Fragmentation

by Gaston Prereth

For all those waiting for the next instalment of Footprints, i’m very sorry to keep you waiting a few more days. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to write much this week and so haven’t had time to pen the next part. I may well see if I can post it before next Saturday so you don’t have to keep waiting too long. As this is the final week of the short story competition, I thought I would share with you an entry I submitted to another competition awhile ago. I’ve split it into two parts because it was a bit too long for one post, but I will put up the second part either during the week or next Saturday along side another chapter of Footprints.

The hand-held recorder slotted into the table socket with a delicate click followed by a perky electronic beep.

Francis, with his eyes half closed to obscure the real world, felt his memories of his wife floating around the room.  She drifted in front of him, picking up phantom objects while ghosting through real ones.   Occasionally she would flash from one place to another, as his memories were interwoven by the recorder.

One moment she would be sipping a cup of tea as she walked in from the kitchen and he’d feel the warm arms of contentment spread about him. Then, without warning, she’d be sitting on the sofa laughing at him returning from work soaked by a sudden downpour and he’d feel his cheeks warming with annoyance while despite himself his mouth twitched.

His memory jumped again.  She was still on the sofa, but now she was just lying there watching television.  It was evening time, two weeks before their first Christmas together, and he was still getting used to her living with him.  Not so much the fact that she was there, but the fact that she wanted to be.  The light of the screen flickered on her face, like moonlight reflecting off water, making her skin appear even paler than normal and her features even more delicate.  As he watched, another memory twitched at the back of his mind.  It was a memory within a memory.  Francis blinked as the recorder cross referenced the sensations and dragged up the original from its hard drive.

She was sitting there with the same look she’d had when he’d first met her.  The same look with which he had fallen in love.  She didn’t move, but the translucent world around her morphed into somewhere else, another time and another place.   This memory became stronger as he watched, he could almost feel his own thoughts from back then talking to him in his head.  Memories aren’t meant to be this sharp, not this physical.

The moment continued to play around him, the emotions and ideas of the time tickling his mind as much as the images.  He’d gone to see Richard III to watch the great Christen Carmichael play the king. He’d been so excited to see the best Shakespearean actor of his generation and had barely thought about anything else for a month beforehand. Yet, from the moment she sat down next to him, he hadn’t looked at the stage once.

He  sat there in the theatre, watching her snow white cheeks and innocent eyes soak up the tragedy before them; her lips twitching with a chaste smile at Christen’s dry quips; and her chest floating on the tide of her breath with increasing intensity as the tension mounted.

Francis could hear Carmichael’s deep voice taking control of the theatre, generating an audible awed hush over the audience, but all he could think about was her.  His mind raced: who was she? How could he talk to her?  Would she talk to him?  Francis, without thinking, shook his head and the world around him collapsed. The sofa in front of him looked stark and bare, like an untouched bed in a country manor.  Reality, with all its hurtful sparsity soaked back into his consciousness.

Francis pulled himself out of the armchair like an Olympic skier launching himself on the final run and staggered into the kitchen. The clutter that filled the small room emphasised its emptiness.  The piles of dirty plates and cups sat staring at him, a physical reminder that there was no one around for whom he should clean them.  He felt the recorder trying to push something into his consciousness, but he immediately tried to fight it, shaking his head and pushing his mind onto something else.

¡°Computer,”  He asked to the room, “Cross-reference today’s appointments with my activities and news stories of the last month, and then give me my appointments with any relevant data.”  The speakers lodged in the ceiling beeped in compliance while he leafed through the jungle of plates and cutlery in the sink for a teaspoon.

“Compiling. This process may take a few moments” came a bland woman’s voice, followed by another electronic pip. Francis squeezed his hand under a plate into the murky brown soup of dishwater and tugged out a spoon.  He rinsed it under the cold tap for a second and then shovelled a couple of heaps of pre-sweetened tea into an almost clean cup.  The granules dissolved instantly as he poured warm water over them and a strong aroma of freshly brewed tea seeped into the room.

Francis slunk back into the lounge and slumped onto his armchair. He stared at the blank television screen inset into the opposite wall, arguing with himself whether he could be bothered to turn it on or not.  He had to do something to keep himself occupied,  otherwise his mind would once again start to dwell on her, he would remember that perfect smile.

She was back.  That first time again, sitting in the theatre, her hair hanging delicately over her shoulder.  She turned.  Embarrassment swept over him as she caught him staring at her, but he couldn’t move his eyes, they locked on to hers and she smiled.  Then she turned back to the stage, and once again her features melted back into an innocent blankness.

