Fading Memories

Madison Montgomery leaned her head against the cold glass of the window of her father's classic Mercedes. The same window that she broke three years ago when a stray tennis ball flew from the court in her backyard and plummeted into the glass. Though the glass had been replaced, the memory of the translucent shards scattering themselves everywhere remained. Madison hated tennis; she hated everything her mother loved.

The sound of the tired wheels on the highway pavement hummed in her mind. The smell of the ageless Italian leather luggage infiltrated her nasal cavities, sending her mind running from one memory to the next. The first being the run away tennis ball, the second being her first trip to Europe.

Madison had just turned eleven. Her youth tennis team had won the championship, due to her killer backhand. Not a soul could score on it, not a soul. Her parents celebrated by taking a trip to England, where they purchased the pricey luggage that now sat tightly packed in the back seat. England is one of the many countries they used to tour before she was born. As soon as Madison was brought into the world, the trips stopped, abruptly. It seemed her parents didn't wish to fill their poor little rich girl's head with any foreign thoughts. Alas, the time came when she finally convinced them that one little trip to England wouldn't hurt. It was the only happy memory she held on to. The smell of the overseas air, the sights of gothic architecture and retro-chic clothing, the sound of amusing accents, and the feel of a land far from her sheltered reality all left her wanting more.

Now, at age seventeen, Madison yearned for the taste of that foreign land again. She adjusted her nose ring and rested her delicate hands in her lap. She studied the floor carpets, holding fading memories of her past. Her eyes were immediately drawn to the stain, sitting quietly next to her right boot, from when she was nine. Her short legs barely touched the floor, causing them to sway when the car did. She was asked to hold her father's very important briefcase in her lap as he drove her to the hell he liked to call Cartwright Private Elementary. Madison's young heart pounded noisily through her chest as they approached the large brick building. That's when she saw it, the petite tabby her clueless father was about to hit with his overpriced tires. She called out, he slammed onto the breaks and the next thing she knew, her nose had an unpleasant meeting with the dashboard. Blood oozed from the wound, splashing onto the carpet below.

Floating back to the present as Madison stared at the bloodstain, she wondered if the tabby ever made it. Massive trees and dead grass zipped past her window as they continued down the deserted highway. The smell of isolated fields and lazy cows filled her nostrils. She prayed her new life wouldn't smell like that. The expected thought of her mother entered her mind. She was waiting for it come, though she wished it hadn't. Watching her casket lower into the depths of the earth brought the strange combination of remorse and relief.

The rain poured down outside Madison's upscale Manhattan apartment. She watched the droplets bounce off the sea of black umbrellas, desperately attempting to salvage the three hundred dollar shoes that stomped along the pavement. When the phone rang that night, she didn't think twice about ignoring it. Little did she know it was the phone call she least expected. The knock on her closed bedroom door from her father's shaking hand was unsteady and light. Madison opened the door and looked up at her father's reddening eyes. The words formed on his lips slowly. She fell into his arms and cried softly. Her mother was in a fatal car crash, taking her life, leaving Madison and her father alone.

She kept herself from crying for quite some time. The thought of loosing her mother scared her more than saddened her. She knew how much her father needed her mother, and now with her gone, she wasn't sure how he'd survive. Madison continued going through the motions for the last three weeks of her junior year of high school. She knew her life would be changing, but she didn't expect it to be so dramatic. Two days after school let out her father packed up his Mercedes with whatever of their pricey possessions would fit, and started driving.

It had been a week since they left their luxurious life in Manhattan and Madison was convinced they had been driving in circles. She glanced over at her disarrayed father. His salt and pepper hair was lined with sweat as he loosened his tie nervously. His normally well shaven face was now sprouting tuffs of coarse stubble. She had never studied her father's appearance so closely before. Everyday he wore the same thing, a dark suit, usually navy blue or charcoal gray, a freshly pressed white button-up shirt, with a perfectly selected silk tie. However, ever since they started driving, Madison noticed he lost the matching sport coat, and now wore the shirt with the cuffs unbuttoned and rolled up to his elbows. His eyes, once vibrant and cheerful, were now tired and old looking. It seemed he had aged ten years in seven days.

"Where are we going?" Madison found herself asking. It was the first time in a while she had said anything.

Her father glanced over at her. "I'm not sure."

"This is ridiculous. We can't live out of suitcases for the rest of our lives."

"And we're not going to. I just…need some time to figure out what's going on."

"You're having a mental breakdown is what's going on." Madison had taken three years of psychology at St. Lovett's Private Academy, and was very familiar with analyzing her parent's behavior.

"I'm not one of your psychology subjects," he responded. "I just need to figure out how we're going to survive."

"Well, if you didn't quite your job, pack up the car with our possessions and slap a 'For Sale' sign on our apartment, I'd say we'd survive just like we used to."

Her father shot her a quick, dirty look. He and his daughter usually got along, but since resent events, there has been a little tension between them. Not getting the answer she was looking for, Madison continued to stare absentmindedly out the window. She attempted to pass the time by creating a list of pros and cons of getting out of the city, but when her con list had tripled the pro list, she found it to be increasingly boring. Her gaze shifted from one road sign to the next, trying to determine if in fact they were driving in circles.

"What state are we in?" Madison thought out loud.

"Illinois or Indiana, somewhere around there."

"Why'd we have to leave?"

"I don't know."

