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July 4, 2018

27. Memory Cave

An old man stumbles into a cave. His bathrobe is open and the belt swings loosely at his sides. Old blue slippers cover his soles on the uneven ground. Boxers keep his decency but this space is entirely private and his own. No one can possibly enter—besides him, of course.

The mouth of the cave decreases into a tunnel. The ceiling is high but the walls are close, a narrow passageway. The ground is coarse, getting coarser. Pebbles grow to rocks and boulders the deeper into the cave he goes. Light—whatever it’s source—dims in the depths, shadows become long and spindle. Echoes wind and duplicate at his stuttered steps and heavy breathing. Was there a sound of water dripping? Or a rock shifting? The echoes blended his footsteps with whatever ambience filled the depth.

Achingly, he bends himself lower to inspect a key neatly placed on a rock. He turns it over and around a few times, tosses it back behind more rocks and nonsense. He steps over a old pair of boots, leaving them behind forever—who did they belong to? There is a clutch of blue wires just out of reach over his head. Are they zip tied to the cave wall?

There, in the narrow passage was a book. Neatly placed on a rock with care, as if exposing itself and calling to be held and read. It was unmarked, with no title on the spine or cover. It was leather bound and heavy. Inside, the words were nondescript and cryptic, nothing truly made sense; letters joined and disconnected in no order. The man could make nothing of it. No matter, the way a child sits at an open book: unable to read but listening to the book speak and understanding the contents based on the medium and the layout and the intention behind the design of the book, so the man sat with his book.

After some immeasurable time of wandering the pages he closed the book and left it exactly as he’d found it. A musty smell—something like clove and spices—pulls him deeper, toward something familiar… Further down the path a necklace catches his eye. Even in the dimness it shimmers. A locket along the chain is already open, showing a portrait. Her smile is subtle and beautiful, her eyes look just away from the camera. Recognition grips him but recall fails him. He has seen her face so many times, spanning so many years. But her name is lost further down the cave. This isn’t truly his necklace anyway so he leaves it and presses forward.

Slack in the zip ties sags a portion of the wiring. Off-balance, perched on a large rock, he reaches an unsure hand up to the blue wires. Their purpose: what is it? His blue slippers betray him. He slips quietly and knocks his head. The noise, it’s echo, and the moment are brief and painful. He lies in pain in the rubble and grit on the cave floor. A heavy sigh and ache cover him in darkness. His breath is visible somehow, a white cloud of exhalation. He lies in respit for a moment. There on the ground, his eyes fix on a scrap of paper. It is within reach of his fall, serendipitous.

Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards. Søren Kierkegaard

He fights his sore body to stand up and gain footing in his weak slippers. He shoves the note in his robe pocket. With a renewed strength and determination he trudges onward, moving on, down, deeper, further into the grotto of his memory.