Remembering Old World California
Some Memories Are Priceless
Most people living in the New World try their best to forget the world that existed before the Catastrophe, especially the wealthy, who’d only made efforts to spare themselves, while disregarding the rest of the population. Some people, however, still do all they can to remember.
"Remembering Old World California"
Terry was lying in bed, peacefully reading one of his books when his best friend, Ralph, kicked his door in. He wasn’t even sure why he still flinched when this happened; this had been Ralph’s typical grand entrance for years.
“Guess what time it is!” his friend sang. Terry sighed, lowering his book. After a moment with no response, Ralph answered for him. “It’s two o’clock!”
Terry gave him a weary look. “So?”
“So, it’s time for our daily work commute! You know, we walk downtown, I go to the restaurant and you…” He gestured towards him. “Sit somewhere and read your boring books until I get out.”
Terry decidedly ignored that last comment. Those “boring books” had been written by his father who, sadly, didn’t make it to the New World. The books were all he had left, his prized possessions from a time that was. Everything else had been destroyed by the fires or washed away with the floods.
“I thought you got fired.”
“I did,” Ralph replied simply.
“Okay. Then why are we going?”
A smirk formed on Ralph’s features.
“Because I want to be around the rich people,” he answered.
Terry looked at him squarely, narrowing his eyes.
“You hate rich people.”
“I do hate rich people, but I don’t hate rich people’s money.”
The expression on Terry’s face was incredulous.
“Oh, come on, Terry! I’m kidding!”
“Then why are we going downtown?” he demanded.
Ralph picked his bag up from the floor and wagged it from side to side.
“I gotta return my uniform today.” A moment passed as they both stared at each other. Terry obviously wasn’t sold. “I’m serious!”
“…That’s it?” he asked.
“That’s it. I swear.”
He thought about it for a second before sighing.
“You need me to go with you?”
“Please. Everyone knows I got fired. It’ll be more embarrassing if I go down there by myself.”
Terry inhaled deeply, then exhaled, shaking his head. He placed a napkin in his book to save his place and stood up, his old mattress groaning beneath him.
“Let’s get this over with,” he said.
Ralph’s face broke into a grin of relief. “Thanks so much, man. Seriously.”
When they arrived at the restaurant, Ralph told Terry to wait outside by the alleyway.
“They won’t let you in,” he’d said, “You look too poor.”
Technically, they both looked poor in their ripped jeans and ratty T-shirts, but Terry didn’t argue. He wanted to give his best friend the benefit of the doubt and believe that all he planned to do was return his uniform. But, even so, he felt he may have made a mistake trusting Ralph. His friend was a good person, without a doubt, but he had chaotic tendencies.
Terry checked his watch. A couple of minutes had passed. This is fine, he reasoned with himself. Maybe his boss is busy or he doesn’t know where to leave his clothes. He’ll figure it out and come back.
Five minutes passed. Okay, maybe he’s talking to his boss. They could be discussing the possibility of being rehired, he tried. …Because things like that always happen. He huffed and waited a while longer.
Another ten minutes passed before Ralph exited the building and met with Terry.
With one look, he could tell Ralph had come out of the restaurant looking way different from when he’d first gone in. For one, there was gel in his hair. Second, he was wearing the uniform he was supposed to return. And third, a high-end suit jacket was now casually slung over his shoulder.
“I’m back,” he announced in a suave voice.
“What, did they rehire you?” Terry asked in disbelief. He didn’t think it would actually happen.
Ralph gave him a sly look. “No.”
“They…didn’t want the uniform back?” he guessed again, confused.
Ralph grinned. “Okay, I’m gonna let you in on a little secret: they never wanted the uniform back,” he admitted. Terry instantly glared and shoved him.
“I know, I know.” He held one hand up in surrender, chuckling. “I lied. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not funny!” he yelled, “What did you do in there?”
He shrugged. “I was serving guests. And then, one asshole told me to take his coat, so I did,” he answered plainly.
Terry gave him a long, cold stare before attempting to snatch the jacket out of his hand, although Ralph managed to move it out of his reach at the last second.
“Give me that jacket, Ralph,” he demanded. “We’re giving it back.”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on, now,” Ralph said. “I didn’t even get to look at it.”
“You don’t need to look at it!”
Without a word, his friend turned away from him and held out the jacket, examining it thoroughly, eyeing the detail, feeling the fabric.
“Oh, yeah. This is real nice... Blended wool and cashmere.” He turned to look at Terry. “Do you realize how much this could go for these days?”
Ignoring his friend, Ralph returned his attention to the coat. “Yep. I’m pawning this baby… Wait a second.” He paused, spotting a thick bulge in one of the inside pockets. “What’s in here?”
“Ralph,” Terry called in a warning tone. Once again, Ralph ignored him, reaching into the pocket. After a moment of silence, he stiffened in shock.
“…Holy shit… Holy shit, Terry, look!” he hissed, turning around. Although Terry strictly wished to return the coat, and everything in it, to the gentleman Ralph had stolen it from, he couldn’t help but go wide-eyed at what he saw before him. In his friend’s hands were four bands of 100-dollar bills.
