I have all my memories stored in jars, lined up in date order. One for each year; their sizes vary depending on how many memories I have for each year. When the girls were young, and Tim was still alive, I stored them in the pantry, on the top shelf so they were tucked safely away from young and clumsy fingers. Now I live alone, I have created space on the bookshelf in the living room and often sit in front of the fire in the evening with a jar in my hand. Sometimes I don’t even open it up; holding it is enough to conjure bygone feelings.
As I get older, the small jars of recent years stand almost empty. What saddens me most is that the early years of the twins’ lives are in miniscule jars, the size of breakfast jam jars in hotels. I was so tired at the end of every day, that I wasn’t capable of recording any lasting memories. In later years I tried asking Tim, but he was always working, so he didn’t have many from that time either.
Yesterday my sister Betsy came for afternoon tea. As soon as I opened the door I saw that she had her 1949 memories tucked under her arm (she keeps hers in boxes).
“I wish you would leave that year alone,” I said, stepping back to let her in.
She pulled off her scarf. “But I want to know what really happened.”
“No you don’t,” I replied, like I always do. “Some things are best left alone.”
“You don’t need to stay. If you don’t want to.”
“I’m not letting you sift through my memories by yourself. Who knows what kind of mess you’ll leave them in.”
“Don’t be daft, Evelyn.”
You’d think she was the older sister talking like that. You’d think she was the one who knew about Dad’s suicide and Mum’s depression. You’d think she was the one who at fourteen cooked and cleaned and washed and ironed and dropped out of school to look after her seven-year-old sister.
“I made a Victoria Sponge,” she said. “Your favourite.”
It won’t be long before I go. I have clearly stated in my will that I wish for my memories to be buried with me, as is proper custom. The girls will do as I ask, they’re too busy to do otherwise. But I fret that Betsy will delve through them, learning unspeakable truths and secrets, and I find the thought quite unsavoury. Wishing to outlive her is hardly the answer, but sometimes it seems like the only one.
Tonight the wind is whipping around the house, snatching the autumnal leaves from the trees as I slowly climb the stairs to bed. More often than not, these days, I find myself longing for the quiet of underground; just me, the dark, and my memories.
Laura Besley writes short fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online, as well as in print and in various anthologies. Her flash fiction collection, The Almost Mothers, was published in March 2020. She tweets @laurabesley.