This story is by K.M. Updike and was part of our 2018 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Mr. Graves says I should write.
But Mr. Graves says a lot of things I do not regularly listen to.
Mr. Graves is also in my company far more often than I care for him to be. Intolerable youth.
I wish to express my well-groomed dislike for Mr. Graves. Not to mention the boy he keeps with him to take notes on the condition he says will inevitably be the death of me.
He calls it some name I couldn’t remember even if I didn’t have this condition. I, personally, could care less what it is called, and even less about what it will inevitably do to me. It is always best to forget because the pain of remembering is always inevitable.
One thing I take pleasure in is reminding Mr. Graves that what will inevitably happen to me will inevitably happen to him as well. But being reminded of this does not please Mr. Graves as well as it pleases me. This also pleases me considerably.
But writing of Mr. Graves is not making this a very affable business.
Writing is the chief of my hates. But as Mr. Graves keeps reminding me I hate everything, and I should write down the things I once loved. I don’t see how that would be of any comfort whatsoever since I no longer love them, and no longer wish to remember anything I once loved.
The only thing that gives me any pleasant feeling, besides thinking of Mr. Graves dead, is the thought of what will inevitably happen to me.
My dislike for Mr. Graves is based entirely upon the fact that he has come to keep the inevitable from happening sooner than God intended.
I do not see the use of this because I have lost all I once loved, and no one visits whom I wish to see, except Mr. Graves who does little good to me except in giving me the chance to imagine him dead.
So, you see, there is little use in my writing anything at all because I have nothing or no one to write it for. Not even myself. Though Mr. Graves insists there is something good that will come of it. No doubt only for himself.
But they’ve taken away my sewing needles because I’ve pinned my fingers to the bedposts too many times, and I’m not allowed books because I tear out all the pages and line them up to avoid having to turn them, and I cannot even eat in solitude because they fear I’ll swallow the spoon, so I might as well do something with a pen. No doubt they will find some absurd reason to take that from me as well.
I have one thing, and one thing only, I would like to remember, and since I’m deprived of all other forms of amusement I might as well put it down. I am writing this on only one side of the paper so that the reader who dares read it may line the pages in a row without the trouble of having to turn them.
The one thing I do remember, and the only thing I do not hate completely, is the year I turned eighteen, and everyone said that I, Hyacinth Reeves, was the most beautiful girl on Darby Avenue.
I hated Darby Avenue. I hated the South and all its fine Southern women stuck up on breeding and money, and the black help they hired to raise their children.
I said to my daddy, “Daddy, I’m going to become a Certified Nursing Assistant and work at the old folks’ home, and I’m not coming back.”
And that’s what I did.
Mother was mortified, of course, but she never cared for anything except for what was proper, and a young woman taking care of old folks who couldn’t even wash themselves was certainly not proper. Mostly it was because insanity ran in her family. Quite frequently.
Daddy paid for my schooling, and never really said much, which is why I liked him. Mr. Graves never stops saying anything and I find I’m much more pleased with his visits when I recall how much I don’t remember him saying.
Mother never could understand why I wanted to spend the rest of my life with crazy old folks when I was in danger of becoming one myself.
I told her I liked the thought of living in a southern mansion saved from the Yankees by noble Confederates to stand in beauty and immortal memory of the brave war we fought. That seemed to appease her, but it was mostly because she didn’t even know to what war I was referring.
Mr. Graves doesn’t believe even I know to what war I am referring, but he can hardly complain as I am making progress in recalling anything at all. I am not sure why he calls it progress, though. I asked him if it would save me from the inevitable and he said it wouldn’t.
I am beginning to wonder which one of us is crazy. I have wondered this since the beginning of our unfortunate acquaintance.
Mr. Graves is becoming quite tiresome. If he shows up in the next paragraph I shall tear this to pieces.
I trained for the CNA at a hospital, studied in my upstairs bedroom on Darby Avenue, and shot Daddy’s pellet gun at the windshields of all the boys Mother coerced to come courting. I’ve nothing against courting or boys, but I’ve a mild hatred for soda fountains and all the boys on Darby Avenue.
There. Mr. Graves did not turn up, so this shall be saved.
All they ever amounted to was driving girls to soda fountains. Then they’d be going steady, and dine at each other’s houses, and then become engaged, and then have the wedding dress altered, and then they’d be married.
Daddy’s pellet gun taught them a lesson and gave them a healthy respect for marriage and girls.
People call me crazy now, I suppose they called me crazy then. But it runs in my family and I am not at all heartbroken. It is quite convenient.
This old folks’ home was indeed a beauty of a southern mansion. And it was indeed full of crazy old folks.
The first week I cleaned bed pans. For the first week straight—nothing but bedpans.
I was then promoted to changing bed linen and soiled clothing.
After that I was awarded a metal plated name badge and instructed on how to give a proper sponge bath.
It was during one such momentous daily routine I met Peter. He walked in while I was giving his great-grandfather a sponge bath, and I loved him immediately. Peter, that is, not his great-grandfather.
And in one preposterous moment Peter loved me back.
Peter was not a Darby Avenue boy. There were no soda fountains, no polite dinners in front of prospective, eyeing in-laws, and thank heavens, no hand-me-down wedding dresses.
But there were soft breezes on the long cool porches while the old folks slept, in need of no bed changes, no baths.
There were star-lit walks, and kisses in midsummer. Gentle ripples on the pond, and sweet afternoon lunches in the back of his car on Lonely Hill.
I loved that hill.
Oh, now Mr. Graves will see he has been successful in weeding out something I once loved. But his victory shall be short lived for now I hate Lonely Hill.
Peter asked me to marry him on that hill.
I was on that hill when Peter died for some useless cause in a faraway country for some reason I never wish to remember.
And there the year stopped. The rest of them, the memories, the years—they are lost. I have forgotten why they are lost. I am sure I would not care to remember whatever else there was to remember after that. That is why I have forgotten them.
It is marvelous to never remember anything. Scads of painful problems simply disappear when you don’t remember. Wasn’t I clever to decide to forget them?
I’m not at all pleased that Mr. Graves is here instead of Peter, though. He’s explained it a good many times, but I never understand.
I do remember I once cried a lot—a long time ago. It seems to me it was important for some reason. But it is always best to forget, even if whatever you forgot was worth blubbering about.
I wish I could forget Mr. Graves.
He has just read these last few paragraphs and become so excited I was hoping the inevitable might happen to him and I might witness it.
But he is at the door now and he is saying what he always says when he leaves.
“Good night, Mama. William, say goodnight to your grandma.”
I think this will inevitably be the death of me.