The Red House
You don’t have to be autistic to have a photographic memory. It’s really common with children up to the age of five, but they grow out of it. With kids, it’s a sensory thing, like a mental muscle memory. I was told I would grow out of it too—but for some reason, I didn’t. I remember everything. It’s like having Netflix in my brain. As a kid I used it mostly like a VCR. I memorised TV shows, whole episodes and re-ran them whenever I wanted.
That’s how I got Emily to like me. We’d sit in the nook in the big fallen tree by the creek and she’d pick episodes of Little House on The Prairie. We were both 16, and I thought the show was pretty lame, but Emily adored it.
Do the one where Mary goes blind.
With or without the credits?
She laughed when I did Michael Landon’s voice in my freshly broken tenor.
And for all these years I’ve had this in my head: the few minutes I spent with Emily in the red house, an old farmhouse that’s part of an artists’ colony in upstate New York. Whenever I feel stressed, or need to escape, I stream this memory and the world around me floats away.
Don’t come in me.
Does it hurt?
No, I’ve done it before.
That’s how it starts. Then she’s crying and there’s the sound of running water… Watching this unfold on the screen of my brain could dull the sharp teeth of loneliness.
At least it used to. A year or so ago I started forgetting things. Little stuff, keys, calling people back—I put it down to my age, my forties. And it’s not like I’ve slowed down with the drink and the drugs.
I forgot about a meeting I had with people about a new production that’s just begun in Toronto. I was on the phone with the director and I got confused.
Wait, what? What crash scene?
Top of page 50?
What are you talking about?
At the meeting, yesterday? You green-lit it?
Anthony? You’re kidding me right?
Jeff? come in here would you? What’s this meeting with Doug about a fucking car crash yesterday? Why wasn’t I there? What the fuck’s going on?
You were there…
Yesterday at Doug’s office in Santa Monica. We were both there, you wrote it in the book.
I was dumbfounded, because when I looked down at the production book open on yesterday’s page, there in my loopy handwriting, it says:
“Doug office S.M. 11-12. w/ Jeff more $?”
And when I try to remember it, all I see is a blank frame at the end of a reel.
I’d forgotten a whole meeting where I signed off on a $50k stunt! I freaked. I had Jeff cancel everything for the rest of the day. I pulled the blinds lay down on the couch and smoked some pot. I played the film of the red house with the projector behind my eyes. But this time my summer of love looked underexposed; washed out. Emily didn’t give a fuck about getting sunburned—her mom bought Aloe Vera from Costco in gallon jugs—In my memory her nose and forehead were always a bright peeling pink. This time, she was gray.
I panicked. I went back to New York and had a doctor do some tests.
It’s unusual to still be Eidetic at your age.
Is that right?
Let’s do a scan.
My MRI looked like the photos from the Mars Lander; early-onset Alzheimer’s—whoop whoop. The irony was fucking beautiful. She told me to lay off the booze and the drugs, see if that helped. I won’t lose my mind overnight, she said.
I quit the drinking and the blow and I went to some 12-step meetings. They taught me how to pray and told me what I should be looking for was God. I laughed in their faces, they took it pretty well; they’d seen my type before. But some of the things they said stuck with me—the spiritual motif—their ’serenity’ was like how I felt when I remembered the red house. So I sat with them in their circles and I learned their prayers and occasionally I would close my eyes and chant with them. But I missed the comfort of annihilation, so I went back to the booze and I tried to write down everything before it disappeared, to give me prompts for the key moments. Sort of like a treatment for a movie.
In the summer of 1987. My parents rented a bungalow an artists’ colony outside Williamstown, New York. All hippy-dippy when it was founded, by the eighties they’d all sold out and either worked in advertising or taught graphic design at Parson’s or NYU.
I was the only kid there except for Emily, also 16, virtually feral. She was a tangled up terror of a girl, with wild blonde hair and freckles. She literally ran away from me when I initially said hello. At the Forth of July potluck when the residents gathered for fireworks and potato salad, my dad gave me sparklers. Her eyes lit up when she saw my magnesium wand dancing in the dusk. I handed one to her and that was it, best friends.
