Excerpt from an unwritten memoir

Short fiction accompanying an exhibition about nostalgia.

I waited until the height of summer before going back. In the middle of a heat-wave I stood on the corner watching strangers drive up and down the road I used to live on. I watched people going about their business – tending my old garden, going in and out of the door to my house, carrying their weekly shopping from their car to my kitchen. Through the window in the hall I watched them head upstairs to mine and my sister’s bedrooms, my parent’s room, and the bathroom I had taken a thousand showers in.

I turned again to face the street, and saw that the lamppost that I had crashed into on the day I learned to ride my bike was still there. Accounts of the event came to mind – my little sister at the garden gate, cheering then concerned. My dad, who had secretly let go of the back of my seat, watching me panic as I realised this, and not quite getting to the end of the line ‘watch out for the…’ and my mother, who tended to my wounds on my arrival, in floods of tears, into her busy Sunday kitchen. I could no longer recollect the tale from my perspective; the story had been told so many times by its witnesses and participants that my version of events had become wound up in theirs, and lost. No longer a memory, the day I learned to ride a bike is now a story that I understand as having happened around me.

The suburban architecture intensified the heat of the midday sun. Surrounded by concrete, metal, and glass, I ventured out into the now much quieter road. The scent of soft, sticky tarmac grew stronger, and as I reached the middle of the road I looked down to see the penny that I had fixed there a quarter of a century ago, the day the new surface was laid.

I considered peeling it up and taking it home with me as an emblem of closure, but I resisted the urge. Squatting down to inspect it, tarmac filled my field of vision and I found what I was looking for. The lamppost and its stories, the old house with the same front door that I closed for the last time half a lifetime ago, and the battered street sign – PATIENCE AVENUE – they were but corners of pages, folded for ease of reference. The real memory was the glare of the high summer sun, the squinted eye, the temperature, and the scent of melting tarmac; all of these things could happen anywhere, and have many times over, but this particular arrangement was uniquely mine. The brand new penny that I plunged into this very tarmac on which I now stood was a solid foundation, a memory of who, when, and where I once was.