The Guardians of Memory (A finalist)

Stan Goldberg, PhD

The first 1200 words from my novel, The Guardians of Memory is a finalist in the Writer Advice’s Scintillating Starts Contest.

Hannah glides through the fog as if an apparition—beautiful and giving as if Jesus himself is pouring her out of a wine bottle. I point my old Leica towards her as she stands in front of a Monterey Pine, its branches bent eastward from years of persistent winds. This will be more than just another picture I’ll add to my collection. Through my camera lens, she becomes part of the landscape; her long hair dancing in the breeze taking on the shape of the pine’s twisted limbs. She looks out over the Pacific in a classic stance of a ship captain’s wife anticipating her husband’s return.

“The coast is a tapestry where few straight lines exist,” she says, “where cypress trees mirror arms hugging empty spaces.”

As usual, I don’t know what Hannah means. She waits for me to finish taking pictures before leading me by my hand down layers of eroded sandstone towards the sea. Her stride on the rocky path is more like a young woman rather than someone her age, sixty-five. Anyone watching my shuffling would think I am at least ten years older than my sixty-seven years.

“Aaron, I want you to see something,” Hannah says.

She kneels next to an indentation in the rock cliff, places her scarf into the center and looks up at me.

“The Poma Indians washed their clothes here.”

She mimics the technique the coastal tribe used in the 1800s.

“You don’t know that,” I say as if something in her factual statement is threatening. “A kid could have made it last week with a hammer.”

“Sweetie, history isn’t your enemy. This is 1996, more than fifty years since it happened. Can’t you move on?”

I always wanted to move on but don’t know how. I want to explain why the most innocuous odors, words, and sights still drag me back to a time and place I don’t wish to share with the person who gave my life meaning. I look into her teary eyes and wonder how I can describe my pre-Hannah life—something she has patiently waited to hear since we met almost forty years ago. Instead of explaining, I hand her my handkerchief, and she wipes away the tears. Nobody is in sight as we begin walking back to the car. Hannah takes my hand without saying anything and leads me off the trail to a secluded spot. Looking into my eyes, she starts unbuttoning my shirt.

“What are you doing?”

“What do you think?”

“But we’re in the open.”
“Yes, we are, but isn’t that what makes it thrilling?”

Hannah is the one who has always made our lives exciting; whether exploring new restaurants, searching out live performances of unfamiliar musicians, or reading passages from the Kama Sutra as we made love. She giggles as she did when we were in our twenties and snuggled in my uncle Zev’s three-room apartment after he and his wife, Reyna went to bed.

“What if a park ranger comes by and finds two old people making love? What will he think and how will he explain to Dani when she’s called to bail out her parents for screwing in public? ‘Hello Ms., I have two very old people here who say their names are Aaron and Hannah Stein. They say they’re your parents. These people have violated ordinance 43 (b) 62, fornicating unashamedly in public view.’”

“She would laugh and be as delighted as I would have been if the police called me about my parents.”

The thought of her parents making love is as incomprehensible as two wooden statues becoming animate. She pulls me down on the iceberg plants, their soft green petals caressing her body. I am as aroused as I was when we were in our twenties on the roof of Zev’s apartment building, making love behind a pigeon coop while a woman who spoke fractured English took sun-dried dresses off a clothesline and sang Elvis Presley’s Love Me Tender.
        Luv me tender,
        Luv me sweet,
        Never me let go.
        My life is you complete,
        And you I love so much, much, much.

At my age, making love to Hannah lasts a long time. It can be a delusion caused by an aging brain, or it may physically take longer for me to orgasm—probably both. But making love is only one of the ways we sensuously connect; equal to sharing an incredible meal, attending the opera together, or me wearing the unraveled sweater she knitted and reluctantly gave me for my sixtieth birthday. Exhausted, but emotionally fulfilled, I walk with her back to the car. In the past when we hiked, I had to ask Hannah to slow down because of my knees, but today she lags, not much, but enough to cause me to reduce my pace.

“Are you all right?”

A smile develops, and she increases her speed to catch up with me.
“You were exceptional today,” Hannah purrs as she intertwines her arm with mine pulling me closer as we both look out to the ocean.

I don’t know what she’s thinking; I rarely do, and I’m afraid to ask. Hannah, on the other hand, always knows my thoughts, despite my refusal to share feelings.

The next day I drive to Dani’s house in the Pacific Heights section of San Francisco for a Saturday religious event: morning cartoons and afternoon baseball.

“Hi, Grandpa. Ready for our day together?”

Kira sits on the couch with a bowl of cereal balanced on her lap.

“Of course, Sweetie.”

She’s wearing the pajamas I gave her last year for her tenth birthday, covered with images of Scooby-Doo, a talking Great Dane. She insists on wearing them every night, although she outgrew the pajamas months ago. Dani washes them a few times a week because she won’t wear anything else to bed. When Dani bought an identical one, but in a larger size, Kira refused to wear it. “Why not?” Dani asked. “Because that’s not the one Grandpa gave me.” Dani responded, “What if he gives you this one?” Kira looked at Dani as if she were too dense to understand the obvious. “It isn’t the same,” she said and moved closer me.

I kiss her forehead and realize she sprouted up again. Taller than I was at her age and with a miniature tumbleweed of black curls.

“I’m afraid I won’t play well today Grandpa,” she whispers in my ear.

She’ll be facing the league’s number one team.

“Sweetie, play as well as you can and don’t worry about the score.”

I assure her she’ll do fine and, we both laugh as Scooby-Doo and his human friends romp through a world with no grays. Things are, or they aren’t. There is no room for equivocation in Saturday morning cartoons. God, if only life can be so simple, so straightforward. Life for me was never about choosing the best; rather what was less terrible—something in the gray zone.

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  1. Charles Maack

    Dear friend Stan, twice I wrote comments regarding your wonderful composition, and twice as I scrolled to fill in the answer to the “Captcha,” my computer erased everything posted with a screen display of “Aw, Snap!” indicating all was lost. So, one more time I am going to try again since I was so enamored by the manner in which you brought my mind into a visual of what was occurring. This time, however, I am saving separately my comments in the event that once again the “Aw, Snap!” occurs. You have such a wonderful and eloquence with words that capture the reader’s mind and heart that then opens to the visual of actually being present to the event as the story unfolds. I could feel what you were feeling as you wrote this story and what the couple was experiencing with every visual in front of them and every feeling each were experiencing. I was reminded of my youth so many years in the past when, as I sat in front of the radio, my mind and my heart experienced visuals from the words emanating from that radio. You have provided me that same experience in this reading. My prayers are that you will learn that Stan Goldberg has been awarded First Place for this “Writer Advice Scintillating Starts Contest!” Even if not, you have won First Place in the heart and mind of this aging gentleman who enjoyed that same I experienced so many years ago in front of the radio.

    • Stan Goldberg

      Thanks for your kind words Chuck. As always, I’m humbled by them.


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