Mapping a Trace


This work of fiction was written for TraceSF by the artist Kari Marboe. The piece focuses on a couple at the beginning of their relationship and follows them through their process of adding to San Francisco’s archaeological memory. It concludes with the pair wondering what will happen when the traces of their experiences are covered over by the sediment of other peoples’ moments.



When they were done with other things they came together. They started with consumption, the good stuff, the food and drink. There were new ways of preparing: cutting, combining, blending; new spices: peppercorn, truffle oil, vinegars; and new methods: slow cooking, pickling, infusing. Sterile storing took place within glass containers that formed and reformed like ever-morphing mouth trophies. Coffee mugs were placed high, clear glasses low, strainers and metal bowls underneath and sponges on the counter next to the memory of cleaning utensil negotiations.


Next they uncovered naming. Each found an animal whose likeness fit the other, and they went by those creatures’ names for a while. Then parts of their names were isolated to make short, cute things that rolled off tongues and into piles of endearment that clogged the vacuum. Eventually, they settled on a single name they could both call each other, used it frequently, and forgot what the other’s real name was until they ventured out with company. They intentionally forgot the names for things they did not need yet (dogs, children), and they paid mind to people from the past whose names could not be used again in the future.


They then designed movements through space. Driving maps were layered upon hiking maps which were layered upon fishing maps. Their pace depended on what they were carrying, duration dictated their load, and each category of movement had a dry sack, pocket or cooler associated with it. Sometimes there were spaces between them, the largest one occurring during misunderstandings when their minds and legs drove them to different parts of the loft. Yet eventually their acidic tones mixed with the sweetness they felt for one another and tenderized their heart muscles. They used the same recipe for slow-cooked lamb.


They unpacked and reorganized their objects into categories. Pieces they gave one another were placed in close containers, pieces from past loves went into distant containers, and pieces from friends and family lined the planes of certain walls and the refrigerator. They marked what they kept in the shared studio, on the hanging rack, in the storage room, and in the junk drawer. She tried to keep her artworks outside of the building and some of his were stored on the walls that led to the laundry room.


Finally, they uncovered the things they no longer had: anxiety dreams, single sentiments—and replaced them with what they now embraced: morning giggles, cat costumes.


Before they came together it seemed as though their eyes couldn’t lock. He would stare at her left eye while she made out shapes in his right. Or he watched her right eye as she searched for the pupil in his left. But on the day they were done with other things, their eyes locked. They immediately set themselves to work asking questions, creating systems, going for outings, and making memories wherever they liked. Using vellum, clear tape and ink, they marked these things through map making. After being folded or rolled, each map was covered in wax or placed in an airtight bag to maintain the security of its contents.


On weekends they hiked through the dense city looking for spots to store each particular map. At first they would see the perfect nook, feel inside and walk away after finding that other histories were already there. Over time they realized that the city had always layered moments on top of one another, so they tucked the first map into a Mission bar cranny that was half filled with evidence of a Prohibition stash. Next came a small space that rested within the changing colors of a museum’s walls.


It was hard to know what would happen to their maps after they left, or how long it would take for someone to cover them with another layer. She hoped that if anyone found the maps, her recorded personality would match up to the vision of herself she had in her head. She had always wanted to be all the things she thought she was. He hoped no one but an older version of himself would find their maps, and that the reason for searching would not be due to forgetting.



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