The God of Forgotten Things
a short story
He took the dying girl's hand in his, as though by sheer
force of will alone he could stave off the inevitable.
He had never imagined dying alone.
For as long as it was within his power he wouldn't let her go.
Holding her hand he tried instead to conjure all of the memories he
had accumulated over his life; all the things he kept alive by remembering.
Locked away inside him were things that had been cherished once, and
now, without him to remember them, would simply cease to be part of
the every day and would fade into the blurred landscape of the Realm
of Forgotten Things forever:
The simple joy of attaching a baseball card to your bicycle with a
clothespin so it hit the spokes as you rode, letting you pretend you
were on a motorcycle. Hoppity Hop and Hoppity Horse, Klick-Klacks and
Sea Monkeys, Lite Brite and Loop-da-loops. Spirographs and Etch-a-Sketches,
Jumping Jacks and Mr. Potato Head. Captain Action, G I Joe, Creepy Crawlers,
and Big Wheels (perfect for making wooden go-karts if you removed the
huge rear wheel). Playing on construction sites on a Sunday in the days
before rabid security dogs, nearly drowning, nearly buried alive, uncountable
near crushing accidents, all in the name of childish fun. Building
forts out of bricks and branches and mud, to sit and read books in or
to play cowboys and Indians. Slinkies and Saturday morning matinees,
pirates and swashbucklers, duelling with make-believe swords. Playing
when it was okay to give a kid a plastic gun that fired fancy Spanish
caps. Rubik's Cubes, Chutes and Ladders, Pong and Lincoln Logs, Whizzers
and the Starland Vocal Band.
And the core beneath it all:
Before childhood had its dreams doled out by graphics and gadgets that
plugged into a console. Long before the Great God Television spawned
its hundreds of channels, and children made their own adventures in
Going out to bust ghosts, to have adventures, to play at being explorers
beyond the fringe of the neighbourhood when the cars were a nuisance
and not filled with potential predators. Tea parties and Ez Bake ovens
which were anything but easy to bake with. He carried all of these things
and more, kept them safe. As the God of Forgotten Things the old man
nurtured the hidden treasures of all of our childhoods, keeping them
safe from our forgetfulness.
He looked at the little girl swallowed in the swaddling clothes of
the too big hospital bed, the drips and sensors monitoring her vital
signs as they hiccoughed towards the flatline.
Her death was inevitable. Her organs were failing and shutting down
one by one.
He continued to read from the book he was holding: Hoke Berglund's
mesmeric The Forgetting Wood. He had chosen the book because
he hoped the story of King Wolf's by-blows sneaking out of the wood
to steal away children might somehow reach her in whatever darkness
her soul had taken refuge; that she might somehow respond to the story.
Nurses came and went throughout the day, sparing him their looks of
pity. They saw an old man and a child; perhaps his granddaughter, dying,
and they shared his heartbreak without understanding the true nature
of what it was they were actually sharing.
After all, candy stripers and staff nurses were not renowned for being
tapped into a hotline to the wisdom of the spheres. An old man was an
old man and a dying girl was a tragedy, and never the twain should be
Gods or followers whose paths have crossed for a final farewell.
He stood up. Across the cramped room was a small mirror.
"What good am I?" the old man badgered his reflection -- the face in
the mirror was far from glorious. The lines ran deep and wide. "A god
of petty trinkets and plastic toys." He was talking for someone else's
benefit; not the dying girl, and certainly not his own. Someone who
could have intervened, if they cared enough to do so. "For all that
the miracle of creation flows through my veins I can't actually do anything
... I remember things best left forgotten and fumble toward understanding
or lack thereof, of the most mundane mysteries. I can't even keep a
little girl alive."
For a fragment of a heartbeat, the stress drew the miracles to the
fore, threatening to unleash all that he remembered on the world, and
the memories showed through the map of his face -- and in the glass
he saw things long since lapsed from the collective memory of everyday
people. The secrets beneath the surface that made him Him.
