Fierce Memory — Inspired by Lindsay Clem

I’m happy to announce the winner of Week 2! Holly Becker’s story idea for Playing Debussy won by a narrow margin. Congratulations, Holly! You are in the finals!

Today’s story for the September Challenge Contest comes to us from Lindsay Clem. I first met Lindsay at the beginning of our freshman year at Great Lakes Christian College. It’s so funny to look back and think how young we were! One thing that you should know about Lindsay is that she is an incredible mother. She and her husband Regan are the parents of 4 absolutely gorgeous children with one more on the way! And she still found time to come up with a challenging story idea! And I mean it…I had to do a little research for this one!

Here’s her idea…

“Mario, 20, just arrived in America (NYC) in 1920. Strong, confident, hard worker, temper. Meets (and likes) Irish girl, Aideen. Her family doesn’t like him…”

The banner across the room read “Happy 100th Birthday, Mario!”

“How did I live to be so old,” Mario asked. No one around could answer him.

He’d been smoking since he was 13. Drank every day. Ate whatever he wanted. Never exercised. The man should have been dead years ago.

“Somebody please tell me how much longer I have to live. I’m tired.”

“You want some birthday cake, Pop?” his daughter asked.

“I want some rest. Is that too much to ask?”

“Why don’t you tell us a story. From when you were young?” one of his sons called from across the room. “Tell us about how you met Ma!”

“Eh, you don’t wanna hear that old history.” Mario swatted at his family with a purple veined hand. “I don’t wanna tell no story.”

“Come on, Pop. You never told us the story before.”

“Might there be a reason? Maybe I didn’t never wanna tell ya.”

The whole room clambered. The room was full of his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren. He couldn’t seem to remember all the people who were there. He was certain that they were some kind of off shoot of his family. The family that he and his wife built.

“If you wanna story, I’ll give you a story.” Mario looked at his hands.

His family hushed all the children, circled around Mario. He took a deep breath.

“I stepped off the boat in 1920. I was a young man. About 20 years old.” He cleared his throat. “I didn’t know nothing back then. And I was homesick for Italy and my mother’s cooking…”

I lived with my cousin in a dirty apartment in the city. We had to share a toilet with the rest of the people on our floor. There was no escape from the loud streets or the stench of the people.

Life wasn’t like this in Italy. It made me wonder why I’d come across the ocean at all. All I wanted was to save up enough money to go home. Until I saw her.

She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. She sold flowers on the corner. I had to speak to her. I needed to hear the voice of the lovely lady. But every time I neared her corner, she would push me back with her fierce, blue eyes. I couldn’t come close.

Pain set into my heart. I was sure that it was love. Every scrap of paper I could find was covered in my poems to her. Ridiculous poem. So sentimental. Lines and lines about her creamy skin. Her blonde hair. But those eyes. They did more to terrify me than anything.

The first time she spoke to me gave me chills, both of excitement and terror. I’d been in New York for months. My English was getting better each day. I had determined that I would ask her name. All I wanted was to hear her voice.

It was raining. She stood on her corner. The flowers were getting drenched. Her eyes cut through me as I walked toward her. How strange the force of love and fear blended together.

“Go on back to where ya’ been,” she said. Her voice was thick, deep. I’d never heard anything like it. “I got no need for ya’ to keep comin’ round, botherin’ me so.”

Like the growl of an angry, rabid dog. Her voice warned me to stay away.

“Not until you tell me your name,” I said. My voice seemed to growl back. I was surprised by the strength of it. “My name is Mario.”

“Mario,” she said. “An Italian, I gather.”

I nodded my head. “And what is your name?”

“I’m Aideen. From Ireland. Do you know what that means?”

“I don’t understand.”

“It means that we hate each other. Now, leave me be.”

Mario’s family sat, looking at him with confusion. They wondered if his old age had made him forget.

“Pop,” his son said. “Ma’s name wasn’t Aideen.”

“I know that. Don’t you think I know that?” Mario’s face was flushed. “But it was her name. The Irish girl.”

“But we asked about Ma.”

“I’m 100 years old. If I want to take my sweet time telling a story I will. Now who has a glass of wine for me?”

The next day, Aideen was gone. I asked around. No one knew who she was. Had never seemed to notice her before. I began to think I was going mad.

“There was no flower seller on that corner,” the market owner told me. “The only girl on that corner was sellin’ other things.”

He made a rude gesture.

“I don’t understand.” I was too afraid to let myself think about what the man was saying.

“The oldest profession in the world. And she was good at it.”

I punched him in the jaw. “Where did she go?”

“Easy, fella’. Ain’t no need to get mean.” The owner rubbed his face. “She’s the next block over. But don’t bother, you don’t got enough to get what she’s sellin’.”

He was right. She was there.

“Now, get away,” she called as soon as she saw me.

I walked to her, this time, without fear. “I love you.”

“You don’t know me.”

“That’s true. But I love you anyway.”

“My father will kill you. You must get away now.”

“Your father?”

“Now, go on. Leave me to my business.”

“But why would your father kill me?”

“Because I make his money for him.”

“I can help you.”

“You can only make things worse.”

“That’s not true.”

“If you love me, you must leave me be.”

“I can’t.”

“Never come here again.”

She ran from me. Something inside held me back. Why didn’t I chase her? Could I have helped her? I will never know.

The next day, she was found hanging from the fire escape next to her apartment.

Mario dabbed his eye with an old, dingy hanky. He looked at his family. Not a one of them looked familiar.

“Where am I?” he asked.

“At your birthday party, Pop.” His son grabbed for his hand.

“How old am I?”

“100 years old.”

“That’s too old.”

“Was that a true story?” his daughter asked. “Aideen? Was she real?”

“No. I told you I don’t wanna tell no stories today.” Mario blew his nose into the hanky. “What kind of party don’t have a cake? Get me some cake.”

The family bustled around to cut the cake, pour the punch, celebrate Mario.

Within Mario remained an ache for Aideen. Her voice rumbled in his memory. Her eyes still pierced his soul.

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