I will always remember the month war nearly broke out in Arizona. I can record a video to show you if you like—a video of my memories that is. Nemy was with me the entire time. There’s no denying that she’s why I wound up at the center of it all.
I refer to Nemy as “she” because I named her after Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory—and because we’ve developed a personal relationship over the years. Nemy knows more about me than I know about myself. At least she can show you things about me that I’m not even aware of—not consciously.
I prefer sharing with you the story of that fateful May the way I remember it without relying on a device to read my mind. There are some things I learned about myself I’d rather not share at all, but that was part of my problem. The whole time my world was falling apart, I thought I was in control. Until I admitted that I wasn’t, I had been just wandering aimlessly through the maze of my life.
My name is Devi Patel—one more thing about myself I had to learn to accept.
My canvas backpack looked out of place on the polished mahogany dining table. Even more out of place—the device inside can read minds.
That said, I should have known what Bren was thinking.
“David, for a brilliant neuroscientist, you don’t have much common sense. Honey, that’s the first piece of furniture we didn’t get at a thrift store. Would you please put that thing on your desk?”
“Brilliant, huh?” I flashed a boyish grin. “Sorry, I stopped listening after that.”
I knew this was the right time to give my beloved wife a playful kiss on the cheek and also the time to remove the tattered backpack from our new table.
“That ‘thing’ has a name, you know,” I said as I returned from the first-floor bedroom I use as a makeshift office.
“I'm sorry, sweetheart. I appreciate how much you love…what’s that adorable name you gave her? Fettuccini?”
I cleared my throat. “You know very well it’s Mnemosyne. Since she's part of the family now, you have my permission to call her Nemy.”
Brenda flashed a half-smile that I recognized as her signal to stop trying to be cute. “I don’t want to come between you two, but with as much time as you spend together, I think she’s more like my nemeSISter. I can be just a little jealous, can’t I?” Bren pursed her lips and batted her straight black eyelashes.
Brenda nearly glowed when she pouted—one of the many reasons I fell in love with her back in grad school.
“Remember, she’s the one who got us here. Your brilliant husband—research lead at the tender age of twenty-seven. At Fulton University no less.” I feigned a dignified pose.
Fulton is a small but prestigious research institution near Chicago and a world leader in cognitive science investigation. The Department of Neurology secured a grant for my continued research using Nemy to transform human memories into video imagery.
“Thank God for that. I was afraid you’d have to accept that adjunct position at Nebraska and I’d become a Cornhusker.”
“Just a Cornhusker’s wife,” I replied, “but you'll always be a Wildcat to me.”
I pulled Bren close and tried my best at a sexy growl. The reference to her hometown team was laying it on a bit thick, but the threat of living in Nebraska deserved serious redemption. At least moving from the Arizona desert to Chicago was better than winding up on the prairie.
Bren could see right through my strategy—she always did—but she purred contentedly to play along.
“I don’t know how you'll manage on your own while I'm in Amsterdam, Devi.” She cooed my Hindu name motheringly as she considered me at arm’s length. “I'll be away two whole weeks. No one will be here to find you matching socks.”
“Excuse me,” I replied with as much pomposity as I could muster, “but I answer to David now that I’m a highly respected Western scientist.”
I paused to admire the tight smile that had formed on my wife’s lustrous crimson lips. The way her short, dark hair framed her porcelain-smooth cheeks, the image of a Victorian doll flashed through my mind. The thought might have been what prompted me to affect an English accent.
“I do thank you for your consideration, Mrs. Patel, but I have already prepared for that contingency.” Considering my Indian heritage, the irony of my mimicking British aristocracy was not lost on either of us. To recover, I pulled out the shopping bag I had dropped on the floor of the coat closet the night before and proudly displayed the half-dozen pairs of dress socks I bought at Target.
Bren replied mocking my feigned presumptuousness. “And I answer to Mrs. Donovan-Patel now that you’ve made an honest woman of me.” She raised an eyebrow and added, “Don’t forget who’s the overlord in this Empire, my dear.” Her pale skin blushed a light crimson at her pretense of cultural superiority.
