This story is one of the January Writing Challenge entries chosen to be a featured story.
The sun has just begun its descent, leaving wet trails of color in its wake. Trees, like dark blotches of ink, embrace one another in a line that melts into the horizon. And I—I am here, eyes closed, mind open. I do not know where exactly I am, but it feels safe, out in this open air. Surrounded only by crisp air, fading light, and memories.
I’d like to close my mind, to block these memories from coming back. But they have breached the surface of my brain, a vast ocean of twisting waves: cerulean joys and shadowy pains. They flow from me, one after another, and I feel fear gripping my throat, a hand squeezing my heart.
A strange contentment drifts upon me, like a gentle mist across a thunder-swept sea. I find it’s not so hard to welcome back all the things I’d tried to forget.
They slide around me, these memories, slips of paper like fat fireflies, catching the sun’s last rays. Like me, they seem frozen in time but sparkle and shudder as if caught in a breeze.
A train ticket. To see my grandfather before his inevitable death. The same ticket I tore up under strenuous angst—I couldn’t bring myself to see him frail and in pain. But now I can’t bring myself to forget how selfish I was, how I could’ve been the one to bring him one last heartful of joy.
An essay, incomplete. A failure in part because I didn’t even try. Various pages of it drift in an accusing spiral, The Scarlet Letter frowning upon me in red, ashamed I wouldn’t ask for help, ashamed I couldn’t delve its depth to even try to understand.
A photograph. My brother and my cousins in our last summer before high school swept us away. Goofing off, getting dirt under our fingernails, sucking every last drop of boyhood out of August before it was too late. But I am not here, I was too late. I was working, I was always working.
A pale pink Post It note. An “I’m sorry” in crooked black ink. A lifelong friendship, broken like a glass plate and left to be stepped on. Because I couldn’t stoop to pick up the pieces and write back “I forgive you.”
Many others drift around me, reminding me. Some stay suspended on an invisible thread while others settle lazily on the wet dirt road. Cold from an evening rain reaches its pale fingers into my bare toes, inhaling their warmth and exhaling chill breaths on my ankles. The beginning of a smile tugs at the corners of my lips—strange and small, but present. And as each papery recollection finds its rest on the dewy grass or the gritty glassy road, I find I can once again feel my legs, my fingers, my nose. I consider these curling, yellowing memories around me, weightless yet brooding—my intellectual chain whose links grow more numerous with every passing year. The weight tugs at my heart and my limbs, as if the descent of those glistening sheets ties me back to my chair, imprisoning me with their reproach.
I take a deep breath, convinced these memories will consume me no longer. I stand up and begin to walk, leaving the sheaves to wither and soften with the setting sun, sinking into the dust as they do in my mind. It is time to move on, to learn, to live.