Third in a series of Flash Fiction shorts that I’m writing while in Thailand. I’m allowing myself a maximum of two hours per story so please forgive the rough edges. Cheers!
The lines of the photo were blurred from moisture. Anders moved his thumb over the picture as if he could bring them back into focus.
Right after it happened the tears had sprung from grief, later from anger, and now again grief. In the photo Charlotte had a coy turn to her mouth, a conspiratorial squint in her left eye. She was standing on the roof of a house, to judge from the background they were in Europe. The south, likely. Anders couldn’t recall.
Like so many other details of his life the provenance of the photo had disappeared. The doctors talked about plaques or some such.
He laughed at himself, trying to remember the words of some white coated quack when he couldn’t even place the photo in his hands. And what did it matter? Seventy-whatever is young—in this day and age especially—but you can’t know the hand you’ll be dealt and there’s no use complaining about it anyway.
The cat mewed, demanding to be fed. She was plump as a Christmas ham and had no doubt been playing him for months. Years?
“Shh, you.” He ambled to the counter. Where was the kibble? Charlotte had a place for it. He’d always rifle through the cupboards and she would laugh and say . . . something. God, what was it that she used to say?
The kitchen was a shambles. Kibble strewn across the countertops and the linoleum floor and peppered over their small dining table. Had he done that? What could have made him so angry?
Anders shot up in the middle of the night, woke from some instantly (mostly) forgotten dream. The panic was still there, beating in his chest. He looked to her side of the bed, reaching for the image of her sleeping beside him.
She’d made him promise her something. Made him swear.
What would she have told him if she saw him in this state? To stop being so ridiculous? No, she never said “ridiculous” that didn’t sound like her.
It was then that he realized he couldn’t remember what she sounded like.
He was losing her again. This time it was worse somehow. Losing her memory, forgetting her voice.
Somewhere in the apartment a cat mewed.
Anders dashed from his bed to the kitchen. He’d ransacked the bedroom, leaving his (and his wife’s) clothes wherever they fell. The photo was gone, he was sure of it. Stolen in the night? Eaten by that infernal cat?
He gripped the edge of the dining table and exhaled. On the placemat near a long neglected cup of tea, lay the photo.
He picked it up, turning it over in his hands. On the back in a neat script that must have been hers: Vejer de la Frontera—1982. Vejer. Spain?
Could he find that rooftop? He had to. One last visit. Vejer was only a few trains and a bus away. Surely he could still manage that.
Was that Spanish? Why were people speaking Spanish? Those children running up the street, their uniforms were peculiar.
Anders sat at the edge of a fountain. The sun was bright but the air was brisk. Was it autumn already? Spring? He inhaled and held the air in his lungs. Maybe if he held onto it long enough he would forget to ask himself where he was.
“Goddamnit,” he growled, but the word came out chopped up. What a pathetic sight. Some old man crying by a fountain.
“Señor?” It was a woman with kind eyes. Middle aged, could be his daughter if he’d had any children. Dark eyes like his wife, black hair. She put her hand on his arm, “Do you need help?”
He needed all the help in the world.
Anders looked down to his hands. He was holding a small card. A photograph that must have been important. He handed it to the woman and shrugged.
“I think this could be it.” The woman held him under his arm as they climbed the last of the stairs. “We can try next door too.” Her voice was kind and she had an accent. Spanish, perhaps.
She opened the door. His eyes filled with tears, reducing the world to smeared colors. Blue and white. A clear sky streaked with a few thin clouds. Small houses like children’s blocks. A place he’d been before.
Anders closed his eyes. The air smelled of salt like it had forty years before. The holiday was a short one and they’d spent most of it in their little room at the guest house.
He heard her voice, it was stern and serious in a way that is so natural when you’re thirtyish and assured of your adulthood.
They’d been drinking rich red wine and eating jamón all day. And dates. Sweet plump dates.
And telling each other important things.
“Anders, listen.” Her tone was so strong, so serious that he nearly laughed but he knew that would be trouble so he held his breath as well as her gaze. “If anything ever happens to me, I want you to live your life.”
He smiled and reached for another date but she grabbed him hard by the wrist.
“You must forget about me. Would you promise me that?”
And he did.
And he remembered the promise clearly, as if he’d made it yesterday.