Writing inspired by a Sunday Writers’ Club prompt.
By Connie Phlipot
The cardboard cover was bent at the edges, the red coloring faded to pink in the center. Angela didn’t buy expensive leather bound notebooks for her journals in those days. She scooped up a handful from the college bookstore sales bin at the end of the term. She had only one requirement — that they were lined. She couldn’t journal across blank pages. She needed some structure to guide her wandering thoughts. This one was from her late 20s. One of the last notebooks she had bought at school. She had just begun a new job, in fact, starting on a new career. How exciting it had been! Concepts to learn, the bureaucracy to navigate, the jargon and people from different backgrounds, with non-midwestern personalities. Her heart speeded up with the memory of exhilaration and trepidation.
Her journaling had suffered though from the busyness and newness of her work. Too bad, she would love to read what she had been experiencing in those times. Now the faces of her new colleagues were grayed out, like fading photos of the pre-digital era. Nothing written from December of the year she started the job until the following November. Then pages of tight, frenetic writing. As if she was trying to capture as much as possible in limited time.
“We met in the coffee house book store — I was waiting for Anne.”
Yes, Anne, they had been close friends for awhile. Both fans of East European cinema. And it was true, Anne was always late. But Angela came to their appointments on time, afraid that the one time she would be late, Anne would be early.
“I was flipping through an “Economist”; he asked me where the “Foreign Affairs” were sold. I don’t know how I replied but soon we were sitting in the cafe talking about the Iranian Revolution. Did Anne ever show up?”
Angela put the journal down to make a cup of coffee. Who had she been writing about? She wanted to have a Turkish coffee, but didn’t want to take time from the journal. Filter would be better, she could continue to read while it dripped.
The next entry was a few days later. Apparently, they had gone out to dinner and returned to her apartment. Where had she lived then? A small place, probably, just outside the city center. a comfortable walk from work. But she couldn’t picture the rooms. Angela couldn’t tell from the journal entry if they had slept together. She never wrote down intimate details in her journal. She had remained the child afraid that her mother would read her diary.
The coffee got cold. Angela read pages of a deep, though not passionate relationship. This guy that she had identified as S like in an old-fashioned novel, was seemingly smart, but hesitant, unsure of his abilities, nervous about getting involved with a women that had a potentially powerful career.
She wrote that she was getting ready to travel home for the holidays. “Should I ask S. to visit?” she had written, but no clue whether she had asked him. That was the last entry for months. No mention of S when the journal resumed in April. She was once again preparing for a trip — this time to the southwest for an energy conference.
Angela read ahead in the journal, looking for a reappearance of S. Nothing. Nor anything else surprising or unremembered. Trips she had taken and remembered, friends she had made and then lost. The lover who became her husband.
How could she have entirely wiped from her memory a person that she had been that close to — even if for only a month or two? How could she remember what she ate for dinner in Paris on June 5, 1995 and not the name of someone she had shared thoughts and personal space with?
Angela looked through her box of saved letters. The pre-email source of information, a research source that wouldn’t be available to future seekers of lost memories. She had kept most of her letters, but not organized them chronologically, or in any other way. She combed through half — her bed was covered in letters and postcards and holiday greetings. Too tired to go on, she threw the correspondence she had looked through into a paper bag and the rest back into the box. She went to bed. Maybe her subconscious would work to discover S’s identity while she slept.
She woke as mystified as the day before. She re-read the journal entries. She had mentioned Anne several times during the S relationship. Maybe she would remember who he was, but what was her last name? She found Anne’s last name on an address return and searched on Facebook. Too bad, they hadn’t stayed in touch. How many friends were strewn through her history. Facebook helped to recover those lost connections only if you remembered their names.
Was this her Anne? Living in New Mexico? No, she was too young. This one? Maybe. Right age. Some resemblance to her 28 year-old friend in the ironic smile and the wayward hair, now highlighted to cover the grey.
Angela sent a friend request and a message. “Wondering if you are the friend I knew 30 years ago in Pittsburgh. We saw “Closely Watched Trains” and “Angi Vera” together.”
The iPad pinged. “Yes, I remember you Angela. Let’s get in touch.” She added a Whatsapp number.
Angela waited a week to call. Did she really want to know who S was and why she had vanished him to a dark corner of her memory?
“Anne? This is Angela, formerly of Pittsburg.” They caught up on the highlights of the past 30 years. They clicked as they had as young people — similar interests, reactions to people and events — to politics. They laughed at the same absurdities of everyday life.
“Anne, do you, um, remember if I was dating someone in late 1989? Whose name started with an S?”
“S? I remember Andrew from your office.”
Andrew, yes. Angela remembered him. They were still Facebook friends.
“But S? Ah, there was someone you met at a coffee shop. I don’t remember his name. Sandy or Scot of Steve? You didn’t talk about him much. Then he disappeared. From your life at least.”
Okay. It seemed as if he hadn’t been so important. And since she still didn’t know his name, she couldn’t pursue the inquiry further.
Anne and Angela agreed to meet in Pittsburgh soon. See some films again. Restore some piece of a nearly lost time.
Sunday Writers' Club Member
Connie is a retired U.S. diplomat, who has recently completed a novel based on her grandparents emigration from what is now Belarus. She is now working on a novel or linked short stories focused on her fascination with Central and Eastern Europe.