The memory went fuzzy for a moment. Slowly, his mind’s eye reordered the images and sensations he was feeling into the memory of the last time he had seen that same expression.  Her eyes hadn’t changed, her cheeks were still pale white but her hair was now matted by a seeping black spring.  He could hear the sirens, too, and the shouts of panicking passers-by.  The fear built up inside him.  A fear and pounding dread that burned throughout his body.  He could feel his throat closing as he knelt down beside her and swept an invisible hair from her soft cheek.  Life, with all its complex moments, had not left a mark on her face, neither while it inhabited it nor once it had departed.  She was eternally pristine and perfect.

“Compilation complete” piped up the computer, pulling Francis back into the present.  He shook his head and the images soaked away into the background.  “You have one Appointment for today: Appointment one, phone call, your sister will call you at ten past ten.  Elizabeth Roberts was born in nineteen ninety-eight to a Mr Joseph Roberts and a Mrs…”

“Pause.” Interrupted Francis, still trying to rouse himself fully back into his lounge.  His memories were getting worse, they were getting stronger.  It was like she was trying to make her way  back to him, trying to force herself from his mind back into the world.   He tried to focus on the present, staring at the back of his hand as he spoke to the computer.  “Condense vocal information to that of a relevance factor nine and store any data of a factor six or higher into memory slot C for later recollection absorption”

“Data condensed and re-allocated.”

“Continue.” Francis  lifted the still untouched cup of tea to his lips as the device told him it had no further information on the phone call.  He lowered the cup again, without taking a sip, and sighed like a slowly deflating balloon.  He dropped his un-tasted tea onto the small plastic table by his chair. The cup landed on the edge of last night’s dinner plate and immediately crashed onto its side, spreading the sweet liquid across the table.

“New Appointment” he said to the empty television and the speakers beeped at him.  “Today. All day event. Status: Busy.  Title: Out.  Save.”

“Appointment cannot be saved,” said the woman promptly.  “You have a conflicting Appointment which has been locked as high importance and cannot be deleted.  Please contact the creator of the event, would you like to call them now?”

“No,” growled Francis and tried to push his back deeper into the armchair like a sulking teenager.

At ten past ten on the dot, the speakers started to chirp and the television screen flashed on, informing him that his Sister was calling.

“Pick up, audio only” he said quietly and the ringing stopped and was followed by a moment’s confused silence.

“Hello?  Are you there?” Came the lilting voice of his sister, gilded with concern.

“Hi.”

“How are you feeling?”

“Over the moon.”

“Sorry, stupid question,” his sister replied hurriedly.

Francis felt something nagging at him from the back of his mind, memories of his childhood and the times he and his sister had played together. The time she had pulled him back when he had absent-mindedly stepped out onto the road.   The weeks he’d stayed with her and her fiancé when he’d had nowhere else to go.  The day she’d got married and how happy she had looked, and how proud he had felt.  She had been so happy.   She was still happy, she was still married.  Why did it happen to him? Why should he be the only one suffering?  The only one hurting?  The whole world should be crying with him.  “It’s been almost two weeks now though, your short term memory will be fading soon, helping you get some distance.” continued his sister pragmatically, although her  quivering voice betrayed her authority.

“Yeah, you’re probably right. Maybe I should just move further away, speed up the process.  How far away is Siberia? Is that distance enough to stop me caring about my wife, you think?”

“Francis, please, you know that’s not what I meant.  Look, I’ve booked you into a session with a psycho-mechanic. They might be able to help you get through this difficult time.”

“Right, good idea.  Let’s just wipe my mind. Delete my wife and then it’ll all be fine, won’t it?  I’ll be happy again and won’t know that my shit life used to have one good, perfect thing in it which made it worth living.  Great idea.”

“You know that’s not what they do.  She’ll just look over your recorder and check it’s working fine.  You won’t have to do anything, just let her take a look.”

“They won’t be able to help.  There’ll be nothing they can do.  It’s not like they can bring her back,” Francis replied, a pleading tone infusing his voice.

“Just go, listen to them and then decide what you want to do.  I’ll call you tomorrow to see how it’s gone, and if you haven’t been I’ll be coming round and dragging you there myself.”

“Fine.”

“You’ll be OK Francis.  I’ll put the appointment details into your calendar.  Just go, OK?  Bye, Love you.”

“Bye”

The speakers let out a simulated clatter of a phone being dropped into its cradle and Francis’ shoulders drooped. He glanced around the litter of dirty plates, discarded clothes and unopened letters that paved the floor.  He couldn’t let his sister come round and see this.  She’d never leave if she saw the state he’d got into.  She’d stay here, looking after him, making him feel guilty.  He had no choice.  He was going to have to go to the appointment.

The story concludes here: Fragmentation Part 2

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2 Responses to “Fragmentation”

  1. Feel Free to Post Part 2 on Thursday, it’s kind of a Random-ish Open-ish Posting Day

    DJ-

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