Writing prompt: What happens when you can’t remember anybody’s name?


The restaurant was nestled between a dry cleaners and a car rental shop. Thai – my favorite ethnic food. I was looking forward to slurping up the spicy Tom Yuk and digging into the mound of Pad Thai noodles. I was alone, not unusual for the middle of the week when I had to work late. My husband was home looking after our two kids, knowing that I’d bring him back a doggie bag when I was through.

I had felt a little “off” all day, as if I were somehow in the wrong place all the time, but I had shrugged it off as the product of work stress and a couple of sleepless nights staying up with the baby. I told myself the food would go a long way toward putting me “right.” Sit, eat, relax. It became almost a mantra.

I opened the door and was greeted by the mingled odors of exotic spices, the soft chatter of dozens of people, and the clatter of utensils on the dishes. The dim lighting mellowed me out quickly, and I stepped up to the queue for a seat.

“Hello! Fancy seeing you here.”

I looked around for the woman’s voice, wondering whom she was talking to.

Suddenly a roundish woman dressed in a pink shirt and checkered slacks stood right next to me, extending her hand. She must have seen my puzzled expression, because she added, “Karen Affron, we met at Tracy’s party last month.”

“Oh,” I said, not remembering in the slightest. “Yes, I guess we did.”

She pumped my hand up and down for a moment.

“So how’re you doing?”

“Keeping busy.”

“Oh, Harold,” she suddenly called out, “come meet …”

She stopped suddenly. “You know, I’m so embarrassed, but I don’t remember your name.”

Harold, a portly, middle-aged man in an Aloha shirt sidled up.

“Harold, this is …”

I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. The scene was so surreal – two people pumping me for the most basic piece of information, and I couldn’t provide it. I had no idea why.

“Oh, do they have a seat ready?” I craned my neck as if suddenly distracted by the hostess.

“There’s no need to be rude,” Karen pouted. “I was just trying to be friendly.”

“No, no, it’s not that … I’m sorry, but … I’m just having a bad day.” I tried to stall for time. The “off” world seemed even more off-kilter than ever, like something out of “The Twilight Zone.” Karen kept looking at me expectantly. I could make up a name, I supposed; would she even know the difference?

But Karen was clearly miffed by the apparent sleight. “No, no, don’t let the likes of us bother you,” she retorted. “Come on, Harold, we know when we’re not wanted.” And she steered Harold back to their table.

I stood there, speechless and nameless. Could it be just stress? I looked at my phone. In my Contacts list there was a button labeled “Home.” I wished it had my husband’s name there, too. I had no idea how I was going to explain this call to him when he picked up.

(c) 2017 Miriam Ruff All Rights Reserved