Silence. Madison began to worry that her father didn't need to just blow off some steam, that he actually thought it best if they left everything behind them. She wondered if she'd ever see her friends again. She wondered if she'd have to suffer through a whole year of public education. Though she never wanted to admit it, when it came to education Madison was your basic snob. She expected highly trained, and paid, professionals to guide her through her schooling.

"You know what I've always wanted to do?" her father asked, after a painful, silent ten minutes.

"What?" Though Madison wasn't fully interested, she had always been taught to be polite.

"Own a diner."

Her jaw dropped slightly as she looked at her father. "A diner?" she asked in disbelief.

"A fifties-styled diner. There'd be a juke box, and red leather booths, and bar stools with a chrome finish. I'd sell greasy burgers and oily French fries, with every flavor milkshake you could imagine."

Madison stared at her father as he relayed every detail of his dream diner. She pictured him wearing a greasy apron and one of those dorky paper hats, with a little red bowtie, just like in the movies. He'd call it "Arnie's", after his father, Arnold Montgomery. Images of teenaged greasers in leather jackets and faded blue jeans, and prep-school poster girls in poodle skirts and sweater sets, sipping on milkshakes ran around in her head. Madison couldn't believe her father was being serious. Back in Manhattan, he was the proud owner of the New York Times. Her mother was an astute neurosurgeon. Together, they made quite a load of money. Now her father was talking about moving to a small town and owning, and working in, a diner. Why would he want to throw away everything that he worked so hard for?

"When your mother died, it made me realize life's too short to do what you don't enjoy."

"You didn't enjoy owning the number one best selling newspaper of all time?"

"I didn't enjoy the long hours, stressful nights, and not being able to see you play." He was referring to the countless occasions where he had missed Madison's tennis matches due to some crisis or another at the office. "I didn't enjoy missing out on most of your childhood."

"You didn't miss much. You drove me to school everyday, you made it to my games when you could, you weren't a bad father at all."

"But it felt like I was."

Madison was tempted to tell her father how much more she loved him than her mother. Ever since she could remember, her mother had pushed her one extra step, making her start tennis when she was six, enrolling her in advanced placement classes in both middle school and high school. She always felt she was at her limit. That no matter how hard she tried, she could never exceed her mother's expectations. Her father on the other hand, always knew that her best was enough, and as long as she was happy, there was no reason not to be proud.

Madison forced her thoughts away from her mother. She focused on the encouragement she found in her friends. Her best friend, Amanda Harrington, always told her that no matter what she could be anyone she wanted. Their friendship started on her first day of tennis lessons. Madison's five-year old feet stood firmly on the ground as Ricardo, her tennis instructor, barked out 'instructions'. Amanda spotted her from across the small crowd of other children from their elementary school. She bounced over to the frustrated looking girl and introduced herself. Since they were standing next to each other, they were paired up for singles practice. As they slowly learned how to play the game together they created some unexplainable bond. By the end of six months of extreme lessons, they were best friends, and an excellent doubles team.

Amanda was the only person on her team that Madison liked. They were friends with other students, but they preferred each other's company to anyone else's. Madison bit her lip to keep herself from crying. She thought about Amanda's twin, Dakota, her ex-boyfriend. Dakota was like a second best friend, one that also cared for her on a deeper level. Though he and Amanda seemed to fall perfectly into the mold of St. Lovett's, they loved Madison for her drive to be different. She loved them for giving her the support she needed. They knew she hated tennis, but encouraged her to keep playing, they knew she loved art and talked her into taking classes outside of school, unbeknownst to her parents. A tear rolled down her cheek when she thought about never seeing them again.

Madison wiped her face quickly before her father noticed she was crying. She tried to focus on the positive aspects of moving and leaving everyone she loved behind. She didn't have to go to school with the same people she had been for the past twelve years; she didn't have to take advanced placement classes, though she sort of enjoyed them; and most importantly, she never had to play tennis again. Feeling slightly better about herself, Madison attempted another conversation with her father.

"When will you know where we're supposed to stop?"

"I'll know."

"Are we going to be in some no-name town?"

"Most likely."

"Why couldn't we stay in the city?"

"I needed to get away."

"Are you having a mid-life crisis?"

"Most likely."

"Will you get over it?" Madison was tired of playing the question and answer game.

"Madison, this may come to a surprise to you, but this is something I've wanted to do for a long time. Now that your mother's gone, I can't handle the city. I need something new in my life."

Madison was silent. She was trying to analyze her father's reaction to her mother's death. He seemed to have gone through all the stages of grief, but now it seemed he was still clinging to some unobtainable dream.

"Do you really think that leaving everything we once had is going to help you get over her?"

"I don't plan to get over your mother. I plan to make my life what I've always wanted it to be."

Madison was tempted to scream, "What about what I want my life to be? Why must I be dragged along with your mental breakdown? Why couldn't I stay with Amanda while you figured out what you want your life to be? Why do I have to suffer?" But knowing she was being somewhat selfish by thinking that, she kept her mouth shut.

"I'm sorry I'm dragging you through this," her father apologized, as if he read her mind. "I didn't really have a choice. But if you're as miserable as you think you're going to be, I'll send you back home," he paused, "This is just something I need to do."

Madison sat back in the warm leather seat. She didn't know what to say, what to do, what to think. She closed her eyes and forced herself to stop being selfish. She thought about how this whole thing would make her father happy. She loved seeing her father happy. "Get a grip Madison," she thought to herself. "It's not the end of the world…just a bump in the road of life." Her mind wondered through some more of her fading memories as she slowly inhaled the sent of the ageless Italian leather luggage.