“So that’s over,” he said. “I reckon we can go back to forgetting about it.”
“Sometimes you just gotta move on,” she told him.
That much was a simple truth. Lots of other people had moved on. Other would. But for some reason it was not for him.
“I can’t forget.”
“You won’t forget,” she argued. “That’s just your way. It always has been.”
“I’m a student of history.”
“You always say that. But the truth is you’re just damn stubborn.”
He was not so stubborn as to argue with that. “It just doesn’t seem right,” he said. “Forgetting.”
“Even after all this time?”
“Even after all this time.”
He thought about that for a minute. “And has it really be ‘all this time’?” he asked her. “Ten years. Is that really a long time?”
“A year is a long time to me nowadays,” she answered. “I sure wish I had a cigarette.”
“You quit smoking,” he reminded her. “Nine years ago.”
“And that was a long time ago.”
He didn’t say anything to that. He couldn’t really. Nine years. It was a long time. He leaned back in the old wooden chair and looked at her. She had her face turned away, looking out across the front yard and across the road. The neighbor kids were playing in the yard but they weren’t making a sound. Either that or the sound wasn’t making it across the street. It’s a strange sight, children playing in silence.
“You reckon any of them were even born then?” he asked her.
“I don’t know,” she replied. “I don’t know any of them. Some of them look to be old enough.”
“Can you imagine what that’s like? If you were born after, and living here, not knowing?”
“You’d know. People would tell you. Ten years and it’s still all some people talk about.”
“You’d know that way, but you wouldn’t know the way you’d know if you’d been here.” He sat up in the chair, then leaned forward with his hands on his knees.”You wouldn’t know it first hand.”
She sighed and pushed her bare foot against the wooden floorboards of the porch. The swing moved backward a little. “No, I can’t really imagine,” she told him. “I don’t know if anyone can imagine what it’s like not to know something they know first-hand.”
“I can’t imagine either,” he told her. He rubbed his knees, then clenched and opened his fingers.
“I think it would be nice, though.” She let her foot off the porch and the swing moved forward gently in a short arc, then swung back the same.
“To just not even know.” She pushed against the porch again and stopped the swing.
“Not know at all?”
“Not knowing the way I know. I don’t want to know it like I do. I wish I could forget.”
“It’s terrible, remembering. But worse is not forgetting.” She stood and walked across the porch to the front steps. She sat on the steps, her back to him, her hair pulled back and feathering across her shoulders. It seemed longer than he remembered it. “Last year, I think it was. I was out walking and I thought to go see this old friend. But halfway to her house I remembered, she’s not there any more.”
She turned sideways on the steps and put her back against the hand railing. “If I could have just forgot she was ever there, forgot that she ever lived, that would be much better than remembering. And if I never knew, that would be the same as forgetting.”
She pointed to her head. “The problem is I can’t keep all that’s up here,” she said, pointing to her head. “From getting down here,” she finished, pointing to her heart.
He nodded. “I don’t want to forget.”
They both sat quiet for a minute. Then he stood and went into the house. She could hear him rustling around in there and was about to ask him what he was looking for when he returned to the porch with something in his hand.
“What you got there?” she asked him.
He held it out to her.
A pack of cigarettes.