So I finally convinced my parents to get our family a Netflix account yesterday. Bad decision–since then I have watched two episodes of Once Upon a Time and two episodes of Sherlock and done absolutely nothing of a productive nature. Oops. (Better get on making that mask for the masquerade party I’m going to tonight. That and revising. And cleaning my room. And doing chores. Goodness, why did I get Netflix again?)
This week’s Wordy Wednesday is a short story I wrote about half a year ago, for the Requiem Contest on Figment. The prompt asked for a short story, 1,500 words or less, in which love is dangerous. “Memory” didn’t win (and I’m actually glad it didn’t, because the story that DID win is AMAZING–read it here), but I’m still happy with how it turned out.
His hand is warm in mine. I can feel rough calluses, short nails worn smooth around the edges, and skin sticky with lake spray. The outline of the identification chip in his palm matches up perfectly with my own. Wind blasts my face while the lake’s cool water laps around my knees, but his hand is warm, enveloping mine, so my hand is warm in kind.
Moonlight glints off the water, so bright and white and distant that I want to believe it is real, even though I know it is not.
“I miss you,” I say, not looking at him. I am scared to look at him. Another gust of wind carries off the lake, lifting all the fine blond hairs along my arms, and I shiver. I wish we were somewhere warmer—inside his house, with the static-filled blankets, and the old fashioned radiator heat, and his homemade hot chocolate fresh off the stove—but this is the last place I saw him that he was happy, so this is where my memory takes me. This is the only place I ever see him now.
“I miss you,” I repeat, this time quieter.
He can’t hear me. No matter how badly I want to have a new conversation with him, and see him somewhere other than the lake at night, I know reliving this memory is the closest I’ll ever get.
Sometimes I wonder if this is worse, seeing him here rather than not seeing him at all.
I count to five in my head and, right on cue, right as he has every other night for the past week, he lifts his free hand to point to the moon and says, “Look at how beautiful it is, Adena.”
I could cry, his voice is so earnest. I did cry the first few nights. But now I don’t. Instead, I look up at the moon, trying to see it the way he does, trying to find some new meaning in its glowing, hazy light. It is round and full, up in the sky. Heavy like fruit ready to drop. I feel as if I could reach up and pluck it straight out of the stars and hold it in the palm of my hand.
If this was a dream, rather than a memory masquerading as one, perhaps I would.
“I’ve never seen it so large before,” I say automatically, because those are the words I spoke to him when this was real. Even though I’ve seen that same large moon every night this week. Even though I will see that same large moon every night until my guilt washes away, same as the steady, thrumming tide pulls the sand from the shore.
His touch is fading now, his warmth growing weaker and weaker until it is nothing but a cool pressure against my skin—air where there once was a hand, calloused and careful.
I open my eyes to find myself at home in bed, red light creeping in around my curtains and the sound of popping grease coming from the kitchen down the hall. After a minute, I become aware of the salty scent of bacon and the sweaty heat my tangled blanket leaves around my ankles.
I shiver despite the warmth and glance reflexively down at my left hand, grasping at nothing, the identification chip’s glow just barely visible under my palm’s too-pale skin. There is a pang somewhere deep within me, sharp and unnatural. I don’t want anyone to hear me cry, so I stuff a wad of blanket into my mouth and let the cotton absorb my sob and the word on my lips that wrenches its way free, unbidden: “Chandler.”
His name. Always his name.
My tongue is dry against the fabric. I spit it out before I have a chance to start coughing like yesterday, when my mother found me lying with my head dangling over the side of the bed, my blue-tinged fingers spread against the mattress. Despite my efforts not to, I had heaved against the blanket in my mouth while inwardly I urged it to go further down my throat—to act as a snake, to be like a poison. I hadn’t been able to stop hyperventilating for twenty minutes after she finally managed to pull the blanket from between my clenched teeth. The entire time, she stroked my back, her fingers just barely skating over the sticky fabric of my shirt, words of peace and hope flitting past her lips.
Now I sit up in bed, the blanket sliding off me, and the pain changes to disgust at the back of my throat, thick and foul. I try to hold onto that. I try to remember the anger and the embarrassment. I try to remember the flames as they reflected in his eyes, and the thought that this was right. Of course it was right.
I have to believe that, since I was the one who turned him in.
The tile floor is cool beneath my feet, although not in the way the lake was, and I focus on that burning coldness, letting it leach the heat from my toes, as I get ready to face the day. I pretend this is the reason I shiver as I spot my reflection in the mirror on the back of my bedroom door, when truly it’s because of the residual effects of the memory.
He called me beautiful that night, like the moon.
The memory is my punishment for loving him.
Dr. Rafney says I will experience the memory every night until it no longer hurts to think of him; until I am numb as my heels are against the hard, slick surface of the tile. I don’t know how she knows though, since she has never had the misfortune of falling in love. She has never had the misfortune of the human part of her betraying the microchip in her brain—the microchip that states how showing favor for one person above all other people in society is wrong, unjust; dangerous. Because although Dr. Rafney is just as much a part of the aristocracy as I am, and had a microchip implanted at birth just as I did, she has never had the misfortune of meeting someone like Chandler. She has never had the misfortune of the microchip and her brain suddenly becoming two very separate things, with very separate goals.
I blink away the sight of my reflection in the mirror and reach out to open the door.
In the kitchen, Chef is just finishing making breakfast. My mother sits at the head of the long, marble dining table, reading a tablet. In my mind, I can feel her stroking my back yesterday morning, murmuring and tucking a strand of yellow-blond hair behind my ear. She would have done that for anyone. It is her job, as Leader. But I would not have stood in the freezing lake with my nose running and the wind biting at my cheeks for anyone other than Chandler. And that was my mistake.
I sit down beside my mother and smile at Chef as he serves me a plate of bacon and eggs, but I do not eat. The disgust is still strong in my mouth—stale and sour and constant. Dr. Rafney might believe me when I say it is disgust for Chandler, for what he did to me, but every night as my eyes flicker closed and the memory takes over once again, I know that it is disgust for myself. For what I did to him.
I loved him; the microchip can verify it. But my guilt won out in the end. It was hungrier than even his touch made me feel, so I confessed my sin of loving him.
The guilt didn’t go away then, however. They burned him at the stake, for all of society to see, and the guilt changed—but it didn’t go away.
Every night I tell him I miss him. And every night he cannot hear me, because all that is left of him is an echo, fading, unable to think or feel or be. His hand becomes less and less solid each time I take it in my own, and the moon grows less and less bright.
Soon he will be gone, and I will be myself again. Soon I will take over as Leader, and I will lead society properly—unbiased and just and kind. I will not love anymore.
But still there is the image in my mind of his dark green eyes, narrowed against the smoke, reflecting back the flames; the words carrying on the ash and heat, despite everything: “I love you.”
He loved me. And I let him burn.
PS. Must… resist… the urge… to have a one person How I Met Your Mother marathon…