Illustration by Sydney Collins Wilder

In July of 2007, Noë came to the sudden and unprecedented realization that she no longer remembered the scent of her grandmother. Her memory’s dilution occurred erratically, disappearing before her eyes. She couldn’t pinpoint the exact moment when the past began to blur, when the seemingly eternal pillars which were the foundations of her arbitrary memories began to crumble.

Was it in the balmy dew of the spring? In the midst of the effervescent present, as the world around her appeared to blossom with life, did she cast death away? Did the pulsating breadth of her todays and tomorrows eclipse her yesterdays? Noë’s grandmother had died more than four years ago. Yes, they had been close, but her time to mourn had come and gone. So why did something as arbitrary as a scent trouble her so?

Walking to work in the sweltering July heat of Greenwich Village the next morning, she furiously tried to recall the scent. It was something like cardamom, but more syrupy. Like molasses. But no, not quite as saccharine. There was a briskness to the scent, almost as if the cool Rhode Island air which had enveloped her grandmother for her 81 years of life had embedded itself into her weathered hands and suntanned laugh lines. And yet, the more she tried to put it into words, the more unsure Noë became of herself in the first place.

Kicking herself but recognizing her exercise’s futility, Noë went about her day. She wrote emails, she edited articles, she sipped on her coffee. The present was as comfortably familiar and vibrant as it had always been. It was around lunchtime, however, when the buzzing of the newsroom began to quiet, and the smell of printer ink and cologne began to fade, that the thought crossed Noë’s mind again, and leaning back in her chair, she closed her eyes to think.

What could she remember about her grandmother? Some little things, surely. How she wore woolly vermillion house slippers in the garden as she tended to her tomato and potato plants. How her laugh had a melodious lilt to it- Noë could still hear the sound echoing in her skull like windchimes. How she brushed and braided Noë’s hair in the brumal twilight of November, sitting in the plush green armchair by the coffee table, incense burning and music playing. Why did these things stand the test of time, and yet others didn’t? Was the scent lavender? Lemongrass? Gardenia?

As Noë opened her eyes, the present flooded back like the tide, and yet mind was still caught up in the past. How long would she remember this newsroom, if she were to never see it again? Surely her recollection of it wouldn’t remain as clear and absolute as its reality was. It would be shifted, weathered down by the winds of time and emotion and impression. The images and emotions she associated with the moment and place would never be as pure and untouched as they were in the present. They would soon become distorted, changed from rays of pure, unadulterated sunlight into prismatic rainbows piercing through the windowpanes of her remembrance. And it wasn’t only in the case of her grandmother or the newsroom, either. Noë’s memory was like a house in the countryside, surrounded by sunshine, and with floor to ceiling stained glass windows. It was a house which Noë was locked outside of, always an outsider looking in through the windowpanes.

The tinted light pouring through the windowpanes into the house spared nothing. No memory remained exactly as it has been. Everything was coated by the rays of forgetfulness and time and personal reflection. She couldn’t quite remember what the soft bit of skin behind her first lover’s ear felt like, which she had been fond of so long ago. And yet, the memory itself- the abstract concept of that time in her life- was bathed in the gooey, mauve blush of intimacy and innocence.

Likewise, her childhood. She couldn’t recall the pain of scraping her knee on the pavement at age 5. Or the self-conscious discomfort of puberty at age 12. Or the names she and her older brother would call each other when they entered a sporadic squabble about whose turn it was to wash the dishes. The stub of a toe, the warmth of a hug, the sound of a voice- these things were out of focus. Distorted by the kaleidoscopic capacities of the windowpanes, they brilliantly shattered into dozens of memories, becoming ever-more tinted by time and self-reflection. Love’s windowpane coated memories with a dazzling emerald light which can only be compared to the way sunlight appears to shine brilliantly through the leaves of a forest’s canopy. Trauma’s windowpanes were dark and murky- like beer bottle glass.

Sometimes, the memories were so far back in the shadows of the countryside home that light didn’t hit them at all, and they faded to the point of incorrectness, or even disappearance. However, when this did happen, the memories were seldom important. Her grandmother’s scent was an anomaly.

While details of memories were often lost, as was natural- the human memory is a remarkably transient and malleable thing, after all- what the windowpanes offered was the ability to blur the lines between the past and the present. Everything was connected. All was in flux. Every emotion in the present brought back memories tied to the same windowpane, the same emotion. Nothing was stationary, and once in a while, a marvelous thing happened: someone, and only God knows who, would pull open a previously closed curtain. And with the opening of a curtain, light would shine on a previously forgotten memory. A kind gesture forgotten, the soulful eyes of an old friend; it was a beautiful surprise, and one which would always come when Noë wasn’t looking for it, and never came when she was.

Noë smiled to herself, feeling more content than before with forgetting her grandmother’s scent. The remembrance of these arbitrary memories fluctuated like the weather. What she didn’t remember that day, she might have in the next week, the next month, or even the next year. The only thing she has to do is have patience for light to fall on the right windowpane.

Settling back into her desk and again becoming one with her external environment, she was finally able to concentrate on the present. She began to meticulously go through her To-Do List: “Respond to Levin, finish second draft, buy birthday gift fo-”

The curtains! Ah, it was Sandalwood!