Elegy

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
In the not so distant future, a device called the STREAM allows people to share and exchange memories. Milo decides to sell a few of his to make up for expenses, and soon everything's headed downhill.

Submitted: June 06, 2019

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Submitted: June 06, 2019

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December, 2129

 

Milo kept his head low as he crossed the bridge, careful not to look at the faces of the passing strangers. Memories with nonconsenting persons sold for much less, he heard. He fixated on the reflection of city lights in the puddles beneath his feet—something beautiful could make even this errand a money-maker—and did his best to avoid any thoughts unrelated to what he saw ahead.

 

As he approached a streetlight, he stopped for a second and closed his eyes tightly. His walk thus far replayed on the screen projected across his eyelids. Excellent work. It looked peaceful, a leisurely stroll in New York City, perfect for tourists, stressed businessmen, and foreigners who could not travel. They could see the city without leaving the comfort of their homes, should they buy it from the Market. The thoughts, much to his delight, were unpolluted with personal innuendos. He mentally patted himself on the back for being such a good planner, and opened his eyes again.

 

On the street ahead, water pattered into little streams from the gutters and soaked the alleyway even in the absence of rain. If the temperature were any lower, the standing water would have frozen into sheets of ice. Milo had forgotten to wear his boots when he set out from the hospital—thank goodness there would not be enough slip to need them-- but remembering them could taint the entire memory. So much for a meaningless sale. Unless he could cut it off at his pause point earlier…

 

Well, not like he didn’t have other memories.

 

He spotted his friend Andric in the distance, unmistakable, leaning up against the wall in the alleyway. A cigarette dangled from his lips, already mostly gone. When Milo last saw him, Andric had just gotten into his neon phase and wore nothing but bright pinks and yellows in headache-inducing swirls. Tonight, Andric wore a dark parka and a black hat pulled tightly over his bright orange hair, but tufts of it stuck out around the edges like straw from a poorly made scarecrow. He looked no more subtle than he would have without the disguise. First time exchanging for both of them, then.

 

Milo picked up the pace to reach him.

 

“Your shoe is untied,” said Andric by way of greeting. He dropped his cigarette on the ground and snuffed it with a boot. Milo knew this meant he was late.

 

He made up an excuse. “I had to put the baby to sleep before coming. She’s not very good at sleeping through the night.”

 

“Me either.”

 

Andric took off his hat, curly hair exploding outwards, then fumbled to clear it all away from the tiny needle behind his ear. Milo recognized it as the one that enabled him to share memories on the STREAM.  A few loose strands tangled and knotted around it. If Andric had been one of the fancier members of New York society, he might have been able in indulge in a covering for the needle that would prevent such incidents. Unfortunately, being a dealer did not seem to mean lots of extra cash. Not yet, anyway.

 

What was the point in wearing the hat if he would only have to take it off?

 

Milo approached Andric warily, taking off his own hat. “Is it really safe to perform an exchange here?”

 

“Of course. It’s three in the morning.”

 

“I passed people on my way here.”

 

Andric shrugged, produced another cigarette from his pocket. Without those things, he could definitely afford a STREAM cover. “They’re probably exchanging too, then. It’s a hotspot down here.”

 

“I don’t think so. They were walking away.”

 

“People walk a lot of places.”

 

Milo watched as Andric lit the new cigarette, inhaled, and blew out a long line of smoke.

 

“Look, I know it’s safe. This isn’t my first rodeo.” His clothing and posture said otherwise. “You’re lucky you happen to be friends with a seasoned veteran in the business.”

 

Here was the awkward part. Milo scuffed his shoe across the concrete as Andric continued to smoke the cigarette. He’d read online the the transfers were normally painless, and risk-free if you chose to share the memories rather than give them, but there were limited markets and memories that could not be sold were worth nothing. He also heard horror stories of people giving away one piece to many and going insane. Maybe Milo should rethink the entire idea. The bills could not be so large that there was no other option besides Black Market dealing, and if Andric wasn’t asking for anything in particular, perhaps he knew Milo had nothing worthwhile to give. Coming here was a stupid idea. Milo had almost decided to apologize and leave the alleyway when Andric spoke again.

 

“What do you have? We have a market for happy childhood. People lined up by the dozens. Willing to pay top dollar.”

