"Gallery of Memories," by Meredy Amyx




Gallery of Memories

     A token gift for the baby shower was all Chloe could manage. She laid the picture frame on the mahogany dining table. She would wrap the gift, drop it off at the home of Linda's sister, and escape before any guests arrived.  

     "Gallery of Memories," said the label on the glass. Five windows displayed color prints to show customers what glad memories they could enjoy if they purchased this frame.
     Who are these people? thought Chloe—these shining faces that appear in photo frames as surrogate loved ones, placeholders for your own? Where are these idyllic places that seduce your imagination while you contemplate your purchase? She stared at the five images showing through the windows of the mat. A charming young couple baring apple-white smiles. A rosy baby with a sunshine face. A bronzed windsurfer leaning into his sail through an arc of glistening spray. A tree-lined dirt road blazing with autumn colors, beckoning the viewer into the hazy golden distance. A dimpled girl in an antique dress and a broad-brimmed hat adorned with a cascade of ostrich plumes.

     Professional obligations, she had said, begging off. With her demanding schedule of client therapy sessions and workshops, she was frequently busy on weekends. No one knew she was planning to hide out with rented movies and a bottle of wine until it was safely over.

     Chloe ran her fingers over the polished rosewood frame. She truly hoped it would preserve wonderful memories for Randy and Linda. Much as she loved her brother and his wife, she couldn't bear the spectacle of their joy, which magnified her deprivation.
     Her baby brother, about to become a parent.
     Chloe shuddered as the thought surfaced. She had not risked getting close to any man, never mind bearing children of her own. The horror of her childhood was still too near. If Randy had made his peace, it was only because she had shielded him from the worst of it, willingly paying the price for her brother's life of relative normality.
     She had battled her demons through her years of education and professional training in hopes of healing herself even as she counseled her clients. Fiercely proud of all she had achieved, she knew that her pain had given her strength. Her authenticity was her gift to her clients, and it had not come cheap. Chloe's gallery of memories was bitter and fraught with anguish. Growing up in a rundown tenement, subsisting through college and graduate school on a part-time income, living like a pauper through her first decade of clinical practice while repaying her student loans, she had taken delight in little besides her brother.
     On the living room mantel, a palm-sized silver frame gleamed in the sunlight filtering through the leafy oaks that sheltered her broad lawn. Chloe crossed the thick carpet and picked up the picture.
     Four-year-old Randy grinned at the camera, his laughing blue eyes reflecting his natural buoyancy. A mark above his left eyebrow was barely visible. The boy leaned against his seated fourteen-year-old sister, whose left arm draped protectively over his shoulder. Chloe wore a black skirt and her grandmother's white silk blouse. She had haunted gray eyes and long dark hair, and the smile that she had assumed for the photograph revealed more pain than it concealed. Her buttocks were raw that day from a whipping she had suffered the night before.
     If she hadn't intervened, the mark on the boy's face might have been an injury traumatic enough to blind him

     It did not matter what Randy's offense had been; imagined was as good as real. Mother's rages needed no rational cause.

     Chloe set the picture down gently and returned to her wrapping task.

     Her eye was drawn to the girl in the vintage gown and the picture hat. Something about the image seized her, something so compelling in the sparkling brown eyes and the blond curls…ah, yes, now she remembered. Great-grandmother's dress. Dreamily she recalled how her grandmother had let her try it on, how she had grasped the brim of the hat as her grandmother snapped her ancient Kodak.

     Chloe shook her head vehemently. What was she thinking? Somehow for a moment it was almost as though she remembered—

     Remembered Tony on their honeymoon, sporting the waves in Maui while she watched from the beach. The brilliant day, the pulsing surf, the rush of heat that coursed through her body. The warm sand beneath her back at night. Tony!

     Chloe had never known a Tony—had she? Were these her memories? Impossible. Strange—and impossible. Impossible, too, to look away from that radiant double portrait on the day of their betrothal, his hand touching her shoulder tenderly and confidently. The hazel eyes of the young man mesmerized her as they always had.

     And then came Lucy, child of sweet smiles, dearest baby ever born. Chloe stared at the infant's photograph. Did she remember? Did she? Did she?

     A mellow warmth came over her as her gaze settled on the autumn path. The vivid hues of the foliage glowed lustrous orange, deep maroon, dazzling gold. Rays of sunlight streaked across the amber trail where a wrought iron gate stood open. A sharp breeze bent the scarlet maple branches overhanging the road and lifted Chloe's hair. In the distance a wisp of smoke twisted skyward from an unseen hearth. There, Chloe knew with a great swell of longing, there was home.

     Home. Tony. Tony and Lucy. Their modest wood-frame dwelling, large in love and happiness, waiting just beyond the bend in the road. So intense, those memories, that Chloe could almost inhale the fragrant wood smoke borne toward her on the suddenly chill wind. Tears leapt to her eyes. Her fingertips touched the cold surface of the glass, and she recoiled.
     No luminous dreams could draw her away from the self that was hers, built of her own true memories, which made her who she was and no one else. Memories that had cost her dearly and that now, amazed, she clasped to her breast like a treasure.
     Chloe prised off the back panel of the picture frame, removed the glossy sheet of paper imprinted with five full-color images, and slid the panel back into place. The frame and mat stood empty, ready to receive real memories, the happy future of Randy and Linda and of their little one to come.
     As she crumpled the sheet of stock images and tossed it away, Chloe's gaze fell on the road glowing with autumn color. A faint aroma of wood smoke drifted across the horizon of her mind.


Copyright © 2007 Meredy Amyx.
"Gallery of Memories" was completed on September 22, 2007. This 1099-word story was written as an entry to the fall 2007 WritersWeekly 24-Hour Short Story Contest, in which entrants are given 24 hours to respond to a prompt within a set word limit (in this case, 1100). It appears here exactly as submitted.