd love to tell you, Dad. Really. But I'd have to kill you first."

Ryan laughs, loud and nervous. "Good one, Andy."

His older brother looks at him. A shock of fear runs through Robby.

Whatever his son's going to be doing with his life, it's not safe.

Robby just hopes it's worth it.


..

The book in his hands is worn. He's on the last chapter, but he lets the last paragraph of the last page rest for a bit, taking in the smell of the paper. It smells faintly of her perfume. "Oh, baby," He says, into the pages. "Why didn't you stop?" He lowers the book, taking out a photo album and looking through it. The last page can wait.

He can't forget her. He could never forget her. Robby realizes, now, that he is a fool for even attempting. How could you forget someone like his Analise? Why would you want to forget?

Images of her fill every corner of every page. Her smile makes his heart ache, that sweet, sweet soul, those wonderful eyes. Her laugh, her walk, her manner of speaking, her passion for what she believed in. 

Her.

..

The first thing people see about him is lonely gray eyes, a smile that shines like the Fourth of July. The first thing people learn about him is that his name is Robby, that he travels around the country taking photos of nature, and that he is possibly the kindest most loneliest man in the United States of America.

But this is not what he knows of himself.

What Robby knows is this: He is sixty-something years old, he has hair the color of his eyes, an extreme distaste for endings, hands that steadily hold a camera that wasn't around when he was a child, and that he still loves a woman who's heart beat in time with his.

Robby has learned a lot on his sixty-odd years; He's learned that two plus two equals four, that macaroni tastes like crap without the cheese, that tuna isn't always from a can. Robby has learned that nature doesn't always stand still, that life moves quick, here for a moment and gone the next.

But most importantly, he's learned that hearts don't always mend.

..


(He never finishes reading The Sense in Forgetting. That would be like getting over her, like saying goodbye, and that is an impossible thing. There's no sense in forgetting someone who made him better.

And Analise Lou-Ann Burgess Matthews did just that.)

..

fin.

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