 

Right, top dollar. The bills were pretty damn big and the other options could fall through. This would be monetary credits in his hands today, no miracle required. Milo closed his eyes to pull up the mental list on the STREAM. The memories scrolled out before him, divided away into concise little sections for his viewing pleasure, neatly numbered and dated. He tapped the section labelled ‘childhood.’ A new set scrolled downwards from the file.

 

“I can appraise the ones you have, if you want,” said Andric.

 

“Yeah, thanks.”

 

Milo pressed his fingertip onto the needle behind Andric’s ear, and they shared the mental screen.

 

“Okay,” said Andric, as he scrolled through the array of files, “you clearly had a relationship with your father, so that’s gold. Capitalize on that. Mother loved you, no beatings from what I can tell. No siblings. That’s good; we get a lot of people who want a memory of a childhood without pesky add-ons.” He highlighted a memory clip, then spread his fingers so that it would come to the front. “I would say that most of those little ones require too many inside jokes to be understood, but this one here could be worth a fortune to the right buyer.” He exited the childhood section for a moment, and tapped into a later log. “And I think someone would appreciate this one.”

 

Milo clicked to play the two memories in question. The first was of the first time he rode a bike, the summer before he broke his leg and pedaling became a little too painful to tolerate.  One of his personal favorites. He felt Andric smile next to him, and remembered that allowing the appraiser to appraise meant giving him the experiences for free, even if only temporarily. Darn it. Should have put a surcharge down. As the second memory began to play, he recognized it instantly and opened his eyes. A sadist, that’s who would appreciate that memory. Or a creep.

 

“So what do you say? Can we transfer? I’ll give you $700 for the both of them.”

 

Milo shifted back and forth on his feet. “Taking or sharing?”

 

“Sharing.”

 

Seven hundred dollars would not even be enough to make a rent payment on his apartment, let alone fund a family for a month. And hell, he couldn’t even begin to pay his child’s hospital bills on that kind of money.

 

“What if I give?” he asked.

 

“Give’s $1,500.”

 

Still not enough, but much better. And it was only two memories. He didn’t really need either one of them anymore, or at least not more than he needed the cash to take care of the baby.

 

Milo extended his hand for Andric to shake. “It’s a deal. Money first.”

 

“Right, right.” The shared screen collapsed between the two of them, and Andric reached into his back pocket for his wallet. No sooner had the bills touched Milo’s hand than he pressed his finger back against the needle on Andric’s head and watched with him as the memories transferred.

~

Never ridden a bike before this. Scary. Dad holds on to the bike, the back part of the seat, so that nothing tips or falls and nothing sends Milo sprawling. They shoot down the uneven sidewalks, Milo pumping his legs like there’s no tomorrow, Dad sprinting along and yelling for Milo to keep pedaling keep pedaling. Keep pedaling. He pumps his legs even harder than before, using every last ounce of energy. Milo knows he’s never moved faster. He feels one with the car driving by to his left, even though it passes him with ease.

 

Overhead, a flock of birds alights on a telephone wire. They shift from foot to foot, singing in their own foreign love language. Birds were Mom’s favorite. Bluebirds, especially. These are not bluebirds, but crows, and dozens of them at that. Even in their cawing, though, he hears music. He sends them all scattering again as he zips by.

Then Milo’s father lets go. Milo can no longer see the plaid jacket billowing in his peripheral vision. He keeps pedaling. The birds now fly beside, above, and around him in waves. Mom’s favorite birds were blue. His are black. His are like the night and scream their song into the void.

 

“You’ve got it!” he hears his father yell. “You’ve got it!”

 

He’s right, Milo has got it, but the excitement of hearing it aloud is enough to make him teeter back and forth. A crow pitches from the sky to collect a worm from the earth, and he pitches downward with it. The memory folds in on itself like a flower budding in reverse, and then goes black for the quickest of seconds.

 

Now, in place of blue sky and calling bird, Milo sees the walls of his old apartment, painted in deep, old-fashioned maroon. He knows this place like the back of his hand. He knows what has happened here and he knows that greater tragedy is on its way. So he makes a decision. Instead of folding in on itself, the memory crumples like a piece of paper.

