I remember so clearly what your paw looked like as it flashed in the dim light of your stairwell. I cannot think of a metaphor to stitch it out in your mind. So clear. So poignant. It was like this time when I was a small boy and went to a stable with my father and there was a Clydesdale in the ring. This exotic stable full of thundering creatures and the smell of sweat and hay and leather and hay and shit and hay and the buzz from the lights overhead cut through it all.
The Clydesdale was angry, but I’m pretty sure he was just horny and I could not understand that then. The Clydesdale charged inside the perimeter of the ring over and over, kicking at the rails and Plexiglas wall each time he passed us.
In the light of the bare bulb, your claws glinted the same color as the sparks from that horse’s shoes.
I can still smell hay.
We are washed with information each moment these days, but this never amounts to an accurate understanding of our present.
Do you remember the fish house at the cabin in Canada? Do you remember the shack where they cleaned the fish we caught each day? I can recall countertops and pink-stained plywood. There was a large white plastic sink. I remember the smell of fish pushing in from all sides. I never stayed there long.
The soft shick of the knife as it passed through the gut of the pike. Through the gut of the walleye. I remember scales peeling off like ladies’ stockings after Sunday service. They stuck to your skin, were impossible to remove after they dried there—little spots of determined luminescence. The heads in the sink, the eyes in the heads following as you pass. I do not know that eventually this is what I will always think of when someone mentions ‘ubiquitous gaze.’
My father encourages me to come to the fish house each day after the catch, to learn how to gut a fish. To destroy the mystery of its inside. I do not know how they glide through the atmosphere of the lake, pulling oxygen from the viscous air around them. On hot summer days, people always remark, it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity.
Your right paw scuttled across my left ribs, slowing as the claws bit into the meat of my belly and then tapering back out with a rattle over my right ribs. I can never accurately say how beautiful it was to see the slow arc of your arm in the light of the stairwell, but I will try because there is nothing else to do with this.
How do you filter out the noise? How do you strain the leftover brilliance of a memory? You must fasten a cheesecloth over the mouth of a mason jar, spread the memory out across the cheesecloth, and place the jar under your bed while you sleep. The jar must stay there. The weight of time will distill it, the brightest parts sinking to the bottom, and the rest pouring over it in an amber liquid to preserve it.
The memory may be stored before this in a number of places while you arrange your supplies. I have seen them held in the mouth, light pooling under the tongue and washing over the gums. I have seen memories dried between the pages of a book, and even once, trapped between the bread of a sandwich.
Whenever I dip my finger into a jar, I cannot help thinking of pickled peaches. Orange goldfish slivers swirling in their brine—the kind you buy at a flea market at the stand between the antique door man and the man selling packets of pages exhumed from old books. Old typefaces with s’s that look like f’s and every illustration an engraving.
When I was growing up, the pastor of my church did this to save for his retirement. My father told me he specialized in religious art—16th century engravings of theologians. The book collectors he knew at the auctions all called him “the butcher.”
The pastor’s thumb was heavily bandaged for several weeks and I asked my father on the car ride home one Sunday morning what was wrong with his hand, and this is what he told me about “the butcher” and his frame shop in his garage. And then my father did something he always does: he described the parameters of “the butcher’s” framing machine and how it cut the wood with a dull blade, spring loaded, thudding into the wood. It still seems excessively violent.
His thumb had been between the wood and the blade when the spring flung the blade and the force not so much cut the thumb as popped it.
I emptied my stomach between the knees of my Sunday khakis onto the floorboard.
Like my breakfast that Sunday morning, memory gets away from you. Memory gets away from you and now, when you think of memory, you will recall pickled peaches, even if you have never eaten one. You are marred in my memory.
There is a man at the foot of a staircase bleeding out across white tiles. He does not matter at this point. He is a glass of milk, spilled in some morning’s hurried breakfast.
That spot will be sticky later.