For the next few weeks we crashed through the backwoods of the colony unsupervised. Dirty from the creek, scratched from brambles. Our ankles and feet were scabbed from our mothers’ evening ritual of plucking deer ticks from our flesh.
When Emily tired of Little House, we’d sit cross-legged in the tree and she’d practice hypnotising me. She’d stare at me until my peripheral vision would narrow into a tunnel and tingling sensations slowly flooded my crotch and my prick stiffened inside my trunks. She’d then flick at it with a finger. Hard.
Dirty bastard, one of these days I’m going to strangle that snake of yours.
I would climb down, flushed with shame, and stand in shade of the fallen Beech tree up to my ankles in the water. She’d watched me from above as I jerked off.
One morning just after dawn, we sat in the nook and instead of flicking my hard cock, Emily pulled it out of the leg of my trunks and rolled it between her cold hands until it jumped like a frog. It dry heaved once and sperm spewed out all over her bare thighs. A thin strand of come connected my softening prick to her dangling fingers like a vine as she rotated her hand in the sunlight. It looked like dew on a cobweb.
On the lazy August afternoons when the adults were out of sight, getting high or fucking—or whatever they did during those long dog days—we took to dry humping on the faded Persian rug in the abandoned art studio in the attic in the red house—the big farmhouse that existed long before the hippies arrived was used as community space and storage.
In the shaft of light from the high window, of specks of dust circled us like the faithful ascending to heaven while I lay on top of her and rubbed my sharp erection along the soft gutter of her damp shorts.
The day she gave herself a black eye running into a low branch, I watched silently as her mom wiped her face and tears.
Jeez, Emmy what did he do to you?
It wasn’t him Mommy, I ran into a tree, that’s all.
Ran into a tree?
Her mother glared at me.
You didn’t break the skin, but it’s going to be a shiner.
She lifted Emmy’s chin and took a Polaroid to show her stepfather.
He’s coming up from the city this weekend, aren’t we lucky?
The camera flashed again.
That’s if the SOB can take his dick out his students for five minutes.
Her mother stared at me as she flapped the photo the way you’re not supposed to, but I didn’t say anything. I watched Emily’s face appear. She stared out through her rapidly darkening socket. With her chin still raised in the pose and her mouth turned downward, she looked scared.
We wandered down the duck trail to the creek. I trailed behind like a stray dog. Emily’s tangled blonde hair in braids with green rubber bands, bounced like rats’ tails on her freckled neck.
Does it hurt?
Is it your dad?
He’s not my dad.
I gave up and returned to my family’s bungalow on the other side of the colony.
After lunch I went to the red house. I found Emily in the pool of dusty light below the window. She sat cross-legged in her panties on the rug squinting at me through her swollen goose egg. Her small round breasts rose neatly from white triangles beneath her tanned throat. She stood up and took off her underwear, her body wrapped in gold.
Don’t come in me.
I kicked off my Chucks and pulled down my swimming trunks. My prick sprang up comically. She didn’t laugh. She sat down again, opened her legs and brought them up to her waist and beckoned me to her. I clambered down between her knees. She spat on her hand and gently guided me inside her. I fell into her arms. She started to cry.
Does it hurt?
No, I’ve done it before.
I moved in and out. It didn’t take long. When I was ready I pulled out and she expertly jerked my shiny tip and I burst all over her tummy. Blobs of come dripped off her body onto the floor and stuck to the frayed carpet.
I collapsed on her, overwhelmed. I felt her rib cage rise and fall, my chin drooped over her shoulder and my lips touched the dusty floorboards at the edge of the rug. I could see down through the cracks to the laundry room below, the washing machine turned its load over and over, splish-splash, splish-splash. Emily pressed her sticky palms firmly on my back holding me in place to stop me from floating away. Stuck together, she kissed my face repeatedly as tears dripped onto the sun-baked rug. I felt completely at peace. I kissed the dome of her purple eye. She got up, ran to the big sink and drank from the twisted faucet for a long time, guzzling the cold shining stream.
Will you get pregnant?
No, you didn’t come in me.