~

Milo ripped his finger from the needle. For a split second, he regretted giving away the first memory. He wanted to keep that one intact, so he could look back on it in the future… but then it was gone. Nothing to regret if he couldn’t remember. In its place rested a still-photo version of him on a bike. He could not remember what it felt like, or what his father looked like, or how long it took for him to master the skill. He stepped away from Andric. Thank heavens he pulled his finger away before he gave away the second memory too.

 

“Just the one, then?” said Andric. He looked bored. Milo took a bit of comfort in this; maybe he was not the first to have second thoughts.

 

“Yes, just the one.”

 

“That will only be $750. Are you cool with that?”

 

Milo thought about his debt. The hospital bills. He could at least begin to pay it off with this money. He didn’t really need the larger sum, not at the cost…

 

“Yes,” he replied. He handed back some of the bills and Andric counted the change.

For a moment, Milo lingered, staring at Andric. He knew the other man would be replaying the memory in his own head now, savoring all the flavors of emotion it evoked, and he cursed himself again for forgetting what might have been something amazing. He couldn’t miss it. He didn’t even know what it was.

 

“I’ll see you here again, I’m sure,” Andric called after him as he turned to leave the parking lot.

 

“One-time thing,” Milo shouted over his shoulder.

 

He made sure to take the backroads home. People might pay to remember the backroads.

~

May, 2130

Milo found himself in the alleyway again. This time, he did not bother to look away when the faces passed or monitor his thoughts to keep the memory pure. He even listened to music. Based on what he knew from Andric, day to day memories were pretty much useless on the Market—anyone with a STREAM could view stock memories of the same caliber for free. No point in trying, then. He walked quickly. Since this exchange needed to happen in broad daylight, Andric did not want them out for long.

 

It made sense. If the police spotted either one of them, they could end up with fines or prison sentences. STREAM regulations prohibited giving away, especially for money.

But he got the call this morning, from the doctor. If they wanted to save his baby, they’d need to do more tests. More tests meant more money on hospital bills. More money on hospital bills meant he needed to have some as soon as possible.

 

Andric exited the back door of the building and sat down on a box near the dumpsters. He also seemed to be more relaxed about the whole thing—less on edge and secretive—and wore his normal neon as opposed to a black façade. He pulled a cigarette from the package in his pocket, lit it, and took a drag. Milo wondered how many packs he went through per day. How much did that cost?

 

“Long time no see,” Andric said.

 

Milo pulled out his earbuds. “Missed you too.”

 

“Never said I missed you.”

 

“Yeah, sorry.”

 

Andric smoothed his hair away from his ears only for the curls to fall over the needle once more. He tried a second time, producing a barrette from his pocket to clip the hair into place. This time it held. “You thinking about giving away that other one?”

 

“Maybe,” Milo admitted.

 

“What happened?”

 

“A lot.” It really wasn’t Andric’s business that his daughter’s health was failing, that she needed to see another doctor, so Milo had no need to tell him.

 

“So do you want me to appraise again?”

 

“Maybe.”

 

“How much money do you need?”

 

Now this was part of the script Milo knew. He knew the exact sum needed to pay rent: $4,578. He also knew that he needed to buy food for the rest of the month and pay his subway fare to get back and forth from visiting his daughter. All that, plus treatment for whatever disease she had now. His salary at the deli where he worked wouldn’t cover all that. Eight thousand dollars in pocket ASAP could save him for another month. One more month. It would not be enough to get his daughter all the help that she needed. That would be another ten thousand at least.

 

“Eight thousand,” he said. The baby could hold on for a bit. He would get that money for her soon.

 

Andric whistled. He dropped the cigarette on the ground and snuffed it out, even though he had begun to smoke it. The ashes melted into a puddle. “Really going for the large sums here.” He extended his hand, hovered his index finger over Milo’s needle. “May I?”

 

Milo nodded. The screen materialized in front of them, and Andric selected the childhood section once more. He scrolled through the labelled memories, lingering on a few involving Milo’s mother cooking dinner or Milo’s father watching football. All very colorful. The happy ones. One in particular featured Milo himself running through the house in a makeshift cape, pursued by his aunt and uncle in a chorus of laughter. Andric tensed up at the sight.

 

“You have so many allusions in here,” he commented, although his voice seemed distant. “Otherwise this would be gold.”

 

“We didn’t know the STREAM would be a thing.”

 

“Well you should have.”

