Mary Byrne

Reminiscence Bump

Three Figures with Jester Mask by Oscar Bernal

“Old Man? This is God calling,” she would say when she phoned. Old Man called her Lunatica, after Carlos Gardel’s champion racehorse whose name was actually Lunatico. She was a Libra, too. “Old Man” was kind of based on a Neil Young song. Or maybe it had something to do with Nietzsche. Old Man was a mature student.

They met often to talk about what they called their mud pies. They shared what they’d been writing.

An artist they knew took orders for books he would feck from bookshops for a small consideration that kept him in joints in darkened rooms where he didn’t paint any more.

Old Man brought food home from the hotel where he worked in the evenings. They bent over delights like roast turkey, their backs hunched against the cold. Another friend worked at the same hotel bar fulltime after a day’s studying, then puttered off in the rain on his Honda 50. Later he would open up a chain of late-night shops for people like themselves.

They all got teaching practice in the same technical school. It was a large place with hundreds of teachers in a working-class ghetto north of the city. When there was too much noise in the classroom, the headmaster would burst in and say, “Oh sorry, I thought there was no teacher here.” In Autumn the same harassed headmaster would come to the door and call out, “All the boys for the free books!” and the poor would file out, chins on their chests. Pupils took Old Man’s motorbike apart and laid it all out neatly on the ground like a mechanics lesson.

Old Man left teaching, not because of the motorbike, he said, but because a colleague beat rowdy boys from troubled or difficult homes where they had chores to do before they took the bus to school. School was amusement for them Old Man said, a place where a wiry active boy could relax and let off steam. What decided Old Man was how boys paled even at the threat of sending them to the colleague who beat them.

Inspectors came to evaluate the trainee teachers. Lunatica’s teaching observation was carried out by a scientist who queried her way of teaching a short story. She too left teaching in disgust.

Eventually they all drifted away. They traveled the world separately in the years that followed, each in a personal bubble, experiencing things they hoped they’d have time to dwell on later.

The reminiscence bump of late adolescence and early adulthood is a period we remember more than any other in our lives. This may be because it is a time of rapid change, of an increase in our cognitive ability and a growing sense of identity – or simply because it is a period when we make our most important encounters and decisions.

Years later Lunatica returned to the city. Old Man had long since gone. She’d been browsing a city center bookshop for some time before she noticed the artist, now thin and ageing, on his knees on the floor nearby, sweeping with one arm the bottom shelf of books into a large bag he held open with his other arm.


About the writer:
Mary Byrne was born in Ireland, but now lives in France. Her short fiction has been published, broadcast, anthologized or is forthcoming in Europe, North America, Australia, and New Zealand. Byrne has been recognized by awards from Kore Press, Fiction International, and Hennessy. She is currently working on short fiction collections set in Morocco and Ireland. Her debut collection (set in France) is forthcoming in 2019. Byrne loves philosophy, art, and anything baroque.

Image: Three Figures with Jester Mask by Oscar Bernal (1945-2016). Oil on canvas. No size specified. By 2016. Public domain.