Last night I was reading The Brain Bleacher, the final short story in the second Sticky Fingers anthology by JT Lawrence, with whom I was at school with for a short time before moving to Mossel Bay.
I was chatting with Charlie after I’d finished the book, and said to him that one day I will write like that – as in short stories, because while I know I have a writing gift, I do not possess the mad skills to weave a tale in a limited amount of words that grabs you from the word go. JTL just has it.
One quote in the story above really resonated with me: “While a memory is a mental snapshot of a moment, it carries with it layers of emotion and texture and scent.”
It reminded me of quite a few mental snapshots and something my colleague, Carla and I discussed when we spent a girls’ night away at a local lodge about three years ago one November weekend. She said when she looks back in time, she doesn’t necessary remember the things that were around her at a time, but she does remember the smell of the air, or the warmth of the sun on her skin, or the song in the breeze; most importantly she remembers how she felt in that moment. Thinking about that outing, I remember being stretched out on a long wooden deck chair, with a book listening to the trickle of the stream nearby. While I don’t remember the title of the book, I remember the feel of the parchment between my fingers and the smell of the ink. I remember feeling completely content, even if only for a few fleeting moments.
Another memory that popped into my mind was our visits to Mossel Bay when I was a child. The Bean and I would catch the train from Johannesburg and travel to visit my matriarchal grandparents and all the aunts, uncles and cousins. The one olfactory memory I have of these journeys is pulling into the station and smelling the oceanic saltiness in the air – a world removed from the Johannesburg smog that enveloped us during our time in that concrete jungle. I remember loving the feel of the sea sand between my toes and being bribed out of the freezing cold water with what was probably an even colder ice-cream cone.
I recalled other memories too – and with focus on the emotions, texture and scent, I was transported back to those moments in time, and it felt as if I was there again.
In one, I felt the gooseflesh rise at the receipt of a gentle touch in a tender moment, even though my heart was racing with uncertainty and angst and flaming desire at the same time.
In another, I felt the dread and horrific realization induced by the smell of burnt chicken (I won’t live it down either, I promise!)
In another I was warmed by the soft heat of a gas heater with the fairy-tale lights of a Cape Town Waterfront Christmas display to illuminate my friend, Andrew’s face as we caught up five years’ worth of news over a chocolate-berry-spiced red wine and lekker South African fare. I also remember the indigestion that followed shortly after seeing the bill.
In another I remember sitting against the trunk of a tree, after a particularly trying parkrun. My hair was plastered to my forehead with glue-au-de-perspiration and my breathing was laboured, so much so I’m sure I could have given The Big Bad Wolf a run for his money (bacon, anyone?). A woman approached me asking about Herbalife (yes, I was branded for the walk – not my finest advertising moment) and we got chatting. Eighteen months later, that woman, Harriet, is one of my closest friends. I haven’t been able to do our routed parkrun since though because of my bum knee.
I could reminisce like this for hours, and I think each day I shall get in my time machine and take myself back to at least one happy (or funny) memory – where I can relieve the sensation, feel the grain, and inhale the fragrance of times gone by. And sure, sometimes it’s necessary to revisit the sad and bad memories, to remind oneself how far you’ve come, but for the most part, I want to simply revisit the happy times, filled with laughter, hope, friendship, family and most importantly the love that surrounds all those things.
So, here’s to joyous recollections, all inspired by a single line, from an incredible book.
Cheers to you JTL! I aspire to be an author like you. You are a creative genius and an absolute legend.