 

Andric tapped out of childhood, and into the adjacent sector. Milo wanted to stop him, but decided to keep his mouth shut for the time being. If one of his memories here was worth eight thousand, the sacrifice of one could save him from losing many. He would let Andric peruse.

 

Andric cleared his throat as he queued up a memory. “So this is the love section, I take it?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“There’s definitely a market for love out there.”

 

“Yes.”

 

“Do you mind if I watch these? See if one’s worth a lot?”

 

“As long as it doesn’t turn you on.”

 

Andric laughed, but it sounded more nervous than genuine. “Nah. Girls aren’t my type.” Milo felt Andric’s finger shake a little bit against the needle. He knew his friend probably did not enjoy this portion of the job, especially since all the memories were relived in first-person perspective. The screen in front flickered. “I don’t think those will sell for very much on the Market.” He moved to the next memory. “Oh great, there’s more. This kind comes in… well, abundance. No need to buy it.”

 

“Okay.”

 

Milo watched Andric select his way through memories. At one point, Andric paused to play an interaction in full—something Milo recognized the instant it materialized—and then removed his finger from the needle. He shook his hand out in pain, examined the drop of blood beading on the tip of his index finger, and cursed under his breath. “You could get eight thousand for that. Easy.”

 

“Eight thousand?”

 

“I can put it in your hand right now. If you’re giving, that’s eight thousand exactly.”

 

Milo once again took some time to think it over. The STREAM could be his only source of revenue. He needed the money no matter what. So, the choices were to give up this one bit of his life, albeit important, or to give up dozens of smaller memories in its place. He did not know what kind of memory could work as a substitute. Maybe Andric could take away the pieces of his life with the baby: how he raised her, how he held her when she cried, how he watched her grow. But those were more personal. All polluted with hospital visits and scares when she stopped breathing. Plus, if things went south, he didn’t want to lose his child. No, he decided, what had to be done would be done. As much as he wanted to keep this memory, he also had to remember that someone else relied on him to bring back enough cash to keep her safe. To care for her. He needed memory of her to care for her, and therefore he needed to give away this tiny moment.

 

“Okay,” he said.

 

Andric counted out the bills from his pocket, handed it to Milo, and Milo put his finger on the needle. The transfer began.

~

He sees her in front of him, wearing a light blue dress. She holds a coupon for her coffee in one hand, and a brochure for a bird-watching sanctuary in the other. When she gets to the front of the line, she orders a Frappuccino and three muffins (for her friends, she says), a vanilla latte and a bagel (for herself), and a few breakfast sandwiches (for her supervisors). When she turns around, the world stops.

 

For a whole minute, he stares at her face. Takes her in. There is not a flaw on her person, at least that he can tell. She moves off to the side to chat with the barista about birds, specifically bluebirds, and that she wants to own a bird sanctuary someday. No bluebirds in New York, she says. Never any bluebirds in New York. She would love to see a bluebird sometime soon. He is at the front of the line now, but he is frozen. His mother loved the bluebirds too, before she died, and here is this beautiful girl, talking about the same birds. She must have been sent from heaven.

 

“Excuse me, ma’am,” he says, setting both elbows on the counter next to her. He loses his spot in line. It is worth it.

 

She replies without looking in his direction. “Yes?”

 

“Did I hear you mention bluebirds?”

 

“Yes, why?”

 

“They’re my favorite,” he lies. Somewhere, he knows the crows are angry at him for denying them. “I used to watch them outside my house when I was little.”

 

“Is that so?” Now she turns toward him, so he can see her face up close. He sucks in a breath as she does so, although he cannot tell if he’s surprised she’s going to talk to him or surprised at how beautiful she is. Her teeth are perfectly straight. Her right eye is a slightly different shade of brown than her left. She holds the latte between her hands as if she is trying to keep warm, even though the heat must be cranked to the max in this coffee shop. He is already in love with her.

 

He nods.

 

“Don’t ever see them around here,” she says.

 

“No, not really. I used to live in Pennsylvania.”

 

She responds to this remark, but she speaks too quickly and he doesn’t understand the words. He pretends that he hears just the same, with a smile and an enthusiastic bob of the head, and hopes that she doesn’t ask a question at the end. So long as she keeps talking, he does not mind if he never understands another sentence.

