photocollage by DaveA

In Search of Lost TimeS

Hugo frowned at the broken coffee mug, and clicked his tongue. When it fell it had broken up into several large shards and a couple flakers. He picked out the larger pieces then carefully swept the small ones onto a sheet of paper. Then he placed the broken mug into a tupperware container and sighing, set it on the kitchen table.

In the afternoon, Mary Louisa came by for a visit. She was an artist who always carried a camera, and usually tried to get Hugo onto the roof to do portraits using costumes from the theatre company he worked at. When Hugo came up from his studio in the basement, (everyone knew his keys were hidden behind the funny clown painting in the hall and were welcome,) she was photographing the broken mug. She had found some yellow tape and with some chalk had created a crime scene on the floor, complete with ketchup blood, and sinister ‘bloody’ shoe prints leading away.

“Murder most foul,” she cried out, bent over her camera, as he came up and looked over her little scene.

“It was an accident, not a murder.” He said, sliding into a chair. “Yeah, I’m not sure how to fix it. There are so many pieces.”

“Throw it away?” she said slowly, looking up.

“Oh no no, I love that mug. I’ve had that mug since I was a kid, well, actually it was my sister’s mug, and when I left home a million years ago, she let me take it. I think mine was dirty. It’s like a family heirloom.”

“But it’s broken, just get a new one.” Mary said, changing camera angles. “You can get a photo mug with a picture of your family on it.”

“Mmm, yeah, right, well I don’t know. I like to keep things that have a history, provenance, ya know.” Hugo went on, “I, like, store memories in some items. It’s like iconography or rune magic or something…”

“Would keeping just a shard be enough?” She asked.

He grunted, “hmm, if I kept a shard, it would remind me of the day I broke my sister’s coffee mug. Past that I suppose I could then conjure up older memories.” Hugo shrugged. “I think it would be harder, each shard is part of the whole, and carries it’s own contribution to the memories.”

Mary Louisa reloaded her camera, “So you don’t remember the same things without the mug?”

Hugo wobbled his head, “Of course I do, but this way I don’t have to constantly carry around too many old thoughts. It leaves me open to new ideas and thoughts without having to contend with the old ones getting in the way. It’s nothing special, it’s a brain habit. Once you get into it, it’s very easy to do.”

“Oh. Do you throw anything away?” Mary Louisa asked. She was quite different. If the item didn’t give her a jolt of joy or interest, she tossed it. She had once been a pretty bad clutter bug, but now she was definitely a Kondo-minimalist. “I’m the opposite, I get bogged down when I have too much shit around. Are those forks your childhood utensils?”

“Ha! No, the only memories they carry is of shoveling food into my mouth.”

“What else don’t you throw out? How about that beatup straw hat?” She pointed at a hat hanging crown down from the ceiling by fishing line and being used as a repository for the household bills and some loose change.

“That was Marty Stevenson’s hat. He wore it the entire third season of the Mummers Project, when we did the midwest circuit. He’d pull it over his eyes and think up the craziest ideas, some genius ones too. He did Hamlet-Lite wearing that hat.”

“Didn’t he become a banker or something?” she asked.

“Accountant. But for a bank, I think. Fred knows. Marty wrote The Lottery wearing that hat. You remember that play? The characters all read out their lists of what they’d do when they hit lotto.”

Mary Louisa thought for a moment, “Didn’t that get done at LaPapa Fritas? Way back, right? Yeah, I remember that play. Kind of apropos that he became an accountant.”

“Yep, it was one of our first plays in New York.” Said Hugo, smiling with the memory, “Marty had left us by then, he got off the bus in Scranton. But yeah, sometimes I put it on to brainstorm, though mostly I end up thinking about the blind energy of our youth.”

She looked up from her camera, “Okay, so what else won’t you throw out?”

Hugo nodded, looking around with a smile. “That spoon in the sink, yeah, that the beat looking one…”

“Looks like Uri Gellar got a hold of this one.” She said, holding up a re-straightened beat up silver teaspoon.

“That was the spoon that my old friend Anne Unger used to cook her dope when she lived with us in Los Angeles. I hate that damn spoon.”

“Oh. Ugh. You should definitely throw this spoon out.” She held it out to Hugo.

Hugo took the spoon and tapped it on the counter. “I hate this spoon, but she was a good friend, we had some good times, and bad, but I love her memory. This spoon killed her in the end. Well, it wasn’t the spoon, it was the dope.” He paused, then placed the spoon into the sink. “It’s not the spoon’s fault, anyway.” He laughed quietly and Mary kept snapping pictures. Hugo leaned up by the window and lit a cigarette, “I still have my Dad’s phone number on my cellphone. The number belongs to someone else now but occasionally I text him when I miss him.”

“Does anyone ever answer?

“Once in a while.” Hugo said, tilting his head and raising his eyebrows. “I do it so rarely, now, I don’t think they recognize my number. They get a New Year’s text. If it’s even the same people with the number. I have my stepmother’s number still, too, she passed away a few years ago.”

“Wow.” Mary Louisa went to the window and slid the shade down halfway to control the light.

Hugo was gathering up the shards of the mug and placing them into the tupperware. He plunged deep in memories as he touched each piece, thinking of his sister, his family, times they were all together, of driving to their vacation house in the mountains, his bedroom pillow out of place and alien in the car, but comforting. He remembered family friends, some with kids their age, some without, visiting for a few days or a week, campfires, songs, burning his mouth on toasted marshmallows. He remembered fishing with doughballs made with a drop of vanilla to tempt the perch, his dad’s recipe, the consistency of the dough being vital to stay on the hook in the water. He remembered waking late at night while sleeping on the back porch that faced the river, the water singing past quietly, always there, the stars different than the ones he had fallen asleep to, the noise of the day no longer echoing in his mind. He remembered his sister screaming with delight and competition during the family board game marathons, himself feeling pride when somehow he won against three adults in Scrabble. All these memories stored in his sister’s coffee mug. He bit his lip.

“Have you ever heard of the Japanese idea of Kintsugi?” Mary Louisa broke into his reverie.

“Mmm, isn’t that the dry soy powder Jennie sprinkles on her mochi?” he asked, smiling.

“No, it translates to ‘golden joinery’,” she replied, “when the Japanese break something of value, like a pot or dish, they repair it using lacquer glue with silver or gold mixed into it. It creates a seam that is quite visible, but it becomes precious. They mend stuff of value and make it something more. It’s like the broken bits coming back together are more beautiful then when it was undamaged. When you repair it, you touch all the parts, you see how they go together, how they make the complete thing. And that changes how you look at it forever. There were some amazing old ceramics at the Asia Society that were repaired like this, it adds such a deep beauty to the pieces.”

“Wow, I like that, very cool. ” Hugo said. He laughed, that free feeling coming on him, “I wonder if that can work on hearts?”

Mary Louisa smiled as she snapped another photograph of her friend.