Young and sweet

When I was small, my mother had a sky blue Toyota Corolla we used to drive around in together.

I came along a good few years after my sisters and she had taken a career break to mind me. This meant glorious time spent alone together, me her sole focus across long summer afternoons. One of my favourite things in the world was being taken out in that car. In the shaky cinema in my head, eyes closed, there’s always sun shining in the backseat of the Toyota.

I’m always getting in trouble for misremembering things. I know everyone does it — tells a story where they rewrite elements, putting themselves as the protagonist, so sure in their mind that’s how it really happened. At least then someone can interrupt and set you straight. That’s not how it happened. How do you verify memories when you were the only one there? The self as the sole source of veracity for memories that are barely even really memories, more mere sensations, a glimpse of something that won’t come into focus. The writer, director and actor starring in the memory.

Anyway, the Corolla. Errands and calling in on her friends. Purpose but carefree. Only fragments remain, barely full scenes, more like little moving snapshots. Things I’ve probably made up, I suppose, constructed from a patchwork recalled across decades and things I’ve been told, then adapted for my own. We’re told our memories aren’t real. That’s not how it happened. Is what I remember of being five just elaborate stories I whispered to myself at seven?

But, no. I know I can visualise the soft chocolate Jubilee cakes we used to get in the parish cake sale. I know I can recall the notes of her perfume. I can see so clearly the way the butter-yellow shafts of sunlight would come in through the car windows, dancing with dust particles. Yes, I can feel the vigorous pull-pull-pull-yank required to roll up and down the Toyota’s back windows. The plastic handle! Its dark grey colour, the grooves of it. I could be gripping it now. My hand knows today just how it felt then. My hands are the same.

I remember sticking my head from the backseat through the front two seats to interfere with the tape deck. The soundtrack to the Corolla was ABBA Gold. I’ve always loved it and I love it now. That’s how I know it happened. My ears are the same. ABBA Gold. I can see the cover, see the tape, see my mother.

Isn’t it strange we keep our body parts our whole lives? Hear me out. My hands, my heart, my eyes and ears, they’re here now as I type — but they were in that car too. The car I can’t remember. The car I might have made up. I wish it was the physical muscles we carry with us that bore our memories instead of our minds. They would take better care. The brain flubs, intentionally omits, protects, swaps, muddles, loses, loses, loses so much.

Imagine. What if I didn’t have just these fragments, but one afternoon in a whole fine long chunk to play in my mind at will? A reel to play. Something I can trust. Not just intricate stories muttered in my own ear. I want more. I want a whole afternoon at will.

Last year, I bought my mother’s old perfume. I keep it on the dresser in my bedroom. Sometimes I open the top and stand there in my bedroom alone, close my eyes and breathe it in.

It smells just like ABBA Gold on tape, oh it smells like Jubilee biscuits being examined closely before being devoured methodically, it smells like the soft but scratchy fabric of the backseat as I press my face against it, the same cheek then as now, the same tongue that can taste the car’s warm dust. If I close my eyes tight enough, I can even smell those shafts of sunlight. At least I think I can.