 

In the meantime, he reads the pamphlet for the bird sanctuary. She set it on the countertop some time during her conversation with the barista. Apparently it’s in Manhattan, near a church on the coast, somewhere close to a ferry stop but far enough away that you’d need a car to get there without dying. They have bluebirds and robins, as well as macaws and parrots, but there is no mention of crows. Of course there aren’t crows. Crows mean death.

 

She finishes the rant. Maybe she knows that he didn’t follow any of the conversation. Maybe that was her intention. She takes a long sip from her latte in the same way a person would drop a microphone at the end of a speech, and gives him her hand to shake. “My name is Elena.”

 

He shakes it. “I’m Milo.”

 

“Hello, Milo. It was very nice to meet you.”

 

They talk for a while longer, although Milo cannot seem to remember what was said. He feels guilty even as it happens. He should absorb every little thing that exits her lips. When she leaves the coffee shop for work, she hands him the bottom of her receipt with her phone number written on it in sparkly gel pen.

 

“Bird nerds have to stick together, right?” she says.

 

He smiles at her. “I guess they do.”

 

The memory carefully folds on the edges and closes neatly, until the entire screen goes black. Milo lives in the static for a moment longer than before.

~

Milo removed his finger from the needle. Just like before, there was a split-second in which he regretted the entire deal and wanted to have the puzzle piece back. But then it faded. As he thought about it, really thought, his first meeting with Elena could not have been that important. She did not date him until a whole year later, after he met her father while playing poker at the Crossroads bar and asked him formally for permission. What could be in there that would warrant eight thousand dollars? He’d never know again. Shame.

 

She was dead, though. The baby was still alive. He made the right choice, and he thought Elena would agree.

 

He scuffed the ground with a shoe. A piece of Andric’s last cigarette accidentally got into a hole in the sole, and he needed to lift his foot to shake the ash out. Andric seemed unperturbed, as he lit yet another cigarette with a zippo lighter—the real old-fashioned kind you would see in the classy stores on 5th Avenue. Milo rethought Andric’s monetary situation.

 

“I should probably go,” Andric said. “We’re in daylight here. Who knows who could see?”

 

“Yeah.”

 

“If you ever need to sell again, you know where to find me.”

 

“Of course.”

 

Andric nodded. He undid the barrette, let his hair fall back over the needle, and started to go back to the door in the back of the building, but thought better of it at the last second. Instead, he pulled a cartridge from his back pocket and handed it to Milo. A carton of cigarettes.

 

“They work wonders, if you get a little dizzy,” he said. “It helps deal with the confusion after losing big chunks of your timeline, y’know?”

 

Milo accepted the gift. He turned it over and over in his hands. Smoking didn’t seem like something he would enjoy, but it would be rude to turn down such an offer (especially from a friend that he needed to stay friends with). “Thanks.”

 

In lieu of a reply, Andric gave Milo a salute.

~

June, 2130

This same time one year previous, Milo was in the hospital with his wife after she gave birth to their baby girl. Lydia. Exactly eleven months before today, he was in the hospital with his wife as she died from complications during surgery. For the rest of the months since then, he’d been in and out of the hospital as they rushed to save the child’s life. Currently, he sat on a park bench just outside his workplace after being fired. Strange, what the passage of time will do to a person.

 

Every penny of money from this job went straight to Lydia. Whatever he did to get him fired secured her death.

 

Milo felt like he couldn’t breathe.

 

He called Andric as soon as he could. The number was the only one in his recents, which should have made him sad, but he’d learned by now to get over that kind of emotion before it became pressing. His sadness didn’t matter. Now, all he needed to do was care about Lydia in any and every way possible, and that meant getting her money as soon as he could-- before they kicked her out of the hospital, or stopped giving her medicine when she seized.

 

Last he heard, Andric moved to Queens. That put the commute time at around thirty-four minutes in a car, or an hour on a bike. Milo bounced his leg up and down, anxious, impatient. He had called forty-five minutes ago.

 

Across the street, Milo watched a group of men carry boxes of bread and meat into his former workplace. A singular, dark pigeon landed on the awning just above. In New York birds, this might as well have been a crow. He studied the men, the way they moved efficiently, and the way that the bird seemed to preside over them like a judge in a court. Someone dropped a container of ham. They picked it up and put it but in the box anyway to be served on a sandwich. The pigeon pooped on the awning.

