It’s a Fiction Friday! (Not that that’s going to be a thing, necessarily. But it alliterates well. And yes, I know that this actually got published on Saturday, but only by minutes. Shh.) The idea is based on a modified Daily Post prompt. It’s kind of experimental, and I’m not sure how well the play with formatting and POV works. Constructive criticism welcome!
You stand in the middle of the aisle in the flea market, buffeted on both sides by the constant swish of down parkas, the scratch of wool coats, the stomp of booted feet over slush-covered asphalt. It’s the morning rush, as all the early risers finish their purchases and the late-comers arrive to sift through what’s left, and between the two streams of people you feel like a rock caught in a stream running two ways at once.
The crowd pushes you until you’re backed up against a stall at the far end of the aisle. Behind you, an old lady sits behind a table that’s been squashed between a record booth and a booth selling dusty glass ornaments. She’s wrapped up tight in what looks like three layers of shawls, a head scarf, a muffler, and thick handknit fingerless gloves with flaps folded back. A couple of gray flyaways flutter in the icy wind that seems to be finding its way through every gap between coat and glove and scarf. She has dark eyes that nevertheless twinkle amid her many layers.
You nod politely and step closer to the table, holding out your hands to a small heater she has going in the corner, look at the table to justify your presence.
Of all the strange things you’ve seen at this place, her table is by far the strangest collection–not the usual collection of knickknacks or old record or books or handmade jewelry. Instead the lady has rows and rows of glass vials, tiny tubes, and squat glass jars with wide corks sealed with wax. The bottles are lined up on the table like ranks of soldiers, each one neatly labeled in a curious, spidery hand, like old apothecary bottles. But that is not the strangest part. Up close, it gets stranger.
The bottles all seem to be empty.
You ask the old lady what they’re meant to be, but at first she seems reluctant to say; instead she just smiles and nods her head toward them. Take a look. You bend closer to peer at the labels, but they are no help, seemingly nonsensical:
The Beach, August 1948
September 12, 2001, 1:18am
When pressed, the lady leans forward with a glance to either side, as if afraid of others overhearing.
They are memories, she says. Memories for sale.
You look again at the labels on the bottles. Words and phrases jump out at random–wedding, birthday, first kiss, mom, dad, love. There are some towards the back that seem dustier, grimer, and those have a different sort of words--accident, divorce, death.
How much does a memory cost?
She shrugs. No amount of money can buy a memory, she says. Memories are priceless things. Everyone knows that. They require a different sort of currency; something of equal value. She picks up a bottle and spins it in her fingers, looking at it closely as though she can see the memory inside. Perhaps she can. Then she holds it out to you.
A memory for a memory. One of yours for one of hers.
You take the bottle from her, imitate her close inspection. The glass has a warmth you can feel through your gloves. Is it just your imagination, or does the bottle seem heavier than it should, now that you know the value of the contents?
But why? you ask. Why trade one of your memories for someone else’s? What would be the point?
She shrugs again. It’s different for everyone. Some are seeking something new, something their life is missing, something they have lost, or something they can never have. Some people are selling. They want to forget, to trade in one memory for another. Of course, it’s hardly ever that easy–bad memories are bad trade.
But she is generous, and arrangements can be made. Good memories can become security. Collateral. That is the most delicate balance–take enough that they will miss it, leave enough that they still care. It’s an art. Not just anyone could do it.
She smiles at you, a different smile from before. It is not an entirely nice smile.
So how about it?
She spreads her arms to indicate her wares. Her hands are worn and wrinkled, the fingertips beyond the edge of her gloves rough from years of work. But they are steady, rock solid, capable hands. The bottles glint in the sunlight–past days, past years, a thousand snatches of different lives, bottled up.
See anything you like?