Forty thousand dollars.
“You know what I like more than rich people’s money, Terry? Careless rich people’s money.” He grinned, stuffing a couple of bundles into his pockets.
“Ralph!” he whispered urgently, eyes still wide. “What are you doing?”
His friend gave him a deadpan look.
“Gee, what’s it look like I’m doing?”
“Oh, relax. That guy doesn’t need this. If he did, he wouldn’t be carrying it around like it’s for the bus fare. He’ll make it back in a week, tops,” he brushed off.
“That’s not the point—”
“You’re right. It’s not. But here’s the real point. The fact that you’re even alive to return this? That’s a disappointment to people like him. They don’t want to share a space with you, Terry. They didn’t even want to share this planet with you. You and I? We’re ‘Mission Failed.’ Don’t you get that?”
Terry shook his head. “I don’t care. This is wrong.”
“You ought to,” Ralph continued, “Do you remember how things were, before the catastrophe?”
“All the good people who knew this planet was going to shit? And all the powerful, rich people who let it happen? Look around you, Terry! Think about who survived and who didn’t and why.”
“Think about your dad, Terry. Because of these people, he’s gone. And you’re over here talking about giving some prick his money back when you can’t even get inside to do it—”
“I said stop!” Terry shouted. His hands were clenched into fists as he breathed heavily, trying to contain himself.
For once, there was a cold, serious look on Ralph’s face. He walked up, staring Terry dead in his eyes, and forcefully pressed the bundles into his chest.
“The people in that building don’t give a shit about you and you know it. They could watch you die right here, right now, and you know what they’d say? ‘Good riddance.’ And, this time, I’m not lying. Take the money.”
Frowning, Terry reached up and grabbed the bundles. His friend stepped back and took a deep breath, regaining his composure.
“…Good. Now,” he slung the coat over his shoulder once again, “Go do something with that. …And, for God’s sake, don’t spend it on boring books.”
Terry was kicking rocks on his way home. He didn’t want to think about what Ralph had said earlier, but he couldn’t help it. His father wasn’t there. Over the years, he’d become so grateful for the few books he’d managed to salvage and hold on to, but, deep down, he knew they would never be enough. Nothing would.
He reached down to touch the bulge in his front pocket, making sure it was still there. Truthfully, Terry had no idea what he was supposed to do with 20 thousand dollars. Never in his wildest dreams did he imagine he’d possess such a huge sum of money. Knowing him, he’d probably never spend it, or he might donate it. Certainly, he couldn’t use it for frivolous purposes. Even if the original owner didn’t deserve the money, the way he ended up with it still messed with his sense of integrity.
As he continued walking, he began to hear the faint murmurs of what sounded like a crowd. He looked up out of curiosity.
The voices were coming from the inside of a low-profile, but large, building. He read the sign in front of it:
Old World Auction House.
Auctions were something Terry had always been curious about but could never be a part of, since he’d never had much money for anything. He heard auctioneers often came across some of the rarest finds, and he appreciated the fact that, for once, he felt he had enough to take a look inside.
This crowd didn’t even appear to be especially wealthy, but they still watched in confusion as Terry made his way to the front of the room to take a seat.
“You look too poor,” Ralph’s voice echoed in his head. He shook the thought away and tuned in to the auction.
Many objects of value were put on display throughout the evening, such as antique vases and classic art pieces, but Terry had no interest in those, nor anything else they had, for that matter.
As he stood to leave, figuring he’d seen enough to satisfy his curiosity, the auctioneer propped up a rather small object on the display. Terry squinted, trying to see what it was.
It appeared to be a small, black notebook. There was nothing special about it, although it did look a bit charred around the edges.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” the auctioneer began, “I present you with a Moleskine notebook from Old World California, recovered from a fire. We’ll start the bidding at fifty dollars.”
Terry frowned. California…
“I’ll pay seventy!” someone offered.
“One hundred for the black notebook!” someone else shouted.
He could feel himself begin to tremble.
“One hundred fifty!”
Without a word, he walked towards the stage and ascended the staircase.
“Sir,” the auctioneer called, “Please return to your seat. You cannot come up here.”
But Terry ignored him, making his way to the notebook.
“Five hundred dollars!” another voice yelled out.
Visibly shaking, he examined it, and was suddenly brought back to a time in California when he had wandered into his father’s study as a young boy.
He stood in the doorway watching his father scribble away at his desk. Noticing his presence, his father looked at him, smiled, and waved him over. Terry grinned and ran up to the desk, his little feet padding gently against the wooden floor. His father lifted him up and placed him on his lap, before proceeding with his scribbling.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Daddy’s writing in his idea book.”
“What’s an idea book?”
“It’s where all of Daddy’s stories come from,” he answered.
“That’s right. And one day this book will be yours, buddy.”
Terry turned to face the auctioneer, eyes now brimming with tears.