A Passport to the Old Country

by Cezarija Abartis

For Serena, it was like a radio station drifting in and out over another channel – voices disappeared under the dissonance, and the piano keys turned into hammering. She wanted to hear the song.

Serena rubbed her brow. Her mother came from Yugoslavia, a country that did not exist anymore. The memories should be in the frontal lobe of the cerebrum, the part that evolved most recently. But the memories were evaporating. Outside her window, the bronze oak leaves dropped to the ground; in another week or two, the trees would be bare.

She had used up all her serotonin, she thought, all her adrenaline, during the bout of bronchitis, and now just tiredness was left – not enough energy to pull her out of the sickness. Perhaps she would succumb, perhaps this was the end. Her mother had always told her to be strong and bold.

Where was Calvin? Why wasn’t he here to be sympathetic, at least? She coughed. She clutched her cardigan tight under her throat because she had a chill. She looked out the window, at the crisp leaves on the ground. But he died three years ago. No, no, that was the worst.

The lights turned on next door. There was still daylight, and the Johnsons shone all their lights as if it were a wedding celebration. A penny saved is a penny earned.  At her wedding to Calvin, she walked down the aisle beside her beaming father – he passed away decades ago. Now, out in the hall, her father’s face smiling, and beside him, her sweet mother, and there was Calvin, tall and straight and young, not arthritic and thin-haired as she last saw him. Outside her window, a squirrel hopped in graceful arcs across the leaves as it searched for something, food probably.

What she was trying to remember? Something. She went through her pants pocket and looked at the pieces of paper: a phone number with her name on it, a shopping list with chocolate at the top, a note to buy a birthday present for Calvin – his birthday was Halloween – but no, of course, he was dead.

The spirits were all around her; the memories had leaked out of her brain and into the hall under the lights, the faces of people she loved. Love, love, love was the answer.

“What was the question?” Calvin had wryly asked.

“What are we here for?” she replied. “What can save us?” she replied.

Calvin clapped his hands. “You answer your own question. You should be a teacher.”

She kissed him on the tip of his nose. “I am a teacher.”

He kissed her on the mouth and murmured, “Then you should be a judge – wait, I’m a judge.”

She remembered he was a judge, so maybe she did not have dementia. Her mother smiled and shrugged. “What does it matter what it’s called? We grow old, we grow old, we will never again be bold.”

“Mama, I will be bold.”

“That’s my baby! I’m proud of you.”

The squirrel scurried up the trunk of the oak tree. It had found what it needed.

The music snapped into focus. The voices inside her head and out in the hall sang together. It was a song about Barbara Allen that Calvin used to strum on the guitar. Her mother and father hummed along. Serena conducted with her hands as if it were band practice. How lovely it all sounded.