After Prodigal Neighbor Boy, who stopped by to inform me of his mother’s passing that morning, left, I stuck my tongue to the coldest ice cube I could find in my freezer. The clear burn on the rug of my tongue, the grip of my taste buds, the soft palate arching, the lungs pumping to move the warm, inner air around the cube, my lips flexed out in an O, almost a kiss, for the transfer.
I discover I don’t care about Old Neighbor Lady dying. When I was younger she was Dial Tone. Then she got old, Lover Boy left for college, and, for the past decade or so, she’s been nothing more to me than Drawn Curtains and Trash Pick Up Tuesday.
Quiet Parents were not friends of hers, and I can’t remember the last time we spoke—Old Neighbor Lady and me. So much for my famous memory. Used to be I couldn’t imagine not remembering something—I could flip through my days like a scrapbook. Here is the bowl of spaghetti and green paper hat with tight elastic chin string of Fourth Birthday; here is the nineteenth time I helped Singing Mother fold dish towels; and here—the first time I waved a stick and made Stern Father laugh (Look, Daddy, tree bones!).
Conversations, in fact, were a specialty. I was a black hole of dialogue and could, if pressed, transcribe my life like a movie script. Word for word. It was not a gift. Angry Father discouraged the practice. It hurts to be reminded of who you used to be, I learned, even if it’s who you were just a day or two ago. Even if it was just that morning. Be tap water with Hot Father, said Whisper Mother, not ice.
Alone, sometimes, I get stuck in the old words. That’s where the ice comes in. It was a trick Bird Mother taught me when her flapping and whistling wouldn’t bring me back—a little bit of pain to focus the mind.
Why didn’t Neighbor Boy get stuck? Will he miss Dial Tone in the silence? Has he forgotten everything I said? That I would wait for him? Does he think I am waiting for him still? Before the fog, which began after I lost Fist Father and Blue Mother in the Accident, I never needed questions. I don’t feel as safe as I used to, now that memory has begun to loosen its grip, still I’m grateful for the fog. Now I can lose whole days like how you lose stars by looking at other stars.
Work remains, however, vast skies to cloud. I crack out another cube from the tray, place it on my tongue, lay my head against the cool inner plastic of the freezer, arms at my sides, close my eyes, wait to melt.
Lindsay Doukopoulos holds a Ph.D. in creative writing from the University of Southern Mississippi and teaches at Auburn University. She has published widely in multiple genres and has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes for both poetry and, most recently, fiction—for a story published by Bat City Review in 2012. She has a short play published in Best American Short Plays 2010–2011, and work recent or forthcoming from Word Riot, West Branch, African American Review, Gulf Stream, and The Southeast Review.