Brenda returned to our small kitchen to retrieve the bagel she had been toasting. I glanced down at the morning paper she left lying open on the countertop and cringed. “Another article about Archie?” I commented. She just nodded and continued to butter her bagel. “It’s been over a month. You’d think this would be old news by now.”
“People don’t get tired of stories about rich men who murder their mistresses,” she said sardonically. “Especially when he’s the son-in-law of a conservative governor.”
“Well, I wish they would since he’s also your brother-in-law.”
“Archibald Trumble is your brother-in-law too,” she reminded me. “When you married me, you married into all the drama that comes with the Donovan family,” she added with a laugh.
“My life would be pretty boring otherwise don’t you think?”
Brenda grinned, but we both knew it was true. The academic world shuns the faintest appearance of drama.
“I really don’t know what I’d do without you even for a day,” I said as I folded my arms around her slender shoulders and pulled her close. “I love you, you know.”
“We do make a rather good couple wouldn’t you say?”
Her kiss was proof enough.
Bren’s face took on a more serious countenance. “You understand, I wouldn’t leave if I didn’t have to, but this is a real chance for me to make a difference. I might be at the conference as just the EPA recording secretary, but it’s a step—a first step at least.” She looked earnestly at me. “Not a lot of people in this field get to take any steps these days, except maybe to the unemployment line.”
“Yes, and I know how passionate you are about saving the environment. You may go with my blessing.” I bowed gallantly and kissed her hand before breaking into a playful grin. “But knowing you, you'll wind up being more than just a secretary. God help them all.”
Bren laughed, but she knew I was right. She was never one to take a back seat to anyone. Anyone except me, that is, that night two years ago during spring break. The pregnancy was a surprise, but we were elated even if the timing was off. We had been planning to wait until we graduated and had accepted the prestigious positions we dreamed of before announcing our engagement—and telling her father.
I was happy to forego the formal wedding, and Brenda really didn’t mind either. We were very much in love and just wanted to be with each other. Her father, on the other hand, felt cheated out of hosting the social event of his career. Even worse, now he had a macaca for a son-in-law—not a vote-getting platform for Arizona politics.
Brenda retreated to our bedroom to retrieve her purse, and I grabbed some papers from my office and stuffed them in the backpack with Nemy.
“Hon, have you seen my wallet?” I called upstairs. That was a typical part of our morning routine. You’d think living in a small townhome would make it easier to find stuff, but it was quite the opposite, at least for me.
Before I could return to the kitchen, Bren was standing at the foot of the stairs again, holding the leather billfold in her outstretched hand.
“Did I say brilliant? I meant absent-minded. Here you go, professor.”
I half smiled and slipped the wallet into the tweed jacket I’d just pulled on.
“And I must say,” she added, “you look quite academic with those patched elbows and that goatee you're trying to grow. All you need to complete the stereotype is a pipe.”
“Hmm.” I stroked the black stubble accumulating on my chin. “That’s a good idea. I should pick one up at 7-Eleven on my way home.”
Bren grabbed my arm and squealed, “Don’t you dare! You'll be sleeping in the garage if you do. It was hard enough getting you to quit smoking. I'm sorry I even suggested the pipe thing.” She paused and grinned. “Besides, if you stop at 7-Eleven, you might wind up taking a job there.” Bren cocked her head derisively.
“My mother warned me I married a racist,” I teased. I gave my wife a peck on the cheek and slung the backpack over my shoulder.
“Here I thought I was just perceptive,” she said after she pulled me close and kissed me on my lips. “But you could pick up some tuna steaks from the fish market. I'll be home early, and it’s supposed to be nice out. We can grill on the patio.”
The long Chicago winter had given way to spring. The forsythia was in bloom, and it framed our tiny patio garden in gold. Bren enjoyed sitting under the budding red oaks that canopied the gentrified neighborhood of turn-of-the-century brownstone houses. She was happy to have escaped the gravel lawns and cactuses that define Arizona landscaping.
“All right. And no pipe. I promise.” I snatched the car keys from a dish on the kitchen counter and turned before opening the back door. We both mouthed the words I love you and blew air kisses as I left—a tradition we started back in college.