The days grow short and the gray alleys of mid- and early mid-twentieth century nostalgia are fading and breaking into small, brittle pieces. His mind now is like a photograph pulled from the wreckage of forgotten storage.  The corners are gone, and the tape that had repaired it a long time ago has browned and is crackling.

He barely and fully remembers days of clothing that was original, not throwback. Days of art, music, experience and experiment, all wrapped up in browns, burgundys, deep greens, and yellows. The film lies.  He imagines their time smelled of must and neglect.  They were happy, hardened, and as ignorant as any generation before or since. Their sports were rougher, their smiles were earned, and they became his history.

One by one, another piece of the photograph mingles with the dust and gnats at the bottom of a suitcase. Memories caught in time now forgotten, now crumbs. They laughed on the hood of a car on an Indiana back road. They squinted their eyes and smirked in the sun. They stood in the school parking lot with their huge collars and folders. They gathered in his great-great-grandparents home, or at least in their honor. In the corners sat the sages and elderly, “that’s my uncle” or “I don’t remember him.”  In spurts are the sporadic splashes of the younger, newer members of the family, up close, mouth open, eyes wide and smooth.

The scenes are blurry, the trees have silver garland and popcorn. The dresses had belts, the hairdos had wings, the pants had plaid. The glasses were black, the hats were dapper, the televisions were forgotten.

Weak images of strong recollection. Pieces of a single frame.  He prays to see them move, breathe, wink, cough.  His petition granted with a catch: silence.

In their background, they must have the constant rattle and hum of running from spool to spool. It’s all he knows of them, and they have to be hearing it, too. There must be large spots of dust in their world that appear then disappear as quickly. Their mouths move, but they don’t speak. There is background music, but he doesn’t think they hear it. If they do, they continue to smile, smoke, laugh, hug, and blush.  They move so much more quickly than he remembers.

They struggle with the same sins, he believes. Theirs are far more hidden, of necessity. Their tastes are simpler than his own, yet more complex than their parents’. Their word is their bond, and he will never again hear their bond. Their love is deeper from the start. “Till death do us part” meant they were both leaving, together. They, too, are a cycle, and their memories are crumbling just like his. Tin crumbles, too, and gathers, stains, and fills the space between floor and bed.

The screen goes blank. The spool beats the projector in hopeless rage. The vinyl goes white.  The room goes black.  Suddenly he feels he is a picture in his own hand.

The pictures fade. Their images are soon stock. No one remembers them anymore. His wrinkled hand hurts as it grips the faded, little paper. Drops of moisture are no issue by now. He can’t really save them. He knows so much more than they, and so much less.

They are now names that another explorer in a distant generation will discover in a library, and those names will be called branches. And those branches will hopefully make an herbal salve, healing wounded consciences that are unclean because they belong to fingers that didn’t write, hold, call, or wave.

The explorer hurts.

His memories are brittle, too.

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