The memory we used to share is no longer coherent.
She stared at her phone, wondering who sent the text. It was compelling, certainly. Actually, it was frustrating. What memory did anyone have that was coherent unless it was recent, and even so, one could chew a recollection to swiss cheese with so little effort these days.
These days. Who spoke like that anymore? Well, she did. In her head. Maybe because she finally felt middle-aged. Or old. Sometimes it depended on what she saw on her Twitter feed more than anything else.
The screen had gone black while she thought, so she clicked it on again. “Used to share” implied someone she didn’t share memories with anymore. Maybe an ex? She forcibly dimmed the screen and shoved her phone in her pocket, attempting to pay more attention to the other passengers.
The train car rocked slightly as it ran down the line. The sun steamed in the windows; bright white off the snow and ice. She’d expected tunnel sides. She’d been distracted longer than she thought.
Not too many people were going into the city today. Perhaps their offices were having work-at-home days. Near the doors, one lady protested winter by wearing the brightest red scarf imaginable against a dark red, wool pea coat. The flash of black in the collar of the coat made her think of a cardinal. A gentleman leaning against the pole had his arms crossed and his head down, eyes closed. She wasn’t sure why he would willingly sleep standing up. There were so many seats available. Perhaps it was easier on his back? Two kids were in the rear facing seats near the front of the car, hoodies pulled up high to cover their heads. She could still see the white wires coming out from beneath crayon colored ear muffs. They held one device; a splitter allowing them to share to the sound. “Was it a video, music or a game?” she wondered, then glanced back out the window.
The text bothered her. The area code was in state, but not local. Well, not local to her. Local to the city. Where so many exes lived. Ex-lovers, ex-friends, ex-coworkers. Why had she isolated herself in the country so many years ago?
Thinking back, she realized the hodgepodge of reasons sounded petty now. This friend sided with that lover. Another lover started work with her company and to avoid him, she turned in her notice. At the time, she’d thought herself brave; stepping out on her own! How entrepreneurial! Now, she wondered if she’d been a whiny brat who wanted her circle to cater to her feelings. Was she horrible? Or brave? Which reality was real?
A brief screech and a soft thump made her look back into the car. No emergency lights, so they hadn’t hit anything dangerous. Maybe a fallen tree? The train kept on although there was an inconsistency to the motion now. A sort of hitch like a hiccup every few thousand feet. Or maybe hundred. She frowned, but no one else seemed to care. But where was the gentleman napper? She glanced around the car looking for him. A pile of clothing in the back corner seat hunched into itself. She frowned, but then watched it look up to blearily stare into the center of the car, brilliant blue eyes surrounded by weathered brown skin cracked with wrinkles. She wasn’t sure if the person was male or female, or even if they were actually homeless. The clothing they were wearing was just so random and layered.
The eyes blinked then ducked back down, hiding at the unintended direct contact. Rule of public transit #353 had just been broken. She smiled. She liked eye contact. She wished that more people made it. Or smiled at each other. Did anyone anymore? Other than with people they already knew, she wondered, anyway. Sighing, she glanced back to the pole wondering where that gentleman had gone – and dropped her jaw.
Swaying slightly with the rocking of the train car, there he stood, still sleeping arms crossed, brown leather gloves tucked deep into his wool covered elbows.
She knew he hadn’t been there a moment ago. She didn’t imagine him gone, but he was there. Coming back to herself, she snapped her mouth closed and blinked several times, then looked again around the car. Everyone was there. Cardinal-bird lady, hooded teens, sleeping gentleman, even tumbled pile of clothing around brilliant spring-blue sky-eyes.
Everyone was where they had started. She glanced out the window, and saw they were coming into the city. Another ten minutes, maximum, and she’d be at her station. She’d have to decide.
She sank into herself, back against the seat. She didn’t want to deal with this in person, but she’d tried everything else. She’d called. She’d emailed. She’d secure mailed. She’d left threatening messages warning horrid reviews left on every social media site she could think of if she didn’t get an answer. Nothing. Complete and utter silence.
This was the last step before that. She had to meet with someone. Make them explain. No one had to her satisfaction. The service was unreachable, for some unforeseen reason. Everyone treated her as if she was crazy. But it had functioned for years! Accessible like clockwork, on the 15th of every month, for a 6 hour window. For heaven’s sake, she still had the original “print this for your records” sheet from when she’d created the account!
She clicked her phone on, intending to dial the service again and the maddening text appeared. Lifting her finger to swipe it away, she paused. The exchange was the same. The area code and the exchange of the text were the same as the service. She opened the message, her finger hovering over the pictograph for calling, instead of replying. And then she realized: The memory that we used to share is no longer coherent.
Her phone fell to her lap and she smothered herself, turning toward the window and pressing her head against the glass.
It was gone. Terrified, she stared into her own spring-blue sky-eyes. The service was no longer stable or available. She’d never be able to access the memoriam again. Ever. It was all gone … SHE was no longer coherent.
The bell chimed. “Tribute Station. All for Tribute Station, stop 353.” The doors eased open. A pause, two more chimes, then the doors slid shut.
From the rear of the car, the faded blue eyes watched as the seat by the window stopped the odd pixelated flickering in the light and finally became empty again.
This piece was a response to a Flash Fiction Challenge on Chuck Wendig’s blog. I haven’t done something like this in a long time. Probably not since I was trying to actively participate in the Ficlets site, in fact. But there were a few sentences that were interesting, and I ended up choosing one that spoke to me.
This went through a few drafts, including at least one beta reader’s notes, and another tinker before I decided to call it done and put it up. Technically, it’s too long. Going by WordPress’s word count tool I’m 102 words over the ~1,000 limit. That’s better than the original 200+, but not great. Originally, the memory was actually shared with an ex… and then when reading definitions in a dictionary I realized what the end was, and had to fix it.
As the writer, I know things about the third person narrator whose head we’re almost in. She’s unreliable. She lies to herself while trying to be extremely honest with herself. She knows her own memory is faulty and angry with herself about that. I also know a little bit about the view we are left with – the tumbled up lump of clothing in the rear of the train car.
I think to know more about both, I would have had to exceed the limits of the challenge, and write more than the ~1,000 words. I can make decisions about them, of course, but I like the idea more of allowing the reader to do that. It doesn’t mean I might not visit them again. I don’t know. I don’t generally think in near-future sci-fi terms, so this was a stretch. I tend more toward forms of fantasy. But it was a fun challenge! I’m glad I did it.