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Things Not to Forget

Like the way her voice slides into my ear, my guardian angel with the slight, teen-sized body, with the freckles and dirty-blonde bangs and tender little hands, the pearl-white nails so even. That piping voice, waking me: “Carrie, you’ve got to get up.” The quiet, mature concern of that child-high voice slices smoothly into my heart, and my eyes pop open. I sit past all that blurriness as she repeats herself, hands on my arms to hold me steady: “Carrie, you’re dead.”

I can’t believe her, don’t believe her: I have these scarred palms, this phlegm-thick chest, this tight desire to grab her and hug her, my little Loralee, size of a twelve-year-old, yet my senior by three years. I’m more worried that she’s here now, with me—what can that mean, if I’m dead?

The loose weave of her beige, turtleneck sweater doesn’t look like a dead woman’s. The bruised look and lines about her eyes are graduate student sleeplessness—not mortality. The sleeves of her sweater creep halfway down her hands. I say, “Loralee, you’re supposed to be in New York.” My voice shakes like my hands as I touch her, pat her in all the right places. She’s solid, soft, the old scent of lavender mixed with books and guitar strings.

She’s real but she won’t answer me. She walks off into the misty sunlight of the kitchen, as upset as I am by the change. I struggle to get my feet under me, to buckle the big clasp of my leather belt, put on the black trousers and blazer that always made me feel strong, like a hit man. She comes back to help as I fumble with the buttons, my left hand soggy and useless as that of a stroke victim—or a day-old corpse. I begin to believe her for the vague way my tongue catches, for the dead patches, senseless bruises the size of quarters on my fingertips, arms, cheeks. The warmth of her fingertips, the cloud of her patient breath, help press the terror back.

But before long she’s walking out into the library, her outline fading, blurring in a nimbus of light. I take my time following, sick to think she’s insubstantial, wanting to prove it all wrong by touching the crowds that flow through the house like mourners at a wake, but even my brothers don’t notice when I try to talk to them. Everyone’s discussing my belongings, going through childhood toys and comic books. My fingers probe my scalp, seeking some break, a jagged crack like broken pottery: nothing. No memory of the night before or the night before that. Everything’s a blur before I woke to Loralee’s voice.

I run after her. She’s in the living room, sitting calmly against the wall, knees drawn up in frayed, faded denim. I slump beside her as if I haven’t a bone in my body. “I can’t be dead. I won’t be dead,” I moan, but she admonishes me: “You can’t keep holding onto the body. You’ve got to let go.”

Have you let go, my love, my Loralee? Is that why your reflection wavers so? Have you taken up this body again by will, merely to warn me? It must take so much concentration and energy to reassemble the flesh from that fuzzy ball of light I’ve seen hovering in your place as you pass between rooms.

Terror grips me as I place a finger to my lips, and it comes back smeared with lipstick that I never wear. I used to swear only an undertaker could get it on me.

My brothers walk past, bickering happily over sheets and draperies.

My own embalmed limbs repulse me. If I let go now, I might float away, never to be seen again. If I don’t, my spirit will burn out, expending the energy of eons just to hold the body’s form.

How can we be reunited now, only for me to relinquish the body that would allow me to touch her again? She’s stiff in my arms, but it’s the stiffness of protest, not death. “Carrie, you’ve got to get up! I can’t stay here with you. If you won’t listen to me, I’ve got to go!”

Go where? Back to some azalea-scented ether? What would become of her, of us? I want to hang onto this body. Surely her logic is faulty; we will only dissipate little by little. If we let go now, we’ll be lost forever without will: what good is immortality as mist, as will o’ the wisps? Frankenstein’s monster, I will bumble about in this borrowed flesh until she agrees to stay.

But she’s fading already, frowning and throwing off that body I loved so much, the little nose and freckles and that heavy, straight, dirty-blonde hair. The woman I adored. I want to hug her tight, squeeze in one more round of Mystery Date, the playing pieces transfigured with photos of her friends. Just one more morning in the duplex with the sagging floors and claw-footed tub and the long stairwell done avant-garde. One more night, calm in the center of the storm, the party roaring beyond the door while we sit on the edge of her little bed, listening to the Cocteau Twins, the Grateful Dead, the Psychedelic Furs. God, how it all comes back, one long rush. But she says sadly, a finger to my lips, “Carrie, this isn’t your life any longer!”

She pries my eyes open to cold white sheets, where I’m spread out like a corpse.

Empty.

Dead.

Alone.

Things not to forget: the way she loved me. The way I loved her. Her voice, whispering my name. That little, freckled smile.

Things to forget: this dead weight that has bowed my heart so long, chafed me till I’m numb. A stranger to myself.

Distantly, I hear her call: “Carrie?”

And I’m listening, listening, and finally following that golden chain with my heart alone.


Originally published under C. A. Gardner in November 2005 in Whispering Spirits Ezine, 2005 Flash Fiction Contest Showcase. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Adele Gardner

Cataloging librarian Adele Gardner is an active member of SFWA and HWA and a Clarion West Writers Workshop graduate with master’s degrees in English literature and library science. She’s had a poetry collection (Dreaming of Days in Astophel, under former byline Lyn C. A. Gardner) as well as 244 poems and 46 stories published in Pedestal Magazine, NewMyths.com, Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, PodCastle, and more. Gardner is a two-time third-place winner in the Rhysling Awards of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association and a third-place winner in the Balticon Poetry Contest of the Baltimore Science Fiction Society. Two stories and a poem earned honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror. Adele lives and writes under her middle name to honor her father, mentor, and namesake, Delbert R. Gardner, for whom she serves as literary executor.

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