 

Pigeons do that.

 

“Milo?”

 

Milo spun a one-eighty in his chair to see Andric. “Thank goodness. You’re late.”

 

“It’s not like I have appointments.”

 

Milo stood up from the bench. “I need to get home soon. The neighbors will only watch Lydia for so long without charging me.” The lie felt effortless. It wasn’t Andric’s business.

 

“Well then, find an alleyway and we’ll do it.” When Andric took down his hood, Milo could see one side of his hair was already clipped up away from the STREAM needle. A few loose strands hung around the clip. He must have been collecting from someone else before Milo called. “I already have a few I think I can remember, if you just want me to take those, or—”

 

“No,” Milo interjected. “I have all the ones I want to give lined up. You can determine what you’ll give me for them based on what you see when I give them.”

 

Andric squinted. “It’s money-first, usually.”

 

“You’re my friend. You’re not going to cheat me.”

 

“You never know.”

 

Milo stared Andric down. “You won’t.”

 

“I have ten thousand on me right now, in credits like normal. You can’t give me anything worth more than that or it will be a major league swindle and I’ll have to accept it.”

 

“Ten thousand is enough.” It wasn’t. But he needed it all.

 

“Well alright then.”

 

Milo grabbed Andric by the wrist and pulled him down the side street between the deli and a pharmacy. He turned, and they headed down another street, passing the bodegas and Milo’s own apartment (more the bank’s than his). He might have pulled a little too hard. Whatever. He did it for his child, his sweet little girl, who lay still in the hospital and relied on doctors to make her breathe. He did it for love.

 

Last night, he stayed up late outlining every single memory he thought he could afford to give away of his late wife: all their day-to-day life, probably as a bundle so the buyer would get the inside jokes, their wedding reception, the day she told him she was pregnant, and her funeral. He could get by without that stuff. Who knows if it was worth anything, but he might as well try. Ten thousand for the whole thing. That could be reasonable. All he salvaged of her was their vows, her last words to him, and a sweet little memory in between that he’d almost given away earlier. The most expensive ones. Even keeping those three made him feel selfish.

 

He and Andric were barely into the designated alleyway before he slammed his finger onto the needle to initiate the exchange. Before the screen materialized, a large drop of blood formed on his fingertip and dropped to the ground.

~

The memory is everything but coherent. All of the moments jumble into a hodge-podge in the center of Milo’s brain, exploding outward onto the STREAM like grenades. They bloom into flowers and then wilt just as suddenly. Everywhere, there is Elena.

 

Elena is in the bedroom, her hair whipping around her face as she tries to shut a window in the middle of the night. Elena is at a bird sanctuary, watching a flock of bluebirds scatter across the glass domed ceiling and calling for them in little clicks of her tongue. Elena dances beside him in a flowing white dress. In the majority, she is smiling. He watches her spin and appear across all different times and places, and he loves her more than he ever has before. He hates himself for getting rid of the memories. It’s too late to make it stop. Elena basking in the sunlight on a bright summer morning. Elena with a golden ring on her finger and her eyes teary with joy. Elena with a pregnancy test in the studio apartment bathroom, arms above her head, screaming in elation.

 

Over and over, her name. Elena.

 

There’s a minute, one precious minute, where the STREAM stabilizes and displays Elena’s funeral in HD quality. Milo watches from the pews as pallbearers that he does not know carry her away from him for the last time and lower her into the sea of graves outside the city. Part of him dies with her. He will never let someone else he loves die like that.

 

When it’s over, he feels like he will be sick.

~

When he released the needle, Milo found Andric had already acted on his feeling. The poor man had thrown up onto the sidewalk ahead of him. His hands clutched at the sides of his head for a moment before lowering. He stumbled a bit, leaned up against a wall for support, and then slid down into a seated position. Then, as any man would, he pulled a cigarette from his pocket to dull the ache.

 

“That was a lot, Milo,” he said. His voice sounded hollow.

 

Milo knew he should feel terrible, but now that the memories were gone, so were the sentiments. “How much were they worth?”

 

“Altogether?” Andric coughed. “Six thousand at most. Not really a market for—” He paused, drew the cigarette away from his lips, and voided his stomach onto the concrete for a third time. “—things like that. I’ve never taken anything like that. Are you okay?”

