A man walks down the sidewalk. He has forgotten something important, from many years ago. It has been so many years, in fact, that he cannot even remember that something has been forgotten.
Exactly fourteen things have to happen before he can remember what he has forgotten, and thirteen have already happened. The fourteen things are as follows, and in this order: He had to make the big move he had been dreading (one). He had to make a promise twice (two, three), and break a promise once (four). He had to get married (five). He had to get divorced (six). He had to apologize sincerely and without a trace of selfishness (seven). He had to adopt a dog (eight).
These were the broader contours of his life, but there were other things too, singularities that added weight and texture and were of equal, if not greater significance. He had to fly to Pittsburgh on business, and wave down a taxi outside of the airport, so that a curly-haired woman in the intervening space would mistakenly receive the gesture and wave back (nine), and he had to be so charmed by this that he would ask her out for a drink (ten), and over drinks, he had to meet her gaze with a tenderness that would inspire something fizzy and bright in her, and compel her to ask him out for coffee the next week (eleven). He had to learn to make a proper poulet à la moambé, simmering chicken, hot chili, garlic, tomato, salt, pepper, okra, and palm butter over a well-loved stove, so that her parents would beam and clap appreciatively (twelve), even though he had slightly overcooked the chicken. He had to park his 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee along the edge of a small beach, and lie beside her on the sand looking up at the stars while Ricky Skaggs’s Don’t Cheat In Our Hometown warbled over the stereo (thirteen).
These things had to happen before he could remember what he has forgotten. And now, the fourteenth quickly approaches.
He walks down the sidewalk. She walks with him, curls bouncing, and the dog walks with them too. He watches a bird flit from tree to tree. It’s May, and the leaves ripple with applause and look like water. He thinks of the ocean, and the beach, and the dawn breaking in pink streaks over the water. He thinks about their morning walk, and how the dog had lapped at the edges of the foamy sea, leaping back when the water rolled in and snapping her jaws at the ghost crabs that bubbled in small holes along the shore. He thinks about dogs, and how they have a funny way of always seeming a part of something greater, about how all things conspire to play with them. He thinks about people, and how they are like that in their youth, and then they learn better, and things do not orbit around them the same way anymore. And then, all at once, he sees the life he has lived laid out before him in his mind’s eye, like many dashes of color coalescing into a larger shape. And something in him lights up like a firecracker, and his eyes grow wide and bright, and he doubles over laughing and stays that way, doubled over, clutching his chest and heaving with laughter for several minutes, happy tears streaming down his face.
“What?” she asks several times, with some alarm. “What is it?”
The dog barks and wags her tail, hesitantly.
Finally, he stands upright again, wiping the tears from his eyes and feeling that a great weight has been lifted.
“What is it?” she asks again.
He smiles, opens his mouth to speak, and stops. He furrows his brow. He opens his mouth again.
“I… I can’t remember,” he says. “I’m sure it wasn’t important.”
She searches his face for a moment, bemused. “I’m sure it’ll come to you later.”
P.S. I’ve been listening to a John Darnielle audiobook. Is it obvious?