Thomas J. Misuraca
I woke and stretched my hands to the floor. Something was missing.
“Butterscotch?” I called.
“You’re talking in your sleep again,” my wife snarled at me.
“I’m calling Butterscotch.”
“What the hell is a Butterscotch?”
Butterscotch tried to jump on our bed every morning but ended up licking my hand until I got out of bed. My wife would yell at me to wash before touching her.
“You’re dreaming,” she said with one of her almost-laughs. “We haven’t had a dog in eight years.”
That couldn’t be. Just yesterday Butterscotch was chasing a squirrel around the backyard (though with her manic speed, she overtook the rodent, and it began chasing her). And I walked her just before bed (staying on high alert for the coyotes that were coming down from the hills). There were five years of Butterscotch memories inside my head.
But I kept quiet. This wasn’t the first time I’d remembered something that wasn’t there. Like the breakfast cereal my wife prepared for me that morning. For years, we’d eaten Bran Mix. Then the day before yesterday, Bran Mix was gone. It was no longer in supermarkets or online. And the coupons stacked in our junk draw were now for Corn O’s.
Was this the beginning of Alzheimer’s or dementia? But weren’t victims of those afflictions unable to remember things? Not remember things that are no longer there.
It felt like objects were being erased from my life.
First, they were small things, like the words “and Sons” missing from our homeowner association’s name. And the outdoor dining area of my favorite restaurant moving to another side of the building. After those, I hid these revelations from my wife. She was beginning to worry about my mental state. Not one to stop and figure out a problem, I feared she would put me in a nursing home.
I called my brother Saul. He was less suspicious than my wife. He’d try to figure out why I misremembered something. Still, I hesitated telling him everything I was experiencing.
“Did we ever have a Yorkie named Butterscotch?” I asked him soon into our daily conversation.
“We never had any dogs,” he reminded me without judgement in his voice. “Mom was allergic. Maybe you’re thinking about a pet in the old neighborhood.”
“That’s it,” I lied.
I knew for sure Butterscotch sat on my lap while I spoke with Saul yesterday.
The next day, I was flipping through the channels trying to find our soap, Loves of My Life. It was on channel five at two. But now there was a name of a talk show I didn’t recognize.
“What are you doing?” my wife snapped at me. “We’re going to miss The Proud and the Powerful.”
My instinct was to object. I’d been watching Loves of My Life since I retired. Joining my wife in the post-work guilty pleasure (she filled me in on most of the show’s twenty-five year history). I knew of The Proud and the Powerful, but it was on a different network.
My wife pulled the remote out of my hand and flipped to channel two. We watched the show, but I didn’t know these characters or their story lines. Occasionally, an actor who used to be on Loves of My Life appeared. I recalled their entire story line from the other show but had no idea what they were doing here.
My wife sat on the edge of her seat and yelled at the characters’ lack of sense as she’d done with the show we used to watch together.
I’d stumbled upon The Mandela Effect during my internet searches for things that went missing. This is when people remember things differently than what they were, usually in pop culture. Some weirdos blame it on time travelers tampering with the past. Or something like that. Professionals chalked it up to the psychological condition of false memory.
This sounded like my affliction, but if there were a trauma I was trying to repress, it was well buried. And what would I gain from making up memories of a dog, cereal or TV show?
I began questioning my own memories. Was this the soap we’d always used? Wasn’t the woman next door name Doris, not Debbie? Did The Cubs really win the World Series?
I began keeping a list of things I was sure were gone and things I suspected were no longer there.
Soon they ran multiple pages.
I was used to forgetting some things at my age. Phone numbers were the worst. Especially those who changed their lifelong landlines for a cellphone. Once they did that, I couldn’t retain the ten digits. Maybe because I didn’t have to, with phone numbers being accessible at the touch of a button.
Saul’s number was the first I programed into my phone. But one day, I couldn’t find it.
“Honey, do you have Saul’s phone number?”
“Who the hell’s Saul?”
“My-” I stopped himself.
No. They wouldn’t take my brother. Would they?
There was no sign of his ever existing on my phone. Even our few failed selfies were missing.
“I meant to say…” I was too frazzled to come up with a cover story.
At my age, I often thought about me and those I love dying. I’d have been crushed if Saul died before me. But to discover he never existed… it felt like there was a weight tied to my heart, dragging it down to my stomach.
“I’m worried about your memory,” my wife said. Was she oblivious to my anguish?
Without Saul, who did I have to confide in that wouldn’t judge me. It should be my wife, but I was frightened of her reaction.
“You need to see a doctor.”
“I’m just… tired. Some fresh air will wake me up.” I started for the door.
“Wait. I’ll come with you.”
“I need some time alone to process things.”
“What the hell do you have to process?”
Without another word I left the house.
As I roamed the streets, I tried to wrap my head around the situation. Saul was not a figment of my imagination. I had lifelong memories with him. From childhood games to having children of our own. As well as the pain that would always be in my heart from watching Saul lose his oldest daughter to cancer. How could she never have existed?
When my phone rang, I assumed it was my wife checking up on me. I was surprised to see it was from my sister, Muriel. To say we were estranged would make it sound like we once liked each other. Had she also discovered Saul’s loss and calling to see if I were experiencing the same thing?
“Hello?” I answered cautiously.
“Hey, bro,” she said in a voice so cheerful I didn’t recognize it.
“What do you want?”
“You hadn’t called today yet, so I thought I’d check in with you. Everything OK?” She sounded legitimately concerned. This was more difficult to process than-
“Do you remember somebody named Saul?” I asked.
“Saul…” she replied as if searching her memory. “Maybe there was a Saul in our old neighborhood.”
“Thanks.” Without another word, I hung up.
I didn’t want her to hear me cry.
I checked my phone every morning for any sign of Saul. I missed his calls and long-winded voicemails. What I wouldn’t give to see one of his typo-filled texts pop up. Instead, Muriel called me daily. I ignored it but saw that my call history was filled with daily conversations with her as well as a slew of well-written texts. And there were a few good-looking selfies of the two of us in my photos. I didn’t remember those, but I remember every single photo I attempted to take with Saul.
I gave up searching for new things missing from my life. I threw out my lists. They had taken enough from me.
My wife noticed how withdrawn I’d become.
“I made an appointment to see your doctor next week,” she told me one night before bed. “I’m worried about you.”
“Thank you,” I said sincerely and kissed her good night.
No doctor could fix this.
I wake and stretch my hands across the bed. Something’s missing.
Her side hasn’t been slept in. Her pillow is fluffier than usual. The mattress feels as smooth as it did when it was new, no impression from years of her sleeping body.
They have taken everything.
Tom Misuraca studied writing at Emerson College in Boston before moving to Los Angeles. Over 100 of his short stories and two novels have been published. This year, his story, Giving Up The Ghosts, was published in Constellations Journal, and nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is also a multi-award winning playwright with over 135 short plays and 11 full-lengths produced globally. His musical, Geeks!, was produced Off-Broadway in May 2019.