Kids building ramps to launch their bicycles through the air like Evil
Knievel, the bicycles cobbled together from scraps salvaged from various
junkyards. Super 8 mm cameras and projectors. Forgotten youth filled
with Rin Tin Tin and The Lone Ranger, Hopalong Cassidy, Tom Mix and
Pez dispensers. Playing with telephones made of tin cans and string,
blowing an infernal racket on plastic kazoos and playing practical jokes
with squirting flowers, fake cigarettes and hand buzzers. Sky King,
Have Gun Will Travel, Sugar Foot, Wanted Dead or Alive, Give-A-Show
Projectors and Bazooka Bubble Gum. 10 pence comics, Doc Savage and Tarzan
and Sherlock Holmes. Drive-in movies with homemade hotdogs and cokes
in real glass bottles. Days spent playing with miniature petrol station
play sets, and building cut-outs from the back of cereal boxes. Shooting
marbles, and losing favourite 'steelies' to dead eye shots. Vinegar
withered Conkers and Stink Bombs. Pedal cars and Silly Putty. Green
Slime and Weebles that wobbled but wouldn't fall down. View Master and
Presto Magic papers, Hungry Hippos and Buckeroo Banzai. The things inside
him never ended. He was infinite. He contained multitudes of memories.
Hunting tadpoles in the creek, and searching for bullets and shells
soldiers had discarded during a war equally long since forgotten. Punch
balloons and candyfloss. Battered yellow Tonka Trucks and Hot Wheels
and Matchbox Cars racing on narrow plastic tracks. Stalking the neighbourhood
with a Red Rider BB-gun. Spending all afternoon building plastic model
cars and planes, just to smash them up in the driveway in some horrific
accident. These were all the things that made him Him.
And he couldn't imagine letting go. Letting them go.
It wasn't death that scared him.
It was ceasing to be and all the things that would be lost along with
So he knelt beside her deathbed, waiting. He held her tiny hand in
his and felt the flutter of her pulse.
"I'm not ready yet," he repeated and knew, truthfully, that he wasn't.
Her eyes were glass. She was going. He looked back over his shoulder
toward the door. No one was in the corridor. Breathing deeply, he leaned
in to kiss the girl they all thought was his daughter. Their lips didn't
actually touch. They didn't need to. A mere fraction from contact, he
inhaled, drawing her out of herself and into him, absorbing her. It
was a strange sensation, like drinking, swallowing and not being able
to stop as more and more of the girl's spirit poured down his throat.
And then they were one.
She was in him and the shell was empty.
A dead thing on the bed.
He felt her inside him, a frightened being trapped inside his infinite
walls. Her panic was palpable. He touched the surface of her thoughts,
gently soothing, calming, and felt --
That was the overriding sensation. Cheated. There was no light. No
heavenly host. No lost family members come to bring her into His warmth.
She was alone. She resented the fact that she'd been left to go into
the Kingdom of the Dead alone.
"No," the old man soothed. "No, no. Not yet. You haven't taken that
walk yet. We have a little time. One last glorious huzzah, a few hours
at least, to capture it all, to see, to taste, to explore, to savour,
to devour, to share. A few perfect hours to live an entire life in.
That is my gift to you. Dying like this isn't right ... now, let's see,
what do you love more than anything? That seems like a good place to
He teased the petals of her memories apart, sifting through the darling
buds of life she clung to. She was good. Her memories were perfect;
each one possessed a dizzying clarity, each aspect beautifully rendered
in sound and colour. It was fitting that she should be the last; that
together they should leave.
He kissed the shell gently on the forehead. "I'll bring her back safely,"
He walked toward the row of elevators by the Nurse's Station, and rode
on down to street level. What would a young girl like? He wondered.
The answer was, of course, everything, which meant starting at the very
beginning. He was hungry. It was a basic need but, he realised, her
food had been doled out through straws and drips. It was far from the
delicious sustenance of junk food. He turned left as he hit the street,
passing beneath the giant hoarding advertising super-sized grease in
paper wrappers and thus began his quest for the Big Yellow M. He couldn't
help but chuckle at the irony as he turned off Arthur Street onto Galahad
Drive and was greeted by the sight of the Golden Arches beckoning.
He marched in, walked straight up to the long disinfectant-gleaming
counter and ordered the jumbo deluxe super-sized monster meal and a
minute later staggered back to the plastic seats clutching the massive
paper cup of Coca Cola as though it were the Grail itself. A gallon
sized grail at that.
He unwrapped his prize carefully, peeling back the layers of paper
to get at the meat patties, limp lettuce and sesame seed bun inside.
He took a bite, chewed, and swallowed. He felt her joy as he took mouthful
after gluttonous mouthful. It was a simple delight. A sweet thing. The
simple joy of food. He ate with greed inspired by the truth that this
was his -- and her -- last meal. He stuffed the food into his mouth
until it was difficult to chew and slurped the coke and crunched the
ice and belched and chewed and slurped and belched. He didn't care what
he looked like, what other people thought when they saw his gluttony.
