Tuesday, January 28, 2014

A Gift To My Readers

Last year at Balticon, I got involved in the "Never Have I Ever" panel (which was hilarious - if they do it again, you should go).

I swear. I was sober. Specifically, I was sober when I somehow managed to challenge myself to write an out of order story with the segments unclear in chronological order, but which still made sense.

Could I do it? Not really. Maybe if I do it again I'll have to try it not sober. The challenge said I had to either submit the story for publication or post it in a public forum before Balticon 2014.

This is the closest I was able to come - so I'm going to hand it out as a gift to my readers. And if anyone thinks I have to try again, let me know.

The Lost Things Of Her Life

"Janet? Janet?" It was Toby's voice. Her son, yes, she recognized his voice. She opened her eyes. The light was bright.

Hospital bright. She was in a hospital, that much she knew. The bright light. The faint smell of disinfectant not quite masking the smell of sickness.

Closed them again, opened them, and why was Toby's hair grey? "How long...have I been sick?"

"You passed out, that's all."

"What...what day is it?"

A frown of concern, crossing her son's familiar and not features. Familiar and not, he should not be this old. "Tuesday, December 10."

"...what year?"

That he did not answer.

Janet stood at the edge of the park, watching Toby play with the other boys. Her head ached slightly. She'd been warned about that, that her head might hurt on and off for as long as a month. It was the implant, the memory implant. The one that was supposed to give total recall.

The one her employer had insisted she get if she wanted to keep her job, because it would make sure that she never forgot anything she was supposed to do. Everyone was getting them.

Read a book once, remember it forever. Oddly, it meant people bought more books, now you couldn't let the memory of an old favorite fade just so much and then read it again.

Read a book once, never forget somebody's phone number, it felt as if there were so many facts in her head. Toby was about to start high school, she felt old at the thought, old and regretful, wishing he was not the only child she managed to bear.

A bright day, a sunlit day, perfect for the occasion, until it set and the moon drew a path across the lake, a path she wanted to follow to escape and yet she could not escape this, her own choice, her own decisions. The dang implant was making her head hurt, the one she hadn't got yet.

"We had to take the implant out," Toby was saying, and it was a voiceover on the day, the white dress, the photos, and what year was it? She didn't know, but she thought it was 2050 and Toby was graduating from college.

Had to take the implant out and was that why she didn't know when she was, and she was kissing Marcus behind the cottonwood tree, kissing and kissing and wrapping her arms around him and doing those things nice girls don't know and wrapping her arms around Joseph, the two of them one, husband and lover, and no certainty as to which was which and when was when.

Toby's voice, "It was causing a blood clot, they said. They'll restore the drive to another one and replace it."

"What year is it?" she asked again. "Tell me. What year is it? How old am I?"

Joseph, pushing the veil back, his eyes meeting hers and then his lips which were Marcus' lips which were her father's lips, him kissing her when she was a child, purely innocent kisses, father to daughter, no sex in them at all, but he was also Joseph, and the innocence of white and Toby in her arms, pointing at something in the grocery store.

She was in the grocery store, and he was getting heavy, so she put him down. "Big boys can walk themselves," she told him.

He pointed at the cookies again, making her want them as much as he did but no, Joseph had forbidden them in the house, buying into some conspiracy theory about addictive flavor additives.

Maybe he was right, her father, but she wanted them so much, staring at the box on the shelf, reaching for it then dropping her hand. Not under his roof, and somebody else had forbidden them too, and she wasn't sure.

She wasn't sure any more, but she had to do what her father said or he'd never let her go to the playground. He'd never let her, and then she wouldn't be able to meet Toby behind the bike sheds.

No, it wasn't Toby, it was.

It was Toby and he was a man and he was stepping back from her, alarmed, "Mother?"

But she wasn't his mother, she was a little girl, she was nothing more than that. Nothing more than a little girl who would walk through the forest, clinging to her father's hand, never her mother's, the mother who stayed by the car and then who wasn't there at all.

She was in her mother's arms, her father talking in low voices, the word cancer in her mind.

No, it was a blood clot, and it was cancer, and there was nothing.

Janet walked through the meadows, looking around for all of the lost things of her life.