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As an old man, he thought of the things he had dreamed of so often in his youth that they felt like memories.

As an old man, he thought of the things he had so often dreamed of in his youth that, if he could push back the passers-by and distant sounds of traffic, they seemed like memories.

As an old man, he would go to the park and, if he could push back the passers-by and the sounds of traffic from his senses, thought of distant memories that felt as if they were from another life.

After watering the chrysanthemums, the old woman sat on her porch thinking of the things she’d only dreamed of doing in youth. After a while, they felt like memories she had lived and forgotten.

How drinking tea now that she’s old can re-mind her of drinking coffee when she was young.

As she grew on in years, she thought less of her dead husband and more of the boy she wished she had married until one day she remembered living her life with the boy of her girlhood and her husband became a memory she soon forgot.

He was so excited about his promotion that he picked up his phone to call his father. The dial tone told him that his father had died when he was thirteen.

Thirteen years later, I called him to ask about our argument over the first trumpet solo on Ascension. I could no longer remember who thought Freddie Hubbard played the whole album and who knew Dewey Johnson played that solo before he suffered a mental breakdown and disappeared in New York City in the eighties.

It used to bother her when he recalled his vacation in Vienna with his former wife as if it were her he had taken the trip with. Eventually she grew tired of correcting him, and now when he does it she remembers her time in Vienna fondly.

He bit into his apple, forgetting it was a pear.

When he remembered his first time seeing the city’s skyline, he always neglected to erase from his mind’s eye the glass skyscraper that hadn’t been erected yet.

It’s possible to turn down Fisk St. and think it’s 41st.

When he got home from work, he was upset with her for eating the last plum. It wasn’t until the next morning that he saw the plum on the table and realized he never bothered to look for it anywhere beyond his own mind.

Though she was mad at him for forgetting to pick up her dry cleaning, she had to forgive him when she realized that he had.

Even though she was upset because he would still go the party while she was sick, she would have to forgive him when he’d say he’d stay in with her.

He only wrote the letter because she had forgotten her pen on his desk.

VARIATION 16 It was the neighbors who pointed out that the lost dog had returned to his old house.

VARIATION 17 Without the rhododendron in the front yard it’s hard to know it’s spring.

Without a rhododendron it’s hard to tell it’s spring.

When they broke up, she gave him back his t-shirt, which actually belonged to her last boyfriend. He’d accepted it as his own.

20 He’d never forgotten her birthday, which was in February, until they moved down south.

21 It rained on her wedding day, while it was a sunny day for her husband’s.

I almost called and asked him if he would like to go out tomorrow night before I realized we hadn’t dated for 13 years.

She had never dated a Fred by the time Fred was dead.

He told her all about that day in May, the clouds and the fair, and that walk they never went on. 

He had listened to Chopin’s third piano sonata so many times that when he was told that it was Liszt’s Sonata in B minor he could no longer recognize it.

The smell of chocolate chip cookies in the oven reminded her of the grandmother she never met.

The prisoner never forgot he was innocent of the crimes he was convicted of, but by the day of his execution he had reflected on their nature so much that he asked for forgiveness from the preacher.

Only a few years after most presidents are in office, polls show that more citizens remember voting for the winner than actually did on election day.

I had spent the afternoon preparing for our dinner of miso-glazed salmon and sun-dried tomato risotto, one of his favorite dishes. When he arrived I served wine and put on Mingus’ solo piano album to remind him of those times when we first met and I still lived along Hatfield. It wasn’t until after the meal, when he asked who we’d been listening to, that I realized he was not my boyfriend of thirteen years ago, and he preferred sole to salmon.

VARIATION 30  A tetanus booster is recommended every ten years, because the immune system forgets the blueprint for the antibodies it made against the toxin. It no longer recognizes the invaders it had sworn to protect you against.

MEMORY FUGUE Could have followed her to Dayton. Should have followed her to Dayton. Followed her to Dayton. He did. Night of the Tenth, a cold day in December. Drove her to the station. Said good-bye, held out his arm to wave good-bye. Thought of run-ning. Thought of jumping. Jumping on the train. Could have gone with her to Dayton. If only for a time. Helped her with her mother. Helped her mother die. If not the solitude of steely winter. If not his nine to five, then another job in Dayton and a spring with Madeleine. If that walk back to the car and the clicking of his heels to shake off the snow from his soles had not been and had been a train ride instead. The drive home and the nightly news on the radio. The walkway could have been forgotten, the door could have not been opened. The dishes, the books, the drawers full of clothes could have been boxes. Boxed in boxes. Boxes, yes, remember the night. She packed away your hat and mittens and you took them out when you could have left them in instead. Remember how that night in the house? Should have packed the boxes side by side. The books were never separated, side by side instead. The snow melted in Dayton and then there was that letter. The letter she sent about her mother and the garden before the summer. Remember the roses my mother grows along the fence? They’re blooming and I am thinking of you. They bloomed and there were memories of them and memories of her too. The roses bloomed and when the wind blew strong it’d rustled the mint and they could smell it in the air. Took that train. The snow melted and her mother tended her roses in the last spring of her life. The smell of mint wafted in the air. She was reading a book. The wind was also in her hair. There was no spring in Pittsburgh. No snow melt and slush. Slush and the leaky roof. No rhododendron in front of the house. The rhododendron was there, but in memory only from before. In her mother’s garden could have thought of the rhododendron left back home. Could have transferred. Should have found new work. Come home and there she’d be. Reading in the garden. Or her mother would be there. Until she died. Pruning her roses and she’d be in the kitchen cooking. There was that time... If there weren’t those meals he’d cooked alone and not the French doors to my study... there’d be that time... had come home and called for her, and it wasn’t the empty apartment, but her voice from outside in spring. Drove home from work and walked up the stairs to the apartment, opened the door and called for her. Her voice came in from the garden. Came in with the smell of mint. Joined her in the garden. Sitting as the sun set. The sun set and we sat.

Desperate Literature is an international bookshop in the heart of Madrid. Founded in 2014—and selling books in English, French and Spanish—the bookshop aims to build a literary community around and through these literatures. Every year, the shop runs a Short Fiction Prize, celebrating new voices and experimental treatment of the form; the 2019 edition was judged by Claire-Louise Bennett, Sam Riviere and Eley Williams, and Jake Spears’ work, ‘30 VARIATIONS,’ was shortlisted alongside works by Tom Benn, Shola von Reinhold, Teo Rivera-Dundas, Frances Gapper, Jay G Ying, Joshua Riedel, Shane Tivenan, Rose Chen and Conor White-Andrews. The prize was awarded to Francesca Reece for her story ‘SO LONG SARAJEVO / THEY MISS YOU SO BADLY’ and all shortlisted works were published in the volume ELEVEN STORIES: The Desparate Literature Short Fiction Prize Shortlist Selection, 2019 (Madrid: Desparate Literature, 2019), available for purchase direct from the publisher here

Jake SPEARS is a writer from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He currently lives in Corsica where he teaches English at the Université de Corse.


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Partner to a press called Tenement, Hotel is a publications series for new approaches to fiction, non fiction & poetry & features work from established & emerging talent. Hotel provides the space for experimental reflection on literature’s status as art & cultural mediator. 

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