 

“I’m fine,” said Milo. He needed the ten thousand, though. “Can I give you something else?”

 

“You’ve already made me sick once today. Do you have to do it again?”

 

“I need the money.”

 

Andric shook his head, counted out six thousand from his pocket, and shoved it into Milo’s hand. “Not today. You shouldn’t give away anything else today.” Another pause. “Not to me.”

 

Milo felt a knot growing in the pit of his stomach. Ten thousand dollars was the acceptable sum. Without it, he couldn’t keep Lydia safe and he couldn’t keep himself alive enough to continue to care for her. He needed the four thousand dollar difference between six and ten, and he needed it like he’d never needed anything before. Stupid, stupid. He should have let the memories in slowly, so that Andric could endure them.

 

“One more,” Milo begged.

 

“I don’t know if I can have anything else crammed into my head right now.”

 

“Can you try?”

 

When the two locked eyes, Milo did his absolute best to convey how desperate the situation was. He could feel himself tearing up; that was a good sign. A convincer. He focused on the tears, until several of them traced pathways down his cheeks.

 

Andric let out a long breath. “Sit down, then. Let me see it first.”

 

Milo knew he should have played nice. He should have sat down and let Andric appraise the memories before diving in headfirst. However, a tiny voice in the back of his head told him that Andric would refuse the transfer if he saw ahead of time, and would not hand over the money. He could not let that happen. Lydia needed him to do this. The memories were definitely worth something, since Andric pointed them out earlier, and if they were Milo’s favorites that feeling should carry through.

 

He pressed his finger against the needle, but did not share the screen. In an impulsive moment, Milo gathered up the remaining two memories of his lover saving one, the one he saved before. He did not share them. He gave the rest away.

~

That night, Milo visited Lydia in the hospital. He could barely see her body through the tubes and wires, but at least he knew he’d done enough to keep her safe. For the time being, she could stay here. So could he.

 

The doctor walked in, saw him in the chair on the side, and paused to talk to him.

“She’s doing better, you know,” she said, gesturing to the child. “Oxygen saturation is up. She’s breathing on her own, for the most part. I think we might have a miracle.”

 

Milo nodded, smiled. He did what he had to, and now she was going to be okay. He looked up at the ceiling, intent on thanking Elena for her service, but then something short-circuited in his brain. Elena. He loved Elena. He loved a girl named Elena. He must have married her, because she was the mother of the baby in front of him, and he must have enjoyed time with her, because he could still remember her after whatever horrible memory mistake he made in the morning. Yet, when he thought of the name, he could scarcely picture her face or think of her personality. He did not know what she was like. All he knew was that he loved her.

 

When he looked at the baby, the feeling was the same. He loved her, and yet there was no reason behind it. An unconscious reaction. He hated it.

 

Shit-- the cigarettes! Milo left his child’s room, ran down the stairs and out onto the sidewalk outside. He sat down on the curb. Andric recommended the cigarettes for this empty feeling. He reached into his coat pocket for the pack—he hadn’t removed it since it was given to him—then lit one and brought it to his lips. Inhaled. Exhaled. The storm in his mind calmed ever so slightly. He took another drag. That’s all this was, in his head. Just some confusion because of missing pieces in the narrative. The nicotine would help his brain fill in the gaps, and then everything would be a lot better.

He breathed out the smoke again.

 

When he closed his eyes, the STREAM listing pulled up in front of him. The picture of him riding a bike caused a sharp pain behind his eyes when he touched it, so he deleted the photograph from the screen. When he tapped into the section labelled love, nothing was left. No pictures. Nothing. Nothing except—

 

He scrolled to the very bottom, where a single memory remained. Right, the one he saved at the beginning when he first met Andric for the exchange. He tapped it, watched it, thought about it. Replayed it. Replayed it again. Various couples walked by him on the street, holding hands and kissing, or pushing babies in colorful prams. He watched the memory again.

 

Nothing to regret if you don’t remember, he repeated to himself. The self did not seem to care.

 

As the lights fell low over the city, Milo sat down against the gate a couple blocks away from the hospital. He finished his second cigarette. Started a third. Everything in his body screamed at him to cry, yet he had no way of knowing what he should be crying over. Nothing was left. Elena was gone, or at least most of her, and with her every single reason why he loved their baby so much. Money, it was always about money. Now, he thought, it would have been better to starve with a head full of her than to live in a world where he could not picture her wedding gown. He would have taken Lydia down with him. It would have been worth it. He knew, just by watching that one memory again.

