you-will-remember

You Will Remember This

Time travel is all a matter of perspective in this haunting, hypnotic tale of loss and memory.

The afternoon light from the window barely makes it around the old bulky fridge in my cramped galley kitchen. I scrub a white plate with a neon green silicone sponge, the sleeves of my gray wool sweater are pushed up past my elbows. The water is hot and I relish my stinging hands in the drafty apartment.

You will remember this, I think.

But I am only remembering this moment. This bookmark in my life. It’s actually five years later. My house is beginning to burn while I stand across the street with my neighbors. Firefighters are screaming at us to leave. 

You will remember this. I don’t want to think this but I do.

Inside my burning house is that gray wool sweater. 

Back at the sink I think about summer. Skin exposed to the sun. The skin of another man pressed against my own. My feet tingle with cold inside my thick socks: Poor circulation runs in my family. 

The air is filled with the ashes of my possessions. The ones I decided to leave behind when I had five minutes to decide. It’s the driest summer on record. It’s always the driest summer on record. 

Prison inmates are putting out wildfires, they are paid two dollars an hour for this work. But the inmates are somewhere else; where other things are burning. 

You will remember this. I’m five and I’m leaning against my parents’ emerald green couch. My small fingers are trying to grip the velvet upholstery. I like how slippery the fabric is. 

Back at the sink I remember the first time I learned to anchor myself in time, at my parents’ green sofa, to always have these moments to come back to. I wonder if I am actually experiencing this moment washing dishes or remembering it in the future. 

A brown glass slips out of my hand and falls into the sink, shattering. It was vintage. Physicists don’t understand why time only moves one direction when the equations of existence work forwards as well as backwards. 

But I understood it was possible since I was a child.

My mother is washing dishes. I walk up to her, terrified of what I must say. I pull at the sleeves of my oversized red sweater.

You will remember this.

I’m having a stroke. Parts of my brain are shutting down and I’m trying to focus on calling for help, on waving my arm, on a small brown bird in a tree. My cane gives out under my trembling weight and I collapse into the fresh-cut grass of the park. The sun is out. The light feels hot.

I smell smoke.

I turn away from my burning house and remember the way the wool sweater felt warm and coarse on my arms as I get into my car.

My mother picks me up and carries me away from the couch. I start to cry. I don’t want to cry. I want to tell my mother that I love her and not to wait so long to go to the doctor when she’s 64. But I don’t tell her this because I’m only five years old.

A man turns away from me in bed and says, “I’ll remember this.” His skin looks blue in the dark.

Three years ago I pressed him up against a fence near my apartment, desperate to hear him moan.

My mother reaches up from her bed and puts a bony hand on my cheek. A green and pink paisley silk scarf is wrapped around her head. I let my gaze fall into the infinite repeating patterns. 

Doctors still don’t understand why some cancer patients waste away.

“I don’t want you to remember me like this,” she says.

I close my eyes.

You will remember this

I push myself up from the pavement. People are running past me. The air buzzes. Something is burning, a car maybe. Across the street I see a woman holding a man in her arms. His shirt is soaked in his blood. She keeps the man looking at her while she strokes his face.

The army opened fire on the demonstrators. 

I am worried about that man; that he might die if we don’t get him to a hospital.

The woman jerks up to look at me, eyes wide. Something smashes into the back of my head and everything goes black. The blackness becomes the dark green of the velvet couch. My small fingers are gripping into it and relaxing over and over again. 

The man in bed with his back to me is crying. I put my hand over the mole on his shoulder blade and he pulls away from me.

The sun breaks out over the mountains. The five of us have been awake all night, drinking around the campfire. We smell like smoke. The sky slowly ignites and we fall silent. 

You will remember this.

I shiver in the cold. I take a red wool sweater out of the closet and pull it over my head. Downstairs I can smell my husband brewing coffee. I used to have a sweater like this in gray. It took years to find one like it.

I pull at my sleeves. I can’t remember what I had just said. My mother reaches into the dishwater and her green plastic gloved hand pulls out a glass.

She turns to me and smiles, “I know sweetie.”

You will remember this.

What happened to those people I watched the sunrise over the mountain with? Where are they now?

I shake my head and turn off the sink. I must have been daydreaming. I prick my finger on a shard of glass and jerk my hand back. A droplet of blood wells up on my skin. 

I do not know about the fires that will consume the state in five years. I do not know about the riots that swept the city a decade after. I am just waiting for summer, to press myself up against a man in the dark of a warm evening.

“What are you thinking about?” my husband asks.

“A green sofa,” I say.

Across the street I see the woman holding a man in her arms. His shirt is soaked in his blood. She keeps the man looking at her while she strokes his face.

That man is going to die.

The woman jerks her head up to look at me, her eyes wide.

I think I am dying now. Parts of my brain are shutting down, but I’ve never felt so focused in my life. The bright blue afternoon sky turns black. The blackness becomes the dark green of the velvet couch. My small fingers are gripping into it and relaxing over and over again. My mother picks me up and carries me away from the couch. I start to cry.

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T.J. Acena

T.J. Acena

TJ Acena is a writer living in Portland, OR. His stories have appeared in Dispatches from Anarres, Telephone, Bodega, Hello Mr., and Pacifica Literary Review. When he has a little free time he covers the arts for The Oregonian and Oregon ArtsWatch. He occasionally updates his website www.tjacena.com and Twitter @ihavequalities.

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