What I’ll Remember Most
They made their way up the foggy path on foot, huddled together. The cold and mist and dark seemed to press in.
“Where are we?” asked Rita.
“I don’t know,” said Dale. “It feels familiar. But I already told you I don’t know. Several times. And you keep asking.”
“How did we get here?” Rita asked. “We were on our way to my mother’s.”
“I don’t remember that, either,” snapped Dale. “How we got here. How many times do I have to tell you?”
She would always ask him the same questions over and over. She’d been doing it for years and it drove him bugshit.
“Well, I don’t remember anything except you running off the road,” Rita snapped back at him.
“I did it because I fell asleep,” snapped Dale back at her. “I wanted to stop. We could’ve gotten a hotel room. You didn’t want to stop. You wanted to get to your mother’s cause it’s always about you.”
“Eighty percent angel, ten percent demon,” snapped Rita. “The rest is hard to explain.”
It was something she’d always said about him. It was the argument killer. She’d been saying it since they were dating. The first few times she’d said it, it was in reference to Dale’s ability to be a guy everyone loved most of the time and a hard-ass bastard when he needed to be.
But in later years, it had come to mean his inability to stay civil when stressed out.
Dale didn’t answer. He was too busy trying to figure out what to do next.
They’d met at work, a department store — Rita had been a cashier and Dale a stocker. Dale was twenty and Rita was nineteen. They’d started dating after only a few weeks shooting glances at each other over the aisles.
A lifetime had gone by, or close to one. They were now in their sixties, Dale approaching retirement or something like it, Rita with her part-time hobbies and full-time worrying about their two children and three grandchildren and her ailing mother, their last living parent.
They’d been on their way to see her. She wasn’t doing good. She was never doing good anymore. But Rita had been insistent.
It was night. The road was slippery. Dale had this vague recalling of nodding off.
And then they were on this path in the woods. They were both unharmed. The car was gone, somewhere behind them. They didn’t remember leaving it.
“Where are we going?” Dale asked out loud, frustrated.
Like an answer, ahead of them was a little hump of a stone and wood bridge crossing a small creek. The moon peeked through the trees.
The old couple stood there looking at the bridge. The black water trickled underneath the stone arch. There was something really foreboding about this bridge, but before either Dale or Rita could say anything, the Loghead appeared.
It started with a log moving next to them. It shifted and the leaves and dirt rustled and Dale and Rita yelled and jumped away from it.
It rose up on two legs. It had a mouth, and the log was the head, long and cylindrical. It didn’t have eyes. Its mouth was at the bottom of the log, a little flap of bark. Its body was made of mud and sticks. It was very skinny and graspy, two hands with fingers made of sticks reaching and pointing.
“E-gak, e-gak, towaaaahsss,” said the Loghead. It pointed at them.
They understood it perfectly, even in its dead-leaf tongue.
“One will cross, one will go back.”
“Who?” they asked. “Who will cross? Cross to where?”
“That’s what you must determine.”
“How do we determine?”
“Ex-gan, fre-lahshe-mah,” said the Loghead.
“What will you remember most?” Dale asked. “Say what we remember most and that’s what will determine?”
“Gro,” said the Loghead, nodding its splintery head.
Dale looked at Rita and Rita looked at Dale. Rita was no longer the nearly-seventy year old woman he’d lived with for the past few years, wondering who she was and why everything about her was so goddamn irritating.
“Torros, tang-anaa,” said the Loghead.
They did so and Dale felt her in his arms and holding her was the greatest thing he’d ever experienced. He’d done it for decades, how did he get so lucky to be able to hold this girl in his arms at all?
She wasn’t old anymore. She was her young self again, a brunette who worked part-time as an intern at the local newspaper in addition to their department store job and was a lethal gossip. A short, bespectacled cutie who gave dynamite head (anywhere, even in a movie theater like that old song) and loved his fingers in her pussy and his fingers in her long straight brown hair. She hated her hair. She called it lifeless. He loved her hair, loved the way it smelled, loved its rich brown color. He loved her pointed nose, he loved her little lips, he loved her little teeth when she smiled and her little chin. She was all his.
“I have so many memories rushing through me right now,” said the young Rita. “Good and bad. They’re like…”
“Ghosts,” said Dale.
“You are so handsome,” she said, touching his face. “I love your cheeks.”
“I love your ears,” Dale said, stroking one.
They were inches away from each other’s face. Dale couldn’t believe they’d been fighting a few moments ago. Why had they ever fought? How’d they let themselves get comfortable with each other? How’d they let themselves forget how this felt?
The Loghead spoke again.
“Domitose,” he rasped. “De homme in-ree. Nod ravin-chay.”
“Your memories are there. Tell them. We haven’t much time.”
Dale told Rita about the time they’d talked on the phone when she was in Arizona. He’d been gone for a week on a business trip. He’d missed her so much his throat had hurt. He’d realized he would marry her then. He could never be away from her for a long period again, not without knowing she was wearing his ring.
Rita told Dale about the time she’d come back from her internship and he’d told off her dad about her ambition to be a writer. She’d never written anything but in those days, a boy telling off her domineering alcoholic father was a god-like feat.
“You are so beautiful,” said Dale. “I’m sorry I haven’t said that in so long.”
“I love you,” said Rita.
“I love you.”
They hugged as tight as could be, and Dale kissed Rita’s head and inhaled her scent.
“Roe nan deft,” said the Loghead.
He pointed his stick fingers.
It would be Rita who made the crossing.
“Can I watch at least?” said Dale.
He felt surprisingly calm.
The creature didn’t speak, but Dale knew the answer was no.
“Eighty percent angel, ten percent demon,” he said to Rita.
“The rest is hard to explain,” Rita finished. She was back to her old self — grey hair, sagging and sallow skin.
They embraced one last time. He felt her in his arms. Then Dale turned and walked off. He didn’t look back.
“Whoever brought me here is gonna have to take me home,” he heard Rita say.
Dale hadn’t gone long when he awoke to flashing lights.