 

And that was a stupid thing to think. He had no way of knowing. Maybe all the other memories were awful. For all he knew, Elena used to abuse him and the child, and maybe he killed her himself.

 

Nearby, he watched a dark crow land on top of a street sign and caw. The crows, always cawing and cawing. It sent a jolt of pain through his spine, to hear something so familiar and yet so foreign. He played the memory in his head again, and this time, his own voice sounded like a caw. In this one memory, he loved her. He loved her enough here to remember how much he must have loved her then. So there was only one thing to be done.

~

He cornered Andric after-hours, in the alleyway where it began. He told him what needed to happen.

 

Andric shifted from foot to foot. “Are you sure about this? Isn’t all you have left of her?”

 

It was. It definitely was. If all he had left of her was this memory, then it was better to get rid of the last bit. Already he had no memory of their life together, their time spent with one another. What difference would it make to get rid of this last solitary section, when he’d seen it a million times and all it brought him was sorrow? His love story was already over.

 

“Take it,” said Milo.

 

He did not want to live with a ghost of Elena in a singular moment. It would be cruel. He did not want to live with this memory of her if he could not have her any other way, and he most certainly did not want to remember how tragic his last decision was. More than anything, he did not want to know that his and his daughter’s deaths would have been worth it, so long as he got to remember her mother. He would love his daughter in her own right now. This would disconnect her from Elena forever.

 

“Okay,” said Andric. “It’s thirteen thousand.”

 

Andric pulled his hair into a loose pigtail on one side so Milo could press his finger against the needle and begin the transfer. Just before the world of the STREAM opened before him, he could have sworn he saw a bluebird alight on the telephone pole in the street behind.

~

Elena, he knows her name is Elena, and she is the sun itself. He cannot remember marrying her, or the birth of their daughter, or even her death, but from the moment he sees her he knows that she is someone he will love until the day he dies even if he cannot remember her. There will never be another after Elena. To see her here beside him is nothing short of a miracle, and yet also the worst of heartbreaks. He wishes that he knew her now, that he hadn’t lost every bit before her, and yet he does not know why he feels for her the way he does. Milo is better off without this memory.

 

She sits up beside him in bed. Her hair falls behind her in a waterfall. Greasy, perhaps, but he thinks she is the most beautiful woman he has ever seen.

 

“Baby? It’s noon,” she says.

 

He replies, “Five more minutes.”

 

“We can’t stay here all day. I have a meeting tonight.”

 

“Tonight is a long way away. We have hours.”

 

The memory blackens at the edges, the faintest bit, and then surges into clearer color.

 

“Hours,” she echoes.

 

“Yes. Come back to bed.”

 

“Nope!” Elena slides out of the covers beside him and strides to the windowsill. She leans both elbows against the chipped wood and points out the window. “It’s just those crows outside.”

 

“I told you, the bluebirds like to fly. They’ll be back.”

 

“They should have been back by now.”

 

“C’mon baby, don’t worry.”

 

Elena turns back to look at him. She smiles, showing all her teeth, and he feels himself fall in love with her all over again. He needs to know nothing more of her than this. She climbs back into the bed, wraps herself in the blankets once more, and pulls so that all of them come to her side. Milo shivers a little bit in their absence, but her happiness keeps him warm. He props himself up on an elbow to kiss her. She scoots just out of reach. He moves forward again, this time connecting, and strokes a hand down her cheek. She giggles and pushes him away. It’s a kind of dance, this seduction. She recedes and he advances, she pushes and he pulls, she tells him she loves him and he says it back. He does not need to remember anything before this, so long as he has this, because this is everything that she was to him and all she ever will be.

He loves her so much.

 

“Make me a promise,” says Elena, grasping his hand in hers, “that you will never forget this moment so long as we both shall live.” She holds out her opposite pinky for him to shake.

 

Milo laughs, and meets her pinky with his own. “I promise. How could I ever forget you?”

 

As if in the ending of a movie, the memory folds in upon itself and disappears into a wave of black static. In its place, nothing remains.



© Copyright 2019 L'aquarelle. All rights reserved.

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