He ate and it was good. They could stare all they wanted. It wasn't
about them; for once it was about him.
He wiped off his lips with the back of his hand and stood up. The lighting
in the 'restaurant' was designed to be uncomfortable -- the franchise
holders didn't want customers loitering after they'd enjoyed their taste
Outside the street was grey, overcast, and in every way a perfect presage
of the miserable February to come.
The wind had teeth.
People shuffled by, women with shopping bags bulging, men with hands
stuffed in pockets and heads down, deliberately not looking up for fear
of making eye contact with passing strangers.
This was the city.
This was what it had come down to.
With infinite possibilities to choose from his feet led him toward
the train station where its steel arches and sheltered pigeons replaced
the golden ones of the restaurant. He bought a ticket to the coast and
was alone in the old carriage when the 10:43 pulled away from the platform
amid the snorting of engines and scattering of birds. He had deliberately
chosen one of the older trains with separate compartments within each
carriage because it was a reminder of a simpler time where travellers
with their battered brown leather luggage would actually talk and share
a journey. Few travellers wanted to do that any more; they craved the
expedience of the shortest time between point A and point B and had
all but forgotten that the point of a journey is not to arrive but the
simple joy of travelling itself.
The landscape metamorphosed from concrete and steel to rolling greens
and browns as the industrial ceded to the rural, and finally, for a
mile or more as the tracks ran along the coast he gazed out at the blues
and greens of the sea and the sky as they wrestled on the horizon, each
trying to impose its splendour on the other. These were the images worth
remembering; wheeling seagulls, storm clouds, roiling breakers, the
rhythm of the tracks, the faint tang of stale cigarettes trapped in
the No Smoking compartment, the hard springs of the worn seats, the
old world charm of the conductor poking his head into the compartment
and saying: "Tickets please."
The train pulled into the station, and given the season and the weather
it came as no surprise that the platform was deserted. His footsteps
echoed. He whistled a snatch of an old war tune as he walked over the
small wooden footbridge that crossed the tracks. The melody was amplified
by the vast emptiness of the station's roof.
"Nearly there," he told the girl.
'There' was a huge white-domed amusement park with slot machines and
waltzers and rollercoasters and ghost trains, shuffle board and tin
pan alleys, merry-go-rounds and carousels. The amusement park was chained
up but that didn't matter. He followed the chain-link fence around to
a sheltered corner that wasn't overlooked by the road or local houses.
The top was tipped off with razor wire so he pulled at the bottom, working
it until it was loose enough for him to wriggle underneath. He didn't
care about getting dirty.
Of course, everything was lifeless, the rides and the slots. Several
of the attractions had been battened down for winter, so the first thing
he did was walk around pulling back the tarpaulins to see what treasures
lay hidden beneath. A few, like the Whirl-e-Gig and the Octopus, were
easy to spot because of their light bulb clad tentacles. The candyfloss
machines and the chestnut roasters were empty, no ingredients nearby.
He walked between the rides, remembering all of the happiness they had
brought people before they closed for the season. That was one good
thing about being responsible for remembering; he got to cherish the
best of the memories, got to relive them over and over, first kisses
in the tunnel of love, the hot flush of summer flings, the heady cocktail
of enthusiasm and energy and undeniability that is youth.
He stopped by the fairground's behemoth: the waltzer, resplendent with
its garishly painted faces of Elvis and the Beatles and The Rolling
Stones, Madonna and Cliff Richard and George Michael, and he started
searching for a switch that would bring it all to life.
He found what he was looking for in the centre booth. The glass door
wasn't locked, and a row of switches promised power for the lights,
the music and finally, the ride itself. He flicked them one at a time,
and suddenly the waltzer sprang to life, the bucket seats revolving
lazily as the monster stirred. He flicked the final switch and Calliope
piped music shrilled into life. Grinning, he triggered the five minute
ride, and navigated his way out across the rippling wooden boards as
they gathered momentum, and sank into the seat behind Sid Vicious and
Johnny Rotten's sneering faces and rode the nauseating waves as the
bucket seat span faster and faster to the pull of gravitational forces.
Next, he lined up the skeet shoot in Tin Pan Alley, popping ball bearings
into battered metal ducklings as they waddled across his sight. He rode
the Octopus and the rollercoaster, then soaked himself on the flume
ride, and dried off in the tunnel of love. Alone in the dark the ghost
train was creepy; all of the creaks and groans of the settling wood,
the unoiled tracks and the real cobwebs across the fake plastic ones
were far more unnerving than the day-glo skulls and the tape-recorded
screams that haunted the tracks his small cart rolled along.
