Memory’s Contact Tracing by Katie Harper Garrett

“This piece pulls apart three moments of intense emotion. Contact tracing transforms into a series of notes-to-self: see that? Here you are, still. Memory reminds you of where freedom was once longed for and where, for even a moment, you took it back.”

27 April ‘20

12:30-14:00

Tesco Express

Please record details of your activities.

You went shopping today. Left the house for the first time because the fridge was empty but you forgot to book delivery. Wrapped your hands in latex because you were nervous. Wore a mask from your best friend’s mother, ears-bending heavy and mailed between countries. You hadn’t been uptown in months. Since, y’know. You know.

You were here last for Absolut on Valentine’s Day. You used your age card for the first time. You sat woozy at your best friend’s kitchen table, poured measures with closed eyes and slept on a bean bag a car wide. You felt normal when that wasn’t a surprise. Mid-spring dark and the rain was misty, playing its tricks. The news was the news. Just teleprompters, paper and ink.

Remember how you nearly skipped Pre Debs? How you said you’d wait for the real thing? Remember when there was always another day for dancing?

Little things had changed in Tesco. There was still the long main aisle, open-plan homeware, the self-service pen. But the dressing rooms were dim and yellow tape stretched everywhere. Purchases were deliberated from a distance, fingers teasing the air. Impatient feet queued by the main doors. Staff yelled about precautions, visors down and looking terrified. You held Dad’s hand to hold him back. You knew all his stupid jokes: the funny faces and cleared throats, the fake exasperation. Forcing fear into hiding. Every gesture to humiliate pain.

You had landed on another planet, everyone a stranger and everything strange. You couldn’t take a basket. You watched the terrazzo flooring to avoid familiar faces. Would you remember conversation? Would their hair be red, cropped, gone? What was the protocol? At the till the checkout divider was greased with fingerprint histories. No cash. All plexiglass. You promised not to hurt anybody. You were waiting for summer: snake under the heel, spotlight at midnight. They said it might hand itself in by then.

You forgot to bring bags. You held the essentials in your cold hands. Dad said this is your world now and no one in line laughed.

7 September ‘20

20:00-23:00

Pub on Main Street

Please record details of your activities.

It was Results Day today. You met people. You wanted to dream in bleach. Today, it was worse than it’s been.

The Pre Debs club was shuttered so you had pizza and vodka and tonic in town. Nothing was right. Remember the Paris holiday plans? Remember exams, summer jobs, summer money, some excitement? Six years of hard work and you couldn’t control how it happened. Graduation delayed again, then college on a laptop. Everyone in the smoking garden. You hadn’t seen them since spring, since every light turned ultraviolet, since insatiable grief.

Remember crying in choir the day it all started? Students hid under desks and teachers missed classes. You swore this would make you a killer. You didn’t touch door handles. You called home and said: it’s getting bad. You kept close to the walls. You looked for imposters. Dad said not to face people head-on. You got two weeks’ worth of homework on precaution, papers flung down the hall. The bathroom taps never stopped. Every pharmacy in town was stripped of stock. Mocks and midterm breaks seemed miles away. Remember?

Tonight you held your glass and wondered if the old path was overgrown. You thought about how you only got these moments once. Everyone wanted hugs. You used to hang off of shoulders but now you’re scared of street dogs, traffic light buttons, delivery men. Those hands, not fit for touching anything. Those gritty wrists, dry skin flaking. You used to wonder why Mom’s were so rough until you learned about every little world ending, how people wash away the setting sun.

There were too many stools for too few tables, too many people chatting in the dark. You heard plans: year out, PLC, Bristol, Galway, too broke for anything, too unsure, too terrified, laughing into spirits to hide it. A friend held your waist and you felt like giddy death. People mentioned London and you said it fell through. Others asked about points with crossed fingers. Everyone was looking for chipped paint, back-door repair jobs, signs on bodies of everything lost.

Someone was sick in the bathroom. You scrubbed your hands until they blushed. We both know you enjoyed this once, standing here during Twelve Pubs, once giggling in someone’s lap, once the girl heaving. Karaoke and freshly eighteen, everything beginning—which seems funny to you now, since you can’t eat in public and barely leave the house. You spent tonight tracing footsteps and keeping hold of all the names. Everyone was a suspect. You were never safe.

Then you were lying in your own bathroom doorway. You stared at the shower. You wondered how to strip contaminated skin. You Googled CLEANING WITH BLEACH. You asked yourself questions like: when can it all be memory? When can I say it was killing me? When can I return to a present I truly want to be in?

20 August ‘21

9:15-12:00

North Beach

Please record details of your activities.

You spent two months here in the summer, watching the sun scorch the water. But today was for fumigating with an achy right arm. You swallowed salty air like carnival smoke and, slow as Sunday waking, everything changed.

Remember your first time on the Underground? You figured Victoria Street Station out. You steeled yourself and knew everyone was going somewhere else. You had people to see that none of them would ever meet. The best kind of speck, a blue-jeaned mystery, free to see out the end of the line. You called your parents about all the dropped letters in place names. You were away.

And today you saw dogs with drooping tongues, red-faced joggers, brushing hands and someone sprinting through the sand with a shirt torn off. Last night you dreamt of dancing with a girl in a honeycomb two-piece and today the wind was catching your midriff. All you ever needed: the space to stretch your arms out.

This was proving existence. The middle finger to the blank camera roll. You hadn’t gone under, and there was no more time to waste on quiet waiting.

When a cat strolled past, it stopped near your ankle. It stole a glance and had a sniff. It fled when some kids flew past on bright blue bicycles, standing off the saddles and hollering. The cat scowled at them from down the path. You felt like laughing.

Forget the rest. Remember this.

Katie Harper Garrett (she/her) is a student of English with Creative Writing at University College Dublin. Her work appears in Caveat Lector and superfroot. Her work can be found here:

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