April 9, 2021
Memory Tree - Third Place Winner of the 2020 First Chapter Contest
By Bill Mathis
Split Creek County, Michigan,
Access Road, thirty-five miles east of Lake Michigan
I’ve been talking to Memory Tree for a long time. Ever since I could talk. Back when I was alive, now through my stardust.
Memory Tree is in my front yard and is old. Really old. And tall. Really, really tall.
We mostly called her Memory because she was kinda part of the family, and she remembers everything.
We always called the tree she. Mommy was glad Memory wasn’t called he. She said men couldn’t remember things very good.
My name is Eula and you can’t see me. My stardust is what’s talking to Memory Tree. Yeah, my stardust. That’s kinda like my spirit.
Did you know dead people always stay the same age? Like the pictures on Granny’s wall. Old people, young people, one a baby. “They’re all dead,” she used to tell us. Anyway, we dead people always stay the same age. We never get older. My twin brother Jimmy, and I were nine years and six days old the day we died.
I call it the bad day.
I bet by now Granny has pictures of me and Jimmy on her wall. Mommy, too. She was twenty-nine. I’m not sure about a picture of Dad.
Anyway, Memory knows my stardust is here, all alone in the house.
She remembers Mommy, Dad, Jimmy, and Granny, too.
Memory will never forget us.
I know that for a fact.
My real name is Beula, but I couldn’t say the B when I was learning to talk, so Ooola became Eula. Mommy said adding an H to the end of Beula made it sound too old. Besides, I was named after Granny and her name didn’t have an H at the end either. She wasn’t old yet. At least she wasn’t back then.
Some people think stardust is like spirits which are like ghosts. I’m not like that. Ghosts and spirits can touch things or move things or spook people or animals or birds. I can’t. It’s like I’m a dandelion, all white and poofy, except I’m a cluster of stardust nobody alive can see. I think where I want to go and somehow I’m there.
Only I don’t want to go other places. Not away from the house. I’m afraid to. I mostly stay at the top of the archway between the kitchen and dining room.
I can hear and see and think. I can’t smell, talk out loud, sneeze or touch, but I can remember those things. I don’t cry real tears, but I sure remember what they were like, and the pain and fear. In my mind, I’m telling all this to Memory. I always liked writing stories, now it’s telling them. I’m just an invisible poof of stardust. Waiting. Telling my life to Memory. And now to you.
It bothers me that there is no—oops, there are no—pictures of me or Jimmy hanging in our house now. Or of Mommy. Even Dad. Anywhere. There used to be. Some were of Mommy and us kids. Some were of me and Jimmy with Dad. None were with all four of us together. I don’t understand why the pictures are missing. It would be nice to see them every day. Something to look at while I remember, think, and just exist as sawdu… Oops again—I almost said sawdust. Now that would be weird. I mean stardust.
Maybe I was thinking of sawdust because Dad was a wood carver, too. A good one. The wood carvings he made of us are also gone. Why would they be missing, too? Who would sneak in and take them and the pictures? How could I not have seen them do it?
See, I’ve been waiting a long time in our old farmhouse for Dad to come back. When you’re dead, you don’t think about time, that’s why I can’t tell you how long I’ve been waiting. I won’t leave until my stardust meets Dad’s or I at least know he remembers us. I don’t know where else to look for him, so I’m waiting here.
Things were really scary the bad day. A big angry man attacked Mommy down by the lake. She yelled for us to run get Dad.
We screamed for Dad when we got to the house. He hollered to wait on the porch. He was in the shower and had to pull some clothes on and get his gun. He yelled he was hurrying as fast as he could. He sounded upset.
Except we didn’t wait for him. Instead, we ran back to the dock. Mommy was gone. Then the crazy man attacked us. We ended up in the lake, next to Mommy.
After Dad didn’t rescue us or show up, Jimmy’s stardust kept telling mine to go up to the house and wait for Dad’s stardust. Mommy agreed. She thought maybe Dad died near the house or on the way to save us. She said I was always a daddy’s girl anyway, so I should go. Mommy also said Jimmy’s stardust would stay by hers forever and mine could be with Dad’s until all four of us can get together. Then she said Memory Tree would look over me, even inside the house. So I went. It took a while for my stardust to get through the water.
The only problem was, when my stardust finally got to the house, Dad wasn’t here. Not him alive or his stardust. I did see that the barn had burned down. Wouldn’t Dad’s stardust have found mine if he died in the fire?
How did the barn burn down? It must have burned down after the bad man attacked us. But how? Why wasn’t Dad here? If he wasn’t dead someplace around the house, where did he go?
Dad was supposed to come rescue Mommy. Me and Jimmy, too. Dads do that. Rescue their family.
Our dad never came.
So, I’m here in the house, waiting for Dad.
Waiting to learn what happened.
Waiting for my forever to start.
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