It was a good day.
In one of the metal carts by the concession stand he found the pink
makings of candyfloss. He fed the mix into the candyfloss maker and
watched the twin blades circle and fold the gloop into just the right
consistency of stickiness and sugar. Eating the candyfloss with his
fingers was a sticky treat. It popped and fizzed on his tongue and clogged
in his throat until the sugar dissolved. He ate until he felt sick and
then he went in search of the carousel.
It was beautiful, and as out of place in this Mecca of thrills and
spills as he himself was. It was a remnant of a better time. It was
a glimpse of the craftsmanship and beauty that had been a fundamental
part of the travelling funfair. Unicorns, horses, griffins, lions, tigers,
zebras, even a dragon, each one carved in loving detail, their seats
worn shiny by countless riders. He chose the simplest of the animals,
a plain white horse, to ride, and clung on to its mane as it rose and
fell in mock gallop. Going round, he remembered a few of the things
he would miss most of all, and found that they were all of the simplest
things, a smile from a pretty stranger, first hearing a song that touched
the heart, laughter, and then something occurred to him. Where before
he had always assumed that losing the past would inevitably mean that
the future made no sense, he had forgotten one key component of humanity:
they live neither in the past or future, they live almost exclusively
in the present tense. Things happen to them and they adjust and cope
even as they are happening. Very few look forward, and only the very
old look back. His absence was not likely to be felt, not in the way
he believed he deserved. That the very old could not remember clearly
would surprise no one; they would call it Alzheimer's for want of a
better diagnosis. And he would be left to slip away among all of the
other forgotten things.
If anything, instead of lowering his spirits, the thought gave him
the will to do what he had to: to die. The world would get by without
him. Things would fade from the memory and while they would have no-one
to keep them alive and cherished, that was the way it would have to
be; entropy would have her way.
That was what it was all about, ultimately: entropy. The memories of
the universe would become useless, the energy they offered would degrade
until it became unusable, and eventually every one would succumb to
this kind of soulless uniformity. The uniqueness of God's creation would
be lost. But, he knew, entropy would have her way. To fight against
her was pointless.
No, it was better to savour the day, follow the example of humanity
and live in the present tense.
He touched the girl's thoughts, intending to see if she had enjoyed
her final few hours, but instead came the revelation that the wisdom
was not his own. She was the one who had calmed his soul. She was the
one who had helped him come to terms with his obsolescence. She was
the one who understood better than he did the need to live for today.
He smiled, lesson learned.
"Have you enjoyed yourself?" he asked, knowing the answer. He could
feel her smiling inside. He dismounted and pulled the plug on the carousel.
Attraction by attraction he went around the funfair turning off the
lights and hiding them back beneath their tarpaulins until, eventually,
there was nothing to suggest he had ever been there.
"You know what happens next," he said.
He couldn't find it in himself to feel sad. They had had, together,
the perfect day, and now, together, they would go gently into the endless
All that remained was to return to the hospital and wait for the inevitable.
He took the slow train, enjoying the gentle rocking motion and the
clatter of the wheels on the tracks and the fact that the tiny windows
wouldn't open enough to let the air in and the sunset as the darkness
claimed the day. In everything around him there was something to enjoy.
And enjoy it was exactly what he did. He savoured the uniqueness of
everything around him, and shared his joy with the girl inside: the
simple things like the smell of cinnamon buns baking, the honking horns
of frustrated drivers, the drizzle of rain on his upturned face, even
the most basic act of walking -- just walking. It was so long since
she had done that.
The hospital room was empty. The bed had been made. His copy of The
Forgetting Wood was on the nightstand.
He heard the nurse come up behind him.
"I'm sorry," she said. "She died just after you left. You missed her
by a few minutes."
"No," he said, not understanding. "That's impossible ... She can't
be ... I just ... we didn't ... "
"I'm sorry," the nurse repeated, nothing more substantial to say. "She
went quietly. I am sure it didn't hurt. And now, well, she won't feel
any pain where she is, will she?"
He didn't understand. She wasn't gone. He could feel her. She was inside
him. She was alive.
And then he realised.
She would always be alive.
She would live in his memory, and as long as he remembered her, he
would live inside her. They were inextricably linked.
He was the God of Forgotten Things.
And she was someone he would never forget.
© Steven Savile 2004, 2005.
"The God of Forgotten Things" was previously published
collection Angel Road.
Angel Road was published in November 2004 by Elastic Press;
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