Are you sure?
My Dad said it’s OK.
Which of course, is a fucked up thing for a father to tell his daughter. Though at the time I didn’t think about it.
I was in New York for more tests. I ducked out of the cold February rain over the dirty black snow banks into the Strand Book Store on Broadway. The lonely moon of Emily’s face—older, leaner but still so very beautiful—appeared between twin towers of discount books. My memory clicked and whirred like an old VHS tape being sucked into its cradle. She looked up over round glasses, saw me, and laughed. I must have looked so funny standing there with my mouth open. We embraced. She was chatty and playful, as if we hadn’t just spent 20 years without any contact. I was stunned.
Let’s buy the same books! Let’s go and find two copies of a book and form a book club. Right here! This one!
She handed me a paperback.
I turned it over in my hands I hadn’t read ‘The End of the Affair’. I’d read Brighton Rock, that one was miserable, the film not much better. Still, a Penguin on sale, and a special anniversary edition for $10, bargain.
Out on the street she took out her copy and pressed the book against my chest.
We should write something in them and not say what we wrote, look at it later when we’ve finished reading. Give me yours!
We exchanged books I scribbled in the opening page, closed it and handed it back; my heart was pounding.
“To Emily at the beginning, love Anthony x.”
I waited for her to write her an inscription of her own. Fine lines around clear gray eyes barely betrayed the passed time. She wrote in the back and made me pinky-swear not to look. Then we went that fake roadhouse place on Union Square and ate mac ’n’ cheese that sucked.
It’s like roller-rink cheese.
You mean like at the Roll-A-Rama in Williamstown?
Oh man, the Roll-a-Rama!
You think it’s still there?
It’s a gas station, now. When my mom died…
I’m sorry, when?
Thanks, last June…when mom died, she left me the bungalow, I still go up for the summers—it hasn’t changed.
The red house?
Yep. Still there.
She smiled. She talked about her shitty job and her boss, I made wisecracks and told her about LA and the movie business and she laughed and laughed.
It’s good to see you Anthony.
We stared at each other until my vision blurred, and she smiled that big goofy teenager grin, like she’d just remembered something fun we could do by the creek.
I want to hypnotise you.
Fuck. I sat in shock. Emily laughed so hard, she snorted.
Come on. Let’s go.
To the red house, silly.
I dropped two twenties on the Formica. Fuck, fuck, fuck. Was this happening? I wanted to tell her about the Alzheimer’s and how I was losing the memories of us in the red house, how I relied on them so much and how bumping into her like this was so fortuitous. Maybe she could help me remember! But it sounded silly. It sounded creepy, talking about two teenagers with come all over them. And I didn’t want to freak her out. I didn’t want to scare her off, because the way she was looking at me, there was a very good chance she was going to let me fuck her.
We listened to the radio in her car, holding hands. Emily sang along to the songs that played on the radio that when we were kids, Culture Club, Flock of Seagulls. It was dark and snowing by the time we got to the colony. Deer crossed the trail as we rolled over the hard packed snow. Frozen in our high beams, their eyes reflected back like blank discs.
We were barely up the stairs before Emily was on her knees pulling at my jeans. Without even taking off her long down coat she took out my cock and sucked it. She devoured it. I had to drag her off me to get my pants off. We crashed through the old boxes of board games and clothes to find our old spot on the carpet under the high window. She hit the floor face first. I fell on top of her. An empty blue spotlight of moonlight illuminated us squirming in a bright rectangle on the floor.
I got my hands under her long wool skirt and pulled it up, yanked her panties to one side and plunged my fingers in. Emily moaned, lifting her ass to me. I had to hold her down to get her coat off. I couldn’t get her arms out of the sleeves so I pulled down her underwear, and I shoved my cock deep into her cunt.
She stopped moving. I searched for her in the lining of her big North Face. Pulling the fur hood out of the way I found the back of her neck. I bit her ear and got a mouthful of hair. She started rocking me back and forth. Muffled by her coat she began to moan.
I want you to come inside me.
So I did and when I rolled off her and pulled her free from her clothes, she was crying.
