I had an idea for a story today, and even before I began writing, I knew it would be one of “those” stories. I wish I had time to look this up for specifics, but I remember Alfred Bester, in one of the introductions in Starbright (many of which will probably worm their way into future discussions), talking about stories that come into your head complete and can basically just be transcribed. This was one of those times. More importantly, it was the first of those times. I have close to fifteen stories started; other than The Playground, which I wrote nearly five years ago and which, if it is ever to be seen, will need an ER-level resuscitation, this is the first one I have finished. The Exploded Manifestations of Ari Ascher is done in draft form, but again, a fair amount of work lies between its present state and “birth.”
Today’s story came from a confluence of notions. I had just read Ted Chiang’s “Exhalation,” a wonderful and strange and haunting story. One of the minor aspects of this tale is the notion of memory fading over a very long lifespan, to the degree that one might forget his own origins.
I had always been struck with the astuteness demonstrated by Robert Heinlein in one or another of the Lazarus Long books, when he addressed issues of memory in a very long human life. I wondered, what if this was far more acute? What if human memory, even if our bodies were to become immortal and without need, is limited to the last x years, down to the very moment? The first wave of people to live this long wouldn’t have known to keep meticulous records of basic events.
The story is short, and revolves around one man who is about to lose his last visual memory of a photograph of his wife, whose name he doesn’t even know. It’s a personal reflection and a sketch of a life set during a lonely and uneventful countdown, one which cuts all pertinent history loose from the character’s life. It’s also a pretty apt reflection on the aimlessness of life in general, and the power of even the most tenuous connection.
I’m a little wary about posting a whole story on here just yet, so here is a short clip:
I don’t know her maiden name, or the names of her parents. I don’t remember how we met, or how she died; even her funeral is fathoms beyond the shadow of my forgetting. I don’t know if we made each other happy. If we did, I don’t know whether it was the exception or the rule.
The first thing I remember is the last day I saw the image before it turned to dust. When it crumbled in my hands, an instantaneous thing, I went calmly to the sink and washed them. I swept the floor, escorting all her tiny parts into the dustbin. I wrote the date on the wall above my bed, on the steel itself. And, after a time, I wept. When I was able, I borrowed a laser-etching gun from a pilot whose course would parallel mine for a while; gently, with great care not to misfire and puncture a bulkhead, I engraved the note into the artifice, so that it hung like a plaque above my bed. This way, I would remember when I was going to forget.