Flowers for Allen
My husband has a pocketful of pocket atlases, baby teeth and baby aspirin. They clank to the music his pants make when he shuffles and frictions against metal handrails. There’s dried blood on the teeth and he knows which tooth belongs to which kid by the grooves and faded Sharpie dates and DNA he reads with his fingers.
When we’re dating, he tells me he has an eidetic memory. He says the word in syllables so I can repeat it after him. Eye-det-ick.
Where were you on October 16, 1942, at 7:00 PM?
Not born yet. He laughs.
I look at his baby face and wonder if he’s like Jonathan Winters on Mork & Mindy, aging in reverse, destined to become a baby when I’m an old woman.
What are the moves Garry Kasparov used to win at chess, by game, by move?
How many other Allen Smiths were in the Little Rock Arkansas phone book in 1985? What are their addresses? Their phone numbers?
Who has won the Super Bowl most since its inception? What were the point totals and players’ names and coaches’ names?
We stand on street corners listening to jackhammer percussion and steaming saxophone notes crawling out of manholes with jazz fingers and jazz beats, hums of telephone-wire string quartets. Conductor of memories and sounds, he umbrellas free music into a symphony, just for me. We don’t have a lot of money and I’m fascinated by his answers and his music. I believe it all because I’m young and aging forward.
Forty years later, he jumble-quotes from music scores and books. He yells at screens and skies and dog walkers and phone books and Steinway piano stores. Spaghetti westerns merge with Julia Child making spaghetti and meatballs. Toy store commercials mix with Jaws and The Swiss Family Robinson until toys and humans and sharks are interchangeable. Bits and pieces about bits and pieces of his life and liberty and pursuit of happiness (he can still recite the Declaration of Independence too, all 1,320 words) fall out of his mouth, like vacation slides from our Hawaiian honeymoon trip, out of order on the projector—luau first, my pastel pink going-away costume the endpoint.
When I send him to the grocery store to get milk and bread, on a list no less, he returns with bread pudding from the deli hot case and milk pudding from the refrigerated section. Close but no cigar, he tells me as he sits the puddings on the countertop, my didactic list fluttering to the ground from his pocket where he shoved it with Ziplocked teeth.
He always viewed the eidetic part of himself as a burden-slash-parlor trick. His mother trotting him out to recite from Keats or baseball statistics, after his brother played the piano for aunts and uncles and neighborhood friends.
In his childhood, he found some joy in being equal to his brother in those moments; both seen as having memorized something worthy of a performance. His brother from increasingly difficult piano books, he from flip-flopping pages in his brain as he searched for longer and harder memory soliloquies.
To help him return to his memory heyday, the eideticness of it all, I introduce things to jog his mind. His doctor says to create memory touchpoints that focus on his senses. I wear bold striped socks and a candy-cane striped shirt like I’m in a Where’s Waldo book but with Robin Williams’ suspenders. He often loses me in the house because he forgets what I’m wearing and looks for me in my wedding dress because he remembers every detail of that dress and that day, which we celebrate as progress. I play “Für Elise” and “Chopsticks” every time I pass our out-of-tune piano. I cook trout and microwave popcorn.
Things improve when it gets hotter for some reason. The heat helps me remember, he says. I wear my red wool hat in the peak of summer with a slash of red lipstick so he can find me in the bedroom, in the dining room, at the mailbox.
Cherries in the snow? He asks and I know he means lipstick, and not that I’m a literal cherry in the snow that never exists in summer. It’s a victory of sorts because it’s his mother’s lipstick and he sometimes remembers her too.
We dance under the stars that he can still name by heart but not by sky placement, constellations and shooting stars like the ones he saw with his childhood telescope. We dance to a cassette tape version of “Tarantella.” I wear a red carnation in my hair as “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band” and “Love Me Tender” plays on vinyl records unboxed out of our basement. We dance on Fred Astaire footprints only he can see on our suburban back porch. I can tell by the way his eyes are closed that he’s hearing his aunt clap after he recites the begats and the lyrics to all the songs in the Sound of Music.
We count steps until my red hat and the red heat are burned into the snowbank he carries in his head. He returns to counting chess pieces and comets and lineages and memorizing blocks of book text in haphazard hazardous ways where Scarlett O’Hara is wearing a scarlet letter. I sit and listen to him like I’m twenty-one again and amazed by facts and figures and street corner dance performances and my Allen Smith. He plays “Chopsticks” when the neighbors come for dinner and recites The Cat in the Hat because that’s his favorite book and the cat is wearing a red hat.
Afterwards, we all clap for him.