A Fried Memory
by Samuel K. Wilkes
Price remembered her hands diving into the flour and clutching the fish like an Osprey’s talons into the sea. She hummed unknown rhythms as he sat silent. He watched her every movement, learning and absorbing. He focused on her dark, cracked hands covered in the white powder, and the oil popping as she dunked each filet. His stomach growled. Her body creaked. He remembered her smell and the smell of the fish as it sizzled; the two aromas summoning the same warmth.
Then a piercing ring.
Price muted the phone. His screensaver continued scrolling through old photographs that his father digitized years ago. He hadn’t touched his keyboard in the past hour, not since the first image of Lily shuffled upon the screen. A photograph of just the two of them when he was ten. A photograph he had never seen, lost in the mass of his father’s albums. His last real memory of her. Her job title was simply “nanny,” though Price knew she was much more. A warm, comforting nucleus since as long as he could remember.
Then he grew up. No longer needed her. No longer thought about her. Never visited when she broke her hip and moved into a nursing home. Stayed at college getting high the weekend of her funeral. Price turned from the computer and gazed out his office window. He watched the lunch crowd migrate to a burger chain across the street, each distracted head buried in a cell phone.
They’ll never know, he thought to himself.
Nobody in lower Alabama could fry fish like Lily. Everyone thought they could, initially passing off her declarations as typical Southern flare, but eventually kneeling before her alter, admitting their limitations after crunching into her spiced batter.
Price failed to learn her methods before she passed. He failed to see that such a thing should be preserved; naively assuming that things never changed, underestimating the effects of time. Now a thirty-year-old man, he was yet to fry anything on his own. Easier just to order take out. But he yearned for the process again. The deliberate method. The tradition.
Price could smell the mullet as if the fryer was propped outside his cubicle. His mind drifted back to that day at the cabin. The curious heron lurched like an elderly man by the pier, his feathers turned from the bay and the sinking sun. Lily talked to the lanky heron as she lifted each filet from the fryer, though not bothering to shoo him away and the heron not encroaching, as if each respected one another’s domain. Flies zipped through the air. Mosquitoes quietly hovered. The heron and Price sat spellbound like Labradors, eyeing the paper-towel-lined plate, while the intoxicating aroma flooded the back yard.
“Don’t touch it yet, boy,” she said with her eyes, snapping the tongs.
The wind blew through the Spanish moss and they all paused as it passed. In that moment, they could feel the earth rotate.
“Are you hearing this, Price?” his co-worker asked from behind his computer, popping her gum for attention.
“Hearing what?” he said.
“I tried to buzz you. They’re about to recover all our lost data. You need to reboot.”
Price didn’t want to touch his keyboard. He stared back at the screen, hungry for Lily’s picture to appear again, wanting the world to stop spinning.
Samuel K. Wilkes is a writer, attorney and bedroom musician living in Fairhope, Alabama. He has a love-hate relationship with Alabama, but consistently draws inspiration from his home. His short fiction has been published in WhiskeyPaper, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak, On the Premises, Deep South Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Steel Toe Review, Page & Spine and several others.