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In Absentia

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Matthew Bremner | Longreads | July 2020 | 12 minutes (3,429 words)

Clementina doesn’t know who she is. She doesn’t know her nine children, her grandchildren, or the names of her mother and father. She doesn’t know where she lives, where she has lived, or where she is now. People she has never met tell her that they love her. They say they are her daughter or her son. They assure her they used to play cards together — make wine in the bodega across from her house and chorizo on the patio after the local matanzas (pig slaughters). But Clementina doesn’t trust these people; she doesn’t know what they are talking about.

She didn’t trust me either when I first met her seven years ago. I was at my girlfriend’s family home in Villaveta, a dusty hamlet of dilapidated houses in the hinterland of Castilla y León, Spain. We were preparing lunch for the whole family. Clementina sat at the head of the table next to me. She was hunched by her 93 years, and her skin was wrinkled like a date. “Who are you my boy? she asked, squinting through creamy cataracts.

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