The Woman Without a Memory
by Genevieve Hudson
I met a woman without a memory once. She had a face like Kentucky and a laugh like gin. She would dip her golden finger in my water. She would tell me: drink. And I would drink and she would forget.
This woman had a talent for twerking. She would twerk to Drake’s One Dance and occasionally people would fall in love with the way she spun her body like it was for them when it wasn’t. She ate pizza rolls and vegan pasta and walked two hours up a hill to a hospital in the forest so she could ride the air tram down.
One day, she took me with her to the air tram. We hiked through a thick wood where the moss grew on the north side of the trees. I didn’t know you could use moss as a compass until she told me. She put her face to the fur and breathed.
Even without a memory, she knew how to get home.
In the air tram, we flew above the rooftops like witches. This is what she wanted to show me: a river full of poison fish and rusted machines and other people’s urine. The Cascade mountains with their teeth and curve. They bent into a horizon and bit the blue vein of sky. Under us, river apartments jagged across the bank with sun roofs cleaved open. I wondered about the people on the balcony whose windows always faced the rain.
The woman without a memory made up stories about people who washed their hair with vodka and lived in rooms with bedbugs and came out to sleep on cool slabs of river rock and shiver.
For someone with no memory, she knew how to tell a good story.
A few days after the air tram, I visited a store for witches. The shelves were filled with smooth jade stones, jags of white rock, a crystal hued in purple that thrummed when I ran my hand above it. There were shelves of spells that you could cast on yourself and other people. The witch who worked there kept two teeth pressed to the outside of her bottom lip. She placed her palms on the heft of her belly, said: hold here. She showed me how to grip myself. She told me everyone has a pendulum inside them. She demonstrated how to feel the slight sway of a body and how to ask it yes and how to hear its no.
It was the fourth of July. I hated that holiday. The city smattered the sky with color. Reds smeared across the black until the air steamed. Loud noises and the animals were afraid. We were on a roof. The view was supposed to stun but I was staring at the woman without a memory. I took videos of her singing Shayna Twain and Reba McEntire. She screamed Independence Day at the top of her lungs and the city didn’t listen.
I texted her the video a few days later and she said thanks Dan, as if that were my name, as if my name were a secret between us—a memory maybe.
The woman came with me to get a tattoo. I put an eye on the back of my arm so I could see what was coming.
After the tattoo, I dropped the woman off in my red truck and she said: please don’t try to kiss me.
It was almost like she remembered.
When she left town, I placed my hands on my pendulum and I listened.
Yes or No.
I really couldn’t tell.
The woman without a memory burned a line across the continent. She was going east. She would drink from the Mississippi. She would park under a tree in Utah. She would take a picture of each rest stop and forget to send them to me.
Where would she end up? I asked her this but she couldn’t remember.
The more the woman forgot, the more I didn’t.
Memory was all I had. I lived in a house of memory. I slipped drapes of memory through my window rods. I laid floor boards of memory one plank at a time. I scrubbed dust from my book shelves so they shone with memory. I built staircases of memory that led to bedrooms of memory. I made a balcony of memory where I could sunbathe in memory.
I imagined the woman driving into the desert and bracing her face against the sharp sun. I imagined her bleached by all that bright white heat.
I was in Moab once so I pictured this woman there, too. A strange place. I saw a long road kicked up with dust. There were wooden structures brimming with turquoise jewelry and copper spoons. The restaurants served eggs and acai bowls and the men were mean-faced with sand under their nails. They liked to growl at the birds and bark at the cats to scare them. The air was so dry in Utah, my lips chapped when I stepped outside. The desert scraped me clean for the first time. It singed the sin away. Nothing could rot there. Nothing could decay.
I walked through a field of Needles. The spindles of stone all looked the same. The hot wind pulled thoughts from my ears.
I imagined the woman stepping through whipped dunes of red sand. It might feel like home. It might feel like no pressure, really.
I bought a crystal from the witch’s store to give to the woman. I bought a box of spells. The crystal was ice-white and when I held it to my forehead, I felt it in my jaw. I wanted the crystal to remind her of something. I wanted it to stretch her aura pink at its edges. I wanted its true, tender color to show.
I went to a basement where a psychic rubbed sage beneath my feet and the smoke’s tendrils curled up my calves. The psychic asked me to call in my ancestors, my spirit guides, the ghost of someone gone. She put out the sage like a cigarette. She drew a card from her deck and said: uh oh honey, and I almost knew what she meant.
Genevieve Hudson earned her MFA from Portland State University. Her writing has been supported by the Tin House Summer Workshop, the Fulbright Program, and artist residencies at the Dickinson House and Caldera Arts. Her book A Little in Love With Everyone, a work of literary criticism and memoir, is forthcoming with Fiction Advocate in 2017 and Pretend We Live Here, a collection of essays and fiction, is forthcoming with Future Tense Books in summer 2018. Follow her on Twitter @genhudson.