Ron cannot remember how to use his stove. He is standing in the kitchen, barefoot and wearing a dressing gown, with a frying pan in his hand. The instruction manual, ‘How To Use Your Stovetop’, has vanished completely from the archive room in his head.
He peers at the slate of cool, grey metal shining at him from underneath its protective bars. He has always thought the cage was to help the stovetop user, but now he feels vaguely betrayed; the cage has switched sides without warning.
Ron does not want to call his son again, so he will have toast.
The toast cooks and Ron is careful not to watch it: life experience has taught him that, like a kettle, the watched toaster never pops. Instead he watches a small bird flitting around outside. After a little while he wonders if this bird might have the same memory lapses as he does, because it keeps returning to the same spot on the same tree without any apparent knowledge it has been there before.
The popping toast frightens him. Its mechanical noise is very loud in such a quiet house. It reminds him of the stovetop and how cold his bare toes are. Sighing, he thinks of all he needs to do today. On his desk there are three thick books to read and a box full of photographs to sort through.
As he butters his toast, the sound tearing through the otherwise quiet room, he is struck by the irony of it all. That he, the ultimate obsessive photographer always on the lookout for a moment to capture and remember, should be losing his memories.
Sometimes he wakes violently in the middle of the night with the distinct feeling that someone has had something small and cold in his ear or up his nose. Something very much like a hook. Every time he sneezes he thinks it is a memory, not his soul, that escapes. When no one else is around he will say ‘Bless You’ to himself; he has never before been superstitious but he is getting desperate and will do anything he can think of to keep the archive intact.
So this is why he must work so hard each day. He has re-read all the books in his numerous bookshelves once already since the diagnosis; he goes through photo albums every day, writing down people’s names, birthdays, favourite colours, their relationship to him; he writes letters to his wife, who will never read them in her grave, recounting in as much detail as possible the story of their long lives together; he listens to music every day, trying to name all of the composers’ other works; he walks slowly through his garden, naming all the plants.
He does all this so the next time his granddaughter asks, “Da, what’s the best day in your life so far?” he can answer with genuine certainty. And so he might remember how to work his bloody stove.