No, no! Don’t worry! It’s good, I always cry a little when I come.
She cupped my cheek in the palm of her hand and smiled. Her eyes shone with tears and moonlight. I held her in my arms until I got hard again and we fucked, slowly this time. I looked into her eyes when she came and watched the tears well up. She looked like the girl in the Polaroid.
After that hot summer afternoon we fucked in the red house, I had avoided her. If she were at the creek, I rode my bike to town. If I saw her near the red house I went to the creek. I never got close enough to see the light in her eyes, but I knew I was hurting her
That Labor Day I stood shamefaced with my BMX between my knees at the end of the track as her dad packed up the station wagon to go back to the city. Emily drifted in and out of the bungalow with her summer things packed in boxes and bags. Every time she came out, she met my gaze and every time she went back into the bungalow, she turned and looked at me over her shoulder. I followed the car to the edge of the colony and as they pulled out I pedaled out on the forbidden main road. I tried to keep up as they coasted through the stop signs at the edge of Williamstown. When Emily’s dad gunned the Chevy towards the highway, she rolled down the window and her hair blew up in her face. I reached out to touch her, but I wasn’t fast enough. Strands of hair whipped my hand. She rolled up the window from an unheard adult command and I waved her away. She flattened her hands against the glass. She didn’t hate me and I was happy, in the way that selfish teenage boys are so easily satisfied. Later that night I biked into town and I got drunk in the 7-11 parking lot. And in bed I dreamed the film of the red house from start to finish for the first time. It was pristine and clear and amazing. I woke the next day with puke in my hair. My Mom’s temper was beating in my head and I had a sickening feeling that I’d left something out, somewhere.
There was no heat at the red house during the winter. Emily found candles and lit a fire in the stove with old newspaper. We dragged blankets out of a box and drank hot green tea from a dented enamel mug. We rubbed our legs together like crickets to get warm under the old quilts on the now rotten Persian rug. I fell asleep looking into her eyes. In the middle of the night, I found her completely naked standing on a chair at the window, shivering. She floated in the dim, blue light, her buttocks trembling in the cold.
Come look! The moon’s turned red!
She jumped down pulled me from the warmth of our nest. We balanced precariously on the chair, my arms around her waist, cupping her breasts, and looked out at the moon. Sure enough, through the raised arms of bare trees, the moon hung in the sky like a frozen drop of blood—a full lunar eclipse.
When we got back to the city, she dropped me off at the subway and I was alone again.
On my ride home, I looked in the book and read her scribble in my copy of the paperback. I found it on the last page: “To Anthony it’s the end XO!’
Perhaps Emily didn’t remember the red house as I did. After all she spent every summer upstate. I was there for just one. Another holiday romance, perhaps. I didn’t tell her about the Alzheimer’s, or ask for help with my fading memories. Was her recollection complete?
At the open car door by the subway, with the book under my arm, I touched her face.
I’ll call you?
She smiled. But of course I didn’t.
A week later I walked past the roller-rink cheese place at Union Square. I was a little confused about East and West and stood for a second in the damp afternoon. I looked down into the warm, fake Americana, trying to figure out where I was. Emily sat texting at a booth. She looked up and waved.
I turned as a man pushed up against me as he wrangled a toddler out of a stroller. A slightly older child raced down the steps in front of me. Muted by the glass, the kids exploded silently into the restaurant. They surrounded Emily with excited chatter. They piled a barricade of coats, hats and scarves up against the window and sat beside her. The man slid in beside her with a kiss. Fearing I’d be seen, I stepped back into the shadows of the snowy street.
The red house is sucked into the mush of my brain like old furniture in a sinkhole. My photographic memory is gone.The part about chasing Emily’s car on my bike? I wrote that one afternoon after a dream. I think it’s real. It seems right. Sometimes I get lucky and I see a whole scene again. But I’m not sure if they are memories or dreams.
Sometimes when I’m really high and dozing on the couch, a close up of Emmy’s face vibrates in a triangle of window light like a hologram. The blood moon floats above me like a swollen eye. As the light changes from blue to gold and back again, I can’t tell if it’s day or night, summer or winter.